I know that darkness won’t endure,
But sometimes it’s hard to see in the dark,
But I will not lose my reason,
My desire to understand the seasons,
Turning leaves reveal the truth,
Known to every pimpled youth,
There is no escaping that things change,
And so you can hold on
And squeeze the moment,
But it will eventually slip like sand,
And with time abrading your open fingers,
To make sure you learn lessons well,
To remind you, you’re avoiding the inevitable.
You can wallow in the quagmire of your beliefs,
You can even inspire with a clever tongue,
You can wipe clean all that science has found,
And it will come back and haunt you,
But humanity is no ghost,
It is curious and is happiest when it discovers,
Even though it risks its happiness,
Because somewhere in the maze of consciousness,
We know that without the risk there is no joy,
No success, no growth
We are not content to look through a pinhole,
While one eye looks at the dark, and the rest
Of our senses atrophy into putrid decay.
Each time that you hate and dehumanize,
You become less than you think you are,
Your victims more than you think they are.
And I will oppose you with heart, with teeth,
And you will fight on the battleground of reason,
Or risk endless cycles violence,
Ripping parents from children,
Casting yourself into an oblivion,
That you believe to be paradise,
All because you never knew,
How great a human you could become,
How so many pieces of existence,
Were waiting for you to know them.
And you will pay dearly for unwise choices,
And you will be forgiven,
Because the world has loss and pain,
But nobody really wants to destroy you but time,
And none of us have any say over that,
Make your meaning out of the indifferent universe,
And treat existence like a gift.
Because it is.
So just a little prelude to this post. This is an attempt at a little short story. I hesitate to call it that, because in many ways it is a small bit that was inspired by the writing of one of my followers Hariod Brawn who definitely has an amazing skill at writing. It is a response to his post called the Ambit of Ambition. I was about to write a comment about it, and then decided maybe I could be a little more creative in my response and write my comment in the form of a similar story. His excellent piece made me think about how we define ambition and success in our lives. As a society these words often refer to economic gain or fame based on notoriety. But by their definition they don’t need to be. Can we not measure our success differently? Can we have ambition for compassion or other values that bring goodness to the world? With those questions I will say no more and allow you to contemplate an alternate universe. 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to read.
Terry was certain he didn’t deserve it, but even as he touched the glossy cover of Fortune 500 magazine he turned his gaze inward and gave a slight smile. Gratitude washed over him and for a few moments he decided to let the ebbing tide take him away. Perhaps it’s no crime to be proud of oneself, as long as you remember just how blessed you actually are. His wife of 20 years now, sat beside him, a beaming smile that darkness could never hold dominion over and nods reassuringly. With the timidity of child who approaches a horse, sugar cube in hand, he leafs through the pages until he sees his picture and the article written in his honor. While he had always striven for more, to have made this magazine was more success than one could ask for. Tears welled up a little as the 5-page article gave homage to a life so full, that accolades never seemed necessary.
He barely got past the first paragraph talking about how he had a food drive for the local food bank while he was in middle school, when he paused and remembered the very first experience that had motivated him to be the man he was today. He was 6 years old and was walking back with his mother after a trip to the laundromat. He remembered how it felt like an eternity that day doing laundry, especially since he become very hungry. Mustering the full crankiness, a 6-year-old can offer when his stomach is growling, he insisted on the way home that she get him a soft pretzel from the stand near the laundromat, even though it was only a 10 minute walk him. Mom had told him that she would make him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when she got home, but the smell from the stand had been wafting in to the laundromat for some time. While he generally loved the smell of clothes coming out the drier, his hunger mixed with the fact that somebody had spilled a whole lot of laundry detergent near them made him eager to follow that scent coming from the outdoors. He remembered how palpable the smell was as if he was being led by the nose. He knew his parents couldn’t treat him often, but he really wanted that pretzel.
He had easily defeated his mother with a series of quality pouts and big hugs and a look upwards at mommy with eyes that would make a puppy knew it had been out-cuted. Then as he walked away and held the warm chewy pretzel in his hands he heard the shaking of a paper cup and the clinking of change. He looked up and saw a face that just caught him. To this day he could bring to mind details about that face that he could not, on a whim, recall about others he had known better and for longer. There was the bushy beard. Grey had taken over the area of the chin and seemed to extend outwards in ripples of diminishing intensity to the rest of the hairy fac. His skin was the color of milk chocolate, but had the tough but yielding look of old leather that made him think of his mother’s handbag. He looked at other people with a smile and wishing people a pleasant day. There was a sincerity that he had not seen in many others save for his own parents. Terry stopped in his tracks and watched the man. Forced to stop too, his mother, after already losing one battle, asked him what was wrong. Her voice had the impatience that only a mother, carrying a full laundry bag and still many chores left in the day, deserves. He had wanted to know what that man was doing and why was he standing there. His mother explained that he was homeless and was asking for money from other people so he could buy food and beverage as he was likely thirsty and hungry. It was spring, but the day was dreary and cool, and the man was wearing a lot of clothes, but most of them fraying and with holes or rips here or there. Even on his parents satisfactory but tight budget he knew clothes would normally be replaced before such a state of disrepair. He remembered the man suddenly looked at him with a wide smile and he looked back into those eyes. There was a brightness to them that just made your day better to have them look at you, and all around his eyes were countless lines from years of hard living. He looked older than any man he had ever seen at the time, even though he suspected that this man wasn’t as old as his Grandpa Greg or Grandpa Paul. And in some ways those lines framing the eyes, made those bright eyes all the sadder, because Terry couldn’t understand how the world could be so cruel in the face of kindness. As the warmth of the pretzel radiated outward from his hand, he could suddenly feel his hunger fade.
He held out his hand and said “Hi, my name is Terry, would you like this pretzel?”
His mom stood with jaw slowly giving way to gravity.
The man introduced himself, and told Terry his name was Jim and thanked him heartily for his gift as he was quite hungry. Terry gave him a solid 6-year-old handshake, Jim’s fingertips cold as ice, while the other hands exchanged the pretzel. Jim had turned to his mother and said “You have a fine boy there.”
His mom simply said “Thank you. Yes I do.” A confirmation of something she needed no other person to tell her was true, though you could still tell she was glad to hear it. Terry felt much more warmth now than the hot pretzel in his hand provided, and the joy at making that man happy was a feeling he never felt before. It’s like he realized that not all joy was the same, and that there is a joy out there that is more fulfilling than unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. When he got home he had a wonderful peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and the biggest glass of chocolate milk his mother had ever given him.
As Terry continued to read the article about him, it recounted many of the sources for his nomination. It was hard to believe that 500 people had written personal testimonies to his kindness, his generosity, his friendship, and his compassion. He joked to himself that he had it is easy. When you are good with your hands, it’s much easier to lend one. It was his best friends and business partners who had done the legwork to find all these people to write letters. He felt an extreme sense of gratitude for having such friends. It was around games of Dungeons & Dragons that they came up with the idea to start a carpentry business. Which then grew into a business that flipped houses. After the first year they had enough money to hire a few employees, and this allowed his friend Jonathan to do less carpentry and work more on the business end of things. According to the article his employees had put together a letter of testimony as well. As the company took a little less time, he started to do pro bono work with Habitat for Humanity, and for people in his neighborhood. When he met his wife at age 32, his company had grown to where he had 10 full time workers and this allowed Terry to pull back a little so he could start a family. He wished his daughter could have been here right now to share this moment with him, but she was away at college for architecture. She shared his passion for building and had even a keener eye for design and making things look beautiful. Apparently she had also written a letter talking about what an attentive and hardworking father he was.
The article couldn’t name everybody, but there was a letter from a former science teacher who was nearly fired for being a gay. A plea perhaps he was only able to win at a schoolboard meeting because of the goodwill his company had in this small and fairly conservative town. There was testimony from the director of the local Vo-Tech where he taught classes, and took many of the students on to gain experience helping him with projects. Some of those students also wrote letters of support.
After a while it had become too much for him to read anymore, and too indulgent to wonder who all might have taken the time and effort to support him. Maybe he was too humble, but he also knew that none of his success was his alone. Where would he be without the support and love of his parents? It was their kind and generous nature that drove his own ambitions. How could he have had the successful business he had without the loyalty and trustworthiness of his friends? Ones that shared a similar vision for life, and whose enthusiasm and work ethic were matched by extreme talent for business and carpentry. And all these people he had helped to over the year had come at the expense of time he couldn’t spend with others. His wife and daughter had been so patient and understanding to know what drove him, and while they had never once expressed any wish to have him around more, he knew that at times they must have missed him. Any one of the 500 people, he was sure, gave as much to him as he did to them. He turned to his wife and said “I must get a list of the people who wrote in, so I can write them back and thank them.”
She looked at him with eyes that knew him so well and just laughed. “All in good time my darling. Tonight you are resting on your laurels and I have made reservations. Now good put on something nice. You get an evening that’s just about you.”
Resigned, he got up and walked towards his room and tried to push his uneasiness to the back of his mind. He stopped and started to turn sure he would have a good argument in all this, but his wife had followed him, expecting such ridiculous tactics and said “Go on!” and gave him a playful push on the back into their room.
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts called The Hidden Brain on NPR and they were talking about the climate change situation in a great episode called Losing Alaska. Basically they were saying that scientific arguments have little merit anymore in talking about climate change. I would have to say that I agree. As someone who holds a Ph.D. in the Atmospheric Sciences I can most certainly say that few people that I have debated with on the subject truly understand the problem scientifically and I don’t claim to be the smartest person in the world, this is simply the truth. My field is applied math and physics. Not only that, the climate system is complex.it Involves interdisciplinary knowledge as well in chemistry, oceanography and geology. To change someone’s mind from a scientific point of view, it would take a lot of study and learning. Now you may be saying, wait I accept man-made climate change, and it it’s pretty obvious. Well I would argue that you don’t really understand it, but it’s easier for you to accept because it already fits in with your ideology. And I don’t say that to be demeaning, especially I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad ideology to have. Specifically the one in which we recognize that something is very complex and we don’t have years to study it on our own so maybe I should listen to what experts are saying. Much like we tend to believe our doctor when they tell us we have cancer as opposed to learning the requisite knowledge we need in order to test ourselves.
But more to the point it really does come down to our personal ideology whether we accept the science, because let’s face it the science is telling us some pretty harsh things. Not only is the Earth in a lot of trouble, but we actually might be responsible for it all. And in order to combat the problem we are causing we are going to have to give up a great deal. Transitioning away from a fuel source we heavily depend on will require large shifts in business and industry affecting the jobs of many. And of course such a transition cannot be made overnight, but even at a moderate pace will require a cultural change at a rate faster than many of us would have a hard time adjusting too. That of course does not make it any less compulsory. Interestingly this podcast made the argument that we all are capable of great sacrifices at times of war or crises, and that dealing with man-made climate change requires an approach that is used by religion rather than one that is used by science. I find myself having a hard time disagreeing. While I would love to live in a society where science had a much more powerful influence on changing minds ultimately it does seem that we need to change minds at an emotional level over an intellectual one (which is to me what the podcast suggested by saying a “religious approach”).
In that vein, I wanted to address some of the main arguments I see used by climate change deniers, which tend to be more ideologically based instead of arguments that attack the scientific data on the subject. They are more dangerous to me, because they seem reasonable. They seem irrefutable. This is not the case.
Science had been wrong before, why should we trust scientists?
This is quite true. Scientists have been wrong before. In fact progress is actually built on that very premise. But notice the word “progress”. It always strikes me as strange that people overlook this aspect of science. Much like we learn from our own mistakes and grow and get better as people, this is how science works as well. So we do get things wrong, but we also get a lot of things right. Your daily lives in this modern world are a living result of that. From the car you drive to the device in which you are punching out your arguments. Now you could be right that someday we will discover that we were all wrong about this, but if we do, it will not because we were willfully trying to mislead people, but rather a new discovery has allowed us to view the world in a different way thus disproving our theory. So unless you’ve got that said discovery I can guarantee you that our assessment about the state of the climate system is based on the best available knowledge we have about how it works. And personally I see no shame in acting in the best interest of all on this planet based on what we know of it.
Finally, just because you don’t trust science or want to focus on the things it got wrong makes it your problem, and not science’s problem. To refute climate change science on those grounds is to commit the genetic fallacy. Directly address the assertions being made by those advocating the position in terms of their conclusions analysis of their data. That is really your only option. To explain it more simply “Al Gore is a democrat, and I hate democrats. Al Gore gives evidence for why man-made climate change is happening, but since he is a democrat, he must be wrong.” That’s not how it works. Sorry.
Scientists are just doing it for the money. IPCC is corrupt. Liberal media…
This argument is the same as the genetic fallacy because it is again an attempt to discredit to the reliability of the source to simply argue away what the source has to say. I’ll admit that in such instances I will use the same fallacious argument back, because, quite honestly two can play that game, and I can play it better. Let’s say all of us scientists are ego driven money-grubbing bastards. My options are renewable energy companies and liberal governments, or oil companies. Hmmm…I wonder who has more money. Not only that with all the other scientists clearly in the wrong camp, all that sweet oil money could be mine (as it was for Wei-Hock Soon) as there are even less people to share it with.
In terms of fame, the fallacious argument made by deniers fall even shorter. If I had definitive proof that all the other scientists were wrong. I would be the one who was famous. I’d be on all the news programs, giving talks around the world on a sweet oil company payroll, and even the liberal media would have me on their shows even to abuse me while I valiantly stuck to my guns with the full conviction that I was doing my science right. I would be the hero of deniers everywhere.
Sometimes even fallacious arguments are hardly worth the effort.
The climate has changed before when humans weren’t around. It’s natural.
This is the first part of an argument constantly used. It’s also known in logic as a type of naturalistic fallacy. Just because something can happen naturally, doesn’t mean it can’t happen unnaturally. Do floods happen naturally? Sure. Can floods also happen because of human activities? Absolutely. Natural selection happens in evolution. But you know what also happens? “Unnatural selection”. The fruits and vegetables we eat, the dogs and cats we have as pets, and the horses we ride are all examples of this. The same thing can happen with or without intention.
We cannot have an impact on something as big as the Earth.
This argument is made without any substantiation at all. It is often also used by people who are trying not to be religious but would rather take the James Inhofe argument that God controls the climate! Of course examples of how we have changed climate locally can be found all over through the building of structures like dams on rivers, cutting down forests and poor farming practices. In terms of the climate change issue specifically this person does a pretty nice break down of looking at how the amount of carbon we produce can quite easily explain the increase in carbon since pre-industrial levels. There is no reason to believe that we couldn’t have such a global impact. In fact that argument always seems to me a way of insulting or discrediting scientists again because it’s a pretty important question to answer before we would even start putting out evidence about climate change. I mean if the amount of carbon we produce paled in comparison to the amount of increase we’ve seen then I am not sure how the scientific consensus could be developed in the first place. It’s like when people say, the warming is being caused by the sun, and I think to myself “Oh my…we scientists all forgot to take into account the sun. I better make a few calls. Can’t believe we missed that one!”.
The Earth will survive. We’ve had major disasters before and life persists. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen.
This is the most insidious arguments, because it’s not fallacious at all in a logical sense. However it is apathetic and immoral. A lot of times people will say things like…”we’re just another species. Whatever we do is natural, and whatever happens will happens.”
Let’s say you are an emergency manager who works at a national park in a mountainous area. The weather is starting to warm and there has been heavy rains in the mountains and typically when such rains occur, especially in combination with some ice jams in the water flash flooding occurs. It’s not a guarantee, but likely. A town at the foot of the mountain in which the river runs through is going to get flooded, people could easily die if they are not warned. This is a natural event, it was going to happen whether humans are around are not do you warn them?
I think most people would answer that they would. To me arguing that doing nothing is the only option we have because the Earth is just going to do is thing is tantamount to doing nothing in this example, and simply letting people die. Many people who accept the fact that the climate is changing but don’t think man is responsible still must accept the consequences to this warming. Some of the one’s we are more sure of are:
Rising sea levels drowning coastal populations and increased damages and deaths from coastal hazards such as tropical storms and tsunamis
Increased heat waves and droughts
Increases in extreme weather events as climate patterns shift
Increased severity of extreme weather events.
What’s more is that these types of things will adversely impact the most vulnerable of the worlds population. People who are in poverty. People who depend on subsistence farming. When local hazards happen communities do make sacrifices, and do look for solutions, through re-zoning laws, construction improvements, and other engineering solutions to try and make the world safer and have less loss of life. So even if man has nothing do with the problem it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to act to come up with a solution.
One can be logically sound but be ethically and morally irresponsible. Ignoring what experts are saying, making sweeping and unsubstantiated statements that there is nothing we can do, that it’s just nature, and the Earth will be fine is really the same as having the power to do something to save lives and not doing it. And this is why I agree that the conversation about climate change has to shift away from science and facts and be more about compassion, about love for our fellow human beings, valuing equality so that we all have the same chance to adapt and survive the changing climate, and about taking responsibility for the home that sustains us all. These are important values regardless of what is causing the climate to change and these are things we can address and even already have some solutions for. Of course I know that is even overly idealistic to think that such a solution of addressing people on an emotional level might work. Hell it’s difficult to find a religion that unanimously agrees poverty is something we should do something about. I feel pretty bleak in general about us actually doing something about climate change. It requires people to move beyond nationalism, beyond their own religious beliefs and worldview, which tend to not be very worldly at all. Maybe we can’t win against the forces of nature, but it sure would nice if we could overcome the forces that divide us as a species. We can try. Maybe in the end it really is easier to move mountains.
I sit here and look at the television screen,
What is she wearing? Who are they going to vote off?
Twittering rage, Facebook lols, texting friends,
I’m experiencing life, I hope it never ends,
Not really paying attention,
There’s nothing else to do,
It feels like peace for me, is it peace for you?
I’ve got a lot and I’m going to need more,
I really don’t know what it’s all for, but I got it,
In only 10 years my wealth will double,
Too bad about that housing bubble,
You’ve got to work harder,
You’ve got more to do,
Can’t take a piece from me, I’ll take that piece from you.
I had a job, but well they didn’t need me anymore,
I’m sure I’m important though, but how to show it,
Turning on the news, the worlds gone to hell,
No way I’m going to get out of this well,
I’ve got to fight just to survive,
Only one thing left to do,
Won’t take a piece of me, I’ll take a piece of you.
You want me to trust, but I’m so afraid,
That article told me who’s to blame, the real problem,
Just keep me safe, I’ll do what it takes,
Close the borders for goodness sake,
I’ve got my gun next to me,
What are you going to do?
You took peace from me, I’ll take a piece of you.
I must raze the world to build it anew,
I’ve got a vision, and this is where you come in,
This is divine providence, no need to fear
You’ll change the world, for God is near
Your cause is righteous,
You know what to do,
Take some pieces of them, for pieces of you.
I’ve so much to be thankful for,
My basic needs are met and even a little sugar,
I won’t sit here and be passive,
Let the weight get too massive,
I’ll show you my heart,
Do what you will do,
But you can take a piece of me, and put that piece into you
I was listening to another episode of the NPR podcast The Hidden Brain this morning and it rekindled something that often comes into my mind when tragic events happen and this the act of forgiveness. This podcast was extremely interesting because they were talking with a researcher who was studying forgiveness by collecting data and interviewing people in Sierra Leone in the aftermath of their civil war. It is a unique situation because after they democratically elected a new government people who were on separate sides of a conflict were in the same communities, and even neighbors. You could be living next to somebody who cut off your hand, raped or killed a family member. What happened in that country is truly horrific, and no side was necessarily worse than the other. People were allowed to go back to their lives unpunished by the new government (with perhaps the exception of certain leaders). In the main story that they follow in the podcast the play excerpts of an interview with two men who were friends before the civil war and when one was captured by the rebels he was made to do horrific things. He came across his friend and the rebels wanted him beat his friend, and he would not do it, and so they shot at him injuring him and told them that if he didn’t he would be killed. Fearing for his life he did as they asked, and then asked him to kill his friend’s father. He also ended up doing that in fearing for his life.
I am going to stop there before I going into the aftermath. Right now some of you are judging the friend harshly who killed his friend’s father. Some of you feel extreme anger towards the adult rebels who would ask a youth to do this and some of you are just lost in sorry for the pain and anguish that both of these boys must have felt. You are maybe thinking what you would do in the same situation. You are thinking about it rationally and cooly. Let me say first that whatever decision you are making right now, may not be the decision you would make in the moment. And I think the most important thing that you should think about is that you never want to have to face this situation. Fear, when facing our own depth makes us capable of much more than we think. Sometimes horrific acts.
Now the question you have to ask yourself is how forgiving do you feel right now? And if you can forgive, how much should we expect those who were in that particular situation to forgive? The podcast asks the question, how does one move forward from such atrocities after neighbor has been set against neighbor?
The way Sierra Leone has dealt with this in trying to stitch their society back together is that all over the country they have reconciliation ceremonies in communities where people stand face to face with people who have done harm to them personally or friends or family members. They confront each without physical violence. There is confession and ask for forgiveness. And forgiveness often happens, because those who are willing to take part in the ceremony want to be able to forgive. When following up on those who had taken part in the ceremony and when forgiveness happened they found those people were more productive in their community. They made friends easier, they helped others in their community, more participation in politics and ensuring a positive political future and were more conscious of social justice issues. It all sounds pretty great. Forgiveness is a powerful part of healing and there is no psychological study that I know of that recommends holding on to anger and exacting revenge. Many think it will bring peace, but it does not. But if forgiveness is the better way, why do we have such a hard time doing it? Already there are a number of you who are thinking that you could not forgive in such situations as described earlier.
It turns out that the downside of these people who participate in these reconciliation ceremonies is that while society at large gains, the individual suffers. The act of forgiveness requires a great deal of courage because in that confrontation with a person who caused you harm you must also confront your pain. You must relive the trauma, the memories, and those horrific images. Individuals report greater depression and other symptoms of PTSD. The researcher’s recommendation is that the act of forgiveness needs to be followed by individualized mental health treatment. It makes a lot of sense. In addition to the obvious reminder about the importance of mental health it revealed to me that ultimately to truly overcome pain that we experience requires a confrontation within ourselves. As hard as it may be for two people stand face-to-face in these reconciliation ceremonies, it’s even harder to face the pain with in us. Perhaps this is why people choose not to forgive and seek external solutions so they don’t have to deal with that pain and never find that path to peace. Anger, addiction, or just disciplined suppression are all hallmarks of those who cannot forgive and this generally leads to more pain for others and cycles of conflict and violence continue. I say this without judgment, because no matter how rational my thought process is right now, I cannot know how I would react in the face of extreme fear, and extreme pain. I find it hard to blame others for not being able to forgive, and I don’t blame people for being angry when they experienced trauma and pain.
As I’ve said to others in the past, the most powerful part of the message of Jesus Christ has always been about the power of forgiveness and that if there is something to believe in, it’s redemption. The good news from the story told in the podcast is that those two men are once again friends. I am sure there are times when it is not easy. The one who killed his friend’s father helps the other plant his crops as he was injured during the civil war. There are no quick solutions I am sure for them but both are clearly on a path to peace and healing and a chance for a new generation to not have to face the horrors they faced. And maybe that’s the best reason to be courageous and forgive. Maybe our own wounds will still burst open from time to time and cause us pain, but maybe we can keep that pain out of future generations. Because when we act outwardly on our pain and harm others the suffering it causes as pain ripples outwards into their loved ones makes your wound everybody’s wound. And in I’m not saying it’s all easy but as a people we need to get better about supporting paths that lead to peace. Especially those of us who have been fortunate enough to not have such events happen in our lives. We need to help people confront the pain that tears through their soul and teach them how they can overcome it. Forgiveness has value in the face of hurt and harm in whatever form it comes in. We need to give compassion without judgment and replace despair with hope.
One of the common words that we hippie-type people like to use is the word tolerance. We need to be more tolerant. I said it myself in my last post, but based on a discussion on that post I decided that it was worth investigating this concept of tolerance. While I think many people derived a theme of being more tolerant towards Muslims, what I really meant to look at is what are better and worse ways of dealing with a difficult situation. I’ve come to realize that often when I use the word tolerance, the meaning I hold to it is different than others. And so maybe what I am suggesting is not tolerance at all, but something else.
What I think we can agree on, is that tolerance is definitely not something we should always be doing. We live in a very PC culture where we are being told constantly to be tolerant, but tolerance can lead to passiveness, and there are some things we should not tolerate or be passive about. One could say that being intolerant has led to many important social changes. When laws are unjust being tolerant of them isn’t getting you very far. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr are good examples of historical figures who were not very tolerant and accomplished great things for their people in the march towards equality and self-determination. But then I also thought about the importance of context. If laws are unjust, if there is oppression, then it is these practices that are intolerant. And shouldn’t we be intolerant to practices that are intolerant. For instance, if black people are not allowed to sit in certain restaurants this would be an example of a system which is not tolerant towards different races. White people would not tolerate a black person sitting next to them while eating. Did black people owe it to white people to be tolerant of their practices so as to not make them feel uncomfortable? Of course not. On the other side we could point to Kim Davis. She doesn’t agree with a law that allows gay people marry. The law is just because it gives equal rights to people of different sexual orientation, and doesn’t infringe on anybody’s ability to practice their own religion. Thus we would ask Kim Davis to be tolerant. Of course, whether it is people not wanting blacks in their restaurant, or gay people to marry, what we are really saying to those people is “you’re wrong, get used to it”. We’re saying, your “intolerance, will no longer be tolerated”. And I believe this is fair and this is right, but there is a little bit of a subtext there that says “You really should change your mind and agree with us, because other ways life is going to be pretty annoying for you”. And again, I’m not saying this isn’t fair, but to the other person they would easily say that we are the intolerant ones of their views and why do they have to show tolerance and we don’t? The word “tolerance”, at least to me, is sort of a confusing word when you think about it.
So going back to the issue of “banning the burka”, if I say tolerance is prudent, what does that mean? First I think it’s important to note that tolerance of an action and condoning that action are different. But if you are really against something, being tolerant and thus passive can be seen as equal as condoning it. I think there is some truth to that, but it’s important to remember that not all people would fight a battle in the same way. Some methods of fighting are more effective and/or cause less overall harm. Kim Davis’ beliefs may make her decide that she should not tolerate what she’s sees as an unjust law and she is welcome to fight it. However there are better and worse ways to do such a thing, and the choice she has made is ultimately ineffective, and denies legal rights to fellow citizens. The burka or niqab is a troubling practice. Women have become so oppressed in some countries that many of them are even complicit with that oppression and would feel real spiritual pain by not following what they believe to be true regarding their value compared to men. Should we tolerate such gender equality? The answer once again is, of course not. However should we be tolerant towards women wearing the burka? Then I would say yes, but I would say that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it. So maybe when we ask for tolerance, what we really mean is patience and careful thought. Let’s not have knee-jerk reactions that are governed by our fears, but let’s take actions that are based on our love and compassion. The fight for gender equality is really one about love and compassion. Telling women that they have equal freedom and value as men in society is just that. Freedom of religion is also one of love and compassion because it says to people that you are allowed to keep your beliefs and that the law will not dictate what you must believe. No one else wants their beliefs infringed on so why should we pass laws that infringe on others? Of course that doesn’t mean that you can come into a country and expect that a belief structure that by design causes harm to another group will be easily tolerated, especially when that country has fought long and hard to try and erode the traditions you still hold on to. At the same time, you may also expect that new laws shouldn’t be passed that specifically target you for doing what you were raised culturally to accept as normal. I think it’s also important that when we oppose certain cultural practices that we consider immoral, that we don’t reject an entire a culture. Cultural practices are not homogeneous and thus are not all bad or all good. At the very least some practices may cause no harm at all and thus we should be tolerant of those.
What we are really after, therefore, is a way in which we can present a group of people who have morally unsound practices with a better way of living. In the case of the severe oppression of women in some Islamic countries, a proactive way of doing this is to empower women. Self-determination goes a much longer way in affecting change than oppressive laws. And while it would be nice to have men on the same side, many will resist due to the fact that they will be losing a position of privilege in their society, but ultimately just as the fight for equality here in the U.S. has required the support of men, so will it need to be the case in Islam. One possible way in which we can appeal to the rational in both men and women would be to offer education into the development of children. This article was shared with me by Victoria over at VictoriaNeuronotes and discusses the important of babies being able to see facial expression in their mother. From the article:
Teacher Maryam Khan, says: “Working with young children, so much is read just from facial expressions, you don’t have to speak to a child.
“If they can’t see your face, they don’t know what you’re thinking – a glare, a smile.”
Psychologists agree. “It’s particularly true for children under five because their communication is non-verbal, they’re much better at reading it than adults,” says Dr. Lewis. “If they’re denied these signals they become quite confused.”
If, when in public, the mother’s face is always covered, this has an adverse impact on a baby’s mood and reactions to situations. The YouTube video below demonstrates this impact clearly. And there may be other things that we can discuss with them such as the importance of sunlight to pregnant mothers and babies for Vitamin D. Given that a love of children is cross-cultural and people generally want the best for children, this seems like a proactive way to change minds by connecting with men and women emotionally through the love they have their children, while presenting also a rational argument for the value of not covering your face. What’s best is that is also reveals the best about us. We aren’t trying to persecute anyone, we are showing another culture, our value of education, our shared love of children and wanting the best for them, and that what we want is a conversation and an exchange of ideas, not forcing a behavior through a punitive law. It also shows another culture that we have humility. That we too had practices that were not always beneficial and through the act of investigation and learning we have grown to become more loving and compassionate.
As I ponder more about the word tolerance, the more it seems like a word that isn’t overly descriptive. Because within the idea of tolerance is an implication that one isn’t happy or supportive of a particular behavior and that in some cases, when a particular behavior is harmful we would rather do something about that behavior. What it does not imply is a hasty reaction. We can be patient and thoughtful, and act in away that is inclusive and not exclusive. We can act in a way that is proactive and not adversarial. In the end, I believe, such tactics are more successful.
In the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis the anti-Muslim propaganda has been coming out strong. And my home country of Canada has been no exception. It is personally sad for me to see this, because one of the things I most value about growing up in Canada is its tolerance towards other cultures and its celebration of diversity. As a result of this tradition I think it is no surprise that Islam in Canada is more progressive than any other countries. This declaration made by the Canadian Council of Imams speaks volumes to what Islam means to Muslims living in Canada. And I am sure you can make arguments about passages in the Koran supporting violence towards non-believers, and I can answer back with as many in the Bible so let’s put that aside and simply say that in the march towards a more humane society religion must evolve even if it doesn’t dissolve.
Of course there is much that is troubling in terms of the practice of Islam worldwide. You can find countries where people are killed for simply expressing dissent against the Islamic government, committing blasphemy, committing adultery, being gay, etc. There are of course the acts of terrorism which seem at times unending and of course have impact European countries and the U.S. and a big way. And of course there is the oppression of women, which is horrible and profoundly sad that we still must contend with such disregard for the rights of 50% of the population in this day and age. Some Islamic apologists will argue that this is not the way of Islam, but that being said it is certainly part of the cultural practice in many Islamic countries and I don’t hear a lot of Muslim clerics or imams in those countries saying “Hey let the women go to school and drive, this isn’t what Islam is about!” There are perhaps a lot of reasons to be worried about extreme Islamic practices, and keep in mind that many of the things that we think are extreme such as the oppression of woman, is common place in some countries.
So the question becomes, what do we do about it? Even though most Muslims are not violent and never will be, they have some very unsettling practices that they think are justified according to their religion. Many of them are just as indoctrinated as any of the evangelical community here in the U.S. when it comes to their views on women, foreigners, homosexuals, blacks, etc. So there are some people everywhere who could use some enlightening and so how do we go about doing that? And can in happen sooner than later?
Let’s start by identifying what doesn’t work and that is the banning of religious practices. Though France has banned the burka or niqab, and Switzerland has banned minarets, these practices have not been shown to impact cultural shifts in Islam and have only served to alienate and discriminate portions of the Muslim population, not only in those countries, but have angered Muslims in other countries as well. Isolating and alienating religious communities only builds resentment and will only increase the danger from Islamic groups that the laws seek to avoid. This blog post does a very good job of laying out the argument and I don’t want to repeat too much of what is said here, but any laws restricting religious practices at best do nothing and at worst, make the conflate the problem with archaic religious practices.
If history has taught us anything it is that oppression of a religion is a bad idea if we want to actually stop it. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and Europe. At least some of that may be due to the attempts at suppression of religious practices. Anti-Christian laws during Roman rule shortly after the time of Jesus actually led to an even faster spread of Christianity throughout Europe and Asia. It’s human nature that once you start persecuting somebody or some people for what they believe it causes a lot of people to start to ask questions, especially those who don’t trust the government. What is so dangerous about these ideas? Why should we fear them? In general we are compassionate people, and when we see people suffer by not having the freedom to practice their beliefs (regardless of whether such beliefs are just) we tend to side with them. The last thing we want is a lot of people being on the same side of some unjust ideas.
I know for many of my readers, you have gotten into some arguments with people who have strong beliefs. How did those discussions go? We often think the more brilliant and final are arguments are the more impactful we’ll be. As I wrote before this tends to not work so well because of the “backfire effect” and so if it doesn’t work very well on an individual level, such things tend to not work so well at a group level either. If our western society is to have any superior morality it comes from practicing the values that we think our important. If freedom is one of them than freedom of religion must be part of what we embrace. Giving people the freedom to practice their religious beliefs is something we want, because if the state starts making laws to ban religious practices, there is nothing to stop them from banning yours if they see fit. By valuing freedom we set an example that as a society that we respect other people and want them to enjoy the same freedoms that we enjoy. And of course there are other important values we must practice to which is tolerance, equality, compassion, justice, etc, so that if religious practices don’t value you those things we can show them how well it can work. If we want such people to convinced of a better worldview and a better way to live, we need to show that our values leads to a greater empathy, less suffering, and an overall increase in happiness. No words or laws are going to convince people unless they are shown. Part of why they may believe what they believe is that they’ve been indoctrinated against other cultural practices and have never seen any other way of life work.
I believe if anything is going to erode fundamentalism from any religion it is by showing those people the effectiveness of the values that we hold most dear. It is about embracing those people while at the same time showing them diversity of thought and ideas. It is about offering them a high level of education for their children, to help them think critically about the ideas that have been indoctrinated into their culture. It is about being humble enough to recognize that even if there many values that we do not share, they may even have something to teach us. We say we want these people to respect the laws of our country and yet this seems like much to ask if we exclude and not include. So instead of memes that enhance Islamophobia, why not spread memes that empower those that are oppressed to take advantage of the freedoms they would have in our country? Why not merrily shout out what rights they game by coming here? Why not greet them as friends instead of treating them like the enemy? It is likely that to truly raise the consciousness of many of those indoctrinated it will take the course of a couple generations as children are born into a freer and more equitable society. So let’s those children also growing up seeing the compassion and tolerance their parents did not have the freedom to enjoy.