Tag Archives: poverty

What is Important?

This video is a perspective on what’s important.

Here is a text of the narration:

What is important?

What is important? How would we measure it, and how would we know the measure was accurate? Although there are many possible ways, if we use a scale of things that have the most profound influence on our ability to realize our full potential, and use that to measure what we currently apply our energies to as a global culture; we can see the gap, the gap between what’s important, and what we do.

Somewhere in our not so distant past, on some day we couldn’t pinpoint because we weren’t watching, we crossed a critical threshold. We crossed the threshold where we no longer live in a world where people starve because we can’t feed them; we now live in a world where people starve because we don’t feed them. We have the skills and resources to make this a plentiful world, but we do not yet have the focus, nor the will – to do what’s important.

We have the capacity to cultivate a world brimming with potential – potential that can only be realized if we have each other’s backs. Instead we live in a world where, acting out of fear, we have to watch our backs – a world where we have to defend ourselves from ourselves. Maybe we don’t recognize this is the recipe for self made poverty – maybe we are suffering the echo of our collective traumatic past, where a veil of ignorance forced us to be at the mercy of a frightening and often cruel environment, and as a result, we learned to exploit each other, to dominate, or be dominated… This is a past we need to navigate away from if we’re going to cultivate our full potential. Until we do this, we will continue to rob ourselves of what’s important.

What’s important is you – the family, who shapes the lens through which the child understands reality by the way you treat them and each other. You forge their developing identity in the fires of the relationships you expose them to, and this defines whether that fire will refine them, or destroy them. You are the port from which the child launches, and you define what that child will be equipped with to navigate the wider social seas, and how they will influence those they touch – for the rest of their lives. You are what’s important.

What’s important is you – the teachers, who have the wheel that steers the future as you pass the torch of knowledge to the next generations. You’re not merely an installer of facts, but a primary cultivator of the tools that will determine whether we will capably face the challenges that lie before us, or sink under their weight. You have a powerful hand on the rudder that steers this Earthen ship of ours through sometimes troubled waters. Together with the family, you set the tone for the direction we will travel. You are what’s important.

What’s important is you – the friend, who doesn’t have to be asked, but actively seeks to offer your best. Your behavioral vocabulary doesn’t include apathy. You willingly act on behalf of your friends – ready to deliver a comforting word, a helping hand, or a stinging challenge depending on the need – your purpose remains constant – to serve each other. You have a powerful hand in the stability of this Earthen ship in which we all ride. And your aid through the storms, and companionship in fair weather, makes this journey we’re all on worthwhile. You are what’s important.

What’s important is you – the stranger, who may not be familiar with those in other ships that pass by, but know that they are full of kindred kinds – you who understand that it takes all of us, communicating through actions big and small, that we’re in this together, that we share the same waters – and that sharing what we have of value with each other is the reason for the abundance we have. You are the one that opens the door without being asked – you don’t hesitate to act to strengthen the larger community of life on which we all depend for breath because you know you are part of that same body. You are what’s important.

And what’s important is Earth – it is our common ground and our greatest teacher. On it we can stand together and flourish – or divided we can fall back into the soil which once generously gave us this opportunity for a plentiful life. Earth has given us what we need and taught us by writing its lessons into the fabric of who we are – like the need to strike a balance between give and take that’s written into our breath… and how all it asks in return is that we recognize that using that breath to cultivate fruitful relationships is what’s really important.

 

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Building Community

Ceazer Shallah is part of a growing number of people in the Philadelphia area and beyond who are turning a passion for community into practical and transformative action. In this interview Ceazer talks about the “House of Initiative”, an organization dedicated to empowering Communities through education & positive interactions. He also talks about the challenges related to building community in a stressed social climate. It’s people like Ceazer who are changing the world one relationship at a time.

Destructive Giving and Destructive Taking

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Taking too much from the social landscape, or giving too much are equally harmful. The enabler and the addict are examples of the destructive imbalance of giving and taking that can emerge and perpetuate themselves in human relationships. From a wide angle lens view the addict and the enabler are like the “tick and tock” sounds from the same relationship clock. The pendulum arc of this destructive relationship cycle swings through whole generations. Addict parents tend to produce enabler children who then spend their lives looking for unpleasable tyrants and impossible situations that they believe they need to please or solve. They think they failed because they’re not good enough when they finally collapse under the weight of the impossible. If the people in the enabler’s life are not demanding enough, they will project impossible demands on themselves in order to preserve their self-image as a failure. It is a recipe for frustration.

Enabler parents tend produce addict children by catering to their every whim. Hovering over their children and cutting off crusts while dancing like clowns, enabler’s bury their kids in the expectation that other people are responsible to entertain and appease their ever growing whims. These people grow up to have great expectations for everyone else and when those people inevitably fail to meet the addicts suffocating demands and collapse, the addict is not capable of concern for the people they buried in service to them, they wonder why bad things happen to them and mad that the person who collapsed will no longer be there to serve them.

This addict/enabler model is the systemic model of destructive giving and taking. Destructive taking can take on the form of narcissism or sociopathy, but the theme of destructive taking is a global tread that runs through them all. The same is true that destructive giving can take many forms. Some of these can create suffocating dependencies and the like. Not all destructive giving and taking falls into the addict/enabler model, but the idea here is to illustrate what happens when giving and getting become imbalanced. It has a tendency to propagate the imbalance, swinging back and forth in an eratic wave pattern.

When we look for what to address in our lives or our world, balance is the key to understanding.

What Does Our Biology Say About Fulfilling Relationships?

A system with high adaptive capacity exerts co...

Biological Systems and Relationships

As biological creatures we depend on specific kinds of nourishment in order to realize full maturity. One of the big take away points from this fact about ourselves is that we depend on specific and nourishing relationships in order to realize our fullest state of satisfaction. If the relationship process our biology depends on is not diminished or interrupted, we move from a state of dependency to interdependence. Upon maturity, we become a valuable part of a community that we both provide nourishment for, and from which we receive nourishment. If we use the relationships that define healthy biological systems as a lens to understand ourselves, we expose some interesting facts about relationships in general.

It is no mystery that there are no selfish people who are also satisfied. Think about it. Do you know anyone with both of those characteristics? The reason selfishness and satisfaction cannot coexist is because our biology is not built on that relationship principle. If we shoehorn our life into that box we become impoverished, no matter how much material wealth we might acquire in the process.

Think about what biology says about giving. Newborns are not produced unless both males and females contribute to the process. This need for mutual giving as part of what brings more life is a plain statement about what brings life to relationships in general. Real fulfillment in relationships is built on giving to each other.

Nutrients must flow throughout the body in order for it to be healthy. In the broadest sense we can see all disease is a deficiency or breakdown in this flow. Using this same biological lens we can begin to see how social ills emerge in interpersonal and community relationships. Too much or too little of anything is harmful, even water. This is another critical point about relationships. Organs in our body must both be nourished, and give nourishment to the rest of the body. Lopsided relationships, including community structures where wealth is lavishly condensed in a narrow group and lack is the norm for others is the same as fattening the heart while starving the kidneys.

These are just a few of the lessons speaking through our biology about fulfilling relationships. Please share your ideas!

Apathy toward Injustice

Anne stopped short of swinging a last uncalculated blow. She wasn’t quite sure what stayed her hand from the final punctuation of what started in her mind as righteous retribution for an unforgivable act. Enveloped in blind emotion and flailing arms, the torrent lasted for what seemed like hours but was actually a few short moments. When it was over she took a few deep breaths and stared blankly at the quivering hunk of child at her feet – her flesh and blood – though in that moment it was neither child, nor her flesh and blood. It didn’t have a name – it was inanimate – a blank canvas on which to paint her rage. A rage born of the poison vapors of broken trusts and betrayals on which her vision of reality was formed – so many years prior… A rage that surfaced as an absurd attempt to once again purge the memories far too painful to taste again – a rage she desperately wanted to crush in her more reasoned moments but had no concept of how to harness much less subdue. At the same time she embraced the passionate futility of reliving the very angst she was trying to forget, she passed the same toxins to her child through the social umbilical cord that once fed her now wounded and misshapen psyche.

So many places in the world are known concentrations of injustices like the one just described. Some are far more subtle forms of rape and dehumanization, but none the less destructive and none the less able to ripple through our collective body of life. It is not a casual undertaking to recognize the full extent of the happenings that cultivate and perpetuate our collective self-inflicted wounds and starvation.

One of the ideas we must grasp if we are to actually remedy the vicious cycle is that blame is an unreal ghost that – if anything – runs through us and not to us – we far more often become toxic expressions toward life because we are carried on the currents of our toxic local culture and not because we were ever in a place to knowingly and willingly make choices. While this fact doesn’t eliminate the need to subdue destructive elements within our midst, it does reveal that a crime and punishment mentality perpetuates destructive behavior and is useless as healing and nourishment agents which are required to address the real wounds and starvation that drive such misery. This idea is not easy to hold on to when some injustice comes our way, especially when it happens to the likes of an innocent child, but the depth perception and constancy of purpose required to actually move humanity toward a better state of being must have this deeper field of view.

While apathy toward injustice is violence disguised as sleep, responding to injustice with further injustice makes us our own enemy, and that is the greatest injustice of all.

The Hidden Emotional Language that Drives our Life

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The view we hold of ourselves and the outside world forms in the womb of our developmental environment. The same way the relative proximity of rocks, dust and gasses can form an accretion disk that eventually translates into a planet like our earth, bits of experience and ideas we are composed of and exposed to coalesce into what we come to know as our identity.

If we were to probe the depths, we would see the echoes of these influences that shape who we are now stretch all the way to the dawn of the cosmos. We are representative of the nature of nature; more specifically, the particular climate of nature we are composed of and exposed to. The nearer the successive echoes of influence are to what we know of as the present, the more powerful the role they play in shaping what we experience as “us”. Experience has a sort of radioactive half life. Over time the power of the event to influence us decays and fades. Again like nuclear power, some of our experiences can, like a star, coalesce to become hot enough to ignite a furnace that sustains itself for a long time.

The ideas we use as a lens to understand the depths of our nature are grossly inadequate to render a clear image of ourselves. For many of us, the reality of ourselves is driven by influences that lurk beyond the horizon of our cognitive faculties to see much less steer. Our words serve as a pale shadow of the vast sea of influences that conspire to render our true self. The various elements that motivate our behaviors masquerade behind a wall of verbal language. In reality we speak an emotional language through our behaviors that hides outside the range of our cognitive capacities to see, much less alter in any significant way.

Some of us never examine, much less cultivate and refine our understanding of this hidden emotional language through a lens of sound reason. In the darkness of self unawareness, we sleepwalk through a repetitive pattern of relational poverty and chaos – pounding at the chords of our identity until the destructive waves of relationship swallow us whole and drown the last morsels of hope that cling to the surface of once energetic and youthful dreams.

This small story is meant to illuminate how this can happen and the rare calamity of circumstances that can snap us out of it:

Marcus didn’t seem to be able to please his father when it came to getting things done. No matter how hard he tried, it seemed there was always something missing. His father John worked twelve hours a day six days a week and sometimes joked that he only worked “half days”. Marcus and his older brother Andy were about a year and a half apart. When he came home from work John would tend to chores around the house and communicate his disappointment at the inadequate way his sons had done their chores. He would make them “complete the task right” then he would read the newspaper while he ate dinner, shower and go to bed.

Neither Marcus nor his brother Andy was favored by their father. John seemed to have an endless supply of disappointment to go around. He once went to a parent teacher conference where the teacher praised Marcus for his attitude and excellent work. Marcus was in the hallway, but could still overhear the conversation. He was beaming with pride because he felt that he was finally being recognized for his efforts. When his father came out he cocked one eyebrow up and coyly asked; “How’d it go dad?” His father replied flatly; “There’s always room for improvement”.

John hoarded both money and items. His garage was stacked with almost every mechanical tool so he could work on his own vehicles. He also had an array of woodworking and welding tools for whatever might need building or fixing. He would typically buy these items at auctions for pennies on the dollar so he could save more money. He was neat and methodical about the order in which his tools were to be kept. If his boys had a bike to work on and did not clean and put the tools away correctly the incident would be followed by weeks peppered with lectures and berating.

John’s wife Betty was no exception to John’s continual negative assessment of performance. He complained both to and about her on a regular basis for her failure to accomplish various things. Betty resented what she saw as constant criticism. She would not argue with him directly, but she would do things like overspending on frivolous items knowing how much this irritated John. In response to this John began taking more control of their finances and stored away money for what he called “a rainy day”. It confounded John that she could be so shortsighted. He believed he was protecting the family by putting her on a strict allowance. He also carefully examined all receipts from the grocery store and so on to make sure their dollars were being stretched as far as possible.

The more control John exerted on Betty the more creative she would be at finding ways to express her irritation at him. She would let the laundry pile up so that he would have to hunt for clean clothes, fail to be on time for appointments because she “got tied up” as a means of expressing her hostility. John felt she was being lazy and irresponsible and he told her so directly. While she did not reply verbally to his criticisms, she would bitterly complain about his cruelty to her friends and children when he was not present.

By the time Andy was eight years old Betty had overeaten to the point of being morbidly obese. Her sex life suffered to the point of extinction which was a disappointment to her as did other areas of her marriage relationship but this did not seem to bother John very much. He responded by working even more.

Over time Betty began to lavish more attention on Andy while ignoring and rejecting Marcus. She resented what she saw as Marcus attempting to constantly please his father. She felt he was mentally weak for not standing up to him. This division between her sons was not a sentiment she actually thought through, it both emerged and was expressed without either thought or direct communication.

The hostile undertones that flowed through the relationships within the family were viewed as completely normal. “If only mom would just do as dad said, things would be a lot better around here.” Marcus thought. Andy would say to his brother; “Why bother trying to please dad? He’s just going to find something else to bitch about.” This was one of his mother’s favorite phrases that he adopted fully as his own. He knew to never say it in front of his father. Like his mother, he felt a blend of empowerment and guilt when he voiced his rebellion to his brother in secret.

As Marcus grew older he worked hard, saved his money and bought a house by age twenty-three. While this was considerably ahead of his peers, his personal relationships were not as successful. Marcus had a series of troubled relationships with females. The relationships would begin rapidly and with promise, but they unfailingly turned hostile and ended chaotically.

He found himself attracted to women in dire need and circumstances. At first his presence in their lives was a welcome relief from the plight they were in, but the relationship would soon progress into an unpleasant and overbearing experience for both of them. Neither would address the way they felt directly. Most of the relationship chaos happened over immediate circumstances and never addressed the destructive undertones and hostility that drove these cycles.

Marcus felt resentment because of the “fact” that the females in his life didn’t appreciate the opportunity he offered them to improve their lot in life. He communicated his dissatisfaction through cold emotional distance, criticism and a frequently bitter face. His female companions would interpret his behaviors as a rejection of them. If any confronted him, rather than deal directly with these emotions, he simply went out to the garage to “work”.

In his late twenties Marcus met Laura. She, like the others, was in a desperate situation when they met. She had lost her job and was about to lose her apartment. He offered to let her stay with him and a romance soon followed. She became pregnant within two months. Although the relationship tracked like the rest with signs of distress the two got married. The distractions of the wedding plans and preparing for the arrival of their child helped to mask the underlying hostilities that were building between them.

One day when his son was a year old he came home from work early and found his wife in bed with a man. In the aftermath, and based on a suggestion from the only friend he told of the incident, he and his wife tried to get counseling, but it was ineffective. The counselor was quite adept at probing for the underlying causes of the relational disharmony they experienced, but both Marcus and Laura were equally adept at not dealing directly with their own contributions to that disharmony. Neither of them was willing to identify, nor admit their own roles in shaping the relationships they cultivated. When it was suggested that their son was learning to relate based on the role models he was exposed to they both responded with defensive self-praise. Among their claims was that they never fought in front of him so it would never be a problem.

Laura expressed that she felt that Marcus hated her and never spent any time with her. Marcus felt that Laura was weak and had given her self over to indulging her laziness and passions at the expense of the family. The counselor ended the sessions before any resolution. He said he could not help them if they were unwilling to deal with their roles in the stress in their marriage. They were surprised that the counselor ended their relationship. He told them if they ever decided to be serious, to look him up. They both thought they needed a counselor that understood them better, but neither pursued any further action.

They did not talk about the infidelity for a time after counseling ended. It was an unspoken rule. Except for the one person Marcus confided in, neither of them discussed the issue with their friends or extended family. Over time, Marcus added the betrayal of their marriage to the list of things he would bring up to express his dissatisfaction with Laura, but only when the tension reached a fever pitch. Externally she sheepishly endured his “endless lectures” and wildly cursed his insensitivity and meanness in her mind.

When their son was just over two Marcus came home to find the house unusually empty. He called around to find his wife and child. When he called his parents’ house they told him Laura had dropped off his son with them because she needed to run some errands, but she was now late picking him up. They didn’t know exactly where she was, but Betty assured him she was probably just “tied up somewhere” and not to worry about it.

Later that same evening the police called him and asked if he owned a red Toyota. When he answered yes, they proceeded to tell him his wife had been killed in an auto accident. She and her male companion had slammed into a tree. Both were killed instantly. Neither was wearing a seat belt. It was later found that her blood alcohol level was 2.5, nearly three times the legal limit.

Laura’s funeral was very awkward. Marcus’s mother Betty held the baby as the receiving line slowly moved past John and Marcus. Sad looks, silent handshakes and hugs were the majority of reaction. No one outside the family had known of their marital difficulties and Laura’s infidelity until now. The accident report published in the paper revealed the names. The male was not even an acquaintance of Marcus. The “real” story was whispered in hushed tones in quiet corners, but no one was brave or uncouth enough to bring it up to Marcus in his time of loss, that is… except his father.

After the funeral those that attended had the traditional get-together for nervous eating and the painful exchange of hollow and glib statements aimed at reassuring each other that it will be alright. Marcus was in a daze. “What am I going to do? What could I have done? Would counseling have worked if I hadn’t been so damned stubborn?” he wondered. He was staring blankly at the floor when John came over and sat down beside him.

John uncharacteristically put his hand on his son’s shoulder and said; “You know son, don’t you worry about this, she was just a slut anyway.” Marcus began to feel rage well up inside before John completed his sentence. His lip began to quiver violently and he leaned away from his father’s grasp on his shoulder. He stood up and methodically faced his father. John was uncertain how to react. “It’s OK son.” He said sheepishly. “Fuck you!” Marcus shouted. The quiet murmurs that were going on throughout the house stopped immediately. All eyes were fixed on Marcus and his father. “Fuck you!” he repeated even louder. “If you hadn’t been such a judgmental prick my whole life I wouldn’t have learned to be so goddamned stubborn and judgmental!” Betty’s jaw dropped open. Some of the cheese dip she had been nervously chewing dribbled out of the corner of her mouth. “You know why she cheated on me dad? Do you?” he blurted out. “She thought I hated her. She couldn’t stand to have me put her down day after day after day. She felt like nothing she ever did was good enough. You know what else? This wasn’t the first time. We went to counseling last year and he tried to tell me, but I wouldn’t listen. I just kept it up, needling her till she died from a thousand cuts and you know what? I have you to thank. I should have known…” He paused; “Look at mom!” He pointed to her as she sat on the couch, mouth still open. “She’s eating herself to death trying to get the fuck out of your life, and you know why? She can’t stand you! Where’s Andy? As far away as he could get from you! You and your “save for a rainy day” and “nobody measures up”… Marcus began waving his arms up and down and continued; “…well what’s your rainy day fund doing for you now dad ‘cause it’s fucking raining? What’s it all gonna do for you when you’re all alone? You gonna count your fucking tools and coins. Why don’t you work on that for a while dad!”

When Marcus finished the room was still silent. No one knew how to respond or what to say. He silently collected his son from beside his mother who was now leaking cheese dip onto her blouse and left the house. For the next several moments everyone was too stunned to say or do anything anything besides a nervous shuffle or two. Marcus didn’t return that day. After what seemed like a very long time the guests began passing a few timid statements back and forth about how Marcus was “not himself”; that he was just “overwhelmed with grief”, and “not to worry, he’ll come around”. They left as fast as they could from the gathering with the empty “Let me know if there’s anything I can do…” platitude. The whisper campaigns in the community about the incident smoldered silently in the background for weeks and months.

John was confounded by the event. He tried to call Marcus several times later that day and even as the weeks progressed. Marcus simply did not respond. Andy was unable to come to the funeral as he had just landed a job clear across the country at the time of the accident. He sent a sympathy card and was largely unaware of the events that transpired. He and Marcus had drifted apart over the years. Betty just ate more.

Marcus had resolved from that moment forward that he would change his life. Within the first week, he reconnected with the counselor that had tried to save his marriage the year before. After many tears and bouts of self-loathing he began to understand the underpinnings of the values that shaped his life and relationships. The counselor helped him to begin to connect his behaviors with their impact on his relationships with himself and others. He helped him move from blaming his father and himself to understanding the emotional starvation that defined his father’s world. He didn’t want the same disaster to fall on to the next generation so he began developing both the choice and the discipline make real changes in his life.

Although brief and spotty, his relationship with his extended family slowly returned, but it was by no means restored to its former self. He learned to keep his emotional distance from his wounded family and slowly tried to pick up the rest of the pieces of his life. After a year and a half he met a widow with two small children. Their relationship slowly blossomed into a family over time. Marcus began the process of renewal. Echoes of the past would still haunt him from time to time. He would find himself slip into harshly critical remarks especially when he was under stress, but he knew the disastrous effects of this behavior. He would quickly catch himself, apologize and move on to a more constructive and appropriate expression of his emotions.

Eventually Marcus learned to separate disappointment and anger for genuine events from harsh and controlling judgments. At first he learned to control the way he responded to the existing emotions that cycled through his life. As he continued to grow his emotional responses themselves began to reform. Marcus began to see the world in a different light and this new light was built on how well it served to nourish the people in his care, which included himself. These and other efforts to redefine who he was, and the deepening character that resulted, helped to develop even more strength in the relationship between him and his new family. A new beginning had finally arrived. He began to appreciate and feel empowered about the person he was becoming.

END

Those of us that experience cycles of chaos that result from long practiced destructive behaviors may not recognize the connection between these behaviors and our experience of life. As a result of our blindness we are ill equipped to use our experience as a tool to grow. Instead of overcoming adversity to realize triumph, we wallow in self-made chaos and look for someone or thing irrelevant to blame and punish. If we can find no person or thing to blame we simply vent our hostility on our environment in every direction further perpetuating the chaos.

The relationships that are present in our developmental environment shape what we come to understand and expect as reality. This expectation has a powerful influence on the way we experience life. If we expect to be unloved, we will project that onto a reality that may or may not be communicating that actuality. Our shared experience of reality is often overshadowed by the emotional realities that are present in our identity. We see the world as we are, not as it is. Socrates called it the cave. For a rare few of us the circumstances in our life can conspire to give us a powerful enough moment of clarity to see a choice and motivate a sustained change. If, in that moment, we seize the opportunity and make the most of it, there’s a chance we can awaken to steer our life on a different course – to emerge from the darkness of the cave.

For many the opportunity goes unnoticed because we don’t sufficiently understand the connections between causes and effects that shape our experience. Typically there is no great tragedy or triumph that acts as an inward focused lens enabling us to capture a clear vision of not only who we are, but who we want to be.

Do actions really speak louder than words?

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Generally speaking we behave as if we believe our words can adequately and accurately define our identity. If asked who we are we are we might gurgle out some episodic facts about ourselves and leave that small statement hanging as the essence of our identity. As if we can be defined inside the boundaries of few precise symbolic labels. Words may be necessary descriptors to identify certain aspects of ourselves, but there’s no reason to believe they are sufficient to encapsulate the depths of who we are.

We can use our words, like arrows in a verbal quiver, in an attempt to hit the target of what we think is our true identity is, but no matter how sincere we are, it’s still no guarantee of accuracy. One of the most common deal breakers in terms of verbal accuracy is our tendency to confuse the map with the journey. Words are a map, a symbolic representation of something actual, but they are not the actual journey. No one ever drank the word “water”, only the actual substance. We are not what we say we are, we are what we do. The truth is, we are what our behaviors say, not necessarily what our words say. We often attempt to project a verbal map that is not representative of what our actions say, but more what we’d like to think of ourselves, or have others think of us. If our words and action are compared, the relationship may be dramatically unequal.

While some of us have used the cliché “actions speak louder than words”, many of us miss the depth of profound truth buried in that statement. Our behaviors define us. Our real identity is spoken by what we do in total, not by the words that frequently frolic and sputter so casually out of our mouths. If what we say agrees with what we do, our identity has integrity, (wholeness) if our words and deeds disagree, our identity lacks integrity. Again sincerity is no guarantee of accuracy.

Developing a clear cognitive understanding of ourselves is not a passive act by any means. It is not easy to examine ourselves at face value. As humans, many of us appear to think we ride the crest of a wave of verbal fictions. Honest self-examination requires more than magic words puffed up to a sincere self-image with a mixture of ignorance and delusion. Historically speaking, when our species woke up enough to begin the process of self-examination, we discovered that our nature was somewhat monstrous. For one thing, we found ourselves killing and and eating our living neighbors.  This inborn need to put ourselves first, coupled with our biological dependency on cooperative relationships is a confusing proposition to figure out. This could be one of the reasons we sometimes use the word “humane” as if to be human one is characterized by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy. This is a pleasant fiction, but it does not represent our behavioral communication. This is not to imply that humane could not represent our character as humans, but that it currently does not. The real measure of human ethics is expressed through our behaviors.

When all the mist is burned away, our behaviors are what truly reveal our identity. Reality, unlike our words, is not capable of lying, and it is unswervingly expressed through behaviors. (Relationships) If we want to look at our true identity in an undistorted mirror, our behaviors must define our words, not the other way around.

An example of the confusion between words and identity can be seen through the words and deeds of a father in the Congo Republic. Nicholas D. Kristof, a OP-ED columnist for the New York Times spent some time traveling in the Congo. He found one father who had lost two of his eight daughters to malaria, but spent money on alcohol, a cell phone and tobacco instead of mosquito nets for his remaining children. At the same time his behaviors clearly communicate the values that define his identity, his verbal reasoning was along the lines of not having the money.[1] This “not enough money” view to the father made perfect sense to him. His words appeared to him to explain his behaviors. When asked why he prioritized alcohol over his daughter’s education, he simply “looked pained”.

To accurately understand the values we hold we must use our behaviors as the standard. The fact that this man lives in a culture where this behavior is not only tolerated, but encouraged and expected by his peers makes it all the more likely he will believe his own wordy self-deception over his behaviors. To call it polite fiction, or any other name for that matter, the net result is a wake of destructive and self-perpetuating poverty riding on a frothy broth of words. The thin veneer of words that mask our behavioral violence is by no means confined to people of the Congo. It is no different for us as individuals than it is for us as a global culture.

Individuals and whole cultures can become occupied with behaviors aligned around building social status, obtaining possessions and tending lawns while the larger community in which we live suffers in educational and resource squalor. These actions and inactions are a clear statement of our values.

It is possible to negotiate life without considering how our behavior communicates our real identity. In this observational poverty we do not have to face the unpleasant nature of our true selves, but this willful and/or negligent fiction comes with a heavy cost. Without clear vision we can never see our way to decide who we want to be, and choose to develop the discipline to be an expression of that choice. Without vision we become prisoners inside the poverty of our own ignorance and self-deception.

We can, and do easily slip into a verbal shell game with ourselves where we see what is convenient and cover up or ignore what is inconvenient. Our focus on specious words over the reality of our behavioral deeds contribute by neglect or active violations to massive suffering on wider scales of place and time is not only a clear communication of our values, but our complicity in our continuing poverty.

Nations war with other nations using the same verbal veneer for justification that we do as individuals. The prominence of this blindness demonstrates that we are neither aware of the source of our poverty, nor our potential in light of the difficult task of facing the truth, even if that truth is harsh and unflattering. We waddle semiconsciously to a slaughterhouse that is built on our own cognitive neglect and lack of disciplined effort. Integrity is the key to choice and this is not measured by our words alone, but by the sum total of our actions.

If we boil our current condition, and our only possible path toward a more nourishing state of being down to its essence it might look something like this: Actions speak louder than words.


[1] Nicholas D. Kristof New York Times article: “Moonshine or the Kids?” May 22, 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/opinion/23kristof.html