Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spring ambushed me this year. It seems to have come suddenly. I thought that was my own mistaken impression until I heard others mention it. The trees have become green overnight; one day the grass lay dormant and the next it was 6 inches high. An exaggeration? Yes, but it did seem that way. As a result of those observations, I got two items out of the shed—my bicycle and my lawnmower—and dusted them off. I used the bicycle for the first time since last November to ride to the mailbox to get the mail. I haven’t used the lawnmower at all yet. Using it is a little less palatable than using the bicycle.

I feel I’d better put the lawnmower into use soon, though I’m not one who is in favor of having a manicured lawn. As long as it’s short enough to keep a groundhog from getting lost in it, it’s short enough for me. But the longer I put off that first cutting the harder it is to cut. Several years ago the spring was very wet. My lawn is only a little bit above a swamp anyway and that year I had an inch or so of water lying in one section of it for weeks. There was no way I could get it mowed. When it finally dried out enough to accommodate the mower it was so high I had to mow it several times, lowering the mower blade for each succeeding cut. This year it wasn’t water in the lawn that was the culprit. It was surprise.

Yesterday, before dark, I got the chance to go over the mower. I cleaned it up, and gassed and oiled it, with the best of intentions of giving the lawn its first cutting of the year today. That just didn’t work out so that first cutting will have to wait until tomorrow. I don’t imagine that will cause too much of a fuss. Nobody has yet commented on the length of the grass and I haven’t seen any groundhogs lurking around. I understand the weather will cooperate. Sunny, dry and not too hot. Perfect grass cutting weather. Everything in its proper time. As long as the grass doesn’t grow another six inches overnight.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

We often hear mention of thinking “outside the box.” That’s usually thought of as being a good thing and I think it is. It’s by original thought that goes beyond our normal concepts that progress occurs. But I wonder if our “boxes” don’t extend deeper into our lives than we realize. Perhaps each of us structure our own boxes without even realizing it. Such boxes would be much harder to escape.

Where do such boxes come from? In these days of mass information they come from everywhere. There are many sources claiming to have the answer to any problem imaginable from diet to exercise to belief in God to success in life. Our acquaintances are willing to pass such solutions on in case we haven’t seen them on the internet. Add to this the power of the advertising industry, a little bit of prejudice (we all have some), a smidgen of ego (that too) and a good gollop of fear and . . . voila! A box—one we don’t realize we’re in or how we got there or how to get out of it.

All this is just my own ramblings and probably the product of the box I’m in and don’t know it, but it sounds to me as if there is more that a small amount of truth to it. You’ll have to make up your own mind about that. I believe, though, that such boxes are at the bottom of many of the troubles in this world. The problem is not the boxes themselves but the fact that we are so comfortable in them that we believe everyone should build a box just like it in which to be comfortable. And each of us is more than willing to furnish the plans and specifications for the project.

But what’s the solution? First of all getting out of the box; that’s the hard part. Then comes another hard task—not building another box to climb into. I suppose the way to stay out of boxes is to keep a totally open mind about everything—not believe everything but recognize that there may be value in everything and be willing to give everything a fair hearing. Now that’s really the hard part. At the bottom of each box we might find that there is just a little bit of truth in everything. If we could take each such little bit of truth and put them all together we could have something of great value. We just have to climb out of our own boxes to be able to see it.

Monday, April 8, 2013

In the movie What the Bleep Do We Know, there is a sequence in which the natives of a Caribbean island are not able to see the ships of Columbus because they had never before experienced anything of the kind. I thought that a little far fetched. Didn’t the well being of those natives depend on their being aware of things in their environment? Surely they would notice strange ships near their shore.

The other day I was reading an incident in a book that gave me new insight on the matter. The book, The Forest People, was written by an anthropologist, Colin M. Turnbull, who had spent an extended period of time with the Pygmies of the Congo. The Pygmies inhabit a dense jungle area in which they are totally at home and in which they are competent and happy. In the book, Turnbull related an incident that occurred when he took a Pygmy who had become a friend of his out of his jungle home to another area of Africa containing broad plains, snow capped mountains and a large lake. Turnbull and the Pygmy, Kenge, stood on a high rise looking over a vista of grassland and lake. Turnbull pointed out a large fishing boat with a number of people in it floating on the distant lake. At first Kenge refused to believe it was anything of the kind. To him the craft appeared to be just a small piece of floating wood. When Kenge saw a herd of 150 buffalo some miles away on the plain, he took them to be insects. He could not recognize them as buffalo though he had seen buffalo before.

The writing by Turnbull made me revise my opinion of the ship sighting incident in What the Bleep Do We Know and about some other things. People can become so controlled by their environment that they cannot even recognize the existence of things that are foreign to it. Taken out of context, they may as well be invisible. This is true of physical objects. Could that also be true (perhaps more so) of things dealing with our mental and emotional functions, such as ideas and concepts? What about the concept of peace? I have long thought of peace as requiring a new mindset to bring it into existence, but I have been thinking of that as a matter of the rearranging of existing thought patterns. Perhaps it is much more than this. Perhaps we are so far from the concept of peace that we do not even recognize its existence when it presents itself. We cannot take meaningful steps toward achieving peace if we do not even recognize it when we see it.

This, perhaps, is the real problem behind the illusive nature of peace and this is the problem that must be solved before peace can be brought into being.

Friday, April 5, 2013

This piece is related to the one I posted a few days ago. I’ve been thinking more about the way we regard things and how they are presented to us.

I remember an instance that, in an odd way, illustrates the point. A number of years ago I was visiting in the state of Virginia and the county I was in was “dry” but had a referendum on its ballot as to whether it should remain dry or legalize the sale of alcoholic beverages. I was told that there were two forces in the county that were very much involved in the issue on the side of wanting to keep the county dry. One was the county’s churches; the other was its bootleggers. Each faction had its own agenda but the purpose of each was satisfied by the same result.

People with different points of view can have a common purpose—or they can be persuaded that that is the case. The tool that’s used to persuade them these days is known as “spin” and its effective use is in great demand. It is used by the government, industry, business, the military and other groups. Probably it is most used in politics. Usually it is employed to focus on something that people fear, or to cause them to fear something. That’s an effective way to do things because fear is a very powerful emotion. It can quickly focus a person’s attention on a problem and get quick results. But those results are most likely to be limited, partisan and selfish.

That’s not so good if you’re trying to get positive progress in a society. Fear is negative and when it is used extensively as it is in our society it causes division, suspicion and other negative emotions that are harmful to the society. That is where Mother Teresa’s approach of always putting the emphasis on the positive makes sense. If our attention were always focused on the positive, we would be much more likely to make progress that is positive and for the good of all.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A few things have happened lately that have turned my attention to how we, people, regard things. A lot of that depends on how things are presented to us. We don’t normally pay a lot of attention to that. Perhaps we should. For instance, guns, or the unfortunate use of guns, has been in the news lately. As a result, we have a rather large debate going on about the pros and cons of guns. How do we control guns? How can we legislate against guns; should we legislate against guns? Should we concentrate on types of guns that are most harmful?

There is one thing common about all these questions. In all them, the emphasis is on guns. Whether one’s inclination is to condemn guns or defend them, the emphasis is still on guns. The same is true for other issues such as drugs. Both those who profit from drugs and those who are against them concentrate on their existence. I recall the quote from Mother Teresa in which she said she would not attend an anti-war rally but would attend a pro-peace demonstration. Her emphasis wasn’t on the thing to which she objected but rather on its absence. Mother Teresa understood a difference in approach that may be subtle but is very important. If one wants to be rid of something, it is not a good idea to concentrate on its existence.

Our society does this in the case of peace. We say we want peace but our emphasis as a society is on war. We think of war as an effective means of ridding ourselves of things we don’t want—a war or drugs or a war on poverty are some examples. That is the way such issues are presented to us. This is the way we should approach them, or so we are told. Are we not giving ourselves a problem by concentrating on a means we say we don’t want in order to achieve an end we say we do want? And are we not extending the condition of war in our culture by such practice?

The solution lies in a change of mindset. We have to start concentrating on what we want rather than that of which we are trying to rid ourselves.