This is a blog about the journey we share. We may be different people, with different beliefs, different life path choices, and even live in different cultures, yet this is about the journey common to us all. This is our shared story of fundamental insight, of growth, of awareness, of our mutual recognition of oneness, and our personal emergence within this unfamiliar landscape we have all been given to travel. It is not about our journey through life, our choices, or careers and relationships; it is about the journey of life, the journey inside.
Scarlett Johansson’s speech at the recent Women’s March was earmarked in every single media lead as a “smackdown of James Franko,” but her speech contained a message far more important than pointing at hypocrisy.
In the media, it, like so many women’s voices, went unheard.
She revealed a key insight into women’s empowerment (and indeed anyone’s empowerment) as she was, “Digging deep to understand where we are and how we got here.”
The word Empowerment is defined as “Being in control of your behavior. The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.”
Johansson said that she, “…sometimes compromised what felt right to me…compromising my voice and therefore allowing myself to be unseen and degraded…it allowed me to have the approval that women are conditioned to need.”
Compromising your truth for approval that you are conditioned to need cuts to the heart of what becoming empowered means.
“In general, if we carefully examine any given situation in a very unbiased and honest way, we will realize that to a large extent we are also responsible for the unfolding of events.” ― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness
As I grew up I was told that becoming a man means owning your truth, walking your path regardless of cost, and at the expense of the approval of others. It certainly didn’t mean taking advantage of those less powerful, but not every man got that memo. There were other social narratives at play that were a lot easier to follow.
Johansson realized she felt a “rage on behalf of herself.” Over time, I have slowly come to realize that when my own boundaries are ignored, the rage I feel is of two parts; the lesser part for the imposed injustice, and the greater part for myself at failing to protect those boundaries. It is not an easy admission. The unempowered feel a dichotomy of rage, rage toward those who were willing to take their power merely because they could, and the rage at themselves for failing to define and defend their own boundaries and truth.
Realizing and owning the latter is the difficult part, and the most important. For women to confine their rage only to “those terrible men who did this to me,” is the very thing that will keep them, victims.
Without a realization by the unempowered, that a full part of their rage, though projected outwards, is truly reflected upon themselves, there can be no personal change such that will end their victimization.
Scarlett Johansson reveals each side of this dichotomy:
“How is it okay for someone in a position of power to use that power to take advantage of someone in a lesser position just because you can. Is that ever okay?”
“I have made a promise to myself to be responsible to my self, that in order to trust my instincts I must first respect them.”
Taking this responsibility means being willing to give up the approval we are conditioned to need.
Compromising your truth in a bid for approval and respect will never gain you genuine approval or true respect. As you choose to own your truth, be ready to give up the approval and respect of some others.
“No more pandering,” Johansson concluded. “No more feeling guilty about hurting someone’s feelings when something doesn’t feel right for me.”
This path is not easy, but it is part of becoming an empowered woman or man. Ultimately, there are no excuses and no blame that will bear fruit. No one is going to hand you your empowerment. This is what we must teach the next generation of men and women. It is only when we learn to value our own self-worth and voice our rights, that the social narrative will turn and engender compassion and respect for those with less power.
The good news is, that the approval and respect that you do receive by owning your truth, using your voice, and being responsible to yourself, will be both genuine and true. And it will be worth it.
Labels are important. The #MeToo tag means “I too have been a victimized.” I would like to think that it also means “This is about me too.”
The #Time’sUp tag seems closer to the mark. “Your time of taking advantage of the less powerful is up.” I’d also like to think that it means, “We are putting you on notice that we have decided to own our truth.”
A Millennial friend of mine whose empathetic perspective I admire and never tire of recently posted this:
“Hi, millennials! We don’t like being judged and having older generations throwing their crap at us. So idea: Let’s not do that to future younger generations. Break the cycle. Next idea: Stop blaming older generations for our current problems. Yeah, maybe they messed things up, but hey we’re gonna mess stuff up, too. And I know I certainly don’t want to be judged and blamed by future generations for the election of that monster we call Trump. Because you know that very well could be our legacy, right? RIGHT?”
As an (older) dad of a Gen Z eleven-year-old girl, having essentially skipped a generation, (god, I hope that “Z” classification doesn’t mean she’ll be the last generation on the planet!) I feel generational blame rather keenly. And so I offer my perspective to that of my friend, and for her friends.
Blames the one before,
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door.
-Mike & the Mechanics
Those that came of age in the 60’s and 70’s are the worst critics of those who came of age in the 00’s and 10’s, but their reasons may surprise you.
The ’60/’70 Gen, the children of the post-WWII generation were the “hippies and radicals” that would ruin society. Judged more by the length of their hair and their music than their race or economic background, they were not just criticized by their elder generation, they were reviled and even hated–blamed for the destruction of all that they and their parents worked for. It was far more than disapproval, it was war. And it was ugly. And think of the WWII Generation, they literally just saved the world and now these damn kids are going to ruin it!
Trump is most compared now to Nixon and for good reason. For Gen ’60/’70, they killed Kennedy (their Obama) and gave them Nixon. The parallels from then to now are truly astounding, and it looks for all the world that we haven’t gone anywhere.
Gen ’60/’70 fought, rebelled, and even died for their convictions for a free society and for open loving. They accomplished quite a lot (more than they give themselves credit for), but not all.
They imagined a future for their children; a bright, caring, peaceful, (hairy) and loving future. Those children are Gen ’00/’10, our Millennials. I want you to know that you, my millennial friends, are their golden children. The special ones who would live the beautiful lives that they dreamed for you. (Unfortunately, they told you that a little too often.)
When they blame you, it’s not because they see you as failures, it’s because they saw you as their hope, one they blithely embraced and never stopped to doubt. They look at you and say, “Why aren’t you living that life we wanted for you, what’s wrong with you?!”
You can’t be blamed for the life you have any more than they can be blamed for reaching too high for you. The world is a tough place.
When your elders criticize you, [minus the perennial assholes of every generation] it is not the criticism of hate and derision that they once endured. No, and you must realize this; it is the criticism reserved for those we love and cherish and want the best for. It isn’t right, but it’s human.
At the bottom of their anger and disappointment, is the fear that THEY have failed YOU.
Maybe the world still has Trumps and Nixons, maybe we still hate and kill each other. But, what I wish I could tell your critical elders is that they did NOT fail their golden children. Boomers, though they didn’t inherit the perfect world you promised to bring them, you did bring to the earth and rear a generation who believe in equality, who value peace, and who trust in love, just the way you hoped they would. You persevered, and so will they. Ease up.
I also harbor a hope that you, millennials, can reconsider your pre-contempt and distrust of your elders, who like you, took a naive shot at utopia and missed. You are SO MUCH more alike than not. I wish you could see yourselves from my eyes. Anyone who is really paying attention knows, you already have what is most important.
And when the time comes, take my friend’s advice and cut the Gen Z a break.
“Daddy guess what, there is no Santa Claus, my friends at school told me!” Two years ago December, my then seven-year-old daughter Madi came home from school to start Christmas break with the inevi…
There are times, few and shining when life’s struggles are overcome, and all at once happiness has no alternative but to grow.
Once, a long time ago, but not so far off as you would think, there was a young lad and a fine Spring day. His bright outlook and innate wisdom, gifts more of nature than of experience, had brought him to just such a time.
In the earliest part of the afternoon, he followed a woodland path through the bristling August countryside, under a great blue sky, that led to a pretty little glade on the far side of a brook. It was a bright place, peaceful, safe and alive, and he knew he belonged there.
He walked along thinking about his foregone troubles, and how he had dodged them or tricked them into disappearing. He was a happy lad, perhaps happiest when he was alone with nature as he was on this day.
Just as he began to think how little of his joy he shared with others, he came upon the brook that was deep and wide like a pond at one point and so clear that it returned a beautiful blue to the open sky. Spanning the width, and very low to the slow-moving water, was an old wooden bridge, the kind they used to carry livestock and farm folk to and from the town. As the young man approached the pond he heard a dreadful moaning and thrashing of water. It sounded as if some animal had been trapped in the mud and was desperately trying to free itself.
He stepped onto the bridge and could see that it wasn’t an animal at all but a girl; she was quite beautiful by the look of it, although it was hard to tell for she appeared to be drowning. Her face was set, cold and hard. Her brow was furrowed almost to the point of being grotesque, but her features were fair and childlike. Her slender arms and shoulders were visible only now and then as her clenched fists pounded and thrashed the water in a desperate attempt to keep her head above it. Her garments dragged her down in a spot where cut flowers lay strewn; she was like a vision of Ophelia waked from her deadly reverie. The ferocity of her flailing was truly frightening. It was a mortal battle, an ugly dance of death.
The young man leaned his elbows on the railing of the bridge and lazily crossed his feet. He called out to her, “I’ve seen people drowned before, you know.” He saw himself in his mind leaping headfirst into the water at first sight of the troubled young maiden to rescue her the way any gallant would. He shifted his weight and crossed the other foot. You see, he had indeed seen people drown before, and by experience learned the danger in attempting a rescue.
The beautiful girl gasped and choked and made pitiful gurgling noises in her throat as she twisted and splashed under the warm summer sky. He spoke to her again, “If you were going to jump in you might at least have learned to swim first,” no reply. It was a terribly cruel thing to say to someone in mortal peril. “It takes a dreadfully long time to drown you know, it’s a very messy business,” he added. He could afford to be flippant, he didn’t plan on rescuing her. He intended only to walk on by and tend to his own business, no doubt the same way everyone else had that day.
Besides, he held the belief that anyone in trouble wanted it that way, for why else with they have it in the first place. He knew for himself that all the trouble in his life he brought upon himself, and all his problems solved were solved alone. Still, he didn’t really want to see her drown. He almost regretted not trying to save her, as he turned to go. She was so beautiful and so helpless, like a monarch butterfly caught in a web. He loved Monarch butterflies.
Just then, she caught his eye. Her eyes were a cold gray-blue, but her glance was warm like sunset, highlights touched the black of her pupils and made two stars in the night sky, distant and clear. He remembered her then; having never seen her before, even so, he remembered. Two children sitting by the still waters dreaming each their own dreams, yet dreaming together. His gaze softened and warmed her a little. Everything was still as they watched each other, everything but the rhythmic sound of her thrashing.
The young lad inhaled sharply and looked skyward. He let out a long sigh then said aloud to himself, “How silly of me to think I was done with trouble.” He turned and raised his voice so that she would hear him over the thrashing. “Don’t get the idea that this is as easy as it seems. Rescuing is dangerous, and it just might kill us both.” He spoke again to himself, “I must be a fool for trying this again. She’ll only drown, I know it.” But inside he had already decided that this one wasn’t going to drown.
He dove in and glided effortlessly across the pond to where the girl was. As he reached her, a cold fist smashed across his face, a rake of nails tore across his cheek as he was pulled by the hair down beneath the foaming water. He tried to grab her waist from the back and force his way to the surface but a knee planted itself firmly in his chest and the wind was driven from his lungs. He tried again to surface but was scratched and bruised until he was finally kicked to the bottom of the pond. Feeling dizzy and out of breath, he tried to swim away from the frenzied legs that pummeled him into the stream bed pinning him to the muddy bottom.
The young lad knew just what to do to save himself, he pulled his legs in tight to his chest, planted two feet firmly on the bottom of the pond, and pushed as hard as he could. He came up with a great gasp into the sunlight. As he fell back into the water, he realized that he was standing in water that barely reached his chest. The water level where the girl was thrashing was well below her shoulders!
The young man walked over to the girl and stopped just outside her reach. “What are you doing?!” he said, “Stand up, the water isn’t even deep enough to drown you!”
“I can’t!” she said.
“Why not!” he said, annoyed, rinsing the muck from his face and clothes.
“I’m… afraid! she said between gulps of water.
“You see me standing, don’t you?”
“Well then, stand up. The water isn’t deep enough to drown you. It’s not over your head, it never was. JUST STAND UP! All you have to do is plant your feet and stand. Come out of this cold water, and we’ll find a nice grassy hill and dry out in the sun.”
“I can’t.” said the girl.
“Try it.” he said.
“I can’t, I’m too afraid!
The young man struck his palm against his forehead. He shook his head and slowly trudged back to shore.
“Please help me!” she said, and as he walked he thought he wasn’t quite sure what she meant by help.
The poor confused fellow consoled himself while drawing himself out of the water by pointing out the fact that drowning people are not the most rational kind of person one might meet. Besides, it was clear to him now that this was not the proper technique for rescuing, despite the popular traditions. He shook off some of the water, wiped the blood from his cheek and limped back along the bridge. There was no question of giving up. What he started, he had to finish.
He sat himself down, dangling his feet over the edge of the little wooden bridge, watching her struggle. He watched silently for a long time, trying to remember her, watching her every expression. After a long while, he said, “What made you decide to drown?”
“Because my mother drowned,” she replied.
He wasn’t really expecting an answer to the question. He leaned toward her, and his voice grew very soft and warm.
“That’s really very sad, but it doesn’t mean that you have to as well.” he said.
He thought of how good it feels to speak from the heart, to speak from the house of kindness and not out of defense. He truly cared for this girl, for her own sake, and it made the best in him show.
“Don’t be so smug, and stop patronizing me; shut up and help me, please!”
The young man’s face turned sullen, the wound on his cheek began to bleed again. There was a long pause. Finally, she spoke,
“You don’t understand, she was my mother; I loved her. They came, they did terrible things to her, unspeakable things, and she drowned! Now I drown.”
Her head submerged completely for a moment before she resurfaced and resumed her pounding.
“You don’t know what it’s like to carry this! My fear is SO heavy! I am so sorry!”
“It isn’t your fault; it was your choice.” he said.
“You will walk by like everyone else!”
“I am not everyone else.” He was beginning to take this exchange quite personally.
“Do you know how it feels to drown?” she said.
His look was midway between love and contempt as he spoke, “Do you know how it feels to hold out the key to someone’s prison and watch them turn away?”
“She…drowned.” She said it slowly and looked right at him so that he could see deep inside her. He didn’t need to ask if she had once tried to rescue her, it was understood. Both of them knew how hard rescues were, and how they never seem to work.
The sun was high in the sky now. The young man laid across the hot planks of the bridge and began to dry in the sun. The light, he thought to himself, from that great fountain filters down to touch every living thing. He was staring at the light pouring through the tops of the great Oaks and Maples that lined either side of the brook. The sky was a deep blue. Tufts of clouds rolled by. Across the bridge to the west was his meadow. The path sloped upward through stands of bramble and flowers, and beyond it, grassy drumlins rose that shimmered with a hint of silver. Clover, he thought. A place bettered only in the sharing of it, he mused.
He drew a deep breath as if to drink in the sunlight. He smelled the moist earth and moss that surrounded the pond. The scent was pleasant but cool and thick. He took another breath as a warm breeze blew from the meadow, setting the leaves in motion. Its scent was of sunbaked grasses and wildflowers, the smell of summer memories; friends on the porch, sandals and swings. His mind drifted and wandered through Augusts of long ago.
A drop of cold water touched his lips and brought him back. He turned his head to watch the beautiful drowning maid. Her face was red as she snorted and spit. Her head was sinking lower in the water now, her leaden arms rhythmically pounding the surface, vaulting long splashes into the air. He turned his face back into the sun, took another breath and let out a sigh, then shot up fast,
“Damn you!” he said as he rose to his feet. “Inhale and lean back or by God, I’ll drown you myself!” This she did, and gradually the pounding subsided for the most part. She was now able to keep her nose and mouth consistently above water.
I wrote this story when I was twenty-three years old.
I never wrote the ending. (I didn’t know how.)
I found it recently in an old journal. Notes scribbled in the margins suggested several endings. Neither involved the maid being “rescued” by the young lad, owing to the author believing, then as now, that it isn’t possible. The main theme of this little tale is that we are the progenitors of our own misery, and our own sole source of rescue. Help from others comes only in the form of support and illumination—the key for the lock, the latch for the window. We ourselves crawl through the chinks and cross the thresholds. Do we really choose to create all the terrible things that we experience, even the ones that other people do to us? Yes. Not with our conscious mind certainly, that would be ridiculous. But in the great ocean of our unconscious, that sea granted us by some unknown hand, we are the writers of the story that when told will lead us to preserve the learnings we seek. This is the great and perilous Truth that once embraced, frees us utterly. The boy never asked the maid how she got there or why she was drowning, he asked, “When did you decide to drown?”
In one ending, she finally gives up her struggle, goes completely still and sinks to the very bottom, then she just stands up and walks out of the water.
The other takes place after several more bruising attempts at rescue and sees the battered lad walking away alone across the bridge to his beautiful sun-lit meadow, the sound of fists thumping the water slowly receding behind him.
It’s worth noting that the characters in this allegory can be seen as separate individuals (pick the one that applies to you), but also can be regarded as two warring aspects of our own psyche.
How would you end it, my friends? My experience in life has been much like the latter ending. What have I learned in the thirty-five years since my “young lad self” wrote it? This:
“If you choose to help others, choose only the ones who are swimming toward you.”
If not, you’ll find yourself buried in someone else’s darkness, and this serves no one. In love, there are takers and there are givers. If you are one who has built your house among takers, know that you deserve a giver.
It isn’t your fault; it was your choice.
ADDENDUM TO: “The Drowning Woman: A Rescuer’s Story”
The more I re-read this piece the more fascinating it is to me. It is so weird looking into my head 35 years ago, and the stunning thing is that so much of what I thought was a growth in awareness over the years was already there, it was just unproven. (I have stood on that bridge since, more times than I would like to admit, and have also spent some time in the water.)
There is actually more to the unfinished story buried in the notes. The two may have actually known each other, through letters only, and betrothed having never met. And it offers some very timely insights into how we know each other through words conveying how we want to be perceived as opposed to the visceral connection of being present with each other.
The notion that we must take responsibility (response-ability) for our lives and embrace the belief that we choose or are “at cause” with all the events of our lives (somehow), is the very thing that gives us our personal POWER and allows us to create the outcomes we desire and frees us from a self-imposed and unjust victimhood (drowning). Cool stuff! Smart lad!
If you are curious, and you can read my ancient chicken scratch, have at! The first and last pages containing notations are pictured here.
So I further the question, “How would you end it?”
Strange how our values become galvanized when threatened.
So, we’ve somehow managed to elect the poster child of hapless, self-serving, demagoguery who has relit the old fire sticks of hatred, intolerance, and isolationism (as if they ever really went out).
So, we take to the streets and we protest.
The Flower Power movement was birthed in Berkeley, California in the late 1960’s as means of symbolic protest against the Vietnam War. Beatnik writer Allen Ginsberg, promoted the use of “masses of flowers” to hand to policemen, press, politicians and spectators to civilly fight violence with peace.
Today reminds me SO MUCH of the nineteen sixties. I remember the images of race riots, bloodied faces, nightsticks, state funerals of fallen leaders, Buddhist monks lighting themselves on fire. Death by gun violence then was two points higher per 100,000 than it is today. I was a few years too young (to my eternal gratitude), but the nation’s young were being forced from their homes, shoveled into boot camps and used as cannon fodder to fight an unjust war.
So, they took to the streets.
In 1967 they protested against violence and the war in Vietnam.
In 2017 they will protest against hatred and intolerance.
When we were kids, whining was not tolerated in my family. If my siblings or I cried too much about something that made us unhappy, we would hear that infamous question, “You want something to cry about? I’ll GIVE you something to cry about!” which was followed by a few swift smacks. It was meant to force us to consider whining as a poor strategy, but it always made me think, “Great, now I have TWO things to cry about!” Whining, you see, is complaint without action, and my parents couldn’t stand it.
The often-maligned Millennial, accused of laziness and whining, a generation coddled then forgotten, suddenly feels that sharp slap and the taste of iron in their mouths.
Now it’s different, now it’s personal. A once lost generation has found its purpose.
For someone like me, it is so deeply painful to watch innocence come of age in an ugly world, but it is equally inspiring. What will they forge in their crucible? What outcomes will they gain–for all of us.
Of all the images my young mind retained in that era, the most powerful and transformative one was the image of a flower stuck down the barrel of a gun. It takes some balls to face down an adrenalin-bathed military guard with a bayonetted rifle pointed at your head and approach with nothing but a flower. The symbology was perfect, “Make Love not War”, and the insight extraordinary in its time–You can’t fight violence with violence. The message of Love did an end run around the mind of violence and spoke directly to the heart of peace.
The protests mattered, and we eventually won.
I’ve been stricken lately with how much the protesters today against ‘he who must not be named’ look like the protestors from 50 years ago. They are just as brave, just as determined, and just as full of purpose. There is a laser focus to their intention that reveals a beauty in them that has lain dormant until now. Adversity reveals true mettle.
I hope they continue to know that you can’t fight hate with hate.
And we’re going to need more flowers.
I woke up this morning with the image of little Omran Daqneesh in my head and it finally dawned on me why he looked so familiar to me.
THAT is my inner child.
Seriously, no joke–that is what he looks like right now. I’ve spent three years in a kind of slow free-fall of stress, private anguish, trauma, and loss that my skill could not diminish no matter what I tried. Sometimes all we can do is persevere.
If by “inner child” we mean a personification of that source within our core that is pure, joyful, innocent, trusting, playful, and loving, then we should be able to picture it, recognize it.
This morning I have, and THAT’S HIM.
As that image resonates with what I see in myself, it is heartening to know just how durable the little fellow is. As I begin to crawl out from under the rubble of things I needed like a hole in my head, the proof is there, of the ineffable, indelible innocence and goodness that is the origin and seat of who we are.
Persevere, my friends. Whether it be by fire, flood, war, or personal strife, sooner or later, someone will walk by that pile of rubble you are buried under, and pull you back into the daylight.
(5-year-old Omran Daqneesh suffered head wounds but no brain injury. Workers feared internal injuries, but an X-ray and ultrasound revealed his wounds were superficial. Omran’s three siblings, ages 1, 6, and 11, and his mother and father were also rescued from the building. None sustained major injuries. The Russian military said Thursday it was ready to back a U.N. call for weekly cease-fires for the city of Aleppo. …curious, what opened eyes can lead to.)
SMS (short message service) began in 1992 and was initially a way of sending brief informational messages like “I’ll be late” or “there’s an emergency” or when you need a quick “yes” or “no” answer. It has evolved now into… well, I don’t have to tell you what. There’s no question it’s useful, I use it all the time now, but it is SO easy we let it rob from us the quality of our human communication. SUCH an easy crutch to use NOT to face each other, NOT to be spontaneous, immediate, genuine–REAL.
Professor Albert Mehrabian has pioneered the understanding of communications since the 1960s. Mehrabian’s research provided the basis for the widely quoted statistic for the effectiveness of spoken communications.
Here is a representation of Mehrabian’s findings on the communications of feelings and attitudes:
- 7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken. (or, presumably, written in a text?)
- 38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said; tone, inflection, etc.).
- 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression. (This includes body language and physiological ‘presence’)
Think about this the next time you try to explain your feelings and attitudes by texting. Think about how you can pop that paltry 7% all the way up to 45% just by pressing a button on your phone. With this bonus, do you really have to fake not seeing a text just to give yourself time to think about what you want to say? Your voice is beautiful, and the way you search for the right words says as much as the words you find. Any premeditated communication bears an inherent falseness to it. Do you really want that burden?
The written word can certainly be powerful in expression if used in poetry or full-blown, quality prose, but how many excellent writers are out there? I’m the guy whose texts are very long and complete, with fully spelled words and correct punctuation when I try to express my feelings and attitudes. It often makes me feel self-conscious, wordy, and verbose, but I don’t care. Having my meaning heard as I meant to convey it is important to me.
Truncated, abbreviated and “emoticated” messages mock the beauty of language do they not? How many times have you said less or left out a thought because it was too long to text? How do others perceive you when your average response is under five words? What kind of value will they grant you if you present yourself as the equivalent of a coloring book outline? And, what treacherous depths of misunderstanding will you never even be aware of?
I’m as guilty as you, nearly. I use it. I do my disciplined best to preserve language, craft my words, use metaphor, allusion, (and try not to use) etc. But, if you take the time to write well when you text, you will more often find yourself saying, “Aw hell, I’ll just call and talk.”
I don’t know about you, but I like hearing peoples’ voices.