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Art on Death the Companion

You are afraid to die, but come now: how is this life of yours anything but death?

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, Letter LXXVII:18

Death. Some of us hide from it, some of us glorify it. Some of us deny it and avoid it by name.

But the task is to learn to recognize the “little deaths” that happen hour by hour, day by day, and to learn not to insulate ourselves from their emotional impact on our lives.

After all, if we’re not energized by the growth, change, and transformation that our relationships, minds, world and work inevitably face, that is its own kind of death.

Seneca’s lesson is that a life well-lived must constantly reckon with death. Not in dwelling on its distant inevitability—but instead, by finding and celebrating the moment-to-moment gift that its companionship offers.

Featured art is a Flemish engraving. The original source is unknown.

For more Stoic-style enlightenment, check out:

On Taking Revenge and Becoming a Worthy Opponent

The best kind of revenge is, not to become like unto them.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6:V

If your opponent is fearful, stay aware and find a way to remain courageous.

If your opponent is irrational, become rational.

If you opponent is deceitful, be honest.

If your opponent is bigoted, practice love and tolerance.

If you opponent is judgmental, keep an open mind.

If your opponent is argumentative and rude, communicate well and practice diplomacy.

But there’s no version of becoming this person as a reaction to your enemy that doesn’t make you his slave. Instead, the way through is to seek out the part of yourself that is the enemy and reckon with it.

Understand what that side of you it is most afraid of losing, and find a productive way to provide it. Not only does this make you a better person, it turns you into a formidable opponent with the power to stand up to, take down, and keep out.

Featured image is of martial artists at Gracie Jiu Jitsu San Diego, the first Gracie San Diego Academy affiliated with Master Royler Gracie.

For more Stoic-style enlightenment, check out:

John Stuart Mill and the Frontiers of Freedom

If you want freedom, you can’t deny it to others. If you want to be respected, trusted, and treated like an adult, you have to respect and trust others.

In 1859, in his seminal work On Libertythe English philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote:

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.

None of us has the option to love and value democracy, free-speech, and liberty on the condition that others must think and act like us. And the place to start practicing is with ourselves and our closest relationships.

To what extent are you denying freedom to those around you? To what extent are you denying it to yourself?

Instead of obstructing, imposing your beliefs (no matter how well-reasoned and well-meaning), and criticizing, help us to:

  • Learn responsibility
  • Practice ethical decision-making
  • Tell our own stories
  • Tell the truth
  • Make mistakes and learn from them
  • Take care of ourselves and others
  • Steward the contents of our own minds
  • Grow and change
  • Lean into conflict
  • Learn to listen
  • Set boundaries
  • Speak out
  • Participate

This is how we get there. And this is how we arrive together.

This post could be considered a continuation of my earlier post, The Practice of Freedom. It’s one of my favorites, and worth a look-see.


Letter #2: On the State of Masculinity

This entry is another from my “tough conversations with the opposition” series.

The only thing that’s turned out to be “tough” about these conversations is getting past my initial doubt—all hypothetical, all “in my head”—that we’ll be able to connect at all. I am finding that I have much more in common with these folks that I thought.

As I’ve said before, most of us want to get to the same place (ie, equality amongst men and women, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness), but we have different ideas about how to get there.

The true power of a pluralistic society goes deeper than racial diversity, sexual diversity, and economic diversity.

The hard line between us and the rest of the animal kingdom is our cognitive diversity—how we think about things, the values that we hold dear, moral judgements, etc. And what humanizes us is our ability moderate these differences as they arise in ourselves and in our communities.

More than anything, these conversations have been a gift to myself. I am clarifying my thinking, expanding my worldview, and becoming more comfortable in my own skin.

So, my thanks to “the opposition” who are further and further from my enemy every day.

I founded and facilitate a men’s group (3 guys + myself) on a bi-weekly basis. That “men are too soft” is one of my big takeaways from that work. I have so much to say about this, but it sounds like you and I are on the same page here.

My sense is that this is not only where MOST of us fall short, it is where Trump falls short. He’s masquerading. Just like most of us.

When a man can’t occasionally wash the dishes or wipe a baby’s butt and not feel like he’s losing something something core to himself, that’s a sign of weakness. Not physically, but emotionally.

An example from my life.

My grandfather was strong and had many things going for him on the masculinity front but, for all the time I spent with him, I can say this: he was one of the moodiest people (man or woman) that I’ve ever known. And, in his younger days, he was brittle—he could snap at any given second.

And, like Trump, sometimes this brittle moodiness passed for masculinity.

Confucius said, “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.”

This is the poise that men need to strive for.

After much much work, I have overcome the brittle moodiness that I learned from the underdeveloped men in my life. And now I can focus on serving, creating value, being creative, developing the skills needed to be a real protector, and living a fantastic life that is attractive and inspiring to the people around me.

As a result, I end up leading by example, not by a carrot and a stick.

Trump is not a physically-emotionally integrated protector/provider. Trump is our reality TV president.

I don’t want to throw my grandfather under the bus. He is perhaps single-handedly responsible for my poetry habit. He was outspoken, an Irishman who took a stand, fought during World War II in Papua New Guinea, and raised an amazing family.

For all of his faults and virtues, he is my hero.

Letters #1: On Faith and Reason

Since the election, I’ve been putting effort into having conversations with people from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

These conversations—whether they happen via phone, in-person, text or email—have been helpful. I’m clarifying my thoughts, finding common ground, revising my opinions and questioning my assumptions.

I wanted to post some excerpts here for two reasons:

  1. To do my part use the internet for good to fuel healthy debate and discussion
  2. To provide some inspiration and possible jumping-off points for other looking to do the same

I hope you enjoy! As always, feel free to comment and challenge me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Re: science. I think there is more than one way of knowing things (ie, modes of observation and insight other than logic, reason, and the five senses), but I also believe that anything that is knowable is ultimately provable.

I don’t have an out-of-the-box problem with skepticism of science (I am a huge proponent of skepticism in all of its forms!). But it seems to me that a free-thinking and democratic society can only be structured around things that are demonstrable. Otherwise, you’ve got Islamists saying “I know that giving my life for the establishment of the caliphate will be rewarded in Heaven”, Christians saying “I know that the Bible was written by the only God that matters”, and Buddhists living in an imaginary world of “non-harm”, while being okay with other people killing their food for them.

And all of them want to see their untestable ideas underwrite the whole of civil society. Which can only result in bloodshed.

Also, and even more frightening for me, is the fact that the extent to which each group’s beliefs are protected from scrutiny is the exact extent to which it is okay for another to go on blowing people up for religious reasons.

I’m fine with whatever people want to believe in their homes.

But the distinctions that will give us the kind of world where all of these people can live without killing each other can be established through some version of the scientific method.

Some examples:

  • Exactly what extent and form of gun control helps us meet the goals of self-protection, sovereignty, and harm reduction? Testable. Answerable.
  • Exactly what types of tribalism and traditional social norms are required to maintain civil society and simultaneously allow for a growing population that is necessarily more pluralistic? Testable. Answerable.
  • Exactly when is a human a human in development and what do we want to decide about when it is okay/not okay to take that human being’s life? Testable. Debatable. I would argue answerable, but probably not on a national scale since values vary from locale to locale.

It seems like anything short of this requires imposing some form of state-sponsored totalitarian religious regime.

Isn’t hiding behind the ideology of political correctness really similar to hiding behind a religious ideology? Both are unprovable, both oversimplify things, both take some sort of high ground that seems to exempt them from scrutiny and debate. Thoughts?