SUGGESTIONS FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN

Earth is Not a Platform for Human Life

It Is a Living Being

We’re Not on it But Part of It

Its Health is Our Health.

Thomas Moore

 

In 2001, I was asked to write a letter to my grandkids to be posted on The Grandfather Chronicles website.

An excerpt:

Previous generations leave you the greatest responsibility any generation has inherited from those who came before them. The unintended consequences of the successes of previous generations are devastating to all of nature—including the people of our world. Your job is to save the planet for future generations.

We leave you with the population explosion, the greenhouse effect, and the extinction of species of animals and plants at a rate 1,000 times faster than at any time in the past 65 million years. We live a philosophy of life that pollutes the air and the water, destroys the rain forest at the rate of 1 1/2 acres a second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and floats homeless waste filled barges in the ocean.

The destruction of forests endangers almost half of the 235 species of primates. Another 20 percent approach threatened status. Our way of life produces spreading deserts, drying seas, and topsoil loss. Our beliefs alienate people from themselves, from each other, and from nature. Our mechanistic worldview destroyed and homogenized thousands of diverse cultures that lived in sustainable ways. Our thinking threatens the sustainability of the planet that you will try to save.

Fast forward to 2019:

Well, dear grandchildren: Over the past 18 years, we failed to face and confront our many existential threats. America (and many other countries) has regressed: lies, threats, corruption, incompetence, demonization, and blaming the powerless for our many problems dominate the news every day. Our democracy is threatened by an autocrat.

Climate change is here and has taken center stage among all of the threats to the environment. Climate change is settled science: 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that we caused it (and here and here).

Our president denies climate change, or perhaps he just doesn’t care. Republicans in Congress don’t seem to care either. We should not vote for any candidate of either party that does not publically state that climate change is real, that we caused it, and offer a plan for actions to take.  We can argue about when the worst of climate change will be or how bad the loss of life and destruction will be. But anyone who wants to still argue about whether climate change is real or that humans cause it just isn’t thinking straight (See Twilight of American Sanity by Allan Frances, MD.) The attacks on nature accelerate. Everything on the planet is affected because everything is connected and interdependent (See Our Planet on Netflix).

We need new, diverse, and younger leaders at all levels of government in America. Leaders who can articulate an inspiring vision, have the courage to lead, get things done, and never go against America’s or their own deepest values. People outside of government do great work on climate change and other environmental issues that threaten us. But we need a functioning government to provide money and right legislation.

Each year we fail to answer the call to transform how we live on our planet, the more difficult change will be. Forget about climate change for a moment: the way we live on our planet cannot be sustained climate change or not. Every day, we consume more of the planet’s biomass. The longer we ignore the environment, the more people will suffer and die, the more destruction there will be, and the more nature will go to extremes to get our attention.

We feel sad, scared, and anxious as we see more clearly the realities of climate change. I recall reading a speech by a trusted author in 2001: I felt so shaken by his predictions for the environment that I had to jump in my car and go for a long ride to process my emotions of grief, fear, and anxiety. Not many people talked about how they felt about what was happening to our natural world back then. They are now.

I Googled “climate grief” and found 47,900,000 results. In 2017 the American Psychological Association found “gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion.” (See David Brooks, An Era Defined by Fear.)

Many who mourn our planet and dread the future have lost hope for a secure life. They are not crazy (See Yuval Harari’s, Homo Deus.)

Misery precedes a new transformative vision that gives people new hope and aliveness.

We’re sealed into climate change that we cannot stop, but we may have time to turn things around before the worst happens. Denying our emotions is the wrong thing to do. Trying to ignore what is happening or hoping for a hero or heroine to rescue us is the wrong thing to do. And, God won’t rescue us.

We need to see reality clearly, deepen and broaden our awareness, reconnect with science, and find our way to the truth in a world of lies. Once we “get it,” we can get engaged, connect to others, connect with nature, and connect with the vision that offers the best chance for a hopeful and secure life ( See Johann Hari: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solution).

The inhabitants of Earth must join together and cooperate to confront our collective future. The United States cannot go it alone: it would be immoral and unsustainable.

Dealing with the massive issues before us requires a deep transformation in how we live on Earth. Our economics have to change dramatically. Our use of fossil fuels has to diminish significantly. We can no longer have unlimited growth, and we must simplify. Our values need to shift: we can no longer give status and respect to those who deny the need for action. They will be the pariahs of the near future. Political conflict is inevitable and will continue to threaten our democracy.

At the same time, the world of work will continue to change dramatically adding more grief, fear, and anxiety to your lives, You will need to see the future of work and learn to adapt to even faster change than before. You will need to learn 21st-century technologies: AI, robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology. You will have to redefine yourselves routinely to be relevant and have a place in the world of work.

John Gardner wrote in Self-Renewal:

If we indoctrinate the young person in an elaborate set of fixed beliefs, we are ensuring his early obsolescence. The alternative is to develop skills, attitudes, habits of mind, and the kinds of knowledge and understanding that will be the instruments of continuous change and growth on the part of the young person…this means more attention to basic principles…. In all subjects, it means teaching habits of mind that will be useful in new situations—curiosity, open-mindedness, objectivity, respect for evidence and the capacity to think critically.”

Chaos offers opportunities and danger. Prepare yourselves to be aware of the dangers but find the opportunities. I believe you can and will rise to the occasion. Other generations have throughout history. It is possible, however improbable, to create a new and better world from the ashes of the Industrial Revolution.

To guide you in life, identify your values, articulate your purpose in life, and create your vision for your lives and for the kind of world you want to live in. This spiritual journey is hard work; most don’t do it. Life will pass them by.

Do what you love in life. Let your values and purpose guide you when chaos surrounds you, when you feel lost, confused, bewildered, and disillusioned. Transform your grief and anxiety into a powerful motivation. Fight for the planet.

You will feel alive if you do.

THE JOURNEY ITSELF WILL CHANGE YOU

Man was born to turn the world into paradise, but tragically he was born flawed. And so his paradise has always been spoiled by stupidity, greed, destructiveness, and shortsightedness.
Daniel Quinn

Alone on Thanksgiving 2001, I was a solitary figure as I walked north along County Road 23, two miles south of Ridgway, Colorado — the northern entrance to the San Juan Mountains.

The snow-topped San Juan’s rim the Uncompahgre Valley, home of farms, cattle ranches, and magical rainbows each April. Cows and horses dot the fields below. I felt peaceful.

The day awakened brisk and flowed toward me from the mountains to the east. My boots crunched the gravel. The cool air burned my cheeks. The morning sun warmed my skin. Magpies, bluebirds, and blue jays sat on the fence posts and in the trees along the road and dashed and darted about. I could feel the interconnected energy of the life around me—including myself as I too am part of nature.

How long can we live well on this planet when we extinguish 200 species a day to expand economic growth so we can feed, house, and enable the material and emotional addictions of our global over-population? Each day the threats of climate change grow more ominous. Will we change?

Nature has a deep purpose: to sustain the conditions for life—not necessarily human life but the existence of creativity and aliveness. Nature will survive humans; will we endure our own destructive flaws and learn to care for our home on earth instead of constantly diminishing her for more and more stuff and people? If we provoke her too much, she will turn her wrath on us more than she already has. Nature expresses her passions without mercy or sentiment, and she always wins. The longer we wait, the more we and all of nature will suffer.

I paused on my walk and said hello to two favorite young cows–“Brown” and “Tan,” I called them. They ignored me, and I moved on. A dozen deer, ears perked, stood frozen 30 feet away and watched me pass by. The local marmots rested in their homes. I saw no one and, other than the sounds of nature, my boots on gravel, and my breathing, my walk was quiet. I was in a reflective mood.

How can anyone believe they can control nature? I thought about a recent experience: I drove my jeep 12,000 feet above sea level on a narrow path of an old mining road. I was a few miles east of Silverton, 30 miles south of where I lived. A sudden rainstorm began washing the clay beneath my jeep away, and my vehicle began to slide back down the mountain close to a steep ledge. I went with her pull until I saw an opportunity to maneuver out of the slide. Nature reminded me of my powerlessness and humbled me.

I walked to the white house on the curve of the road into Ridgway, drank some water, waved to the barking yellow lab, and turned around for the walk home. In the spring, a couple of hundred skittish elk will graze in the meadows below me. Variety surrounded me on my walk. Diversity promotes adaptation and sustainability. A monoculture foreshadows death.

The return trip climbed uphill from about 7,200 feet. My breath got faster and deeper and my legs felt the strain. I finished my water.

Finally, head down, I trudged up the curved and rutted incline of the long driveway to the A-frame home nestled against the side of the mountain. I lived in the loft. I sat on the picnic table near the back door and under the deck; I was hot and wet with sweat. I breathed heavily. I notice Skeeter and Tate — two cats larger than Noga, my Westie — hunting in the brush. I felt alive.

I muttered an expletive under my breath in acknowledgment of the hard effort. I loved this three-mile walk in nature, which provided a milieu for creative contemplation. I was old enough to find it harder to believe in a loving God as I did as a child. I tried to figure out how I can believe and still see humanity as it is: so often cruel and unjust.

As I caught my breath, I thought back to when my brother Allan and I took a trip to East Africa for 18 days of wildlife photography in Kenya and Tanzania. The animals were excited, spirited, and expressive — they ran, jumped, and played. A Pride of lions slept, sunned themselves, and lounged while mischievous cubs played and irritated their elders who cuffed them gently.

A large group of giraffes loped across the plain. Two cheetahs stalked Thompson gazelles. A soundless leopard carried a young wildebeest into a tree to feast on for the next two or three days. Animals kill for food; not for ego or trophies. Elephants lumbered in front of the gigantic and snow-covered Mount Kilimanjaro as filled with excitement, I fumbled with my camera.

I watched the chaos of the annual wildebeest migration as two million grazers followed the rain. I began to sense the deeper order, programmed genetically over thousands of years, of their seemingly insane behavior. Order exists beneath chaos.

As I caught my breath, I decided to go and soak in the hot springs in Ouray — eight miles south at the front door of the San Juan’s. Many years prior, I drove around the mountain curve on highway 550 into Ouray. I saw the steam from the hot springs rising to the mountains. I was drawn to this beautiful place, and I returned several times to drive the old mining roads.

One day my divorce, my mom’s death, and the surprise death of my best friend provided the deep awareness of fragile and temporary life, and I loaded my jeep and drove West to grieve and live out my dream of living a year in the mountains.

The large hot springs pool sits surrounded by mountains and the town of Ouray — a tiny piece of Western history nestled in a bowl at the foot of the San Juan’s. I relaxed in the pool, drank water, and watched rock climbers, mountain goats, small avalanches, and the deer feeding in the adjacent park. Often I sat for hours and thought, other times I read, and I talked with locals and tourists. In the winter, the steam rises from the hot water, and often I can only see a foot or two in front of me. The pool fills with people when it snows, and snow-covered heads appear to float on top of the warm water.

I reflected on my connection with nature while I soaked. I thought about my eight days of whale-watching on a fishing boat out of San Diego:

I sat in a small skiff in the San Ignacio lagoon in the Mexican province of Baja California Sur. The boat bobbed in light waves. I watched as a 40-foot-long, 40-ton great gray whale surfaced beneath the boat and introduced her new child to the boat’s elated observers.

I peered into a large serene eye of the mother and wondered: What is her world like? Her gentle and knowing return of my excited stare linked us in a mystical moment. I realized that in one slight movement she could destroy the boat and kill its occupants. Instead, she chose to form a relationship with us — a profound choice: destroy or relate — the essence of competing worldviews in my world.

Mother and child floated with the skiff for a few minutes. The whales allowed the exhilarated humans to touch them and to lean over and kiss the barnacle-covered parent before mother and child submerged and disappeared. For a few short moments, the sky, the ocean, the people, the bobbing skiff, and the whale and her child were one. Nature is a form of love available to each of us. Maybe that moment of intimacy was God

Henry Beston wrote:

For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move furnished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

People, the whales, and the lions are animals. It’s our job to use our gifts to nurture the planet not consume it for things we don’t need.

I feel sorrow for our planet. Nature and America have declined since 2016: under assault by those who feel entitled to destroy our natural world for ego and money; they never get enough.

A few years ago, I stood alone in Canyonlands National Park near Mesa Arch. The sky was dark at 4:30 am. I looked up at the cloudless sky and saw the star-filled cosmos. I felt overwhelmed with awe and humility. Fear too. I felt the pain of my insignificance. The questions and mysteries of life swirled in my mind. I’m not the center of the universe: I am minuscule in my brief moment as a participant in the interconnected natural world. Two hours later, I stood in front of Mesa Arch and watched as the sun rose in the distance.

Daniel Quinn was the author of the quote that is the title of this essay. I hope future generations will be able to have their own journeys into nature. It will change them as it will continue to change me.

Monarch Butterfly: an endangered species.

 

A CARING FRIEND

 To care for another person, in the most significant sense, is to help him grow and actualize himself. Milton Mayeroff

Eleanor Powers, my friend of 43 years, died on November 25, 2018.

Eleanor wasn’t a wealthy woman, she lived alone in a small home in South Minneapolis. She hadn’t had a career—I don’t know how much she had worked in her life. She suffered from chronic depression, agoraphobia, and horrific pain from arthritis. She didn’t drive and was anxious about leaving her home—but she did when she needed to.

Eleanor stayed up most of every night and watched the cable television shows. She surfed the channels and could not stand Fox News or Donald Trump. I often said to her, “You should quit watching politics on television. Not hearing all the anger would help your depression.”

“No, watching politics is good for me. I can yell at the television,” she replied.

Eleanor was a mother of six children. Bill, her husband, had died 20 some years ago. Eleanor had suffered darkness in her life. I’ll keep the details to myself but suffice to say: Eleanor had more than her share of loss, pain, and suffering. When I talked to her, she would express any angst that she was feeling and then moved on to happier topics.

I met Eleanor at an “Emotions Anonymous” 12-step meeting. I had been in treatment in 1974 and had been sober for a year. I had been going to AA meetings but didn’t feel they were what I wanted. Treatment had awakened me to my inner emotional world and I was fascinated by exploring that terrain. I wanted to go to a group that talked about emotions. EA was perfect for me. I loved the diversity of the group: men, women, all ages, some were alcoholics, others were wives, husbands, or children of alcoholics. Some were depressed, others were grieving the loss of someone or something. What they had in common was pain and suffering they sought relief from.

Eleanor and I talked at that first meeting. She gave me her phone number and said: “call me if you want to talk.”

Well, I wanted to talk. I called Eleanor night after night for weeks, and we talked for a couple of hours each time. I struggled to put my life together in my first year of sobriety, and I was sad, angry, afraid, and anxious about how my life might turn out.

I picked Eleanor up for meetings and took her home afterward. Sometimes we and other group members stopped for coffee. Our telephone calls continued but less frantically. I met Bill and he was supportive and a big help to me. Many times we sat around their table and talked and talked. Eleanor and Bill were twenty-some years older than me and had much life experience, hard-earned wisdom, and knowledge of the Twelve Step philosophy.

I moved in 2000 and spent a year in SW Colorado where I wrote, consulted, and sat in the natural hot springs, and drove the mining roads of the San Juan Mountains. I then moved to Fargo/Moorhead where I met Melanie, my wife. We lived along the Red River of the North. Eleanor and I stayed in touch. In 2009, Melanie and I were flooded out of our home. We moved to Minneapolis, MN: back home for me and a new adventure for Melanie.

I owed Eleanor so much: she had supported me through one of the most challenging times of my life. She was a lifeline to me and gave me so much of herself and helped me establish a strong foundation for my sobriety—now 44 years.

Eleanor didn’t drive, could not afford taxis, and needed help. I began taking her to appointments as did other friends. Each time I picked her up she began a stream-of-consciousness anger dump about the day’s politics. The Trump talk depressed me, but I listened so she could get the emotions out.

She wanted me to come into the examination rooms with her and take notes. More than once, I saw her cry in anguish because of the arthritic pain she suffered. She did everything asked of her by the doctors but nothing seemed to help much. She tried swimming, acupuncture, and physical therapy. Still, she suffered. She never gave up trying to get rid of the pain she felt.

As seven years went by, she had more appointments and needed more help. She went from using a cane to a walker, and finally to a wheelchair. Some of her friends who drove her couldn’t handle the wheelchair so finding rides became more and more difficult.

I worried that Eleanor would fall in her home. I felt she could no longer care for herself. I believed Eleanor should move to an assisted living facility. Assisted living was not in her plans. She was proud of her independence and feared she would be forced to change her lifestyle. Finally, in July of 2018, her children “kidnapped her,” (in her words) and put her in a nursing home (her children did the right thing). She cried as she told me about it.

About six months later she got an infection and died quickly. She was 94 years old.

What drew me to Eleanor and made me feel so responsible to repay her in whatever ways I could?

Eleanor cared and she cared for me at a time I needed someone to support me. Eleanor spent time with me. She listened to me and came to know me: my values, strengths, weaknesses, and my most difficult emotions. She didn’t judge, lecture, or try to fix or control me. She could be blunt. She could be difficult. But she always cared for me, and I could feel her caring.

Eleanor was patient in our relationship. She didn’t push, she allowed me to experience suffering, confusion, uncertainty, and let me flounder until I found my way. She was honest with me and helped me see myself as I was not as I imagined myself to be. I trusted her, and my life came together.

Eleanor Powers lived a caring way of life. I’ll never forget Eleanor and the love she gave me. My life might have turned out much differently without her.

Whenever we said goodbye Eleanor would say, “I love you, Thomas.” “I love you too,” I replied.

OUR DENIAL AND DELUSIONS MAY KILL US

We’re not going to debate climate change, the existence of it. The Earth is getting hotter. And human activity is a major cause, period. We’re not going to give time to the climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not. Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, December 31, 2018

“One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers,” President Donald Trump’s reaction to the 1,600 page National Climate Assessment (issued by his administration).

The President isn’t thinking straight. First, I do not experience him as a person who has a very high level of intelligence. He more than overestimates his own skills and abilities as people with fewer talents often do, and he underestimates the talents of others. More competent people underestimate their skills and overestimate the skills of others (Dunning-Kruger effect).

Second, climate change is established science.

Denying climate change is like denying gravity or that cigarettes cause cancer. Or, could Trump and others really believe that climate change is real but deny it publically and fails to take action for other sinister motives? His failure to take strong action to save our planet is a presidential failure of the highest magnitude. He is not crazy; he is bad. The political system must stop him.

The experts and pseudo-experts can argue about when the worst of climate change will happen, how bad will the most horrible impacts be, and can civilization recover but the time for arguing about whether climate change is real or “fake news,” is over.

A delusion is: “…a fixed, false belief that is firmly believed and resists correction by overwhelming evidence and rational argument.” The delusions of Trump followers, inflamed by him, brought Trump the presidency. Those same delusions may kill us.

From Allan Frances, MD in Twilight of American Sanity:

Common delusions in people: Delusions of persecution that lead to blaming others for one’s failures; Delusions of grandiosity (I am highly intelligent); erotomanic delusions: the conviction that a person is loved by all when, in reality, they are ignored or hated.

Society has delusions too:

We don’t have to worry about global warming or environmental pollution because God or technology will save us;

World population can keep growing without causing drastic resource depletion, irreversible global warming, incessant wars, mass migrations; frequent pandemics, and recurring famines;

We don’t have to worry about running out of things because there is always a high-tech fix to get whatever more stuff we will eventually need;

If the rich get richer, the benefits will trickle down to everyone else and the world will be a better place;

The United States has the best health-care system in the world;

The United States can bully other countries into doing whatever we want;

Our country can only be great again if we build walls around it;

Since mankind has been given domination over the earth, our needs are paramount, the survival of other species need not concern us;

It is worth giving away almost all of our privacy in order to gain security, convenience, and valuable research data;

The more guns the better. Guns don’t kill people, people do. An armed population is a safe populace;

The technological revolution can do no wrong.

(Dr. Frances wrote about each delusion and provided evidence of how each is not true)

“Ignorance is not Bliss.” Millions of Americans have a delusional belief system (Thanks in large part to Fox News and conservative talk radio) that does not portray America or the world as it is. Charles Darwin wrote: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” Trump and his followers want to transform America but try to take us backward and deeper into the world of delusions. That is destruction, not transformation. Believing in the these and other delusions are not sustainable and delusional thinking won’t solve the legitimate issues of Trump followers.

We must undo the societal delusions that made Trump our President.  The first step to healthy change is to see ourselves and our country and our world as it is. Allan Frances: “Rational mind must reassert itself over irrational impulse and wish-fulfilling fantasy.”

We need a spiritual awakening–a moment of metanoia–a shift of mind. Scientist Rupert Sheldrake said, “It is like waking up from a dream. It brings with it a spirit of repentance, seeing in a new way, a change of heart. This conversion is intensified by the sense that the end of an age is at hand.”

And we need to wake up fast. We are already late in attacking climate change and we will suffer from the damage already done. It seems like no one cares until they lose their homes or businesses or lives of loved ones. We need to be visionary and proactive.

We live in daunting times. People who see things clearly feel anger, sorrow, fear, and anxiety. Delusions lead us down the wrong paths. We live under real stress, the maturity of many regresses to earlier times. We fear the genuine transformative change that is required. But, just try to imagine how you will feel when the worst of climate change knocks on your door.

God will not rescue us. Nor will a hero or heroine save us—certainly not our President. We are responsible for our collective fate. The great threats of climate change, population growth, species extinction, resource depletion, and global poverty have called for change for a long time.

Are we ready to make real change? If we are ready, we will get behind a new vision for the renewal first of the United States and then of the world and we will do what is necessary to have a sustainable planet. We don’t need to make America great again; we need to make America good.

Whatever we do, something spectacular is going to happen soon. We will experience an evolutionary bounce or an evolutionary crash.

Our smallest moves may trigger small or vast changes in the world we make and remake together. Trilobites have come and gone; Tyrannosaurus has come and gone. Each tried; each strode uphill; each did its evolutionary best.

Consider that 99.9 percent of all species have come and gone. Be careful. Your own best footstep may unleash the very cascade that carries you away, and neither you nor anyone else can predict which grain will unleash the tiny or the cataclysmic alteration.

Be careful, but keep on walking; you have no choice. Be as wise as you can, yet have the wisdom to admit your global ignorance. We all do the best we can, only to bring forth the conditions of our ultimate extinction, making way for new forms of life and ways to be. If we must eventually fail, what an adventure to be players at all. Stuart Kauffman

REPULSIVE

To destroy the dignity of a human being is evil.

Peter Koestenbaum, author of Leadership: The Inner

Side of Greatness

 

I read M. Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie in the 1990s.

Donald Trump ran for president in 2016. When I evaluate a presidential candidate, I think first of their character.  A person of character models goodness: caring, empathy, and compassion for all of humanity. A person of character has a strong inner core: deep values and a purpose greater than himself. A visionary, he has a positive, hopeful, sustainable and forward-looking dream for the evolution of America and the planet. A president of character shows us wisdom, bravery, fairness, knowledge, emotional maturity, and transcendence.

If a candidate fails the character test, I eliminate them regardless of party, experience, grievances,  positions on the issues, or likes and dislikes. Nothing can take priority over a candidate’s integrity. In my evaluation of Trump’s character, he received zero points. Therefore, from my perspective, those who voted for Trump simply were not thinking straight.

With help from Russia, Trump squeaked into the presidency via the Electoral College. He lost the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes.

Since then: lies, chaos, blunders, craziness, scapegoating, criminal investigations, guilty pleas, and decline for America. The dysfunction of the Trump administration smothers us and threatens our existence on our heating planet. The Republican Congress sits by quietly.

I had always thought of evil, when I thought about it at all, as huge events like the Holocaust and people like Adolph Hitler or gruesome and macabre murderers like grave robber Ed Gein, who murdered women and exhumed bodies from graves around Plainfield, Wisconsin in the 1950s.

Peck defined evil as “…the use of power to destroy the spiritual growth of others for the purpose of defending or preserving the integrity of one’s sick self. Evil …is that force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.”

Not all hurtful acts are evil. Peck wrote that the consistency of their harmful actions defines evil people. The abusive husband who humiliates his wife day after day for 20 years; the cruel boss who sucks the life from employees year after year; the political demagogue who lies and scapegoats others in speech after speech, year after year, and the blabbermouth talk and television hosts who spread lie after lie to gain followers and sell books.

Peck—one of my favorite writers–wrote about evil in our normal lives and in everyday people: in families, churches, schools, politics, and in our organizations and institutions. His words alarmed me: I, and people I knew and cared about—ordinary people–could be evil, do evil, be part of evil systems and be unaware of evil in and around us.

Evil people diminish others. Evil people exhaust and devalue those around them. They blame others falsely and demonize people to justify the destruction of people’s spirits and make themselves look like upright people.

Scapegoating allows bad people to pretend to be good. Evil people look just like us so we have to pay attention to their acts and behaviors. Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D. wrote in Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty that evil people intentionally inflict harm on the good and innocent outsider for the pure pleasure of doing so.

When we experience scapegoating, we often feel confused. I call that crazy making. Have you listened to someone talk persuasively about something and felt confused: suddenly up was down, right was wrong, the earth is flat, and climate change is a hoax, and you felt the rug had been pulled out from under your experience of life?

A friend’s advice about crazy making was sound: “Don’t try to make sense of nonsense.” If you decide to confront an evil person, I would add, expect to spend much time doing so and beware: confronting evil will exhaust you and probably hurt and diminish you.

We often feel instant revulsion in the presence of obvious immorality. Tearing others down to elevate himself is our president’s special talent, dastardly as it is. Revulsion makes us want to get away from the person—to escape them. The damage evil people cause means nothing to them: evil people see themselves as the sufferer, justified in their actions.

Malicious folks do not suffer a lack of self-regard; self-absorbed, they have excessive self-esteem (actual accomplishments may be few). Often they do have empathy: they know exactly how to hurt people–usually the powerless. They consider themselves above reproach; they would be appalled to hear that someone considers them evil; they often think of themselves as the victim. Driven by the fear of exposure, they lash out at those who criticize them to avoid seeing themselves accurately. For the scoundrels, the opposition is all bad; their side all good. Hence the title of Peck’s book: they are the People of the Lie who deceive others as they deceive themselves.

Trump lies constantly. The Washington Post reported: “In the first nine months of his presidency, Trump made 1,318 false or misleading claims, an average of five a day. But in the seven weeks leading up the midterm elections, the president made 1,419 false or misleading claims — an average of 30 a day.” Who does he lie to the most? The people who attend his rallies.

The Trump persona is his biggest lie. He is not who he says he is.

My favorite quote from Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death comes to mind: “If everybody lives roughly the same lies about the same things, there is no one to call them liars. They jointly establish their own sanity and call themselves normal”

That’s Trump-land.

Trump and the Republican Party are tearing America apart with amazing speed in their lust for power and money. Our suffering is the correct response: “It’s no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (Jiddu Kriishnamurti). Do not despair. Evil responds to power, in this case, political power. Accountability is on the way.

We must judge and stand against evil people. Many of us try not to judge others, but Peck wrote that the Bible did not require us to never judge but we should judge ourselves (and the groups we belong to) first before we judge others. We must make moral judgments that support life and aliveness. To refuse to make those judgments is to collude with the words and acts we abhor.

Frank Bruni “Michael Cohen Got Wise. Will America?” In the New York Times, December 14, 2018:

Michael Cohen put his chips on, and faith in, someone who didn’t deserve it. He was dazzled. He was entertained. He wanted a patron. He needed a guide. So he disregarded all the warning signs, ignored all the bad stuff. It was so much easier to believe.

At one point or another, haven’t many of us done that?

 Didn’t Americans do that when they turned to Donald Trump in the presidential campaign of 2016?”

 And what he [President Trump] required of America was what he required of Cohen. We had to bury values that should never be buried. In our case that meant condoning Trump’s racism; indulging his corrosive conspiracy theories and self-preserving lies; permitting his demonization of institutions and people and whole countries; interpreting cruelty as candor and provocation as strength. Too many of us assented.

 Cohen told the judge that he had lost his moral compass. The many Republicans who continue to stand by Trump have lost their moral compasses, too. There should be parameters for tribalism and a limit to loyalty, as Cohen says he now understands. Trump is on the far side of that limit.

For every leader, there are at least 10 followers ready to trade the burden and bedlam of independent thought for a playbook that tells them exactly what to do. Some of them find it in religion, others in business, still others in politics.

 And con men like Trump can spot them a mile away. Trump looked at Cohen and correctly saw someone who wasn’t going to be in the fast lane unless hitched to him, and he sensed that Cohen knew it. Trump looked at America and correctly saw an anxious, uncertain populace that was ripe for facile answers, scapegoats and a narrative of unjust victimization. So he pounced. And here we are, in an even more uncertain place, with a sentence yet to be handed down.

 Values do matter.

 

 

THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED MY NAME

I met Harvey in July 2010. Melanie and I had just moved into our new home with our two dogs. We were walking one day when our Labrador Maddy stopped and “took care of business” on the street. I bent over to pick it up and heard a man say, “You are a good neighbor.”

We introduced ourselves, chatted a bit, and headed off on our walk. Harvey, with his wooden walking poles, continued on his twice-daily walk around the mile-long circle we each lived on.

The next time I saw Harvey along our walk, he remembered our names. We were much younger than Harvey and didn’t recall his. Harvey was about 88 years old at the time and I felt astounded that he remembered our names.

We saw Harvey often on our walks. I soon noticed that he always said something nice about us when we met, never complained or bragged, or criticized anyone. Harvey was humble. I came to believe that Harvey was a highly developed man with great maturity. He didn’t talk about his religion, but I could see he was a spiritual person. He didn’t talk about his beliefs; he just lived them.

Harvey had served in World War II, taught biology to middle-school kids for 15 years, but his real work identity came from his work as a naturalist at Gooseberry Falls State Park in Northern Minnesota for 30 years. His son Warren said that for 30 summers Harvey “…blended his love for people, teaching, and nature. Visitors called him ‘Smokey.’”

Harvey stopped to rest along his walks. Several people had put out chairs for him to sit on. As time went on, we noticed the number of chairs for Harvey was growing. We decided to put a chair out in front of our home, too. A few days later, we saw Harvey sitting in the chair. We felt honored.

I told Harvey he was my role model for how to age well, and I paid attention to see how he handled himself. Some days, Harvey sat in our chair early in the morning. Other times he rested later in the afternoon. Sometimes I went out and sat with him, and other times Melanie did.

One sunny summer evening, Harvey and Melanie were talking on the front step. I had just dished up a bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce on it. I stepped outside with my ice cream and asked Harvey if he liked ice cream.

He said, “I do.”

“Do you like chocolate syrup on it?” I asked.

He said, “I do.”

“Would you like a dish?” I asked. “I could do that,” he said.

“Could you eat this much ice cream?” I asked showing him my bowl. “I could do that,” he said.

I hadn’t started to eat my ice cream so I asked Harvey, “Would you like this bowl?”

He said, “I would.”

I went in and dished up another bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce and we sat on the porch and talked as we ate our treats.

In October of 2017, Kare 11 News did a feature about Harvey, his life, and his daily walks. A dozen chairs were now out around the neighborhood. Several neighbors spoke of Harvey and the cameraman taped Harvey doing his walk while Harvey told his story. Kare 11 did a great job showing Harvey’s love of the neighborhood and his neighbors’ love of him. The feature leads to several follow-up stories by other media companies (See link below).

I started to call Harvey “Hollywood.”

Pat, Harvey’s wife, had been in a nursing home for several months and Harvey lived alone in the home he and Pat built around 1951. They raised five children who now had their own families.

Pat passed away on March 7, 2018, at age 92. Harvey was now 96 years old.

Melanie and I attended her visitation. I noticed Harvey sitting and taking oxygen. That was new.

Pat’s funeral was the next day. I didn’t know how enlightening it would be.

After a moving funeral service, we retired to a dining room for lunch. After we ate, there was an open microphone and people were invited to share their memories of Pat. For almost an hour, people stood up to speak of Pat’s goodness, good deeds, and her love of family. Some cried; some made us laugh. Person after person: Old friends, neighbors, family young and old told stories of her welcoming nature, sensitivity to others, and stories of how Pat always went out of her way to help and support people of all ages. No stories of status, money, or great accomplishments. Just stories of a woman who lived a life of love and caring for others.

Love filled the room. I realized that Pat was a special woman. I would learn that the children Pat and Harvey raised (Steve, Brian, Laurie, Mary, and Warren) were caring and thoughtful just like their parents.

A week or two later, Harvey called. He was now living in the same nursing home Pat had spent her final months in. I said I would visit.

On May 14, 2018, Melanie and I visited Harvey. We thought “no more than 30 minutes.” Harvey talked about the nursing home: “The food is good, there are lots of activities, and the staff is nice.”

I had suffered some strokes about 5½ months prior and I shared personal stories of my strokes and aftermath with Harvey, including things I wouldn’t share with many others. Harvey told us of the difficulties he had with Pat’s death, including things he might not share with many others.

Two and a half hours later, I said, “I’m tired.” Harvey, at 96 years old, was ready to keep talking.

The sharing of personal stories deepened our bond. Harvey and I agreed that I would visit every Monday at 2:30 pm.

Usually, I went alone, a couple of times Melanie came along. She loved Harvey too, but, she said, “I can see the special relationship you and Harvey enjoy and I don’t want to intrude on that.” A couple of times, Mike, Harvey’s neighbor, visited Harvey with me. Harvey was happy when Mike visited. Our Monday visits lasted about an hour and a half—sometimes longer.

Visiting the nursing home was hard: I felt sad seeing so many residents close to death. I saw the same group of people, day after day, sitting in their wheelchairs that lined the corridors. No one but the staff engaged with them. How lonely they must have felt.

Harvey had a full calendar of activities: Church in the morning, breakfast, and visitors. After lunch, he took a half-hour nap. Some days he played bingo. He got me to play, and I had fun. Other days the local VFW took him to lunch. Once the staff took him fishing. He went to outdoor concerts. On two days a week, he played Bridge at two different locations. One of his children visited each night.

I loved Harvey more every time I was with him. I observed Harvey: He was 24 years older than me. I’m getting old too, and I watched to see how Harvey handled himself, his age, and with others. You see, Harvey was a man who continued to love life, learn new things, and engage with others. That’s how I want to be as I age.

I helped Harvey with his walks every Monday. He would get behind his wheelchair and push it and I would hold a special belt he put on and walked behind him. Harvey always wanted to walk. We’d stop for Harvey to catch his breath and then we would walk again. I noticed on our walks through the corridors of the nursing home, that Harvey knew everyone’s name. I thought, “Darn, how does he do that?” Harvey always introduced me to friends, family, staff, and other residents. And he always introduced me by saying something nice about me.

Harvey asked if I played cards. I said, “No.”

He said, “Want to learn a game called “King’s in the Corner?”

I hadn’t played cards in more than 40 years. I couldn’t say no to Harvey. From then on we played three games of “King’s in the Corner” each Monday. Each week Harvey would say, “I have a deck of cards in my pocket. Want to play a few hands?” I always said, “Yes, I do.”

Harvey was the consummate teacher. He would see moves I could make but was not seeing. That meant I was missing a chance to get rid of a card.

He would say, “Don’t knock yet.” I looked and looked. Sometimes I saw the chance to get rid of a card and if I was having trouble, Harvey would give me more clues until I saw the opportunity to get rid of a card in front of me.

One day Melanie came with me. Harvey asked, “Do you want to play “King’s in the Corner?”

Melanie said, “I haven’t played this game since I was a little kid but I’ll try.”

I dealt the cards. Within five minutes, Melanie won the game. Harvey and I still had almost all of our cards. Harvey was shocked by Melanie’s quick win and joked, “We don’t like card sharks here.”

When I told Harvey we would be moving away from the neighborhood and would be 20 minutes farther away from the nursing home, he asked: “Will you still be able to visit?” I replied, “Same time every Monday.”

At the end of each visit, Harvey expressed his gratitude for my visit, and I expressed my gratitude for our time together.

Harvey began to get out of breath sooner and his walks became shorter. He didn’t say anything about it. I didn’t ask. In mid-August, 2018 Mary, one of Harvey’s daughters, called me and told me Harvey had taken a turn for the worse. She said I should still come the next Monday. She said he had trouble talking so I might need to carry the conversation.

When I arrived at his room, his daughter Laurie sat with Harvey. I met one of Harvey’s granddaughters and her husband. His granddaughter and her husband sang several spiritual songs. Harvey sat in his recliner, closed his eyes, and moved his head back and forth. Harvey wanted a break and I decided it was time for me to go.

I walked up to him in his chair and leaned down close to his ear. I said, “I love you, Harvey.”

That was my last visit with my friend.

Harvey died on what would have been Pat’s 93rd birthday: September 1, 2018

At his funeral, son Warren gave the eulogy and I learned why Harvey always remembered people’s names:

To begin this morning, I’d like to ask you a question: What’s the sweetest word in your ear? My father used to say it was: Your own name. He was someone who firmly believed this, and he gave names careful attention through his life.

 If you think about it, learning someone’s name is an introduction. It’s the first step toward building a relationship or a friendship. Without the name, relationships and friendships tend to be superficial. My dad wasn’t superficial!

 I’m guessing my dad knew almost everyone here BY name. Whether you were his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws, outlaws, friends, neighbors, co-workers, students, etc., Harvey made a point of learning your name and using it. Names meant a lot to him because each of you means a lot to him….

 Names are the key to unlocking lasting relationships and friendships. However long or short our lifespan—and my dad lived an impressive 96 years—it is those relationships and friendships—founded on names—that truly define, enrich and beautify our time on earth. My dad taught us all by his example. Be humble enough to take an interest in others. Learn and use their names. Your life, my life, and our world—will be better for it.

 

Daniel Quinn wrote in Ishmael: “The flaw in man is exactly this: that he doesn’t know how he ought to live.”

Pat and Harvey knew how to live and their example taught the people around them who, in turn, were role models for others and that’s how we change the world.

So long Harvey. I’ll always remember your name.

 

See the Kare 11 story about Harvey: His chairs in the neighborhood and an update after his death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Stroke Fatigue

I remain a very loud advocate for the benefits of sleep, sleep, sleep, and more sleep interspersed with periods of learning and cognitive challenge. Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. in My Stroke of Insight.

After the good news that I did not have cancer, we felt deep relief. It was a good feeling after almost three months of fight/flight mode. During those months, I was too stressed to notice the fatigue. I had more important things to occupy my mind.

I soon became aware that I felt exhausted all of the time—mind, body and spirit– even after a good night’s sleep. Rest did not take the fatigue away. Meeting someone for lunch was exhausting to think about. Other than family, I put my social life on hold. I needed my energy focused on my stroke recovery, which can take a year.

Jill Bolte, Ph.D. wrote in My Stroke of Insight:

Occasionally friends came to visit, but GG [Bolte’s mother] recognized that social exchanges used up my energy reserve and left me totally drained….She made the executive decision that getting my mind back was more important than visitation, so she stood as the guard at my door and strictly limited my social time.

Forty to seventy percent of stroke survivors experience this fatigue, and it doesn’t matter if you had a minor or a major stroke. The fatigue can pass over time; for some, the fatigue never goes away.

Working a bit in the yard would leave me spent. I couldn’t read for long, and writing left me worn out. We went to the lake this summer for a week. I felt drained by Wednesday.

The medical world does not know the cause of post-stroke fatigue. Probably it’s a mixture of physical and emotional factors. No specific medications or treatments will eliminate post-stroke fatigue. A healthy lifestyle is most likely the most one can do.

With the help of medications I usually got a good night’s sleep. Still, I remained exhausted. I had to prioritize my days and set goals mindful of my limited energy.

Jill Bolte again:

My energy was limited so we had to pick and choose, very carefully every day, how I would spend my effort. I had to define my priorities for what I wanted to get back the most and not waste energy on other things.

I made long naps (1-2 hours) a normal part of most of my days. Gradually, I am getting better at organizing my time around my energy level and setting my priorities around my overall recovery.

Jill Bolte:

For my recovery, it was critical that we honor the healing power of sleep. I know various methodologies are practiced at rehabilitation facilities around the country, yet I remain a very loud advocate for the benefits of sleep, sleep, sleep, and more sleep….

I’ve mostly made my peace with fatigue. I feel frustrated with it at times but we can adapt to our circumstances. I consider myself fortunate for being retired. I have time, flexibility, and can focus on things beneficial to my recovery. Melanie is a wonderful wife who loves me and supports me. I cannot emphasize how important a supportive spouse is in life and in recovery.

This and the previous three posts told my stroke story. I will work hard to prevent another stroke. I am grateful for no major loss of functions. I had my traumas after my stroke and they humbled me. I choose to see the strokes as a calling to greater development as a person approaching old age.

More to come.