Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | October 18, 2010

Forgiving Others Relieves Your Own Suffering

This is a follow-up to Making Buddies Out Of Bullies.  I did contact my former elementary school “bully”, and then one from junior high as well.  Our conversations were private and shall remain so, but I will say that both of them are clearly very lovely people.  Both were, sincerely, very sorry for all the hurtful comments they ever made to me.  It was very healing to me to learn that. 

The one thing I really, really wanted to know was, “why?”  The answer in both cases came as a complete surprise to me, as I was totally unaware of it at the time.  Although both (entirely independently) acknowledged that it was not an excuse, they both wrote of having been unhappy too.  I learned that, as is so often the case, they both were bullied as well.  They were harrassed, not just by students but even by teachers(!), on account of their nationalities and religion.  The instant I read that, all the antipathy I’d carried for all these years just melted away and was replaced by compassion for the suffering it turned out we’d all shared.  I told them both “I forgive you”, and apologized for not having been able to see their unhappiness at the time.  I wish we could all have been a solace to each other then, when we needed it most.  What prevented that from happening?

I have had so many analogies go through my mind to describe how wonderful it felt to have finally forgiven them.  Interestingly, most of them involve water.  I’ll limit myself to two of them.

The first that came to mind comes from Letters to a Buddhist Jew, by Rabbi Akiva Tatz.  R. Tatz was born in South Africa.   At the end of the book he talks about the water barrels there.  At the end of the dry season, the water left in them is stagnant and foul, but the barrels are too heavy for anyone to be able to overturn them to pour it out.  When the rains come, the people just have to direct conduits into the barrels and the new water is so plentiful that when the rains are done, the whole barrel is full of good fresh water!

The longer we carry our old hurts, the more foul and stagnant they become, and we can’t just pour them out.  They have to be replaced by forgiveness.  We poison only ourselves by holding on to them, and we free ourselves when we forgive those who caused them.  It in no way “punishes” those who hurt us, for us to continue to suffer.  By forgiving them, we benefit ourselves by ending our own suffering.  Forgiveness doesn’t “reward” their past behavior in any way, and doesn’t require that we tolerate or condone it.  Forgiving others is the rain that washes out the stagnant hurts in our souls, and leaves us refreshed.

My second analogy is that I’ve been swimming for a very long time, and still have a very long way to go.  I’ve got an anchor tied to my waist that drags me down every time I let up even a little.  I don’t know how I’m ever going to make it there.

Then, I realize: I can untie the rope.  The anchor falls away and suddenly I feel incredibly bouyant.  Swimming is so easy now, I feel I am flying through the water. 

Forgiving is like untying the rope.  I felt overwhelmingly free and light in spirit, finally able to bring the part of myself that was still tied to the long ago past, fully into the present.  I feel whole.  I can move forward.

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Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | October 10, 2010

The Misperceptions of Bullies

I’ve been thinking more about bullying and perceptions.  In the comments to Memoirs of a Bullied Kid I saw several people mention how they came to perceive themselves entirely in accordance with how they were perceived by the bullies and bystanders.  As difficult as it is to realize and accept the fact that our own perceptions are not the same as the true reality, I would say it is even more difficult for a kid who’s being bullied to realize that the perceptions of the bullies are not the true reality either – far from it, in fact.  The damage done by bullying lies in the distortions it creates between reality and the perceptions of all who are involved in it, including the bullies.

Bullies, I think, tend to engage in bullying because it allows them to perceive themselves as more powerful than they actually are.   Their authentic self knows they are not as powerful as they feel, even if their conscious self refuses to admit this.  This discrepancy leads to fear – either conscious or subconscious – that others will see through them, i.e. will realize they are not so powerful.  Rather than resolving this inner dilemma by working toward accepting reality, it seems that often, they instead respond by trying to become more powerful – by bullying more viciously.  Since this can only result in an even greater discrepancy between reality and their perception, it adds to rather than relieves their insecurity.  This sets up a spiral of escalation that becomes more difficult to break out of with each iteration. 

I’ve seen a lot of news articles listing things like characteristics of bullied kids and the effects of bullying on bullied kids.  They absolutely deserve our attention and support in recovering from the abuse.  But we can’t stop bullying by only helping the kids who are bullied.  The article linked to “characteristics of bullied kids”, sadly, concludes with “So the key to alleviating depression for all forms of bullying – cyber and otherwise – may reside in the home.”  NO!  The key to alleviating depression for all forms of bullying is to stop bullying.  Treat the disease, not the symptom! 

The only way to stop bullying is to stop the bullies.  We need to be studying the bullies and figuring out why they have such a strong desire to feel powerful in the first place, and how they get the misguided idea that power comes from hurting other people.  We need to help them realize that true security comes from the pursuit of authentic relationships, not from the pursuit of power, and teach them how to form those relationships.

Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | October 9, 2010

Converging Toward Reality

Recently one of my cousins posted this quotation as his FB status: ‎”You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.  It prompted the following discussion in the comments:

LW: I do believe in the concepts of right and wrong in some instances, though. We are plagued with the notion of moral relativism in our society. Things aren’t all the same. 

Me: I agree with you on our society having gone too far in regarding morality as relative. However, I do think that everyone does have their own “way”, or path, and there can never be only one particular path that’s correct. Although each person’s path is their own, if we are all authentic in following our own path, we will necessarily converge toward an authentic, i.e., true morality and an inherently just society. William S. Hatcher does a very good job of arguing this, from a Baha’i perspective, in his book Love, Power, and Justice: The Dynamics of Authentic Morality.

LW: You’re correct there. Always be skeptical of those that profess to know the “only” way to go!

As a result of this discussion, in light of a recent post, I woke up the next morning with a bunch of new connections between my thoughts about conflict and reality:

The reason I could say that everyone’s unique path must eventually converge, is that there is only one reality.  

One reality.

It’s one of those things that is so difficult to fully comprehend even though it sounds so simple and obvious.  What makes it difficult is our tendency to believe that our own perception of reality is closer to the actual reality than anyone else’s.

We are all, naturally, more attached to our own version of reality than anyone else’s.  This attachment restrains us from advancing along our own path toward true reality.  Progress comes more easily when we develop the ability to see that our perception is just that: our perception, and not actual reality.  As each person has a unique perception of reality, so must each person find their own unique path.  What Buddhism describes as enlightenment is not just a detachment from the self (i.e., our own perceptions), it is the attachment to reality which that detachment enables. 

One reality.

It means there is no possibility of conflict, within reality itself.  Conflicts can only consist of differences in perceptions of reality.  This is the essence of non-duality: nothing is in true conflict with anything else because it is all part of the same reality.  Thus, all conflict is actually a signal that people are not perceiving true reality.  This is why conflict is so valuable, and so important to resolve peacefully.  We need to know when our perception of reality is distorted, and conflict can provide us with that awareness.  Resolving the conflict means both parties advance along their path toward a true perception of reality.  The closer we all bring our perceptions to reality, the more peaceful our lives will be.  In contrast, violence always causes both parties to regress along their path, meaning, to hold perceptions farther from the true reality.  This is why violence leads so easily to more violence – it actually increases conflict, rather than resolving it!

Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | October 8, 2010

Making Buddies Out of Bullies

I’m 40 years old, and it was only this week, while reading the comments to Memoirs of a Bullied Kid on Single Dad Laughing, that I saw myself in them and finally realized:  I was bullied!  How could I possibly not have known it at the time, some may wonder?  Because at the time, I didn’t think of it as bullying.  To me it was just, “everybody hates me”.  I didn’t even recognize it as bullying because I took the way they saw me and made it my own self-image.  I figured they must be right: there was something wrong with me.  I swallowed their poison, and it spread to every facet of my life. 

It started in kindergarten and got worse every year, peaking in about ninth grade.  It was your typical “mean girl” kind of bullying that’s been quite well documented in the media and books.  I had a respite in first and second grade while attending a parochial school but then went back to the same public school in third, and stayed in that system the rest of my schooling.  I have no memories of third grade.  None.  I can’t even tell you the teacher’s name.  My memories of the rest of my childhood are quite clear.  The only explanation I can come up with for not remembering third grade is that it was so emotionally and psychologically painful I’ve repressed it all. 

Even after graduating high school, I still saw myself as a reject.  Having been ostracized, I hadn’t developed normal social skills.  Throughout college, and well into my adult life, I unwittingly rebuffed many people who likely would otherwise have been friends – rejecting them before they could reject me. 

Throughout school and early adulthood, I was lonely.  I suffered depression.  Twice, in junior high, I made lame attempts to take my own life.  But I didn’t want to die, I just wanted the torment to end.   I fantasized regularly about running away from home.  

I grieve for the many young people whose suicide attempts have succeeded.  I grieve for the friend of a friend, who suffered such severe psychological damage that he is currently in a mental hospital and may never be able to lead a normal life.  I’ve seen people express the opinion, “Bullying – what’s the big deal?  You grow up, you get over it, life goes on.”  I want to vomit when I see that.  But I don’t.  I just hope for those people to someday understand that it does matter.  Bullying causes real suffering, and it is just not OK to make other people suffer to entertain yourself. 

I think that one possible reason for some of the reluctance in our society to admit that bullying is a serious problem, is that we have so many people who were bullies as kids.  With bullying as widespread and rampant as it has been, there have to have been a lot of people doing the bullying.  Naturally, many of these people may not want to have to face the fact that they caused other people so much pain.  I imagine that, subconsciously, the reasoning might go like this: “that’s not really bullying, because if that’s bullying then I was a bully, and there’s no way I’m a bully”.  (Incidentally, I also see that kind of reasoning as responsible for some of the reluctance to classify date rape as rape —  “That’s not rape, because if it is, then that would make me a rapist.”)

Perhaps a way forward, both for those who were bullied and for those who did the bullying, would be to use the methods of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, The Forgiveness Project, and The Compassionate Listening Project to bring former bullies and their former victims together.  Having the perspectives and experiences of both the bullied and the former bullies would be so helpful in crafting an effective plan to end bullying in our schools now.

Recently, I have come to understand that bullying is painful for the bullies as well.  Single Dad Laughing has already said it better than I would:

In the last several years, I have been blessed with the perspective to look back at those “horrible” years, and realize that the bullying I was receiving was simply the symptom of the bullying that the bullies were receiving in their own lives, whether it was their family, other bullies, or the “Perfection” going on around them. You see, I’ve learned one universal truth. People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer. Every bully that bullied me (and by the end of junior high there were at least a dozen of them) was a desperate and hurting individual. The victim of something going on around them. A soul that was probably crying in solitude as often as I was, even if the crying was silent.

A year or two ago, one of the girls who had been mean to me sent me a Facebook friend request.  I couldn’t have been more surprised.  I thought that after 20 years surely I should just let bygones be bygones, and accepted it.  But every time her name came up on my wall, I felt that old pain just as sharply as ever.  So, after three weeks, I “unfriended” her. 

I think I’ll go look her up.

Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | October 1, 2010

Free Speech is Not a Defense for Andrew Shirvell

CNN reported on September 29, 2010:

For nearly six months, Andrew Shirvell, an assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan, has waged an internet campaign against college student Chris Armstrong, the openly gay student assembly president at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. […]

Shirvell acknowledged protesting outside of Armstrong’s house and calling him “Satan’s representative on the student assembly.”

Predictably, Shirvell is invoking the First Amendment right to freedom of speech to defend his putrid blog and protests.  After all, the First Amendment means everyone gets to say everything they want, anytime they want to, right?  Wrong. 

We all know, or should know, that it is illegal to shout “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theater when there is, in fact, no fire.  But why is that?  It’s because we can easily foresee that it will cause damage to other people.  Our right to free speech is limited, as it should be, by the responsibility to use it in a way that does not infringe on the natural rights of others to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. 

Shirvell’s harrassment infringed on Chris Armstrong’s rights to liberty and happiness, on the basis of Armstrong’s sexual orientation – which means I should really include “life” as well, being that one’s sexual orientation is an intrinsic part of one’s life.  By not accepting the responsibilities inherent in the First Amendment, Shirvell gives up his claim to the rights of it as well.

Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | October 1, 2010

The Flaws of Utilitarianism

Lately, I’ve been watching Michael Sandel’s lectures on philosophy for the course “Justice” at Harvard on my iPod as treadmill entertainment.  In this post, I am particularly reacting to Episode Two, Part One.  Here is the summary from the website:

Today, companies and governments often use Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian logic under the name of “cost-benefit analysis.” Sandel presents some contemporary cases in which cost-benefit analysis was used to put a dollar value on human life. The cases give rise to several objections to the utilitarian logic of seeking “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Should we always give more weight to the happiness of a majority, even if the majority is cruel or ignoble? Is it possible to sum up and compare all values using a common measure like money?

My first problem with utilitarianism as a means of measuring morality is this: how do you decide the span of time over which you will measure the expected total values of happiness vs. suffering?  There are many things which may provide a lot of people with a lot of immediate happiness but then result in suffering later, and vice versa.  Sometimes this can be reasonably foreseen in advance, in which case all expected results must be taken into account , no matter how far into the future they may be expected to occur.  Some of the reason this is problematic is tied in with the next flaw I see in the utilitarian approach to morality.  The main reason this constitutes a flaw, however, is that in the vast majority of circumstances, human actions inevitably result in unexpected, unintended consequences.  Utilitarianism, then, determines what is moral based on necessarily incomplete information, which makes for inherently weak conclusions.

The next flaw in utilitarianism comes from the fundamental attribution error:  humans inescapably perceive their own happiness as less than others’ and their own suffering as more than others’, even when this is not objectively the case.  Given that, how can we even sum up the “total happiness” or the “total suffering” in the first place?  This error is a further problem with the previous flaw as well, because it explains why people will more greatly discount the degree of either suffering or happiness, the farther into the future it is going to occur.  We (humans) place the highest value on what affects us most directly and most immediately.  Thus, it would be nearly impossible to attain correct morality through utilitarianism.  Even if it were possible, though, there is one more flaw that I consider fatal.

The whole idea of utilitarianism rests on the assumption that suffering can somehow be justified by happiness.  This assumption, in turn, is based on a fatally flawed definition of happiness.  The flaw is this:  true happiness can never come at the expense of causing anyone else to suffer.  The “happiness” that utilitarianism claims to measure as its basis for morality is a fiction of Bentham’s imagination.  Real human happiness comes only from forming authentic relationships, as described by William S. Hatcher in Love, Power and Justice, or as Martin Buber calls them, I:Thou relationships, rather than the I:It relationships that make up the calculation of utilitarianism.  This means that any application of utilitarianism must put the value of “happiness” at zero, which shows that it is, in the end, meaningless.

Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | September 28, 2010

Ruth and World Peace

This has been rattling around in my head for years and, since I just wrote it all out in a message to a friend, I thought I might as well go ahead and finally post it here.

I have a theory that interfaith and interracial marriages are one of the biggest contributors there are, to world peace.  This theory originated from my own interpretation of the Biblical book of Ruth.  (Nutshell summary, for those not familiar with the story:  Naomi, her husband, and their two sons move from Israel to Moab due to a famine.  The sons each marry a Moabite woman, one of whom is called Ruth, the other Orpah.  One by one, all three men die.  Ruth insists on going with Naomi when she returns to Israel; Orpah stays in Moab.  In Israel, Ruth again marries a Jew, and they have a son.  The conclusion of the story is the line of descendants from their son down to King David, meaning that the Messiah descends from that union.)   In other words, (an) intermarriage eventually leads to a “messianic age”, a time of world peace.  Here’s my reasoning. 

Peace requires, first of all, that people have the ability to see the common humanity between them.  Groups that refuse to intermarry totally deny that common humanity on a very basic level.  So, intermarriage counters that just by existing. 

On the next level, it creates opportunities for close personal relationships between individuals within both groups – i.e., all the in-laws (as happens in The Butterfly Mosque).  Personal relationships are the surest antidote to stereotypes. 

Third, the partners to the marriage will find it necessary to work out compromises in many aspects of life.  By doing this, they show unequivocally that it is possible – i.e., they become positive deviants.  Further, the creative solutions couples find for themselves are also very likely starting points for improving the relationship of the groups as a whole. 

Last, the children of these marriages will, I hope, grow up with a much larger sense of what identity means.  Ideally, this larger identity would give them space within themselves to contain any conflicts between the groups of their heritage.  That containment makes it possible for them to refuse to take sides and by that refusal, create space for others within each group to contain it as well.  Then, the groups can listen to each other instead of just fighting over it.  (see yesterday’s post.)

Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | September 27, 2010

Peaceful Conflict

The Compassionate Listening Project recently posted this quotation of Martin Prechtel:

Violence is the absence of conflict. People always think that if they just think real good thoughts, they’re not going to have any conflict. No – if we have a lot of conflict then we won’t have any violence.

The first comment to the post was, “huh? I’m not getting this at all; please explain”.  I would guess that this statement might be baffling for many others as well because, too often, the word ‘conflict’ is used as a synonym for ‘violence’.  This usage hides the fact that there are peaceful methods for resolving conflict.  Violence is avoided when conflict is: (1) openly acknowledged, (2) directly addressed, and (3) satisfactorily resolved. 

Our strong cultural association of conflict with violence causes people to fear conflict itself.  This fear hinders step one, the open acknowledgement of the conflict.  As a result of this (often subconscious) fear, people tend to excuse themselves from approaching conflict by thinking, “things will work themselves out on their own” or “there’s nothing I can do about it”.  Or the fear may be quite conscious and people may think, “getting involved is too risky”.  Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter From The Birmingham Jail, explains why this is a problem:

[W]e who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension.  We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.  We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.  Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

The conflict is already there; acknowledging it does not create it.  This situation occurs frequently enough that we even have an idiom for it: “the elephant in the room” – the thing that everyone knows, but no one will say.  And yet, in the (too-rare) cases where someone does bring it up, it’s been my experience that everyone generally feels relieved, not afraid.  Why would acknowledging a conflict bring relief?  It is because tension results not from conflict itself but from unacknowledged conflict.  The tension causes people to feel fear, but they typically ascribe the fear to the conflict rather than to the tension, and try to avoid the conflict as a result.  This is counterproductive though.  The way to end the fear is to end the tension, which can only be accomplished by acknowledging the conflict.  When conflicts are not acknowledged, they continue to accumulate until people become angry enough that they lose control of themselves and lash out with verbal or physical violence.  We should certainly fear that instead of fearing the conflict; violence can hurt us – conflict cannot.

Once a conflict has been acknowledged, people can begin to address it.  This step contains two stages, and each stage has its own difficulties.  The first obstacle is that people may find it difficult to accurately assess their own position in the conflict, let alone anyone else’s.  Since jumping to conclusions is something that very commonly leads to conflict in the first place, I think that this obstacle occurs frequently.  In order to overcome this obstacle, the first thing all parties to the conflict need to do is pause, for an agreed-upon period of time, for self-reflection.  This means asking oneself questions such as, “on what information do I base my opinion?”, “where did I get this information?”, “is it complete?”, “are there other ways of interpreting this information?”, “what outcome do I really desire?”, “what am I willing to compromise on?”.  

After all parties have had the opportunity to do this, it is necessary for all of them to listen to all the others.  Each of them needs to share the answers discovered during self-reflection.  In this listening stage, the danger is that people will be too anxious to move to the next stages: finding solutions and making decisions.  In the listening time, there must be patience and mindful presence in the current moment, not thinking ahead to what your response will be.  It also requires compassion.  This is very difficult for people to do for someone with whom they disagree.  The ability to listen in this way is not something inherent that one can rely on suddenly, as needed.  It is a skill that takes practice to acquire, and to maintain.  It is becoming more common for people in the US to do this practice, but needs to be much more widespread.

Sometimes, this listening time is all that is needed – perhaps there was merely a misunderstanding which is now understood.  Perhaps a person was truly unaware of any negative effects his actions had on others and only needed to be made aware of those effects.  Sometimes, even when a solution is not immediately possible, just having finally been really heard, i.e., feeling that someone else cares, can allow people to tolerate conditions that were previously distressing.  Other times, it is necessary to go on to the third step…

The “satisfactory resolution” of a conflict:  what does that mean?  First, it means that it is impossible for violence to attain it.  When a conflict is addressed with violence, the inherently implied intent of that violence is that one side will physically vanquish the other, and that the winning side will then have the right to “resolve” the conflict without regard for the needs or wishes of the losing side.  But in that case, not only will the “resolution” not be satisfactory to the losing side, the conflict will still exist; it has not been resolved at all!  So, to speak of using violence to resolve conflict does not make sense on its face.  What’s more, by using violence, each side has deprived itself of any opportunity for understanding why the conflict occurred in the first place.  The complete lack of new understanding and the intentional disregard for others is why violence contains no possibility of advancing human moral progress.

A satisfactory resolution of a conflict is one which all parties are able to agree to.  The aphorism “nobody gets everything they want, but everybody gets something they want” applies here.  As with listening, the ability to accept something less than you want requires a quality that must be painstakingly developed beforehand: humility.  This word has an unfortunate similarity to the word ‘humiliation’.  I call it unfortunate because true humility means that no one is ever humiliated.  Being humble means to frankly recognize your own strengths, as well as weaknesses.  It is finding out what you do best and doing it — and finding out what you’d best leave to others to do for you, and letting them do it.  It is understanding the wonderfulness of diversity: because we are all different, we can each find someone from whom we can get what we need, and to whom we can give something they need.  Doing this, or striving to do so, is the only truly fulfilling goal or purpose that life has.  This is how we are all interdependent:  the inner peace  that each of us seeks, depends entirely on our development of compassion and humility toward others.

In the end, the only satisfactory resolution to a conflict is one which brings peace of mind to all participants.  Anything less, already contains the seeds of the next conflict – therefore, conflict will never cease until each one of us masters the traits of compassion and humility.  Now, I think I really understand what it means to say, “You can’t change the world; you can only change yourself.”

***Author note:  This should not be taken as implying that I am at all good at doing any of these things!  For learning more about compassion I suggest the link at the top, and the works of Thich Nhat Hanh.  For developing humility I recommend Everyday Holiness by Alan Morinis, and other Mussar texts.

Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | August 26, 2010

Support Park 51. It’s the American Way.

Ever heard someone ask, accusingly, “what are Muslims doing about terrorism”?  Here is just one answer: a summer camp that educated 1,500 young people from Europe and North America, on how to resist those who would try to radicalize them.  There is no more effective remedy than education of this kind.

A quick Google search shows there are plenty more Muslims who speak and organize against terrorism and extremists. They are not widely reported on in the US, however. The major networks prefer the sensationalism and ratings money they get from showing crowds chanting “death to America”. Doesn’t that make you wonder why? What do you think is playing on Al-Jazeera these days? Americans who are tolerant and accepting of Muslims, or the crowds shouting “No mosque here!” and carrying anti-Islamic signs?  Our news programs do not represent reality and until they do, the majority of people who rely on them for news will have opinions based on a grossly distorted view of the world. Such opinions can’t possibly lead to good decisions.

And why do we hold ordinary, average Muslims to a higher standard than ourselves? Plenty of Jews are against the building of new settlements in Israel, yet what have we done to communicate our collective opinion to the people in Gaza and the West Bank? Why isn’t anyone ranting that all peaceful Christians should do more to stop Christian terrorists who attack abortion clinics and kill doctors?

The bill of rights applies to ALL Americans. It doesn’t say we have “freedom of religion, except for Muslims near Ground Zero”, or that all religions must be equally represented in any certain area. Freedom of religion – period. It’s just as much the right of Muslim American citizens as citizens of any other faith. That’s what’s supposed to make America different from repressive Islamic countries. Yet there are people saying, “you can build a mosque when we can build a church/synagogue in Mecca”.  No one accepts the excuse “but they were doing it” from their child, so why do we accept it from ourselves?

And really, what do you think is more likely to alienate a young American Muslim and potentially set him on the path to extremism: having a community center in which to swim and play basketball, or being denied that community center just because it’s Islamic? 

There is more than one way that radicals can destroy our country: the obvious way, through direct attack, or a nearly-invisible way, by making us so afraid that, over time, we abandon our principles and ideals to the point where our country is no longer recognizable and for all practical purposes ceases to exist, becoming instead just like any other totalitarian state in history.  I’m more afraid of the latter.

Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | April 26, 2010

Noise is to Knowledge as Signal is to …

This is an answer to the question at the end of my last post, where I bemoaned the present level of wisdom as inadequate to deal with the level of information flooding our airwaves and concluded the only solution is for all of us to increase our level of wisdom, but had no answer to “how do we do that?” 

I went back to the writings of Rabbi Tatz and found that he had already provided an answer: silence.  Our inner mind (wisdom) can only be heard and developed when we quiet the outer mind (knowledge).  This morning I thought of an analogy to the signal to noise ratioThe signal is what you want to hear, the noise is everything that comes along with it that gets in the way.  Anyone who’s tuned an analog radio has an experience of this.  As you get close to the station you want, you hear more and more of the music and less and less of the static or music of other radio stations.  Your station is the signal, everything else is the noise.

Now, in this analogy, all the “knowledge” flying around our media is the noise.  Wisdom is the signal.  We get the signal by tuning in to it, i.e. by silencing the noise.  I invite anyone who’s read this far, to spend the next 10 minutes without any music or TV on and not reading anything — just tuning in to your inner signal.

Update: After you’ve spent your 10 minutes listening to your own signal, here is a wonderful account of how one family’s experience with quieting all the outer noise one Shabbat gave them “a clarity and peace that would be tough to duplicate any other way.”

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