Archive for November 2010
I have a problem with the way religion is practiced for several reasons. The following is one of them:
The definition of religion: (from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/religion)
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.
7. religions, Archaic . religious rites.
8. Archaic . strict faithfulness; devotion: a religion to one’s vow.
9. get religion, Informal .
a. to acquire a deep conviction of the validity of religious beliefs and practices.
b. to resolve to mend one’s errant ways: The company got religion and stopped making dangerous products.
1150–1200; ME religioun (< OF religion ) < L religiōn- (s. of religiō ) conscientiousness, piety, equiv. to relig ( āre ) to tie, fasten ( re- re- + ligāre to bind, tie; cf. ligament) + -iōn- -ion; cf. rely
“Religion”, by definition, is what happens when a set of beliefs, specifically beliefs concerning moral and ethical issues, as well as an explanation of the unknown, becomes organized into a system. This system binds followers to itself. It is certainly not THE God or Gods to which humans are bound, as “religion” does not necessarily have to include a superhuman being—such as in the case of Buddhism. So, “religion” per say, is not a real problem. It is the definition of the superhuman power that becomes a problem. And, at least in the Abrahamic traditions, the people who define the set of beliefs concerning moral and ethical issues, as well as provide an explanation of the unknown, also become the people who define the superhuman power. In this case, God (or Gods, in the case of those who believe in two). So, do the followers of each belief system worship THE God (or Gods)? Or, do they worship A god (or gods) constructed by man? Since THE God(s) in the three basic Abrahamic systems are so different, each belonging to the ONE and ONLY self-defined true belief system, which one is the true God? All of these “gods” are quite different, with the possible exception in that He (or they) are all powerful. He, or they. even have different sets of instructions. Some of the instructions in one Holy Book, for example, consider the followers of another Holy Book to be infidels. Some of the instructions in yet another Holy Book call for the followers of, again, another Holy Book to be punished for not believing in one of the gods. One Holy Book even makes up part of another Holy Book. All three share commonalities, certainly. But, each one also refers to a specific group of people as “the chosen” group. Each one, individually, is supposed to have been given to each separate group by the God(s) of that group. Each one is supposed to be representative of the True God. But, since the God (or Gods) of all three of the Abrahamic religions has different instructions, which is correct? All of them? None of them? One of them? And, if that is the case, which one? If one, then which one of the many subgroups to be found under each branch is correct in their interpretation of that “voice” of God(s)? Can it be proven? How? By whom? Because, according to all of them, there is but one God, or a God and a Son of God who are considered to be, together, part of the God Being. And, to use a specific Holy Book or interpretation of that Holy Book, to prove which God (or two Gods) is THE God(s), boils down to the same questions–and we keep going around in circles.
According to each system, “He” stays the same. Forever. In perpetuity Yet, each group has continued, throughout the history of the Abrahamic religions, to kill those of one or more of the other groups– through war, persecution, terrorism, or other means. This killing in the name of “righteousness” even occurs between groups under the same branch–forms of Islam vs. another form; denominations of Christianity vs. other denominations. Not with Judaism, so much–although there is certainly some very strained relationships about which form of Judaism is THE true form, as well as accusations about one or the other not being “true” Jews. All of this killing and persecution and hatred occurs, it seems, with the assumed “blessing” of each group’s individual God(s), because, each group considers at least one of the other groups to be false, and because each group believes their Holy Book to be the last say so for God(s). How does this mesh with “forever”?
It seems to me that each group worships a man-defined God, because– if there is but one (or two) gods– God would not make war upon Himself. And, in Christianity, it would seem that the god who is Jesus would not make war on the God who is the Father. I mean, they ARE on the same team, right? Therefore, the followers of all three religions and the subsets of those religions commit what is, in all three Holy Books, a sin: Idolatry. Because they have all created God(s) in the image of themselves; thus, they worship a “graven image”.
Myths serve many purposes for civilization. Through them, we can learn about values, beliefs, and ideals of cultures long past. Myths connect us to our collective past, to the cultural collective unconscious, through the use of archetypal figures—larger than life heroes and heroines, mother images, evil personifications, tricksters, et al. Myths endure because we, as a civilization, endure. While the study of history—of specific facts, events, important persons, places, things, and times—is essential (for the knowledge and understanding of what WAS is crucial to the knowledge and understanding of what IS), the study of myth, the “story” of his-STORY (or her-STORY) enlarges upon those facts through the tales of archetypal personages–personages who, within the cultural context of past civilizations, portray the idealized qualities (good or bad) of the people of those past civilizations. History is, by nature, retrospective, subject to interpretation; which, in turn, is subject to what is relative to the interpreter. No one is alive today who was witness to events in the far past. Even if one believes in multiple incarnations, the most recent incarnation does not usually carry a conscious memory of the past. If they do, that person would have had to exist at a specific place and time to be aware of, and eyewitness to, what would later be deemed important aspects of studied history. But, through myth, we receive a sense of story, of why we are, what we are, who we are, and who our ancestors were. In short, myths tell the story of the hopes and dreams, the ideals and values, of the people much better than do dry, written historical facts and figures. The story gives substance to the interpretation of the past. The story gives us glimpses into the psyches of those who preceded us. Fairy tales, epics, fables, and myths: all tell us the story of humanity at its best and its worst. And, usually, if one looks carefully, of the gray areas in between. These elements of the story are woven into the fabric of our existence. Popular culture in the form of story today, in regards to literature, movies, television, and so forth, is not so different from the popular culture of yesterday. Technology-wise, yes. But, the ingredients are the same.
One such myth is that of the arrival of a god, who then dwells among humans in human form, dies, and is resurrected. Evidence of a similar story to the Nativity, dating from around 1700 BCE, was discovered on the wall of the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Amen at Luxor, which is said to have been built by Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Ancient Egyptian statues dating back centuries before the birth of Christ depict the infant god, Horus, with his mother, Isis, standing alongside him. These statues are amazingly similar to later statues depicting the baby Jesus and his mother, Mary. The story of Horus also follows the standard pattern used in the story of the life of Christ, with some changes in text and detail. A prototype of the myth of the killing of the firstborn males of a group to prevent the hero’s threatening the status quo is found in the Old Testament, as well as in other ancient cultures which, by centuries, predate the recounting of the myth as the story of Herod’s actions. The date of celebration of the birth of Jesus, which was decided upon by early Church fathers when the myth became a religion, is the same date many cultures celebrated the Winter Solstice–how better to convince people to celebrate a new version of a myth than to incorporate the old with the new? But, that is not the point of this blog. All of this is common knowledge—not new knowledge, at that– and can be easily accessed. Of course, there are disagreements among scholars as to the validity of some comparisons, and there is discussion as to whether the comparison should be in pattern or archetypes, and so forth. There are also quite a few professing Christians, and true Christians, who completely believe the actuality of the myth as it is presented in the New Testament. Again, the truth of the myth, or the truth which led to the myth, or however one chooses to look at the myth, is not the point.
My point IS about the importance of the continuity, the endurance, of myth, specifically the myth which recounts the birth, life, and death, of a hero. Many myths evolve in accordance with the needs of the people they represent. They evolve to “fit” the community at large, the known world. And, when a culture needs a “savior”, a hero , of some sort, or needs an explanation for evil, or desires to know what happens at the point of death, or wishes to attempt to make sense of calamities and catastrophic events, that explanation is created in the guise of story. That story, many times, is defined as religious belief, which then perpetuates the myth until it is no longer needed, with some myths enduring the test of time because they are still needed at some level. Humankind seems to possess a fundamental need for something outside of its own existence, something “divine”, something otherworldly, to explain the unexplainable. From the beginning of human time, and, in my opinion, most likely as soon as we evolved enough to stand upright and developed the ability to reason and to think as humans, we have created gods, both male and female, and told stories of their birth, their exploits, their travails, their anger, their deaths, and resurrections. We have anthropomorphized everything from the cosmos to trees. We have attributed thunder, eclipses, lightening, birth, death, evil, and good, all of these things, to whatever would fit within our current knowledge and cultural pattern to something outside of our human selves, until we evolved enough to no longer need certain myths. So when a civilization needs hope (which seems to always be the case), it creates a myth of a savior, a hero, to offer hope. And, because of the state of humanity at all points of history, this is the most enduring myth of all. Whether we lived in a cave 10,000 years ago, or we live in a modern suburb in the 21st century, we, as humans, generally need heroes, because heroes offer hope. Even an atheist or agnostic will acknowledge the appeal of a hero. So, whether one believes a hero myth or not, it is generally accepted that society likes heroes, and—where they do not exist—creates them in one form or another.
So, the myth of a hero, in this case, the myth of a god (or son of a god) who is born or otherwise becomes vulnerable (human), lives among humanity, institutes change, is killed or dies violently, and is resurrected has continued to evolve to fit the circumstances, to fit cultural changes, to fulfill that need for a hero. That myth is re-told as the story of Jesus. The myth becomes the basis for a religion, which perpetuates the myth and adjusts it to fit. The myth endures in the guise of religious belief, and the vast majority of those within that belief (Christianity) believe the myth to be fact, even as our ancestors believed their version of the myth to be fact. In the year 2010 A.D., most of Western Civilization prepares, once again, to celebrate that myth, in its most recent form, to celebrate that story, on December 25th. Every year. For over two thousand years. Which, really, if one thinks about it, is just a drop in the universal bucket as far as time goes. People can fuss and fume all they want about “putting the “Christ” back in Christmas”, or “I hate this time of year, I am not celebrating a Pagan holiday”, or “I don’t believe in Jesus, I’m not doing anything”, or “it’s CHRIST-mas, not the HOLIDAYS” (see note below), or any number of other fussings and fumings on both sides of the coin all they want. That is their choice. Some may believe the myth; others may decry it. Some may not care. Some may want to compartmentalize it, to universalize one form of it. Some know it for what it is. Others want it destroyed. Or ignored. Or commercialized. Whatever the case, the simple fact remains that the myth is a powerful one, one that has endured through many incarnations, and will probably endure through many more. Someday, it may not be a “Christian” myth. It may take another path. But, I do believe, if history is any indication, that it will endure. And I, for one, think that is a good thing.
I choose to celebrate Christmas– I choose to celebrate the Holiday Season, NOT because I believe the myth is fact. Or even based upon fact. But, because the myth is myth. I respect the myth. I respect the need for myth, the need for story. The need for something larger than life, larger than myself. I honor the myth. And, I celebrate the myth. As I celebrate the collective need, the desire, that humanity have such a myth, in whatever form it might take. For me, Christmas, the entire Holiday Season, is a good thing, a time of hope, a time of reflection, a time of—dare I say it?—magic, even if that magic is only an illusion. For the same reason, I do not have a problem celebrating Mass, especially on that holy—and YES, I consider the myth to be holy, if only for what it archetypically represents—time of year, although I am sure there are those who will call me a sinner for doing so. And, so, I too, along with millions of others, prepare to celebrate the Christmas Season, the Holiday Season, the Winter Solstice, the continuation of a myth as old as time, with joy and thanksgiving. I celebrate because it is that continuous and enduring myth that connects me to humanity through the ages.
NOTE: –It is, to me, a sad reflection on Christianity when some professing Christians believe that their story is the only valid story for this time of year—they self-righteously don’t count Chanukah or Ramadan, or the celebration of the Winter Solstice, or the holydays and celebrations of other cultures that base those celebrations on cycles, not the Gregorian or Julian calendar. I do not find it coincidental that, many years, these celebrations are so close to the celebration of the myth of Christ. But, that’s the topic of a whole other blog.
The Importance of Dreams:
Some studies have indicated that dreams occur during REM sleep, and that deprivation of that sleep in which they occur causes anxiety, mood disorders, irritability, and depression. Dreams have been seen in a religious context, as a means to healing, as evil (Middle Ages), and as a way to be contacted by ancestors (among other things). In the 1800’s, dreams were considered to stem from anxiety or even indigestion. Sigmund Freud revolutionized the study of dreams, recognizing their importance, believing them to be the key to the unconscious (a reflection of the subconscious). Jung…”believed that by understanding how one’s personal unconscious integrates with the collective unconscious, a person can achieve a state of individuation, or wholeness of self.” (Vered A. Jung and Old. 1997). Freud and Jung split because of their differences in opinion concerning dreams. Suffice it to say, dream interpretation and analysis is commonly used in therapy. For more on both theories, see http://www2.arnes.si/~uljfdv15/library/art06.html and http://www.tnnweb.com/mds/jungvsfreud.html .
I’ve been plagued with nightmares for years. Like most nightmares, they are vivid. Certain ones were—or are–recurring, or at least have a recurrent theme. Since I’m exploring my dreams this month, I’m going to write a bit about one of the two that have had the most impact on my life.
What I am writing is highly personal. I am not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, nor do I interpret dreams professionally—as will become obvious. I am doing this assignment at the wise suggestion of my therapist in an effort to understand, not only where I was at the time of the dream, but where I am going in terms of a second dream. I will first describe the dream. Following the description, I will connect the most common symbols (archetypes) with their most commonly used interpretations. Next, I will describe what circumstances in my life I now believe caused me to have this dream. As the title indicates, this is an assignment.
This dream I had at least once a week, starting around 1994. In the dream, I am at the bottom of a high dark tower. It is very dark outside, the moon and stars are covered. I seek safety in the tower, so I go inside. There is something or someone in there with me; however, I can see nothing in the gloom. In front of me is a winding staircase. I start up, but whatever I sense is present begins to follow me. I climb faster, but my legs feel like lead, it is like climbing through molasses; the “thing”, which, in my dream’s eye I instinctively recognize is demonic, is right behind me. I climb and climb, never reaching the top, but knowing at the top is safety. In each successive dream, the demon gets closer. I wake up in a panicked state. Then, around 1997, I turn and face the demon. What happens next is cloudy; however, when I wake up, I feel a sense of profound relief.. The dream did not recur again until around 1999. Again, I am outside a dark tower, and it is night. I go in the door and start to climb—this time NOT being chased. When I arrive at the top, there is a faceless figure in a black cape, with his back turned away from me. I sense this figure is male. He turns around, I run into his arms, and he kisses me. When I awaken, I feel a sense of immense loss and sadness, Sometimes, I am crying, and feels as if I have been sent back.
Interpretations of symbols:
Towers tend to point towards isolation. Since I feel alone and frightened as I attempt to escape from the demon chasing me up the spiraling staircase, I believe I am safe in assuming the dark tower (isolation) is the theme. Being chased points toward avoidance of issues; confronting the demon I assume means that I was ready to face the issues. My pursuer, also, can be interpreted as aspects of the self, which I had rejected. Being chased can mean actual fear of being attacked, but in this case, if it was, it was more a fear of psychic attack, a mental attack. This is more likely, since all the characters, as well as the environment and the tower, are black. Black symbolizes the unknown, the unconscious, danger, mystery, darkness, death, mourning, rejection, hate or malice. Black also tends in interpretation towards a need to go deeper into the unconscious mind to gain a better self-understanding. Black can also represent a lack of love and lack of support. On a positive note, black represents potential and possibilities.
Because the black was mixed with gray (fog, shadows), I researched the more accepted meanings of gray in dreams. Gray indicates fear, fright, depression, ill health, ambivalence and confusion. Or, a feeling of emotional distance or detachment. On a more positive side, the color gray can symbolize individualism
A cape indicates an attempt to shield oneself from being emotionally hurt. But, I am not wearing the cape. The person to whom I am running, the person at the top of the tower, wears the cape.
Spiral or winding stairs represent growth or rebirth. But, there is fear in my climbing—I am climbing to escape. Am I trying to escape myself? My then-marriage? Circumstances in which I feel trapped and helpless? Old values and beliefs which I was holding onto because I did not know how to discard them? Stairs also represent progress. Was the demon myself? Was I running up the stairs away from parts of myself I didn’t like?
Recurrence points toward a time of transition.
The stranger is probably a protector, whether psychic, spiritual or a real person.
The kiss, a need to be more honest in my emotional relationships.
A Short Autobiography:
At the time the dreams began, , I had just finished a degree program, which I had attained in three years as a non-traditional student, majoring in two subjects (English and African American Studies). I had declined, as a high school graduate (1973), to attend what was then Ambassador College–I wanted to go to a real university for a real degree—however, any other college outside the church-owned one was not allowed. I was married in 1974 to a member of the Worldwide Church of God—my reasoning at that time was that it might be easier to leave the organization if I was out of my parents’ home. Plus, according to the Worldwide Church of God, the “end” was near, and I wanted children. The person I cared most about, in a romantic sense, at that time was attending Ambassador College, and contact had ceased (for reasons I would only discover much, much later in life). Dating and marriage outside of the organization was forbidden by my parents and strongly discouraged by the church. Not the best reasons upon which to make such a commitment. It was obvious to me, from certain events that occurred before and on the day of the wedding, that I was making a mistake; however, I did not want to inconvenience those who had been invited to the wedding (a part of the “mask” was to always make things as easy for others as possible—not to “make waves”, not to cause people to “talk”).
Over the next eight years, I had three children (they are the reason I have no regrets about my choice to marry). When my oldest was five years of age, and my twins were two (1981), I applied to and was accepted by a private college. Told that my traveling back and forth was too hard on my vehicle, that the children were too young, and so forth, I had no choice but to wait a few more years. In 1991, I took myself over to the state college, applied, and was accepted. I also applied for a grant, and received it. I was pretty determined. And, my mother’s serious illness at that time made me even more determined (she, thankfully, recovered). So, going year-round and cramming as many credits into a semester as was allowed, I earned a B.A. in three years. I worked when I could, took care of the children, and finished assignments on the syllabi in advance of the due dates. In 1994, when the dream began to exhibit itself on a recurring basis, I had just been accepted into graduate school. From 1994-1996, I threw myself into the graduate program, and worked as a graduate assistant. I also found myself on a path of self-destruction. I developed a close friendship with a horrendous woman who would later stab me in the back professionally and personally. I drank too much. I was hooked on Prozac. Basically, I was a wreck, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. And, the dream continued to plague me, occurring with even more frequency (probably at least once a week). In 1996, I finished the graduate program, ended the destructive friendship, threw myself into one of the family businesses, and tried to reconcile myself to being stuck in a hopeless situation forever. Around this time, I also began to search spiritually outside of Christianity, all the while attending church services intermittently with my then-husband. These services were, for the most part, conducted by splinter groups of the Worldwide Church of God. I was fine on the outside. On the inside, I was miserable. I literally felt that the life was being drained out of me.
With that as a background, the dream makes sense. I WAS climbing towards higher goals: spiritually, emotionally, and physically. At the same time, I was terrified. I was escaping the demons—perhaps personified in the demonic presence that threatened me in the dream– that plagued me (religion, a bad marriage, self-hatred, and the past in general), yet escaping them also meant giving up family, home, and security—as well as disappointing and hurting a lot of people.
A few months after the dream in which I do reach the top and the “protector”, I finally began to take serious steps to leave my old life behind. I applied to several post-graduate programs, and was accepted into one in Florida. When I left, I didn’t know where my course of action would take me. It was frightening and sad. I left family, friends, parents, sister, home, business, and children. My oldest was by then in graduate school; the twins at their respective colleges in-state. Still, I knew that what I was doing would change their worlds, as well as my own. I took nothing but my books, my computer, and my clothing. The dream stopped. And, I haven’t had it since.
An odd ending to this dream saga: when I first started going out with my present husband, we were looking at a drawing he had done in high school that was hanging on his living room wall. We were discussing using dreams as inspiration for art. A dream that he had often had was that of a woman, dressed in black, whose face he could not see. Many of the archetypes and motifs in my own dream matched the archetypes and motifs in his. Neither of us has experienced what we refer to as the “hidden face” dream since.
There is another dream I need to explore, but the exercise of doing so is exhausting. Working on a dream that WAS makes working on a dream that IS, however, much easier—kind of like an outline to follow as I explore a current recurring dream that is troubling me. From the work I’ve done on this dream, I have come away with an increased sense of profound respect about the ability of the human body, the human mind, to tell us about ourselves before we realize it on a conscious level. I’ve known this for years as an avid follower of both Jung and Joseph Campbell, as well as others, but I’ve never just sat down and treated the analysis of one of my own dreams as an assignment. If the reader has stuck with my ramblings thus far, I hope you take away something that might be helpful in your own journey towards fulfillment and self-understanding.
One of my favorite poems is Paul Laurence Dunbar’s We Wear the Mask. Published in 1896, the poem articulates the situation of oppressed Americans of African descent, forced to wear a mask of contentment and happiness while in the presence of White America. Contentment to serve. Contentment to suffer. Contentment to be considered not-quite-human. Contentment with the status quo. With crumbs from the “master’s” table. To do otherwise– to show pain, frustration, unhappiness–would, very likely, result in more pain, fear, and possibly death. Or, all three. To hide behind a mask was—and, in some areas, still is—safety.
I’ve taught this poem in various classes: African-American Studies, American History, and English. Because it resonated with me so strongly the first time I read it, I considered it to be a fairly easy piece, especially when teaching senior high school students or freshman college students about the Harlem Renaissance period. When the majority of my students just could not get it, I was surprised. I am still surprised.
Why does Dunbar’s poem ring true for me? I am not African American. I am a solidly white, middle class female. I belong to no minority group who is suffering or has suffered extreme oppression within the last 50 years—unless one counts the oppression of women. Even then, that oppression has never really affected me, personally. Or, at least, I haven’t felt it overly much. And, though I am married to a man who does belong to a minority group, I was not married to him when I was first exposed to Dunbar’s poetry.
I feel– I’ve always felt– that the poem speaks to me because I’ve always worn a mask. I’ve tried to accept, I’ve tried to believe. I’ve tried to be what people expected me to be. What I expected myself to be. At home, at school, in college, in church. Around strangers, around friends. Around family. I’ve tried not to argue, not to speak, to remain silent. To not make waves. I’ve acquiesced, joined, accepted. I’ve smiled, laughed, prayed. I’ve rebelled quietly. And, sometimes noisily. Rebellion which, however impulsive and dangerous, at least released some of the steam building up behind the mask. Because I knew that to do otherwise, to fully remove the mask, to leave it off, would result in expulsion. Separation from my safety net of belief, of family, of friends. Of security. So, I only took off my mask when I was alone. Or with the few who accepted me without it. The few I could trust. Because most of them, too, wore masks.
Then, beginning in my early 40’s, I tried letting others outside my small group of fellow mask-wearers see me without the mask. Little by little, I tested the waters. Bit by bit, I let it slip. There were times I would retreat behind it completely. There were times I didn’t care about the consequences and briefly showed my real face. Sometimes, only part of my face. But, my real face frightened most of those people. It angered them. It worried them. It disappointed them. It saddened and frustrated them. So, up it went again.
I recently took off that mask. Left it off. Put it away. Oh, I haven’t destroyed it. Yet. I still check on it from time to time. It is disintegrating bit by bit. The paint is fading, the plaster is crumbling. Some of the remnants are still on me—bits and pieces of mask dust. But, now, when I try to put it on, when my fears make me want to again retreat behind it, it doesn’t fit. Removing it has resulted in some of what I feared. Oh, yes, it has. But, I no longer seek safety in others. Because I’m finding it in myself.
|We Wear the Mask|
|by Paul Laurence Dunbar|
|We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,–
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
I live in New York, a state which is in pretty bad shape economically. We just elected a new governor, Andrew Cuomo. His main opponent was Carl Paladino, who ran on the Republican Ticket and was backed by the Tea Party.
New York State has been plagued with scandals involving our last couple of governors: Spitzer and the sex scandal, Paterson and the ethics scandal, plus the debate over Paterson’s confidante, Johnson. The Upstate region has been in a recession for years; in fact, Upstate New York is considered to be perhaps the only area in the nation that did not experience the economic booms that took place through the 80’s and 90’s, and into the 21st Century. The area from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain has been in a state of perpetual recession; so, life pretty much went on, and is going on, as usual up here in what some (including myself)call the “tundra”. Some of it had to do with New York City not paying back money to the Upstate region when the city ran into financial problems in the 1970’s, (Upstate NY is the large equivalent of the one person in the family no one else in that family wants to talk about). Some is because of the massive pull outs and shutdowns of factories in the 1970’s (Upstate is part of the “Rust Belt”). Some, because of a “brain drain”. Regardless, there have been massive and controversial cutbacks involving schools, public parks, universities, and so forth. But, I digress.
Anyway, Cuomo just announced that he would be instituting more cutbacks in education (among other things). The online New York Times article announcing this news had a place, of course, for comments. Among them were the usual complaints (“I didn’t vote for him! You did! Now, you see what he’s doing?”), concerns (“It’s no wonder people leave New York, their children can’t get a decent educations!”) and the usual assortment of spam, snide remarks, and nastiness. Of course, as usual, the nasties outweighed the positive comments 10:1.
My immediate response was the same one I have had every time Obama is harshly criticized (“criticized” is an understatement for the personal attacks he receives) for trying to do something, albeit a controversial something, an inconvenient something, in an attempt to clean up the mess he was left. The mess WE were left, because WE THE PEOPLE helped make the mess. The guy down the street on a middle-income budget who built a McMansion; the woman on a low single income budget who used her entire paycheck to buy a Louis Vuitton purse (she could always charge her groceries); the teenager next door who owns five pairs of UGGs; the family who used their credit card to buy a new, large screen television; the expensive sports programs in the high schools; the private karate, piano, dance, tennis and what have you lessons that people expect will give their child or children a “head’s up”, who can barely afford to make their house payments. And so forth. No, it is not just Bush’s mess, not just Clinton’s mess, not just Obama’s mess, not just the mess of Congress, or of Wall Street, but OUR mess. We, as a nation, need to get over the blame game and start taking due responsibility for the mess we are in, which WE , THE PEOPLE helped create. It was Wall Street greed: there is no doubt about that. It was politics. Of course it was, and is: of that, there is no question. But, during the entire time, We, the People, were spending like there was no tomorrow. Not everyone, of course, the poor are always with us. As are those with common sense (albeit in the minority, it seems). But, the huge real estate bubble, the gains of retailers, all the perks of living within a Capitalist system, were fueled by the buy, buy, buy today and pay over a period of years mentality. The “don’t bother with saving; tomorrow will take care of itself” attitude; the “bubble will last forever” ideology. The “living beyond our means to keep up with the proverbial Jones’, and impress our friends and families with how much money was raked in, our $600.00 purses, our eating out five days a week” lifestyle of the baby boomer generation, the “me” generation, the X, Y, V or whatever generations. It is OUR FAULT, TOO.
We, the people, need to suck it up and get with the program. Yes, there is responsibility and blame to be placed at the feet of the powers that be. But, to my knowledge, no one was forcing anyone to spend beyond their means. No one was forced to spend on things really not needed. There were no commandments issues against self-responsibility. People were living as if tomorrow would be taken care of by someone else. So, when our bubble popped, all they could do was cry piteously. This is what many people are doing now. It reminds me of the lesson in the Three Little Pigs story: the only pig whose house survived was the one who used common sense. The other two, who played and danced and built houses of sticks and straw, paid the price.
Now, I’m not talking about those who really and truly were hard working, money-saving, reasonable Americans who lost their homes due to massive medical bills (my views on health care would run beyond this rant, and will be the topic of a separate blog), or ruthless banks or outsourcing employers, et cetera. I’m talking about those who, on incomes below what would put them in the category “wealthy” decided that they would live like the wealthy. The people who, on a regular basis,” shopped ‘till they dropped”, spending on everything from designer purses to big screen televisions, to top of the line vacations as if it would never end. The last twenty years before this latest recession made the “Roaring 20’s” look like child’s play.
Suck it up America! Get real! How do you think we, as a nation, will pull out of this? Magic? No tax hikes? No cutbacks? No inconveniences? One doesn’t have to like the way things are, or the way things are going to be. But, take some responsibility for being stupid, gullible, greedy, arrogant, short-sighted, vain, or what have you, in making it so. Stop complaining about the “bad guys” at the top and realize that this mess is YOUR responsibility, too. OUR responsibility. Take charge of yourself, change yourself, and control your own habits. Believe me: that will be easier than changing a nation. And change starts small. Yes, the “bad guys” should have to pay. But, don’t hold your breath on that one for the short term. Because history is full of examples that show it is the people who end up paying. In this case, some of the people helped make the mess. Because of stupidity. Because of gullibility. Because of greed. And, unfortunately, the innocent have to pay right along with them. Only when the components of society, the individuals, change, will government change. But, the piper will always demand payment.
11/11/10 I am adding to this post a quote I came upon:
Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them.
The books I choose to read often, serendipitously, give me fresh insights—a lot of “AHA moments”. I just finished The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. The Help is a fairly recent fiction-based-on-fact novel about the African American women who served white families as maids, nannies, and caregivers in Jackson, Mississippi at the very beginnings of the Civil Rights movement. The book is told from the perspectives of two maids and one young white woman, who finds herself at odds with her cultural environment, but fears making known her growing distance from the ideals and beliefs of those around her. Her journey from Southern Belle elitist to firm believer and participant in the cause of equal rights makes this book one I could barely put down —she loses her friends, her status, the man she thinks she loves. Everything she has known. Everything she thought she needed to survive within her environment. In return, she finds herself. Her journey reminds me of my own. It might remind you of yours.
While God is supposed to be the same yesterday, today, and forever, I am not. I really do not know anyone who is, although I do know that many of us feel—and are treated as if—we pretty much must stay the same throughout our adult lives, if not our child lives; that the values and beliefs we held are the values and beliefs we hold—perhaps not in the details, but certainly in terms of the general pattern. It is not unusual. It is inevitably frustrating to the recipient of these assumptions. The experience is fairly common among those of us who have, on our individual journeys, made a ninety degree turn-around in matters of faith, moral values, political leanings, or other points that comprise the whole of who we are to those outside of ourselves; sometimes, a turn-around which is quite radical, in terms of how we are known and accepted by others. I, myself, have been guilty of assuming sameness, as well. It is common enough behavior on both ends—from the end of the assumer and from the end of the recipient of those assumptions.
Not just friends, but family, those to whom I am closest, oftentimes assume that what defined the Janice of twenty or thirty or even forty years ago still defines the Janice of today. I’ve watched expressions– written, verbal, and facial– go from disbelief, to shock, to disgust, to anger all in a matter of seconds. Those who tend to be more accepting are those who, like me, have done a complete 90 degree turn. But, those who see themselves as holding the same belief system and values most of their adult and even childhood lives, and/or are of the belief that they are correct and their way is the only “true” way, the “biblical” way, or the “we’re called right wing because we are right” way, are shocked that I know longer believe as infallible or true the writings in an ancient book written for a particular group of people, that I am a socially progressive liberal, that I am pro-choice, that I believe homosexuals and lesbians should be allowed to legally marry with all the benefits of marriage, that I no longer believe in the Michelangelo version of a terrifying God or a wimped-out version of Jesus. Maybe they think it is just a phase I’m going through, that I will eventually come back and be the “me” they’ve always known. Or have thought they knew. Or the “me” I was “brought up “to be. I’ve lost several friends being—and becoming—true to myself. I’ve experienced damaged relationships with both friends and members of my own family.
Being true to the self. Now, there is a challenge. For decades, I struggled to fit into a particular mold. As a small child, it was difficult being considered “different”. But, my parents were my world; their environment, their choices, were what I followed. As I grew, however, I found myself increasingly at odds with, not only their religion, but their political beliefs, their worldview. I hated being “different”, not because of the differences, but because they were not differences of my choosing. I was not allowed to voice dissention. I was expected to believe and follow what I was told to believe and follow. Forever. This affected everything in my life; from my choice of a mate to how I brought up my children.
Although I felt quite alone in my misery at the time, education and experience have taught me I was not in an unusual circumstance. In rehashing these events with my therapist, we talked about imprinting. Imprinting is defined as follows in the New World Encyclopedia:
“… any kind of learning that occurs at a particular age or stage of development. A phase-sensitive type of learning, it involves an organism recognizing the characteristics of certain stimuli that are subsequently “imprinted” onto the subject. Most occurrences involve learning to recognize one’s parents or potential sexual partners, both of which have value for the survival of the species.”
I am not a psychologist, so I am interpreting this meaning based upon what I know from old coursework. Basically, a child bonds to the person or persons it meets at birth, and begins to pattern its behavior after them. These are usually the parents or a parental figure. Copying the behavior of those persons is observational learning—what is done, how it is done, the emotional responses elicited, and so forth. The child adapts the values and ideals of their primary caregivers. As a child matures, he/she begins to question these beliefs and develop a personal set of core beliefs. This is normal; it needs to occur for healthy psychological development. But, when young, adaption to the environment is essential to survival.
Imprinting can occur at various stages of development, and is more intense in some than in others. Guilt is the result of believing that one has done wrong within that environment, and not having the knowledge of what to do with that alleged “wrongdoing”. Shame is how one believes others interpret one’s actions within that environment. Both guilt and shame are the internalization of what we believe to be right or wrong within the context of our environment. Both of these limit our being able to make proper choices.
Anything with which we identify can cause us to imprint. Not just parents or caregivers, but also religious institutions, images, culture, politics, even food choices. It can also cause a person to believe that others believe (or should believe) as they, themselves, do. It is probably safe to say that the roots of a person’s belief system are imprinted early on and, while the beliefs can change, some of the roots can remain to color the new beliefs. While most children are allowed to shed childhood imprinting as an integral part of growing up, others are not. Or, the child is only allowed to develop a personal sense of belief and values that does not contradict those of the caregivers, institution, or group. The emotional conflict can result in a massive amount of guilt and resentment on the part of the child-becoming-an-adult. And of the child AS an adult. As well, since what is imprinted does not necessarily have to be rational, and new thought may be perceived as more rational, further conflict and guilt results.. Eliminating old ideas that have been imprinted from early on is difficult, if not impossible for some. Not only because of the imprinting, but because the fear of non-survival outside of the group—whether it be family, social, organizational, or religious—is ever present. “Be as I am, or suffer the consequences” can be a huge deterrent for many in the search to develop their own ideas, their own values. The “danger” perceived by the infant if they fail to tune into their environment becomes the silenced voice of a frightened, frustrated adult.
As for myself, personally, I was literally being suffocated, strangled, because what I imprinted was so at odds with new information that I could not share without harsh repercussions. This caused massive amounts of guilt and shame. To further complicate matters, the way others imprinted made them feel that I should feel as they did. I wasn’t allowed to develop my own set of personal ideals and values. Those ideals and values had to match that of the environment of which I was a part. I was well into my 30’s when I began to pull away, in my 40’s before I made the break. By that time, however, I had internalized the conflict to the point that illness resulted. Even today, a full decade after I finally felt free to be myself, to follow my own set of values and beliefs, to give voice to those values and beliefs, I still get those nagging feelings of guilt. And fear. Totally irrational, and yet, totally predictable.
My experience is not new, not unusual. “Teenage Rebellion”, or, better put, the process of the adolescent developing his/her own set of values and beliefs, has been around since the beginning of social and family groups. Without it, few children would grow away from the nest and seek to establish their own family/social units, ensuring the survival of the human race. In a sense, society at large mirrors individual experiences. I watch and listen as groups and organizations, religious, political, or anything in between, attempt to effectively silence other groups who are in the process of developing different opinions, different lifestyles, different beliefs, different ideas about real CHANGE in a new type of environment–value systems seemingly at odd with the established culture. They insist we, as a society, need to “get back to our roots”. It seems as if established religions, cultures, organizations–not just in America, but in the world–so fear a changing society, a growing global society, a different world, that silencing steps in its development is the only thing they know to do. But, just as with children who have to eventually pull away from their parents’ or caregivers’ ideas and beliefs and develop their own, so are many starting to pull away from ideas that will no longer work as society grows and changes. Society, not just individuals, changes. To try to ignore those changes, to act as if beliefs and values stay the same forever, is fruitless. Old ideas, old beliefs, eventually will no longer work. To not allow the new ideas and beliefs to enter into society and define themselves within a safe environment–which welcomes change–might keep society stationary for a time. But, not forever.