(About a 2 minute read)
In my gloomier evenings, my love,
Or even in my darker nights,
The nights when my sun threatens
To implode into a neutron star
From which so little of me can escape
To be with you — even in my darker nights,
(About a 2 minute read)
In my gloomier evenings, my love,
Or even in my darker nights,
The nights when my sun threatens
To implode into a neutron star
From which so little of me can escape
To be with you — even in my darker nights,
(About a 3 minute read)
The internet has made it now
Bound to happen
Tomorrow or the year after.
Bound to happen.
Up to you.
The politicians and the preachers,
The two dogs of the capitalist class,
Will once again want a war,
Just as they always do.
War to them is a gift, you see,
It’s not personal, it’s not their blood.
But war makes some folks rich
And you will never change that,
You will never change that,
Though the dogs will bark it’s not so.
A war of aggression
Against some people somewhere,
Most likely brown,
Most likely poor,
Most likely weak,
Most likely no real threat.
War for the sake of the banks
And for the merchants of death.
War for the sake of the pulpit,
And for the corridors of power.
But not a war for the sake
Of you and of me. We don’t count.
Our side is the one side
That has never counted.
That’s how war goes, it’s always been so
And it’s bound to happen again,
Soon happen again.
This is your world,
How it really is —
The world you think,
The world you were taught,
The gods want you to live in and love
Them more than you love each other.
In your world are great nations:
Nations the greatest in history,
Nations with the power of suns,
A thousands suns,
To do good, make truths come true
For even the poor man, the poor woman,
The poor child. Make truths come true.
But these nations,
Nations great and greatest,
Act only like whores,
Fucking folks raw,
Spreading their diseases,
Recruiting new girls,
Ever younger girls
To fuck you, to fuck all of you,
To fuck everyone.
This is your world
Your world without end.
But now someday you see
Someday now for once it will happen
For once it will stop
Stop the day they give a war
You rise up, join hands
By the millions, possibly billions,
Linked together by the net
And by love, and by common sense.
At last you will rise, singing
“At last my spirit shall have water!
At last my cries shall be heard!
At last my thirst shall be slaked!”
Yes, you will rise up and you will say
In a voice thunderous and magnified
By the whole world joining in,
Say, “Those people are our friends,
We chat with them by day and by night.
We know their hopes, we know their dreams,
We know their troubles, we know their fears.
We know them, we know their names.
“Jane and Matthias. Terese and Sindhuja.
Mark, Parikhitdutta, and Min.
We even marry them now and then —
They shall not this time be murdered.
“You will not touch them,
Our brothers, our friends;
This once the bombs won’t fall.
This once the bombs won’t fall.
You politicians and preachers,
You capitalists and bankers all —
This once the bombs won’t fall.”
Yet you know it will ever be a dream
Just a dream, just a mere dream.
It will ever be a dream
If you, if we, keep on dividing,
Never uniting, never joining,
But instead just staying, just keeping,
To my echo chamber or to yours.
So let’s come together
Let’s come together,
Let’s come together.
So let’s come together
Before the nukes fall,
Before the demons fall.
Before we die in the winter,
And we come together
Never once come together at all.
Please seriously consider spreading this poem — spreading it to your site, to the social media sites — in an effort to make it go viral. We need it viral well before the next war, we need folks mulling over the idea of rebelling against the violence. Spread this poem and then you too write — write about the ideas presented in the poem. For you, for your brothers and for your sisters, for your children after you — stop the wars of aggression!
Please Note: Matthias has responded by dedicating his poem, Pooling Strength, to this cause.
Bruce has reposted the poem on “The Life and Times of Bruce Genencser“.
Kat has responded by posting this article: I Don’t Know Anything About War.
(About a 10 minute read)
Long ago, the Coffee Shop was a hang out for many mildly disaffected youths. They were the kids who didn’t fit in too well, who weren’t always doing what was expected of them, who often had talents no one had noticed or encouraged, or who were simply marching to the beat of their own drummer.
Kyle, for instance, was the son of a wealthy father, but he wanted to make his own way in the world. So he had enlisted in the Army to earn money for college rather than allow his father to pay for his education. He was passionate about poetry and wanted to teach English.
Melanie was from a much poorer family than Kyle, and her only academic interests were mathematics. She paid for the community college by working as an erotic dancer.
Catherine was another mathematician, and she worried about her social skills. She graduated early from high school then stayed in town to mature for a year, rather than head straight to college.
Erin was 15 when she left her parent’s house to sleep on friend’s couches. She did her homework by streetlight for a while. Then she met Jim, a year or two older, who convinced her school was for losers, and life lay in studying the Kabbalah.
Jody was a bit older than most, and a prostitute fascinated with the Third Reich and Phoenician glassware. She’d scored high on the aptitude tests, but drugs, along with being raised in an abusive home, were too much for her, and she left unpursued her dream of becoming an historian.
Luke was raised in North Africa and in British boarding schools before his executive father transferred to Colorado. He planned to leave town soon to study psychology, for he wanted to heal minds. In the meantime, he was both too well educated and too brilliant for his high school classes. So, like many other eccentrics, he found his way to the Coffee Shop.
In the mornings, the Shop was full of business people; by midday it held all ages and walks of life; and by evening it was the kids. One slow Tuesday night I spent a half hour or 45 minutes carefully counting the crowd. My count was nearly 200, most of them people I’d met, most of them kids, most of them misfits.
If anyone loved them all, it was Joe. He seemed to have a knack for it.
A month or so after we met, Joe invited me to go with him and a couple to Valley View Hot Springs. It was the way he phrased the invitation that surprised me. “We need a chaperon”, he said, “There might be trouble. You’ve got to say, ‘Yes’.”
I couldn’t tell at first how serious he was about trouble. Joe was 18 that year, strong, and could handle himself. Besides, he knew Valley View was more peaceful than most any other place in Colorado. He’d been going there with his family since he was five or six. What kind of trouble did he anticipate?
The trouble was jealousy, Joe explained. He’d only recently befriended the couple, and he had not caught on to the guy’s jealousy of him. Thinking everything was cool, he decided to share with them the most spiritual place he knew of. The girl was so enthusiastic to go to Valley View that the guy feigned agreement, and so Joe and the couple had made plans. But in the week between making plans and their realization, Joe was shocked when the girl pointed out to him her boyfriend’s jealousy. That’s when Joe got the notion my presence might somehow defuse the situation.
In the years I knew him, Joe almost never allowed himself to act on any jealously he himself might feel, and I think that might have been because jealousy excludes folks rather than includes them. Joe was all about including people. Looking back, it seems almost inevitable Joe would fail to see the boyfriend’s jealousy until it was pointed out to him.
So, the four of us took a day trip to Valley View. The couple had brought swimsuits, but the guy strangely refused to join his girlfriend, Joe and I in the hot springs. Instead, he said he wanted to look for elk among the pines and scrub oak, and wandered off. I left Joe and the girl talking at one end of the pool, and spent most of the time watching dust devils swirl across the valley below.
It was by no means a bad trip, but I think it was the worse Joe and I ever managed to take to Valley View. It seemed none of us got into the spirit of the place. We left just as divided as we’d arrived. A few days later, Joe and I discussed it. After noting how argumentative the guy became on the trip home, Joe said he felt the girl had spent the afternoon at the pool in some kind of bubble; unresponsive to the beauty all around her; unable to connect with nature; indifferent even to the wind through the ponderosa. “We might as well have gone to the mall”, he grinned.
Joe had been raised a Christian, but a year or two after the trip he committed himself to it. His inspiration was the New Testament, rather than the Old; the life of Jesus, rather than the Ten Commandments. Consequently, his first step was to simplify his life. He gave away his inessential possessions and moved from his parent’s house to a shack. Mostly, though, he emulated Jesus and the Disciples in his heart and mind. It became clear the appeal of Christianity to him was its doctrine of universal love — he was, he told me, indifferent to heaven and hell. Instead, salvation, for Joe, was to learn how to love the world as Christ had.
His experiment with Christianity lasted a couple of years. When I asked him why he was no longer a Christian, he told me he still believed in God, and perhaps even that Jesus was Christ, but he could not have faith in them so long as people were sent to hell.
Joe worked at a greenhouse. One day, Joe spoke of his growing distaste for weeding. “They may be weeds, Paul, but they didn’t ask to be born where they’re not wanted. It feels terrible to kill them.” Some part of me agreed with Joe — at least with his notion that all living things have value — but I still felt weeding in a greenhouse was justified by its necessity. I thought to myself he’d soon enough see that necessity and reconcile himself to killing weeds.
A day later, however, Joe found a partial solution. He began transplanting the weeds. At least he began transplanting the larger ones. He did it on his own time, after work, because he didn’t think it was fair to charge his boss for the extra time it took. There was a large, bare mound of soil out back of the greenhouse and he was transplanting the weeds to the far side of it, where — he hoped — they would thrive.
I was a bit taken aback. On the one hand, it ranked among the craziest things I’d heard of a friend doing in some time. But on the other hand, looked at a little more rationally, it wasn’t self-destructive, it was harmless to others, and it preserved life. I didn’t think Joe’s project would last — I thought he’d grow tired of it — but I rather admired him for asserting his good convictions in a world where there sometimes seemed to be too few good convictions.
Two months passed before Joe brought the subject up again. My first reaction was surprise he was still transplanting weeds. But then he explained his boss had found him out. Of course, he expected to be fired. Yet, after he’d told her everything, she’d only laughed and smiled, and told him he was a good worker, that she loved him, and that she would find other work than weeding for him to do.
Something happened one day to make me see symbolic meaning in Joe’s actions. It began when Laura called to ask if she could come over and take a shower. She was a homeless kid who kept a few items of clothing at my place and sometimes dropped by for a shower or a meal. She was heavily into drugs, and I never invited her to stay too long, because I didn’t want my things to start disappearing.
That evening, I got her fed and her feet massaged, and then sent her off to the shower. She told me she’d been partying, and that after my place, she wanted to go back and party some more. It wasn’t long, though, before she’d fallen asleep on the couch. I thought about her while she slept.
Laura was nineteen, and she hadn’t a regular home since she was thirteen. She’d never met her father, a man who left before she was born. At thirteen, she’d gotten into a fight with her mother’s boyfriend. He swung a chair at her. A leg caught her in the belly and ripped a seven inch wound. She ran from the house and never returned.
The wound didn’t get sewn up, and the scar was huge. I’d run my fingers along it once, and somehow the memory of that furrowed, lumpy scar tissue was still stuck in my fingertips. When I thought of Laura, I always thought of that scar. And that’s what I was thinking of when Joe’s words came back to me: “They may be weeds, but they didn’t ask to be born where they’re not wanted.” It was somewhat like a minor epiphany: Joe would understand the tragedy of Laura better than anyone — if for no other reason than Joe had a knack for a certain kind of love.
There is more than one kind of love in this world. The kind Joe was most interested in is inclusive. That kind of love does not seek to jealously wall off a little private garden for itself. It is neither possessive nor jealous, as was the guy at Valley View. Nor does it demand to be loved in return — for a love that wants love in return must exclude some from being loved. It was the promise of that inclusive kind of love that attracted Joe to Christianity. It was the realization that some are excluded from God’s love that caused Joe to lose his faith.
I believe it’s rare for most of us — especially when we are young — to think of love as an excellence. That is, as a thing one might learn how to do to the best of his or her ability. Instead, we think of love as something requiring little or no talent, practice, or skill. We suppose it comes natural to us, and so we spend our time waiting for it without doing much to help it come about.
Every kid at the Coffee Shop had his or her own mix of talents and skills, and many of the kids had an excellence. Kyle, for instance, was a gifted poet. Melanie and Catherine excelled at mathematics. And Luke was a born psychologist. But I think Joe’s excellence was his ability to love.
Sometime ago, Joe moved up into the mountains, where he met a woman and settled in with her. He lives up there now, in a small mountain town.
Originally posted November 27, 2008
(About 7 minutes to read)
Terri, who occasionally comments on this blog, pointed out the other day in a discussion about compassion that some feelings or emotions are as strikingly beautiful as anything physical. Of course, that is true not only of compassion, but also of love. And to me, one of the most beautiful things about love is how it so often creates in us both a desire to improve the lives of our beloved, and a sensitivity to ways that might genuinely improve their lives.
When I composed the following poem, I had in mind more the desire to improve, than the sensitivity to know what would improve. Still, I think the poem works in its own way.
Love is an ancient thing
That travels back before gravity was born
And forward beyond the last gods.
I have wanted to sip your breast
In between the lights of night and day
And tell you how I’ve taken sides
Against a mammoth
To bring you his tusks
So that you, my woman, my love,
Will be happy now
For all the worlds
You have given to me.
Should love — any kind of love — really be thought of as a single emotion? Is romantic love just one emotion? Erotic love? Mature or deeply attached love?
Perhaps erotic love is but a single emotion, lust, but how can you make the same case for the others? Romantic, mature, and other kinds of love do seem to have many characteristics, rather than just one. For instance, in addition to making us desire to improve someone’s life, don’t both romantic and mature love also make us feel greater tolerance for the differences that might exist between us and our beloved?
It’s a tricky question, I think, because perhaps they only make us overlook the differences, rather than actually make us willing to tolerate the differences. Or are those the same thing?
Most people, I believe, stubbornly accept reality just as conscientiously as they accept their religion. That is, only when it is convenient to do so, but then conscientiously. Realism is not our main strength as a species.
Have you noticed that humans so seldom are what they want to be? Yet so much of our happiness, I think, comes from accepting ourselves as we are.
All that striving to be what we are not seems to produce more unhappiness than anything else, because — while we can change ourselves around the edges — we have much greater difficulty changing our core nature.
But then, what is our core nature?
I don’t think I have the complete answer to that question, but surely part of the answer is that our core nature includes our talents. By “talents” I do not mean our skills, but rather our raw predispositions to such things as athletics, mathematics, music, drawing, writing, dance, mechanics, etc.
A good way to tell if you have a talent for something is to ask yourself two questions. First, “Do I like doing this?” We usually like doing what we have a talent for doing. Second, “Does it come comparatively easy to me?” I think the key word here is “comparatively”. If you don’t have a talent for, say, mathematics, but do have a talent for music, you will usually find that music comes a whole lot easier to you than math. Answer those questions honestly, without wishful thinking, and you will most likely gain a pretty good idea of where your talents lie. At least that’s been my experience.
In my view, pursuing one’s talents in life by working to turn them into actual skills is — all else being equal — not only conducive to happiness, but perhaps more important, conducive to a sense of meaning.
Now, all of this might seem commonsense, and so obvious it’s hardly worth mentioning, but I have met far too many people who were more or less clueless about their talents for myself think “it’s just commonsense to know your talents”.
Why have so many people been ignorant of their own talents, though?
I think the single most important reason is that, in this matter, most of us listen way too much to the advice of others. They usually mean well, but they don’t know you nearly as well as you yourself could — if you took a dispassionate look at yourself — know you. Most often, other people of good will want what’s best for you, but their idea of what’s best for you is very heavily colored by what they know about what’s best for them.
The worst evil that you can do, psychologically, is to laugh at yourself. That means spitting in your own face. — Ayn Rand
The main reason I think of Rand in something less than an entirely negative light is because several of my female friends have told me over the years that Rand helped them psychologically liberate themselves from the oppressive expectations and indoctrinations of the religious cults they grew up in.
While I think there are better — much better — authors than Rand for helping with that, I’m glad she did indeed help my friends realize just how greatly they had been lied to about their worth and potential as women.
Having said that, my overall impression of her is that she is squarely in the buffoon class of philosophers and social critics. Indeed, I even think it was pretentious of her to have called herself a “philosopher” at all. She did very little to push the envelope of rational thought, such as the great philosophers have done. But that’s a minor peeve of mine. A greater reason for calling her a buffoon is that she could not laugh at herself. Have you ever known a buffoon who genuinely could?
I am of the view that humor, in general, evolved as an adaptive mechanism. To put it somewhat superficially here, it seems to me that humor greatly facilitates logical reasoning and attention to empirical evidence. More specifically, it can play a key role in helping us to overcome our innate cognitive biases, egotistical attachments to our beliefs, and general intellectual inertia, in order to change our minds when we are wrong about something. And changing our minds when we are wrong about something can have obvious benefits to our survival, albeit it is quite often extraordinarily difficult for us to do — and nearly impossible for those who lack any appreciable sense of humor at all.
In that regard, self-deprecatory humor is no different than humor in general. So far as I can recall, I’ve not yet in my sixty years met a man or woman who “took themselves too seriously” and who greatly understood themselves.
There used to be a saying among fire fighters that, for all I know, might still be current. “Never fight fire from ego”. Both myself and the men I worked with in the few years that I fought fires profoundly distrusted anyone who “fought fire from ego”. We knew they could too easily get themselves killed — or far worse, someone else killed.
Today, forty or so years later, I still haven’t found anyone — whose ego has such a firm grip on them that they can’t laugh at themselves — that I would trust at my side in even a moderately demanding situation, let alone where my life might be on the line. Yes, I know, I’m only thinking of myself here, but so be it.
Of course, you might want to make up your own mind about all that, rather than simply swallow what I say. I have, after all, been certified as crazy by a group of scientists. Personally, I don’t think the space alien scientists who have contacted me through my microwave know what they’re talking about, but it might still be reasonable of you to take my words — or anyone’s words, for that matter — with a bit of reflective thought, rather than reflexively.
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
In Artic Dreams, Barry Lopez somewhere talks about an Inuit word for a wise person. The word, if I recall, means “someone who through their behavior creates an atmosphere in which wisdom is made tangible.” When I read Lopez a few years ago, I thought of Paul Mundschenk. As I recall, I never once heard him claim to possess, say, compassion, good faith in others, or kindness. Yet, he embodied those virtues, as well as others: He made them visible.
Mundschenk was a professor of Comparative Religious Studies, and, as you might imagine, I discovered he was inspiring. But not inspiring in the sense that I wanted to be like him. Rather, inspiring in the sense he showed me that certain virtues could be honest and authentic. I was a bit too cynical as a young man to see much value in compassion, good faith, kindness, and so forth. I thought intelligence mattered an order of magnitude more than those things. Yet, because of Mundschenk, and a small handful of other adults, I could only deny the value of those virtues; not their authenticity.
I can see in hindsight how I naively assumed at the time that we all grow up to be true to ourselves. Isn’t that normal for a young man or woman to make that assumption, though? Aren’t most youth slightly shocked each time they discover that yet another adult is, in some way important to them as a youth, a fake?
Perhaps it’s only when we ourselves become an adult that we eventually accept most of us are less than true to ourselves, for by that time, we so often have discovered what we consider are good reasons not to be true to ourselves.
If that’s the case, then I think there might be a sense in which Mundschenk never grew up. That is, he just gave you the impression of a man who has never accepted the common wisdom that he must put on a front to get on in the world. He had an air of innocence about him, as if it had somehow simply escaped his notice that he ought to conform to the expectations of others, and that any of us who refuses to do so is asking for all sorts of trouble.
Now, to be as precise as a dentist when untangling the inexplicably tangled braces of a couple of kids the morning after prom night, Mundschenk did not seem a defiant man. He was anything but confrontational. Rather, his notably open and honest individualism seemed deeply rooted in a remarkable indifference to putting on any fronts or airs. He simply couldn’t be bothered to conform.
Often, when I remember Mundschenk, I remember the way he shrugged. I remember some folks for their smiles, others for their voices, but Mundschenk for his shrug. It seemed to hint of Nature’s indifference, but without the coldness. Which, I guess, makes me wonder: Is there anything unusual about someone who is both notably indifferent to himself and notably true to himself?
I was put in mind of Paul Mundschenk this morning because of a post I wrote for this blog three years ago. The post was intended to be humorous, but I titled it, “An Advantage of Being Cold and Heartless?“. Consequently, the post gets two or three hits each day from people looking for advice on how to make themselves cold and heartless.
I can imagine all sorts of reasons someone might want to make themselves cold and heartless. Perhaps someone they are on intimate terms with — a parent, a sibling, a spouse, a partner — is wounding them. Or perhaps they are among the social outcasts of their school. But whatever their reasons, they google search strings like, “How do I make myself cold and heartless?”
Nowadays, I think it is a mistake to try to make yourself tough, cold, heartless, or otherwise insensitive. But I certainly didn’t think it was a mistake 30 years ago, when I was a young man.
Yet, I see now how my values and priorities in those days were not largely derived from myself, but from others. The weight I placed on intelligence, for instance, was from fear that others might take advantage of me if I was in anyway less intelligent than them. I valued cleverness more than compassion and kindness because I thought cleverness less vulnerable than compassion and kindness. And I carried such things to absurd extremes: I can even recall thinking — or rather, vaguely feeling — that rocks were in some sense more valuable than flowers because rocks were less vulnerable than flowers. The truth never once occurred to me: What we fear owns us.
It seems likely that when someone seeks to make themselves insensitive, they are seeking to protect themselves, rather than seeking to be true to themselves. If that’s the case, then anyone who tries to make themselves less sensitive than they naturally are runs the risk of alienating themselves from themselves.
Can a person who is significantly alienated from themselves be genuinely happy? I have no doubt they can experience moments of pleasure or joy, but can they be deeply happy? It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Perhaps a little bit like asking whether someone who wants a melon will feel just as happy with a pepper instead.
Please Note: This is a post by guest author S. W. Atwell. The views expressed are entirely her own. If you yourself would like to post as a guest author on this blog, please contact me by email.
— Paul Sunstone
There are two types of sad people. One type does not contribute to the happiness of others. He may be of the withholding sort: One who believes that any happiness he gives will be subtracted from his own, small store. He may be the sadistic sort: One who takes whatever is ill in himself and uses it to make others unhappy. He might even seem ravenous in his desire to impose misery, as though he were consuming something in return for his contribution. Perhaps he feels as though there is a finite amount of unhappiness in the universe and that he decreases his own large burden of the stuff every time he imposes misery on others.
The other type of sad person is not unkind. He may feel sad because he has experienced loss. He certainly feels sad over the misfortunes of others. In this way, he is invested in the happiness of others. While he can become happier if his own fortunes mend, he can also become happier when he knows that others are happy. He has an urge to contribute to the well-being of others. It is not uncommon for him to discover the depth of this urge when he finds consolation in caring for the needs of others at a time when the reasons for his own deep sadness are beyond his own control. Whether fortune smiles or frowns upon him, his own happiness multiplies when exposed to happiness, whether that happiness is located inside him or in the hearts of others.
The sadistic or withholding sad person experiences happiness and sadness as elements to be measured in mass or volume. The sad person with the warm heart understands happiness as an organic phenomenon, with the gametes from one source of happiness meeting and multiplying with the gametes from another source of happiness. His sadness is a soil that welcomes and grows the seeds of happiness.
© S.W. Atwell (2011)
Is it moral to take advantage of the village idiot?
Suppose on Friday, your local village idiot signed over the deed to his house to you, thinking he was going to be raptured yesterday (Saturday, May 21, 2011), would you now be under any moral obligation to return his house to him?
Should banks forgive the credit card debts your local village idiot racked up in anticipation of his not having to pay them off?
In general, to what extent should politicians, preachers, pundits, corporations, neighbors, or society as a whole be allowed to exploit the world’s village idiots?
Should the world’s village idiots now be allowed to sue Harold Camping for damages to them?
Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote about love with passionate urgency, with love and grace, and with unflinching integrity and insight.
Even merely reading his words, even now when his words are only frozen in books, you might still feel you are being swept into a current much stronger than you.
A current that possesses the power — if only you could allow it — to thrust you up upon some foreign shore, intensely alive with love, a complete stranger to your petty self.
Perhaps someone else has matched Krishnamurti by now, but I do not know who that would be.
My building is an old house converted into three apartments. Ordinarily, one neighbor lives across the hall from me, and the other lives upstairs. But my landlord has recently been struggling to keep the other two apartments occupied.
I think he’s been trying to give people a break by renting to folks who are financially insecure. Such as the couple and their kid who just moved out yesterday. The lady had a job, the gentleman didn’t, and the family fell short of making the rent. My landlord must surely have known only one of the adults in that family had a job, but he leased to them anyway. That may be kind, compassionate and generous, but it is not a formula for keeping rental units occupied.
I’ve known my landlord now for between 12 and 15 years. Before I rented from him, I worked for him doing odd jobs — mainly house and apartment painting. He’s a very honest man, a very hardworking man, and, like everyone, he’s got his eccentricities. One of his eccentricities is that he likes to treat his tenants to some large extent as if they were family. He’s more comfortable thinking of you as a distant cousin than he is thinking of you as a profit center.
In terms of properties, he’s not a big landlord, nor a tiny one. He owns about 30 rental units — most of them houses. I wonder about his tendency to treat his tenants as family. For the most part, that tendency shows up in his willingness to take a chance on the folks he rents to. He doesn’t need a perfect credit score nor a perfect rental history. My guess is he takes about the same chance with folks off the street as he would with a cousin or even sometimes a nephew.
That’s good for people. And it’s good for the community. But it’s not good business practice. In business terms, my landlord’s tendency to treat people as family and take a chance on them results in reduced occupancy, reduced income, and less profit. If he were in a highly competitive business environment, he might be out of business by now, weeded out by more profitable competitors.
I don’t have enough information to do a real analysis of my landlord’s business. I don’t, for instance, know how his occupancy rate compares with the average occupancy rate in this market. Nor do I know what any of his financial margins are. But I really don’t need to know all that stuff to know that my landlord is bucking the system by treating people the way he treats them. He’s bucking capitalism. At least, as we know it.
Capitalism is a beneficial system in several respects, but it comes with a huge flaw. It is obsessed with profit.
Now, there is nothing wrong with profit in and of itself. But there is certainly something wrong with an obsession with profit.
Anytime you maximize one and only one value, you create a system that denies other values. And capitalism, by maximizing profits, creates a system that denies other values — in fact, it denies all values that are in any way at odds with maximizing profit. So, for instance, capitalism becomes the enemy of sane ecological policies in so far as those policies interfere with maximizing profit. Or, it becomes the enemy of treating people as more than mere sources of income in so far as treating them as more than mere sources of income interferes with maximizing profit.
That’s one of the reasons — a rather small reason, however — that I think capitalism as we know it is a system destined for transition. I can think of other, more important reasons, capitalism will change. But at the moment, its obsession with profit has my attention.
If we could look 100 or 200 years into the future (and perhaps not even that far into the future), my guess is we would find a “capitalism” that is remarkably different from what’s practiced today. Indeed, we will either do something to radically curb and regulate the obsession capitalism has with profit, or we will most likely live in something akin to fascist/feudal societies that have a relatively low standard of living and quality of life for most of their members. That’s my hunch. I could be wrong. But I’m probably accurate enough to be annoying about this one.
In the night
After I came alone to Colorado,
I climbed to a high place in the wind
Where I was surprised
By the size of the moon.
Not sure why,
I stretched my arm out to her,
Who then seemed a foot beyond my hand,
And beyond any grasp of mine.
But her light,
Fell on my fingers like a grace given to me,
Who could neither earn nor deserve her grace.
I sometimes feel, love, you are like the moon
I have reached for when alone in the night
And have found her beyond what
I can deserve or earn,
And beyond any grasp of mine,
For your compassionate love has taken my hand
And, by some miraculous grace of your heart,
I no longer stand in the dark, alone in the wind.
“The only reason that we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.”
“Then this experience of opening to the world begins to benefit ourselves and others simultaneously. The more we relate with others, the more quickly we discover where we are blocked, where we are unkind, afraid, shut down. Seeing this is helpful, but it is also painful. Often the only way we know how to react is to use it as ammunition against ourselves. We aren’t kind. We aren’t honest. We aren’t brave, and we might as well give up right now.”
“That’s the beginning of growing up. As long as we don’t want to be honest and kind with ourselves, then we are always going to be infants. When we begin just to try to accept ourselves, the ancient burden of self-importance lightens up considerably. Finally there’s room for genuine inquisitiveness, and we find we have an appetite for what’s out there.”
Maybe once, twice a month someone visits my next door neighbor in his tiny efficiency. Cockeyed with several missing teeth, he works at one of those second hand stores run by a charity. The pay is not great. Dwight’s a poor man; lives alone. Probably always has lived alone.
Once, a long time ago, he had a girl over. I could hear them chatting with wondrous enthusiasm all through the night (Sound survives the thin walls of this old building). But the next day, after she’d left, Dwight shook his head and said something to me about her having “issues” or “mental problems” or something like that, and she didn’t come back.
Dwight talks to me like we know each other. But in three years he’s lived across the hall, we’ve spoken fewer than a dozen times. We’re like two hermits in neighboring caves. Becky knows more about him than I do.
Becky is my oldest friend in town and one of the closest friends I’ve had in my life. She’s more than a little curious about everyone, and not the least bit bashful about meeting people.
She’s incapable of passing through a check out aisle without befriending the cashier. She’s the only person I know who’s sat out on a curb for two hours waiting to meet her garbage men — simply because she wanted to make the acquaintance of the folks who took away her trash every week. She’s self-employed as a housekeeper and in some ways knows more about her clients than they know about themselves.
And Becky is generous. Whatever she learns about you goes into her head and sooner or later comes out as some perfect little gift tailor-made to your tastes or needs.
She’s never asked for a raise from any of her clients, but her clients are always giving her raises. In the first place, she cleans your home as well and conscientiously as she’d clean her own. But she goes way beyond that.
She knows when your niece is coming to visit and — incredibly — she’s even got a feel for which sheets your niece might want on her bed. And if not that, then she’ll at least arrange for you to have a fresh baked apple pie or homemade rolls the day your niece arrives.
Once by chance she ran into Dwight on her way to visit me. Of course, she introduced herself and right on the spot struck up a conversation with him. Now when she comes to visit me, she sometimes looks up Dwight too. She knows more about him now than I ever did.
So, it was a bit strange last night when I was the one to tell Becky that Dwight had been to a doctor and come back diagnosed positive for colon cancer.
It just happened that way. In a normal world — a world not turned upside down — it would have been Becky who found out first and then told me. But I’d ordered a pizza last night and it happened that Dwight came home at precisely the same moment I opened my door for the delivery man.
Dwight always talks to me like we’re confidants, and last night he launched himself into telling me about the doctor and the cancer tests and how he’d shorted our landlord some money this month to pay for the tests because the tests had to be paid for up front. So I got the full story as I stood there with a pizza in my hand and nothing I could say really to someone who is almost a stranger despite our living as neighbors.
When I called Becky later that night she was left speechless for a bit.
I’ve known people who will come up with all sorts of stock phrases and platitudes at a moment like that, but Becky isn’t one of them. She was simply speechless. So, after a few moments, we changed the subject to something else.
If I know Becky, though, she’ll soon be busy figuring something she can do for Dwight. Becky expresses herself more through actions than through words. If she’s concerned about Dwight — and she probably is — she’ll arrange something for him. Some gift she’s figured out from her conversations with him that he might appreciate.
Becky herself would never call her actions “expressions of love”. But I’ve never figured out what else to call those actions — unless to call them “compassionate”.
I think it’s important, however, not to confuse her kind of freely given love — or compassion — with sentimental affection. Sentimental affection is quite alien to Becky.
What she gives, she gives from her spirit, from her nature, as something natural to her. She does not pity people. She does not seek their approval. She does not give from attachment to them. She will not give to you anything she doesn’t feel comfortable giving. And she is never manipulative through her gifts.
For all those reasons and more, her gifts are authentic and beautiful expressions of her self.
There is very little Becky can do for Dwight, but I doubt that stops her from doing something.