Sunday, November 21, 2010

Changing Values, Changing Consciousness

Did you play “catch” or “tag” as a child? Those were the days my friends. In Australia there was a safe space called “BAR”. If you were touching BAR, you couldn’t be caught. It got shortened to B.A.R. It seemed to have more punch that way. B.A.R was a moving target. If you started to get tired and knew you were about to get caught, you just called out B.A.R wherever you were standing and all your problems went away. You were literally untouchable. Imagine if you could suspend the toughest moments of your life now, relationship stalemates or seemingly unsolvable work situations, chronic physical pain or the largest global problems with a simple cry, B.A.R! All the problems would vanish just like that.

They were simple days weren’t they? The worst thing that happened was getting chosen last for the football team. Even the most significant life choices were made with a quick game of eanie meanie minie moe. Do you remember eanie meanie? In Australia we used slightly different words. We ended it with “ink pink you stink” and then whatever extra words you needed to add to make sure you chose the person you wanted in the first place.

The closest you came to war was the fort you built in the woods. You decided who came into your fort and who was forbidden. Do you ever wish you could build a fort now and only let people in that you like? Wouldn’t it be simple? Only nice people, people who do what you say. Imagine solving global problems like war and terrorism with a chant that ends in “ink pink you stink.” Imagine if we could solve the Israeli/ Palestine dispute with a simple game of eanie meanie.

Do you privately yearn for the good old days? Do you wish life was simpler and ethical choices more clear cut?

I heard a clip from Comedian David Alan Grier. He talked about growing up in Detroit, Michigan, in the 60s and 70s. He said, “It was a kinder, gentler time. Sure, we had a race riot or two, but deep down, we loved each other.” I enjoyed his comment because the truth is that it didn’t feel simple at the time did it? You agonized over the fort, wept over being chosen last for the football team and extracted every syllable out of eanie meanie to ensure your preferred outcome. Vietnam, race riots and free love were every bit as divisive and confusing as Afghanistan, terrorism and DADT (don’t ask don’t tell).

Life only ever seems simple in hindsight. It was never truly simple. It was just different and it kept changing. You resist change because the new threatens something about the old, forgetting that the old was once something new and frightening itself. You overcame change then and you can do it again. Do you trust yourself to live in a world that doesn’t stay the same for long? My number one objective is to show you the incredible strength of character you have to deal with change, both change within yourself and change in society. You can do it. You will do it. You ARE doing it. I want to show you your power and I want to offer you tools to “do” change skillfully. Ultimately I want to show you that you are at the cutting edge of change, and if you do it mindfully and effectively you can be part of the evolution of humanity, the transformation of society.

First we need to accept that change is inevitable, except of course from vending machines which have very short memories and usually follow Murphys Law. That is, when you drop change at a vending machine, the pennies will fall within reach while all other coins will roll out of sight.

Remember the words in the Taoist text- “If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you aren’t afraid of dying, there is nothing you can’t achieve.” (Tao Te Ching)

Change Is Inevitable

While things were never simple, they are certainly different now. We now live with greater plurality than we did 30 year ago. Note the difference between pluralism and plurality. Plurality is the reality of change and diversity. Pluralism is an ideology that generally welcomes change and diversity. Whether you welcome change or not, things are changing. Whether you like the new plurality or not, it is a reality. No matter how you wish it was yesterday, it never is.

Things we took for granted in the past can no longer be assumed. Imagine the scene- a woman is with a group of international business acquaintances. They are discussing an upcoming social function. The woman says, “I will be glad to introduce my partner to you.” One replies, “Your business partner.” She replies, “No, my marriage partner.” A man from Singapore chimes in and says, “Is it your only marriage partner?” She replies, “Of course” not realizing that polygamy is accepted in this man’s country. A third person says, “I will be pleased to meet your husband. Is he in the same business?” The woman replies, “Well my spouse is a woman, and no she is not in the same business.”

It’s a classic situation and the sort of situation we all encounter. There are many things which are taken for granted in one culture and not in another. There are also things that used to be taken for granted and we no longer assume them. We no longer assume that a woman is a stay at home Mom, that a couple is married, that a marriage involves a man and a woman or that a child will follow the same religion as their parents.

I vividly remember being at the hospital when my wife’s grandfather was dying. The chaplain came to his bedside and asked if he was Christian. He was surprised, even a little offended. He said, “Of course. I’m Australian aren’t I?” Twenty years later this is not an assumption many of us would make. In fact by 2020 less than 50% of the Australian population will be Christian. You can’t assume that all white Americans are Christians, that all Asians are Buddhist or that all people of Middle Easter descent are Muslims. You can’t assume that all Christians are anti abortion, and you can’t assume that all Muslims take the Koran literally. And get this- now the Pope supports birth control in certain circumstances to stop the spread of HIV, in particular in the case of prostitution. Yes you heard right. That alone is proof enough that all things eventually change. To paraphrase Rocky shouting out to the all Russian audience in Rocky IV, “If the Pope can change, you can change. We all can change.”

We live in a world of many gods, many beliefs, many divisions, many new assumptions. Many of the things we once said “of course” to are no longer assumptions. The biggest change, the Copernican Revolution of all changes, is that Christianity is no longer the center of the world with all other worldviews circling around it. Plurality brings a Copernican revolution to your beliefs. Your worldview is valid, but it is not at the center of the universe with all other worldview circling around you. You have at least a half truth with your worldview. As I heard said recently, just make sure that you have the right half.

So whether you think the massive diversity and plurality in our world is a good thing or a bad thing is not the primary issue. Change is a given to be responded to.

A guy calls his wife from his cell phone while driving on a freeway. His wife says, “Be careful. I just heard on the radio that some nut is driving the wrong way on the freeway.” The husband says, “One nut! There are hundreds of them!”

There are at least two ways to take this little story. Resisting change in a pluralistic world is like driving the wrong way down a freeway. That’s the obvious moral of the story. Another way to think of it is that some of the most important changes have taken place because people like you were prepared to be at the cutting edge, to be a minority of one and drive, white knuckled, against the flow of traffic at great personal peril down the freeway called life. Are you prepared to be one of history’s great doubters, an inquisitor of the status quo? Will you follow in the footsteps of yesterday’s trailblazers who created social change that we now take for granted? Think Socrates, Jesus, Mohammed, Rosa Parks, Ghandi, Martin Luther King.

Beyond Yesterday’s Choices

One of those great change agents told a story. The Bible records Jesus telling the fascinating story of two people going to the temple to pray- a Pharisee and a tax collector. Pharisees were popular and well regarded in their day. Tax collectors? Not so much. The Pharisees tended towards being self righteous and legalistic and the tax collectors were often corrupt. In the story the Pharisee is proud and the tax collector is repentant. It would be a mistake to move too quickly to the moral of the story, that the Pharisee was bad and the tax collector good. This seems more like a parable describing change and complexity. Taxes had to be collected. The industry just needed some regulation. Religious tradition was important. It just needed a little flexibility.

If there is a lesson in the story it is to live with integrity, whether you are a government official or part of the dominant religious culture. It’s a parable about change and redefining values in a changing world. You don’t need to choose between church and state, tradition and change. Our world is asking us new questions. It’s no longer enough to choose between Republican and Democrat. They are labels with diminishing meaning in today’s world. The current political system is hamstrung because it is debating too many old issues. Both parties need to redefine their values and emphasis according to the real questions of the day.

There has been a lot of conversation this week about airport security and the rights of travelers. Apply this issue about privacy and security to the parable. It’s another false choice, and I don’t mean the choice between being groped or nuked. I mean the black and white choice between security and privacy. On the one hand if you want to be safe, be prepared to give up some liberty. On the other hand as Ben Franklin said many years ago, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Maybe Homeland Security’s Michael Chertoff is THE tax collector in this story and we’re waiting to see if he can live with humility and integrity.

We’re struggling with this issue because it’s not a black and white issue. It’s an issue that transcends either political party and reflects the changing global system and its new challenges. We’re fighting an enemy we can’t see, an enemy that is unpredictable and unconventional. It’s a terrorist ideology that wins by spreading fear and terror. We let them win by living in fear and terror. But on the other hand, there is genuine risk in flying and we need to be as safe as possible on planes.

A lot more could be said about this issue, but that will have to wait for another time. Let me offer a short answer to an issue that demands a long answer by shifting back to the theme of the day- change.

Change by Overcoming Anxiety

I want to offer a tool for dealing with change, whether its family dynamics or the security procedures related to aerodynamics. Lets call it B.A.R. It’s a way of suspending judgment long enough to check in with your own anxiety and assumptions. There are two steps. Locate your real anxiety and turn it around.

1. Locate the REAL anxiety. The real issue with change is personal anxiety. We struggle with change not because of a lack of self will but because we are protecting something that feels vulnerable. Its not about terrorists and it’s not about TSA. It’s not the fear of radiation nor is it the fear of loss of privacy. Ultimately your discomfort is with your own mortality and inability to control life. Locate your fears and put them at ease with a little TLC. Remind them that you are whole and lovable, abundant and brilliant to begin with and this essence doesn’t need to be protected. Shine a light on your fear and it will be revealed for what it is.

2. Turn your anxiety into an “it”. Robert Kegan is a pioneer in the field of moral psychology. He describes the movement from “the past as subject” to “the past as object”. We resist change because we are so identified with the way things were that we can’t separate from it. We think our whole world will end without our story about the way things were. We become ready to change when we see that the past was an “it”, an object. It was what it was, it was part of the story of your life but it didn’t know what you now know. It was important but not permanent. It didn’t live in today’s world and couldn’t answer today’s questions. But you can.

So when you feel yourself resisting change, call B.A.R. Buy some time to check in with your inner fears, and love them to rest. Locate them, love them and leave them. You have a new reality to integrate. Your new reality contains your old reality but it is now more complex, it is stronger and wiser. You are always becoming what the future demands of you. Trust yourself.

Revolution Beyond Right and Wrong

Our new world calls us to move beyond over simplified, black and white, right and wrong perspectives. An ancient Jewish story describes the time that a young man came to his Rabbi to learn the tradition. The Rabbi told him that if he could answer just one question he would be admitted to the class. He asked the following question- “If two men come down a chimney and one ends up dirty and the other one ends up clean, which one has a wash.” The young man confidently answers, “The dirty one.” The Rabbi replies, “No! The dirty one looks at the clean one, sees he is clean and thinks, ‘I must be clean’. The clean one looks at the dirty one, sees he is dirty and thinks ‘I must be dirty’. The clean one has a wash.” The young man hits his forehead, and walks away shaking his head.

He comes back the next day to try again. He begs the Rabbi to give him another chance. The Rabbi again says he will have to answer one question to be admitted to the class. He agrees. The Rabbi says, ““If two men come down a chimney and one ends up dirty and the other one ends up clean, which one has a wash.” The young guy is smarter this time. He says, “The clean one.” The Rabbi replies, “No! The clean one looks at his hands, sees they are clean and knows he is clean. The dirty one looks at his hands, sees they are dirty and goes to take a wash.” The young guy rolls his eyes, curses and leaves in shock.

A third day he comes back. He explains to the Rabbi that he has given it a lot of thought and he is sure he is ready if the Rabbi will just give him one last chance. The Rabbi again says that there will be just one question. The Rabbi asks him, “If two men come down a chimney and one ends up dirty and the other one ends up clean, which one has a wash.” The young guy is determined to get it right. He thinks for a long time, goes back and forth in his mind, ‘the clean one, the dirty one, the clean one”, then finally gives up. The Rabbi says to him, “How can two men come down a chimney and one come out dirty and one come out clean? The question itself is foolish.

The beautiful thing about the Jewish tradition is that it doesn’t generally deal in conclusions. It is open ended and dynamic. Like the stories in so many spiritual traditions, and like the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the purpose is not to draw one moral for all time but to locate yourself in the story and allow yourself to be moved to new depths of self knowledge.

You are both the dirty man and the clean man, looking at each other and at their hands, at the bottom of the chimney. You are both Pharisee and tax collector. You are sometimes the guy driving full speed down the freeway, white knuckled, against the flow of traffic. You are part of the redefining of tradition and commerce. You are part of the transformation of culture and humanity.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Every generation needs a revolution.” What is our generation’s revolution? How are you participating? Begin by accepting change. You know you can do it. You are sourced by a spirit that doesn’t need things to stay the same to feel alive. You are at peace with change and flowing with the tide of life. So go with it, alone or in groups of change agents. You have learnt about inner change. You have accepted outer change. Now be a part of revolutionary change. Namaste.


Anonymous said...

love the idea of naming the REAL anxiety. If fear is free-floating it distorts perception. If we can acknowledge it, we can see it for the demon it is, and it looses much of it's negative force.

Ian said...

Yes indeed. Its not always easy to discern, but when you, its liberating. Thanks for your comment