Perspective

The Forest for the Trees

Have you ever looked at an image and then zoomed right in? As the image is magnified focus is shifted to the part of the image being magnified. We magnify further and the periphery of the image moves out of view. Eventually the image becomes a single pixel of either red, blue or green in a sea of similar pixels that differ only in color and tone. Zoom out and the image starts to reveal itself until it’s full extent is revealed in complete clarity.

 

“Whenever you want to talk about people, it’s best to take a bird’s eye view” – Marcus Aurelius

 

We all know that digital images are comprised of millions of pixels. Likewise a view of the Earth from our level on the surface is far different from a view from space. Down here we can discern individual trees in a forest. Looking down from the international space station we would see a patch of green that would indicate a forest. From orbit the world looks peaceful and serene and at ground it is chaos. A sense of perspective is important if we want to get the detail as well as the big picture.

 

Attention to Detail

Our lives also require perspective. We need to be able to see the big picture outside of ourselves as well as our immediate view and inner self (intuition). Often we are satisfied with what we see and we don’t dig any deeper and we don’t take an overview of all aspects of a particular issue. The result is we end up missing vital information and we fail to see the interrelationships between one thing to another. We miss out on important facts and lose perspective. Decisions are made on incomplete information and conclusions are drawn on inaccurate or false information. We think we have all the answers but in fact we don’t. This can lead to trouble.

One of the jobs of a leader is to take a broad as well as narrow view. As an Infantry Grunt I was often oblivious of the “big picture”. When decisions were made at the higher echelons and passed down they rarely, if ever, came with a rationale or a detailed explanation. The expectation was that we followed orders and did not question them. Information was “need to know”. Most people are happy with a narrow perspective and being given screened, drip fed information that is limited in nature. I resented it and failed to understand that I was only told what I needed to know and for my own good. My job was to do my job and pay attention to detail. The brass had their job cut out trying to coordinate their responsibilities within a far bigger picture than I was aware of. As I learned my job and gained responsibility the “unknown, unknowns” became smaller.

 

 

Story lines

The “Big Picture” is the tool George Lucas used in his construction of the Star Wars saga. Each of the movies offers pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that only provide a glimpse of the whole story. As the saga unfolds, more pieces are added to the puzzle and a picture begins to emerge.

The story of how and why Anakin became Darth Vader became apparent slowly over the prequels. The insidious corruption of the Republic from within and the rise of the Sith and the fall of the Jedi at the end of the Clone Wars was also fully revealed in the prequels and the “Clone Wars” series. The truth of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia became apparent over a period of 8 years that the original trilogy took to run from the opening scene to the final credits.

The whole story is a series of fragments told from different perspectives stitched together. The story continues to unfold; who is Rey? What’s with Luke? Kylo Ren? When all the fragments have been gathered the Big Picture will come in to view. Hidden answer will be revealed.

 

 

Bad Decisions

The problem with many people, including alcoholics, is they lack perspective and are incapable of appreciating the “Big Picture” and they often miss the detail too. Being selfish and self indulgent creates a narrow egocentric view of life. Everything is about “me, me and me” and what is good for “me”. We fail to consider the consequences of our actions, words and thoughts and only see the immediate benefit that is imagined but often fails to materialize. For example, a person can decide to stop at a bar after work in order to unwind, a drink is ordered and then another. Eventually the person staggers out of the bar and steps in to his car. Driving home he fails to see a Stop sign and drives through it hitting another car.

The consequence of this event are lives destroyed, homes up turned, years in jail and decades of sadness and regret. The sequence of events leading to that point are the detail, the “Big Picture” is the outcome; the dozens of people affected and the lives ruined by one stupid mistake. There is no turning the clock back.

What’s the excuse, the reason for this tragedy? For addicts, where there is a compelling need everything else fades in to the background and all focus is placed on that one thing. The main focus when urges occur is satisfying that craving. Nothing else matters. Things like personal safety and the safety of others no longer matter. We lose our inner compass and perspective. There is no excuse, just bad decisions.

 

No body does wrong willingly” – Socrates

 

Putting it into Perspective

Alcoholics are sensitive people and our egos are easily hurt. If there is a problem at work or at home we obsess about it and let it ruin our day and possibly the week. It might have been a minor slight or a misunderstanding but the immediate reaction was to narrow everything in life to that one thing. Anger, resentment and bitterness would cloud our view. The solution may have been in front of us or the whole thing may have been a product of imagination, but it did not matter. Being able to put things in to perspective would have spared a lot of heart break.

These days I have the benefit of perspective and a rational mind. Getting an appreciation of the finer details within the context of a bigger picture allows better informed decisions and opinions to be made. Sometimes it takes the ability to look at things from above and outside of one’s self as well as using one’s inner compass to guide us. Consider the world without a lens filter on. Once we remove the ego and our personal biases from a view the perspective changes and we start to see things clearly and more in focus. Being able to be a “Big Picture” thinker is  a skill and an asset but we should also be able to be detail orientated as well. It really is just applying mindfulness in to our lives.

 

“Let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it” – Lincoln

A Loose Garment

Seeing the Big Picture allows us to see what is really at stake and to understand the interrelationships between us and the rest of the world. Having an expanded perspective helps us to understand other people better and empathize with their problems. A global view makes us more aware of the environment and concerned for nature. We become more aware of the world and can take the view that when things don’t go well for us we still have a lot to be grateful for. Being able to switch our focus to the detail when needed allows us to gather facts and information we need to be able to live skillfully. We insist on facts but we don’t lose the ability to use our intuition when it is required.

 

And the whole world is a mere speck” – Marcus Aurelius

We should always ask ourselves to look inward, outward and above when we deal with life’s challenges. Looking at it from different angles. Put yourself above the issue. Ask yourself what is the real issue here? Why do I feel this way? Will it matter in an hour or day from now? Is it that important or worth stressing over? What if I just accept that? Rather than being swept away by drama, life can be worn like a loose garment. We can view each moment mindfully by taking the time to notice the finer details while also being able to look down on our own lives from a high vantage point. The Big Picture often reveals life as it really is, we just need to be able to allow ourselves to shift our perspective to bring it in to focus.

Common Sense

Source: Pinterest

The Uncommon Trait

“Common sense” is a term used to describe the application of reasoning and good judgement in one’s life. The way is seen as the most obvious and most applicable in most circumstances. In other words the approach most people would choose in taking a course of action. Human nature would be the guiding principle.

At the practical level common sense denotes behaviour which supports well being. For example most people wouldn’t use a blow dryer while taking a bath. Any one with common sense would not hand their credit card details to someone on the phone claiming to work for the IRS. Common sense prevents us from making some obvious and stupid mistakes.

Unfortunately “common sense” seems to be less common in the world than one would expect. It seems to be the exception rather than the rule. We all make some whopping mistakes and foolish blunders that defy common sense and leave us and others wondering what went wrong.

 

“Never tell me the odds” – Han Solo

 

In the Day

I have spent years working in high risk and hazardous environments both in the military and in the primary industries like farming, logging and mining. Years ago everyone relied on a fair degree of common sense to stay safe. There were basic safety rules which were cardinal and reinforced. If a person was a hazard to himself or others he usually got moved on before he killed himself or someone else.

Common sense was the vernacular of the old timers it was a skill passed down and respected by the younger generation. Ultimately you either had it or you didn’t.

 

Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Not so common

In recent times “common sense” has been pushed out with the old timers. Safety has bought in safe systems of work underpinned by procedures, supervisor training, lead and lag indicators and micromanagement. Common sense is viewed as dated concept that doesn’t work. People can’t be trusted to use their own judgement and think for themselves.

Employers don’t advertise for candidates who will show “common sense” in their duties. The word is one to avoid using on resumes and in interviews. Never say “common sense” to a safety professional; they will chastise you and declare that it does not exist.

Yet common sense does exist. Most people just abrogate their personal responsibility to others. Blame is an easier option than admitting mistakes. As a result common sense is less than common, it is rare. The most common sense failure is to make the same mistake over and over again. One would think that once or twice would be enough and three times unforgivable but sure enough…

 

Common sense is not so common.” – Voltaire

 

Not so Smart

Most Alcoholics have intuition and many are smart and intelligent. Common sense however seems to elude us. We can be creative and carry “street smarts” to get along but where alcohol is concerned we become experts in a twisted sort of common sense that only enable us to get drunk and stay in addiction.

Our attributes of dishonesty and selfishness enable us to find ways to get drunk in the most devious and creative ways. We hide bottles in unusual places. I have kept stashes of booze around the house and forgotten where I put them. I have hidden liquor in empty shampoo bottles. We have told the most plausible lies and staged the most elaborate ruses to get drunk even when we were isolated from alcohol or barred from drinking.

 

By any Means

Prisons are porous; drugs, tobacco and alcohol still flow in. I managed to spend a bit of time in the Brig for AWOL among other offenses mostly related to alcohol. The regimental lock up was fairly tight sealed and its inmates closely monitored. We were kept busy around the clock till lock up.

Alcohol and tobacco were strictly forbidden yet I still had more than enough to keep me going while in jail. It took some covert operations type planning and execution and a bit of outside help. The MP’s tried to force me to reveal my method but I refused. Part of the fun was being able to buck the system regardless of the endless hours of digging holes, painting rocks white, parade, pack running and body blows I got for insubordination. If only I had applied myself in life with the same commitment and effort.

 

The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.” Thomas Edison

 

What Works

My skills also kept me out of trouble at home and work years later. I knew how to evade police patrols doing random alcohol checks. There were contingencies in place to ensure I always dodged alcohol screening in the workplace when I knew my breath would knock over anyone who came within five feet of me.

Common sense suggested that any number of means to control drinking would work. Drinking reduced alcohol beer, starting later, counting drinks, pacing, time limits, eating a big meal and snacks, taking vitamins, drinking only organic wine, never mixing drinks, fasting, planning, exercise, meditation, swearing off and taking a vow to name a few. None of them worked. In the end working the Steps and practicing principles worked. It works because it is a common sense approach as much as a spiritual one.

 

Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde

 

 

Koinonoēmosunē

The Roman Stoic and Emperor, Marcus Aurelius called common sense “Koinonoēmosunē” using the Greek origin of the roman concept of “Sensus communis“. Marcus was a pragmatic and grounded man but also very spiritual. In my view he was the world’s first Jedi. Despite his status as Emperor he did not consider himself above his fellow man. He saw himself as being of flesh and blood and subject to the same limitations and nature as all human beings.

The Stoics believed that all people share a common perception, not only as animals that need to eat, water, shelter, protect their resources and breed but also as a rational human being that act for the good of the community as well as one’s own self. Behaviors that were not ethical in the sense that they did not serve that purpose of personal and common good were seen as contrary to the idea of Koinonoēmosunē. Acting contrary to one’s own mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well being or that of others is contrary to common sense.

 

Applying Common sense

Koinonoēmosunē is exactly what we do when we participate in active recovery and self improvement. We improve ourselves and we aim to help others. Common sense is lived rather than applied on rare occasions. We do not abrogate reason and logic to others, we think for ourselves and weigh up our actions and assess them against our personal values. Responsibility for our conduct is accepted as an unalienable part of who we are.

The goal of world betterment through self betterment is the intent in Jedi action. Therefore to apply common sense in our lives is very much a Jedi act as well.

 

Jedi Method

If we are having trouble deciding what common sense is remember that the fundamental rule is to “Keep it Simple Stupid”. That does not mean that we are stupid but we tend to over complicate our lives and act in ways that do not serve our interests in the long run. By breaking it down and applying the three basic questions of the “Jedi method” we are on our way to applying common sense in our approach:

  1. Intent? Why am I doing them? Does it conform with your personal set of values and adopted principles?
  2. Action? Is it correct? Should I take a different tact? Does it agree with ethical and moral principles? (In other words would it be reasonable for someone else to do it under similar circumstances without having to defend their actions to others later on? Would they be able to sleep soundly afterwards?)
  3. Outcome? What are the consequences long and short term? Do they serve not just one’s self but others?

You ultimately have to decide what common sense is. Just remember that it is not dead.

The Impulsive (Part I)

“if you make decisions out of fear you are more likely to be wrong” – Ahsoka Tano

 

Unlike Twins

If someone calls us “spontaneous” we might be inclined to view it as compliment or at the very least not a negative descriptor. If on the other hand we are called “impulsive” it is somehow a bad thing. Spontaneous people are fun to be around, they make quick decisions and think on their feet. They are doers and make things happen. Spontaneity is to suddenly quit your job and go traveling. To kick off your shoes and jump in to life feet first. The newlyweds who just met in Vegas were being spontaneous when they decided to marry. To be spontaneous is to ignore the feelings of fear and self doubt and to approach life with open and willing arms. But isn’t that what impulsive people are like? Are they not sort of the same?

The good news is that they are not the same. The Webster dictionary defines spontaneous as: “proceeding from natural feeling or native tendency without external constrain” and Impulsive as “acting or tending to act suddenly and without careful thought He’s impulsive and does things he regrets.”. Most people would agree that being spontaneous is not a bad thing while acting on impulse can lead to regret. A spontaneous demonstration in support of a popular cause or spontaneous clapping and cheering is different to reacting on impulse to an insult with violence or getting drunk because the cat peed on the rug. Impulsivity has been called the “evil twin” of spontaneity.

 

The highest and best form of efficiency is the spontaneous cooperation of a free people” – Woodrow Wilson

 

Toss of a Coin

Every major decision I ever made in my life had a certain degree of spontaneity to it. In fact most things I planned do to didn’t happen instead life seemed to unfold in unexpected ways. Somehow I would make decisions on the spur of the moment and a whim when confronted with a choice. I even took to tossing a coin; “heads I do this, tails I do that” sort of approach to life letting chance decide. It was insane.

Imagine traveling or job hunting and deciding your next move on the toss of a coin or a gut feel. I would just go with the flow acting spontaneously. I met my wife with a toss of a coin. Sitting in a Pub around a table with male friends, all of us nursing hangovers from the night before, I noticed a girl at another table and caught her eye. My friends saw my glances and egged me to go over and “chat her up”. I pulled a coin out of my pocket and said “tails I go over and you buy me a pint, heads I don’t and get a round in”. Tails never fails. I never told her that story but told her my actions that night were based on a spontaneous decision, not a coin toss or Dutch courage.

 

Spiritual awareness unfolds when you’re flexible, when you’re spontaneous” – Deepak Chopra

 

Being Impulsive

Was that me really being spontaneous or was I being impulsive? I could be impulsive especially where booze was concerned and it generally led to trouble. I remember a friend of mine a Sergeant  in the Army telling me how my latest drunken spree was going to see me get thrown out. “How can you be so bloody reckless and impulsive”? he demanded in bemusement. Impulsive was what the Teachers called me every time I pulled some crazy stunt or got in to fist fights. My case officer wrote “impulsive” on my file when I was assessed during processing for entry in to the State Care system. Every time I embarked on a binge after a single beer it was put down to some impulsive behavior that seemed to come when I had a drink. I thought I was being spontaneous.

A snap decision would see me accept job and then leave it at the drop of a hat often without even any notice. I just didn’t show up after a disagreement with the boss. Confronted with a predicament or an important choice I would act on impulse and usually anger and indignation. Decisions were made on a whim and based on “f*k everything and run” (FEAR) approach. The alternative was to sit around and agonize over a decision to act and lose momentum. Without defaulting to chance, I was stuck. This was a feeling I loathed, being unable to make a decision and being immobile. Better to be moving, doing something, anything.

 

“Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, and disfigure their faces with black paint, it denotes that their hearts are black, and that they are often cruel and relentless, and our old men and women are unable to restrain them. Thus it has ever been.” – Chief Seattle

 

Impulsive by Nature

I did not know it at the time but impulsivity is a characteristic of people with  an addictive personality. Alcoholics get drunk at exactly the worst and most ill thought out time because they are impulsive by nature. Our Orbifrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps with decision making is dulled with chronic alcohol abuse. If we were impulsive before we started drinking, we were more likely to fall into substance abuse and become addicted.

The merry-go round of addiction relies largely on an impulsive nature. Being highly influenced by emotions is also a trait of an impulsive alcoholic. We have less ability to regulate our emotions and exercise self control in our actions.

 

Spontaneous but Jedi

In the Clone Wars we see Obi-wan often reacting in a spontaneous not impulsive fashion. Obi-wan Kenobi made decisions on the fly and could react instinctively to a rapidly evolving situation. Obi-wan had the ability to quickly think things through and act when required, otherwise he paused and waited for the right opportunity. Ob-wan’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn was also spontaneous and unorthodox in his approach and was also good at inspiring and motivating others. Yoda too could be spontaneous in his actions and often surprised friend and foe alike with his ability to quickly transform from contemplative elder to agile warrior. Yoda could be serious and measured and then be almost childlike in his interaction with others.

Anakin on the other hand had an impulsive nature driven by emotions. Anger, fear and frustration often clouded his judgement and allowed him to act in impulsive and reckless ways.

 

“A powerful Jedi you are, yet unpredictable and dangerous you can be, to both your friends and your enemies.” – Yoda to Anakin “Clone Wars – The Box”.

Danger to ourselves

Someone who is spontaneous can be impulsive and vice versa. The two are different but not mutually exclusive. If a person is spontaneous they are usually described as enthusiastic, idealistic, independent, creative and dynamic. Traits that describe Obi-wan Kenobi. Spontaneous people can switch from one thing to another quickly and act on a whim but they do so mindful of the consequences.  Impulsive people are described as reckless, emotional, obstinate, uninhibited, reactive, uncontrollable and impetuous. Words that describe Anakin as he began to spiral out of control. Anakin’s lack of self control and his impulsive nature was a danger to himself and others.

Impulsive people will sometimes rationalize their actions but in most cases will blindly follow their emotional response without any thought. When I look at the descriptors I see Anakin in the impulsive person that I once was. My goal now is to be more like Obi-wan Kenobi.

Jedi have Foresight

Jedi can see the future through the Force

Through the Force, Jedi can see both near term and long-term future events. Future seeing abilities are sometimes a result of meditation.

(33 Jedi Traits)

 

Can we predict the Future? If we could, who would want to carry the burden of knowing their fortune and the future of all? Who could honestly feel blessed in having the ability to predict future events? It could be said that knowing the future would give one the power to change some unfortunate event. That would be true to some extent but in the vast majority of cases you would still be powerless to change predetermined events. People would still die, bad things would still occur and you would still have to carry the burden of knowing beforehand.

The Jedi had some ability to foresee future events. Yoda for example had visions of the fall of the Jedi Order. Even in the fiction however the Jedi only had a glimpse of the future. Anakin did not see his own fall or the tragic end of his wife, Padmé Amidala. In fact Anakin created his own destiny by falling to fear, anger and hate. In the real world there are people who have some sort of psychic ability to predict with clarity future events. Others use basic logic, reasoning and probability.

 

Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future..” – Yoda

 

Crystal Ball Gazing

While most of us can barely foresee future like a fortune teller, alcoholism has taught me that the future can be anticipated. I have no doubt that certain actions lead to typical outcomes. It does not take a crystal ball to realize what would transpire if I had a drink or two. Armed with experience and self knowledge I know that certain triggers can lead to certain outcomes. Those outcomes carry consequences.

Scientists have shown that the human mind is capable of using logic, probability and patterns drawn from past events to predict the future. My History teacher said “We study dead people so that we can appreciate the past, understand the present and predict the future”. He was right. It does not take a Jedi to predict the Future, just a rational human being.

 

The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present” – Eckhart Tolle

 

The Rational View

Being a rational human being, being Jedi is about having foresight. It is about taking a “Future View” of our actions. In active alcoholism I never considered consequences for my actions but I feared the Future. Life was lived for the moment on some sort of hedonistic merry go round that only led to suffering. The future appeared dark and desperate. A form of insanity existed where I thought that if I kept trying the same thing over and over again I would eventually end up with a different and better outcome. Reality suggested the opposite.

 

The dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the light, the future is.” – Yoda

 

We may have plans but so does the Future. The truth is we have no idea what is coming around the bend. To worry about a future that has no come to pass does little more than take us away from when life happens; in the Now.

 

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment”. Buddha

 

 

Future View

These days I take a “Future View” when making decisions. This is simply considering the long and short term consequences of a decision and weighing them rationally against perceived immediate benefits. Resisting impulses is a form of self discipline that leads us to consider the near and long term impacts of making a decision that appears to have short lived benefits.

 

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

We make decisions that discount the future all of the time and potentially lead to poor outcomes. For example, we choose to speed while driving. Do we consider thinking that gaining five minutes on the road carries a risk of getting a fine or having an accident that could potentially devastate not just one life but many?

We spend money on frivolous purchases rather than saving for something important. Words leave our worth which we later regret saying but which gave us satisfaction at the time. Important assignments and preparation for exams are delayed until the last moment knowing full well the consequences in advance. Actions lead to predictable outcomes which we can visualize clearly in our minds eye, yet we make the same errors over and over again. Taking a “Future View” allows us to avoid these traps.

 

Change the Future

A “Future View” carries no guarantees but as a virtue it is up there with patience, honesty, humility, courage and self discipline. Jedi are familiar with these virtues. We alcoholics know that the decisions we make today can ultimately decide the rest of our lives. The power of foresight is used to avoid a future we would rather not have.

One can Meditate on their decisions and use their intuition and common sense. Your heart will show the way. As long as we stay on the path we no longer need fear the future. We do what we need to do today, living one day at a time. We turn the outcomes over to a Higher Power. Things do turn out OK.

 

True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.” – Seneca

Tolerance

Remember, a Jedi fights only as a last resort. If you are forced to draw your lightsaber, you have already forfeited much of your advantage. A Jedi trusts the Force and at first seeks other ways to resolve problems: patience, logic, tolerance, attentive listening, negotiation, persuasion, calming techniques. But there are times when a Jedi must fight. – Luke Sywalker to Students

Higher Learning

Some time ago I was at a University during  its Open Day and I wandered from one tent stand to another. There were Philosophy and Political Groups to Religious and Sporting Clubs. A tent for sober and recovering students was parked next to a group calling itself “Party Hardy”. I enjoyed the appearance of harmony and tolerance on the campus. There were students wearing signs of religious affiliation and an Islamic students tent tended by young men in dish dash and prayer caps were serving Halal sausages to student wearing shorts and singlets.

I came across a tent stand that was occupied by a group that sit on the political spectrum well left of the middle. A large bearded guy with a Karl Marx T-shirt was standing next to a girl wearing a Hijab and a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt. The guy saw me looking at the Posters decrying all the wrongs in the world from corporate power to American Imperialism and environmental destruction.

Seeing my attention he offered a newspaper and said “Hi”. On the cover was an article about the conflict in Syria. I paused there and he said something to the effect that “It was *expletive* terrible what is happening over there, Russia and Assad have started killing the Kurds”. My jaw dropped and I looked at him in amazement and asked “What? For real?”. This was a shock, did I miss something in the last 24 hours? The war in Syria moves and shifts at an incredible speed, alliances form and break up. The news is distorted and often fabricated. I spent a lot of time digesting news and sorting fact from fiction. If true, this was a serious development.

“Yeah Man *expletive* they dropped gas on the Kurds in Aleppo”, he said starting to get a little excited, “ *expletive* Russians, I *expletive* hate them”.

The penny dropped.

“Actually I said, that’s not right, last week there was a gas attack in Aleppo on the district held by the Kurds but the perpetrators were anti-Government Rebels holding East Aleppo, not Assad or the Russians”, I told him.

“That’s Bullshit” he replied, now looking at me with suspicion.

“No” I said “It was reported in many of the media outlets and by the Observatory for Human Right in Syria”

“What media?”, he asked “ *expletive* RT”?

“Yes, RT, Al Jazeera, Middle East eye and others”, I replied.

“RT and Fox man, that’s *expletive* Fake News, run by Putin and that stooge Trump”, he was getting a little red in the face, his voice was louder.

I made a comment that I knew people in Syria, western volunteers in the Kurdish militia, the YPG, and independent correspondents they had corroborated the story but the mainstream media had not picked it up.

At the mention of the YPG, the girl in the Hijab who had been standing to one side in silence, spoke up;

“The YPG?” she said “They are Terrorists, stealing land from Arabs, persecuting Muslims. They are worse than ISIS”, she pointed a finger at the sky.

“I’m sorry?” I asked rhetorically and replied;  “They have Arabs in their Forces, Christians too. They are socialists like you, don’t you support that”?

The bearded guy glared at me “They’re not Socialists Man, they’re puppets of Western Imperialism!”.

I was flabbergasted, these people are meant to be educated “But, the US supplies weapons to everyone in Syria fighting Assad or ISIL, even listed Terrorist groups”, I said and rattled off some names.

The lady’s  face grew darker as I spoke “The Kurds are racists and nationalists who oppress Arabs and Muslims on their own land!” she shouted “Anyone who supports them is an Islamophobe and a Racist”!

They both glared at  me like I was some sort of decayed trash. I was the enemy in their eyes. The symbol of what they hated. The conversation had ended. I gave him back his paper and moved on. I heard the girl say “Privileged White Asshole”  to her ginger haired white friend.

Tolerance is Being Heard

Once upon a time I had been politically active. I had considered myself a Socialist of the type that wanted to see the poor lifted up and conditions for blue collar workers improved. There had been the protests for the protection of Forests, nuclear disarmament and end of Apartheid in South Africa. We felt as if the causes were for everyone not just the few and our dreams were for a better future not a more divided one.

The protest movement was based on Love and Hope, not Fear and Anger. Now decades later I was in the same place I had walked in Protest as a naive activist complaining about intolerance and had just been called a “Privileged White Asshole” by a person who didn’t know me at all for expressing a view.  I thought about my childhood, the living in poor housing, the missed meals and forgotten Christmas’s. Going to school in threadbare clothes and worn out shoes. The years of struggling in alcoholism and the sting of shame at being broke all of the time. I felt like someone had kicked me in the groin. I never knew the privilege she was referring to.

How can someone judge  a person so blindly and so negatively when they don’t even know the person? We are taught that a person’s skin color, ethnicity and religion should not matter and that tolerance should be embraced. Yet at the same time the freedom of open dialogue and expression has been constrained to such a degree that to have an opinion is discouraged unless it is accepted as “politically correct”.  It occurred to me that there are people in the world on both extremes of the political spectrum who are intolerant of others beliefs and views. That not all people of Faith are tolerant of other Faiths. The world is more intolerant now than ever before and as a result people are lashing out.

The highest result of education is tolerance” – Helen Keller

Opinions are not Facts

We believe what we want to believe and when evidence appears that contradicts that “sacred cow” we either revise our view point or we throw the shutters down. I’ve been called Islamophobic, Homophobic, Xenophobic, Sexist and Misogynist and a Russophile in my time. I would reject those charges, except I am quite fond of Russia and Russian women in particular.

The point is that we may not agree on certain points of view or opinions but we can allow dialogue and discussion that is informed, considerate and causes no harm to others. If one is to learn and expand their knowledge the opinions of others must be considered and evaluated in an objective and impartial manner. Throwing the shutters down makes no sense just because we disagree with someone on a point of view.

 

Tribal Warfare

A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine looked at the phenomenon of Social Media and the death of debate. The results found that social interaction is now stymied by the emergence of strong divisions along the lines of opinion on social issues and politics.

A sort if Tribalism has emerged where a person is automatically judged, accepted or rejected as a human being based on their opinions on specific issues such as race, global warming, religion, gender equality or politics. Non conformance with the accepted dogma will result in a tirade of hate comments and possible online harassment. In the real world it can get you harassed,  bashed or worse.

The New Intolerance

The phenomenon has spread to Universities and High Schools where lecturers and teachers insist on certain views that are consistent with their own and penalize or ostracize students who question them. I’m reminded of my childhood when any expressed doubt of “original sin” or the holy trinity was met with a torrent of shrieking and admonishment from the Sisters who taught us. If you did not conform you were defective and to be punished.

Recently Universities such as Berkley and  Middlebury College were the scenes of riots as students forced the cancellation of lectures by visiting controversial figures. These were not preachers of radical ideology and extremism but academics who hold a position that is counter to the current opinion and ideology. The Higher schools of Learning are being sabotaged and opinion silenced by dissent, righteous anger and the threat of violence.

Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of other” – John F Kennedy

Bartolerance

Intolerance is a trait that becomes an alcoholic. Being an obstinate and recalcitrant bunch we tend to get impatient with people that don’t agree with our views. We quickly right off people, places and things that do not concur with our distorted view of reality. Intolerance keeps the Ego strong and provides enough resentment and belligerency to keep us in active alcoholism.

Once upon a time I was a bar philosopher and boozy political commentator, the debates were lively, if not slurred, but as far as I was concerned the other person had nothing to say. Only my opinion mattered but that did not stop me from buying rounds all night to keep the conversation going. Anyone who drank with me was alright in my opinion regardless of their views. I had a type of Bartolerance on opinions.

Tolerance is the virtues of the man without convictions” – Gilbert K Chesterton

Keep an Open Mind

I love the phrases “take what you need and leave the rest” and “live and let live”, the first time I heard them in the context of tolerance was at a 12 Step Meeting early in my recovery. I had become dogmatic in my views about the program and was a bit of Big Book thumper. The printed words in the book Alcoholics Anonymous were gospel to be followed to the letter and without divergence rather than a set of recommendations and suggestions as the authors of the program had intended.

“Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on out-side issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” – Tradition 10, “12 Steps and 12 Traditions”.

Bill W and the other founders realized that in order to attract people to the program they needed to make it as palatable as possible for all irrespective of their religious, political or philosophical views or lack  there of. The Founders encouraged new comers to go out and try different things and to speak to psychologists, doctors and religious or spiritual advisors about their problems. The fellowship did not claim to have a cure but a program that if accepted as a way of life would bring a spiritual renewal that would remove the compulsion to drink.

In the program there are people of all religious denominations, political ideologies, atheists, agnostics, ages, races and background. Professionals sit side by side with shop floor workers. The rich sit with the poor. Everyone is in the same boat and opinions do not matter. All are accepted for who they truly are, a spiritual being having a human experience. A human being who wants to get sober. I have often wondered at how this is possible but it is and it could be like this everywhere. Opinions do not matter, people do. We can disagree but we can disagree agreeably.

Be Jedi, be tolerant and keep an open mind.

Question

What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we’ve been fighting to destroy?” Padme Amidala, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

During “Clone Wars” series the plot by Chancellor Palpatine to undermine the war effort and manipulate the Republic through deception and subterfuge is revealed piece by piece. Like a jigsaw that eventually reveals the face of Darth Sidious the true picture begins to unfold. The veil is finally removed and it becomes revealed that the enemy was within the gates all along.

Nothing was ever as it seemed, all was an illusion and everyone was being played. I love the “Clone Wars” but sometimes wonder how blind the Republic and especially the Jedi could be to not have seen it before everything went to hell in “Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith”. Didn’t anyone on Coruscant but Senator Padme Amidala have the presence of mind to ask the question? Padme was after all in the worst kept secret of the entire Republic. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire…well almost always.

Sleep Walking

How often do we open our eyes and see things as they truly are? We realize that for years we have been misled or fooled in to believing one thing over another. For many people the revelation can be life shattering and turn their lives upside down, conversely it can also be liberating and free them from living a lie.

Imagine being in a relationship built on a lie. Many people remain together but they are scared of losing what they think they have when in fact it does not exist. Love does not exist in a loveless relationship that is meant to be based on mutual affection and love. Worse, people remain attached even though it means a life of pain and suffering. The reality of domestic abuse whether physical or emotional is an example. The heartbreak of co-dependency being an another example where people are tied together because of an addiction.  The question “why” has to be asked.

That starts with waking up to reality and letting go of denial.

The Fog of Ignorance

Alcoholism made me a cynic and a skeptic, I would question everything but myself and reserve suspicion of even the most innocent of intentions. If a friend came up to me and said, “I got sober because I put my faith in a Higher Power”, I would have laughed along like it was a good joke and then tried to ply him with booze. I would then have got resentful because deep down I knew that he has something I want but can’t (won’t) get, I would tell myself that he “thinks he is better than me” and reason “if he doesn’t want to break bread (get drunk) with me, then to hell with him”.

Sitting back and exploring the personal implications of what he had said would not enter my mind. Instead I would create my own reality and color that with arrogance, anger and resentment. I would dismiss it without any consideration. This is the type of person that soon finds himself alone.

Asking questions is always a good start. Like Padme we should be critical of self as well as others. In her statement she is actually making the admission that she is part of the system, not someone standing to the side in opposition or neutral but as an active player. Yes they have been all fooled by the insidious penetration of the Sith in to the Republic but they had also bought in to the rhetoric and had blindly marched along, especially Anakin. War does that to people.

The Nazis in Germany rose to power in similar fashion riding on a wave of post War discontent. They built confidence and trust with the people over years before the reality of what they had facilitated became apparent. Dissent and opposition had been silenced and the mass psyche manipulated to giving executive power to a Dictator who killed millions. We read our history and we wonder, how could they have been so blind to fall for it? How could we let it happen again?

Waking Up

Recovery removes denial and reveals us in ways we would rather not know. We can see who we are as clearly as if someone held a mirror up to our lives. Recovery  changes who we are and very often the people close to us do not like those changes. With clarity we are also able to perceive the world with fresh eyes and we may come to the conclusion that our situation is not right and we need to change our relationships, our job and interests as well as our habits.

Change is never easy and I have met some people who regretted changing their lives for the better because it forced them to make decisions that they did not want to make. Life was hard before but then it seems to get harder and more complicated as we set higher standards for ourselves and adopt principles that others cannot accept. They must choose and so must we.

I know the sting of disillusionment very well. It seems I have gone through life anticipating disillusionment with people, place and circumstance. As an alcoholic it is to be expected, we tend to project perfection on everything but ourselves and when things don’t go our way we become resentful and allocate blame.

In sobriety however we apply principles that underpin our recovery. This requires objectivity and the acceptance of reality, we no longer live in a fool paradise but see things as they are. If a relationship is healthy we value it, if a relationship is toxic we do not lie to ourselves and claim that it is “fine”. We stick to our principles and the number one principle is  rigorous honesty with self and others.

The Jedi Method

Disclaimer, I can’t and I won’t give relationship advice, that is not my intent here. The point is simply to avoid knowingly being dishonest with ourselves and others. This of course means that sometimes we must make painful decisions. Let us not forget that the intent of the 12 Steps is to recover. One of the steps requires that we seek to make amends where it would not cause harm to self or others (Step 9). This means we must review our life in an objective and honest manner and determine what our intent is before deciding on an action. The Real World Jedi provide a solution to this conundrum in the Jedi Method (Trout, 2012).

Jedi Intent + Jedi Action = Jedi Outcome

Intent

What is our motivation behind any decision? Is it selfish, self centred or self seeking? Is our intent virtuous? Are we being objective and reasoned? If the intent is in accordance with our personal system of values then it is usually on solid ground.

 

Action

Deciding what to actually do in any situation will be largely determined by the desired outcome. The adage “means do not justify the ends” applies; one cannot undertake a course of action that is reprehensible, unlawful or unethical even in the name of a noble cause. We cannot take a course of action at the expense of others unless it is wholly justified. This principle can be hard to swallow but for us it is paramount for our sobriety. Any action we take we can sleep comfortably with and not have to justify to ourselves or others.

 

Outcome

Working out the outcome can be difficult. Take a scenario, a person is in an unhappy relationship at home. She has quit drinking and is maintaining her sobriety, her partner quit for a while but relapsed and continues to get drunk. She has tried to get him to go to meetings but he won’t and doesn’t want her to either. This places an inordinate amount of pressure on the relationship. One is working, the other is spending and not working and arguments are making an unhappy household worse.

The person in recovery decides enough is enough, no more begging, no more excuses or tears. She is grabbing her stuff and walking out. In my view the intent is solid, the action is reasonable under the circumstances but the outcome is largely unknown. That is, we may know the short term outcome but what of the long-term consequences, the direct and indirect impacts?

Will he improve in her absence? Does this mean life will get harder for her now being single and homeless? There are consequences for every action which is why it is important to carefully consider every possible outcome before proceeding. The mistake is to abandon the cause because of the fear of uncertainty, we must be agile enough to adapt without compromising our principles. Sometimes we have to take a difficult course of action that serves our best interests we can still make sure that decision is consistent with our values.

 

Setting Priorities

In my world there are three main priorities they are the “The Force”, Sobriety, Family. If I lose my faith in my Higher Power and forget that my recovery is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition I will drink again and lose my sobriety. If I lose my sobriety I ultimately lose my family, job, home and health. I can however lose my family, job, home,health and family without losing my sobriety because it is not contingent on those things, it is contingent on my Faith.

One of the reasons Anakin lost the plot was because he had his priorities upside down and feared losing the things he loved. Unable to be honest with himself or others he was easy prey to the Dark Side. We can never be certain if the Jedi Council were aware of his marriage to Padme Amidala, another deception which came at a price. The tragedy is that lies and deception destroyed them all. Its a recurring theme in mythology, in Star Wars and sometimes in real Life.

My focus then is working on what I need to stay mentally, physically and spiritually fit and sober. In recovery we only really have three things that are ours to keep or lose; our mind, our Faith and our choice. Everything else is largely out of our control. That doesn’t mean that we should not care about what we treasure in our lives but we should always keep eyes open and to quote Larry King on RT; Question More.

Ask the Right Questions and Demand the Right Answers” – Larry King