Pulling Together

As time is passing, it’s becoming clearer and cleared that the economy is facing what will be a darker period than your average recession. Whether it will look like the Great Depression (or potentially be even worse) is something only the passage of more time will tell. That this will be a hard time for many in America (and the world) is no longer in doubt, however.

When adversity strikes, there are two responses: hunkering down, every person for themselves or working together as communities to soften the burdens. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it seemed like there was a lot of the first response as society broke down, and people increasingly relying on themselves for personal security. After 9-11, we saw the second response, as people pulled together, pooling resources, being more community-minded. Both responses are possible, both make sense in utilitarian terms. They represent differing views of the nature of humanity.

I want to challenge us in this time of difficulty to find ways to pull together. I don’t know what this would look like, exactly, and hope that you all might make some suggestions. I do have some ideas, however.

For those who can afford to do so, it would be great if we allowed those who owe us money as much leeway as we can. Give people the space to try to dig their way out of the holes they find themselves in, rather than making their debt to you something that deepens the hole. Obviously, we can’t all afford to do this. And those of us who can afford to do this may be limited in terms of when we can do it. Nonetheless, to the degree each of us can allow delay in the repayment of monies owed us, we help others.

I’d love to see us share whatever resources we have in excess of what we need/can use. As summer comes around, can those of us who garden try to give away more of our produce that might otherwise go to waste? Last year I had over a gallon of raspberries wither on the vine. I could certainly have invited friends to come over and make themselves welcome to them. How about informal community gardens, where those who have some extra land, but perhaps no time to cultivate it, let others, who may have been laid off, cultivate the land, producing food. I’d love to see us take the “Victory Garden” idea from World War II and refresh it for a new age.

And excess resources come in all forms. It can be time, skills, materials and who knows what else. Let’s figure out a way to share what we have, whatever that is, with others who need it. Let’s worry a little less about immediate payment for services, and  hope that by helping each other everything balances out in the end.

These are a few of my ideas, but I’m sure you all have more, and I’d love to begin the community building by having you share them in the comments below. Ideas are resources also.

As I said, there seem to be two basic human responses to adversity: closing the gates or opening the doors. The choices we make determine the type of society we live in. Let us use this challenging time as an opportunity to build a better world.

Meet Shadow (aka @invisicat)

I finally managed to get photos of Shadow. Not because she decided to come out, but because Eva and I finally decided that we’d had it with a cat who was a freeloader in our house and didn’t even have the decency to properly snub us, but rather hid all the time and did her best to pretend we didn’t exist. So on Sunday, we chased her out of her hiding place and attempted to catch her. Of course, she then fled to Hiding Place(2). So we chased her out of there, and she went to Hiding Place(3). Which happened to more or less trap her in a corner. I grappled with her, and I bled. Profusely. And she peed on me. And attempted to run back down the stairs to Hiding Place(4). But we, being the humans, had outsmarted her, and shut the door at the bottom of the stairs. And Eva was successful in corralling her. At which point we were able to contain her in one small room. We spent much of the remainder of Sunday in that room with her, being generally ignored.

Monday, I took her to the vet. No, let me rephrase. Monday morning, she I engaged in epic battle in which I bled profusely (but was not peed upon) at which point I got her into a travel kennel, and we went to the vet. Where she behaved like a perfect lady. Purred. Let me pet her. Didn’t put up any fight when the vet took her temperature or drew blood. She even explored the exam room a little, which meant I had the opportunity to take the following photos with my phone.

Tuesday evening, Eva spent the evening with her, and she agreed to be held for most of the evening. I came home, and was snubbed (she let me hold her for 10 minutes). I was home this morning, and she completely ignored me. Eva is home now, no doubt receiving tons of affection. So it goes.

No doubt this, too, will change. But at least now you have the pictorial proof that she exists.

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The Long Week

Life has been unbelievably busy. You can tell because I haven’t been blogging. And this probably wojn’t be a particularly long post, but since I’m here at Beer and Blog, I sort of feel obliged to blog, since I haven’t in the last couple of weeks.

This week has been so long that last night, as I was trying to figure out what to say at the Into Judaism class I was teaching, I was tweeting random passages from the Bible.

This week has been so long that I couldn’t keep track of the various meetings I was having or who was supposed to be in them.

This week was so long that marathoners wouldn’t have run it.

This week is so long that I can’t really come up with anything amusing to say on the subject.

In any case, it has been a humbling week, as I’ve desperately tried to do more than I really could, and discovered I couldn’t do some of the things I expected to be able to do. I got virtually no knitting done.I sat in more hours of meetings than I can count. I understood far less of what was said in those meeting than I should have.

Nonetheless, the week has ended, and Shabbat has come. And everything else is just commentary. A day of rest, a day of restoration for the soul. A day before a new week begins.

Humility: You’re doing it wrong

After yesterday’s post on humility, I felt there might be a need for another look at the subject. Lest anyone think that humility implies a lack of humor, I thought I might talk about how not to be humble:

  1. While it may be okay to be proud of being humble, boasting about it to everyone you know seems like it misses the point.
  2. Telling your coworkers, “I can’t talk to you right now, I’m working on my humility”? Not so much.
  3. Deliberately screwing up so that you have things to be humble about (admittedly, there is a school of thought in Mussar that calls for making oneself appear foolish–for instance, walking into a bakery and asking to buy a hammer–in order to inculcate humility, but that’s different).
  4. Refusing to take a drivers test because you might pass, and after all, you know you’re not worthy of passing.
  5. Offering to teach a class in humility.
  6. Avoiding certain people because they “harsh my humility, man.”
  7. After beating someone else’s highscore, explaining to them that they shouldn’t feel bad, because really, you’re not very good.
  8. Printing up and wearing a t-shirt which says: “I got your humility right here, babe.”
  9. Going around all day and pointing out to everyone how they would act differently if they were as humble as you. (This is just a bad idea in general…it really will get you smacked a lot…which now that I think of it might lead to learning some humility…well, your choice on this one).
  10. Aspiring to be a Master of Humility.

If you’ve got more ideas, leave them in the comments:

Arrogance and Humility

I came to a realization this weekend. My humility? I lost it somewhere in the last year or so. Which is deeply upsetting, because I worked long and hard to become even somewhat humble. One might go so far as to say I was proud of having attained humility (and, as much as that seems an oxymoron, I don’t think it is).

Humility is one of the virtues that almost all religious traditions extol. That’s because it is, to some degree, a prerequisite for understanding our place in a universe which contains a God.

One part of a relationship to Divinity is understanding that next to Divinity, we have no significance, no value, no worth. Yet, despite that, we need to understand that the Divine does value us, and in most religious traditions, even loves us. We who are unworthy based on our own actions, based on any actions of which we are capable, and made worthy because we are loved (by being human and Divine).

Spiritual teaching tends to prize humility for another reason. Spiritual learning is often about self-transformation. If we are too arrogant (lacking in humility) we are unlikely to be willing to look at ourselves honestly and see  the need for change.

Finally, humility is important because it impacts the way we regard and treat others. When I come from a place of humility, I cannot judge another, because I know that I cannot do better. I am more generous in my opinions, choosing to understand the slights I may sense from others as unintentional. And I am much more careful in how I speak of others, being very careful not to criticize others behind their backs, or to tolerate in myself faults I condemn in others.

This is not to say that when I am humble I am perfect. I’m not. I’m nicer, more understanding, and a “better person,” but not perfect. I am less arrogant, which is important. I am slower to anger (or to become frustrated, because I’m assuming everyone is doing the best that they can).

There is a school of thought/behavior within Judaism called “Mussar.” Often it is translated as Ethics, but that isn’t quite right. It’s more about how one should behave, correcting one’s behavior to bring it closer and closer to the ideal. Closer to what we believe God desires of us and for us. It is in some ways very  similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, and can be a powerful tool for good (it can also be a powerful tool to beat down the spirit of someone who only hears the “you’re not good enough” message without the “you can do better because you contain the Divine within you”). And so, it is time for me to go back to looking in upon myself at the end of the day and evaluating my behavior. I need to ask myself whether I have failed to act as I should, whether I have hurt others.

Humility is, in the end, understanding that I am one of six billion or so humans, not to mention countless other animals upon this planet. And that I must act as such.  Not as someone special, but as someone who is seeking the way, just like everybody else.

As with much in life, the first step is recognizing the need. But we are all judged based on our actions, not our resolutions, and so it is time for me to re-examine myself, and seek to be the person I can be, and the person I wish to be.