Light The Darkness

1317 Relax and Succeed - Light the Darkness

The biggest challenge for society is also the biggest challenge for most individuals; to find a way to love our enemies. But this is not as hard a thing as one might imagine. What we need is not some new level of love, our natural love is plenty. What we need is, understanding.

Racists of all types are obviously sources of tremendous suffering to many. And people will say that hate doesn’t overcome hate, but just as quickly they will justify mean-spirited exchanges or even violence by talking about the need to ‘fight back’ against ugliness. The fighting back itself is a form of ugliness. That strategy has been tried for a long time. It’s simply not what works.

Irrational fears of other cultures are no different than irrational fears about water, or airplanes or germs. People aren’t evil for not understanding something. They’re not stupid just because they don’t have enough experience with something to understand it. Fear of the unfamiliar is built into us by nature. We all share that.

In cases of racism, let’s not turn it into actual people. It’s just some misinformation and an honest human survival mechanism triggering unnecessarily due to a lack of conditioning. Even what times we eat were established by conditioning, so we should all be able to relate to how ideas come alive within us feeling very much like our nature. That is why it doesn’t help to scream at a racist to change.

From a racist’s perspective they are simply being rational. What they are missing is more nuanced experience with their subject. So we have to kindly invite them to walk alongside us while we get them more familiar with some ideas that might at first seem very foreign and uncomfortable.

1317 Relax and Succeed - Make the world brighter

If anyone is going into foreign and uncomfortable territory, we’d all want someone friendly along. But we have to do the friend part first, but few of us want to go there. It takes spiritual courage.

If we attack people for attacking others we are only showing that we’ve lost sight of another person’s humanity when that is exactly what we must appeal to. But it must be their spirit that we speak to, not the framework of their ephemeral ideas.

We first must be trusted by their soul. Only then can we inform. With greater understanding, fear and anger naturally have no place and serve no purpose. The problem solves itself through understanding.

We don’t need to fight fire with fire. We don’t just want to strive toward justice in this world. We want to be forgiving, and even go so far as to extend compassion to those who oppose us. That is the emotional territory that truly leaves our ‘opponents’ off balance –it’s too rare a reaction.

If we’re looking for an advantage in life, then love is likely the answer. People see so little of it from those they disagree with, that it almost shocks them into a kind of spiritual submission.

Learning how to give love sincerely in difficult cases is a spiritual achievement in and of itself. So let us make forgiveness of those we disagree with our spiritual practice for the rest of this week. Let us see if we can find new ways of engaging with old challenges. Because when the world feels dark, the wise shine brighter.

peace, s

The Teacher

She taught Education. She had been asked a reasonable question: what should they do when confronted with a racist student? How should they protect the student under attack? What was the best discipline for the student doing the attacking? She understood their impulse. Her own reaction as a young teacher back in the 90’s was to come down hard. But then she told her students about him.

He was a handsome boy; bright, very engaged. He sat right near the front. It had been a week since he’d been to class. The parents said they would ensure he came, but still no Cameron. She was on her way home when she finally spotted him.

He was sitting at a coffee shop table with a fruit drink, reading a comic book. He didn’t know what to do when she just sat down across from him with her coffee and a big friendly smile on her face. “Hi Cameron!” He froze like a deer in the headlights, caught off guard by her friendly approach. “Don’t worry. You’re not in trouble. I know what the problem is. Everything is going to be fine now. You’re safe.” He was baffled.

“Safe from who?”

“From whoever is bullying you.” His eyes rolled a bit. He seemed less nervous. It was like he was mocking her efforts. “It’s okay Cameron. You’re not weak for needing help. We have to stand up to racism together. Just tell me who the student is and I promise, they’ll be disciplined harshly. I’m pretty sure I already know who it is anyway.”

“Oh yeah? And who’s that?” he finally said.

“It’s Nathan, isn’t it.” He just laughed her off like a fool. “It’s not funny Cameron. This this is a serious issue. If it’s bad enough he’ll be kicked out of school.”

“Well then I guess you’ve already done your job then, haven’t you?” he offered. Now she was confused and he now felt more confident.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about me. I’ve already left. You don’t need to kick me out.” She stared back at him, truly lost and confused and he knew it. He let her stew while he built up his courage. He loved her as a teacher, but it was time. Finally, he stepped forward to offer his coup de grâce. “I’m the racist Ms. Simms. I’m the bad guy in this story.”

“Cameron I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“At least you got that part right.” She looked at him imploringly. He was a good student. She wanted to be a good teacher. But he almost seemed angered by her compassion. “I’m from South Africa Ms. Simms.” He paused. “I’m white.” She was still lost.

He spun the comic around and pointed to a character. “I’m the villain. I’m the bad guy.” She looked at him confused. “I had dogs back home that were trained to attack black people Ms. Simms. The person you want to kick out of school isn’t Nathan, it’s me.”

It was like someone flipped her world upside down. She started a hundred thoughts and finished none. He was South African. He was white. And South Africa was under sanctions for Apartheid. “But…” all of her preconceptions were smashing into what he’d said, and what she knew. “Cameron how could that be? Just because you lived in South Africa, that doesn’t automatically make you a racist.”

“Yes it does Ms. Simms. It does. Because I was. I was a racist. Do you understand? My friends and I beat black people.” She reacted as though he struck her. She flinched, and it made him feel more confident. “That’s right. I sicked my dogs on black people. They bit them. Badly. And I felt nothing. They were animals. I cared more about my dogs.”

She sat there feeling like someone had punched her in the stomach. She had no way to process what he was saying and he knew it, so he doubled down. “You’re from here, Canada. You talk to black students the same way you talk to white students, and Chinese students, and Native students. You’re a Canadian. You were taught to respect these people. I was taught to have dogs. Dogs that were trained to attack black people. And I was happy to use them.”

“But you’re not that person now…” she was almost begging him to confirm it. She couldn’t reconcile the nice kid she knew and the stories he was telling her.

“When you grow up and everyone around you thinks a certain way, you don’t even notice it. I was in Canada for months before I saw a white person treat a black person with respect. I’d never seen it before in my life. I thought he was crazy, or weak. My father thought he was both.”

“Do you still feel that way? Do you still want to attack black people?” Now he was uncomfortable. He didn’t. Canada had rubbed off on him in a year. He wasn’t friends with any coloured people, but he knew people he liked that were. He was going through his own conflicts. He couldn’t tell her how he felt because he didn’t know either. “How could you believe such a thing?” she asked.

“You thought I was a nice kid, right? You believed that. You took the little bit you knew and you told yourself a story about me and you believed it. So that’s who I was. I was who you thought I was. Well, the same for me. Everyone around me believed black people were animals, so I thought so too. I didn’t even know there was an option until I moved here.”

“But you’re so compassionate Cameron. I’ve seen you be kind. It’s why I like you.”

“It’s just guilt. I’ve done some very bad things.” That seemed to upset him.

“But you didn’t know better.”

“That’s no excuse. You said it yourself.”

She had. She now knew that had been a mistake. It had never occurred to her that she might not be able to recognise the racists. Her judgment felt too easy now, too casual. Now she felt like the bully. “I’ve made a mistake Cameron. I’m sorry. You’re making me realise that now. I’d never thought of the racist as a victim too.”

“A victim of who? We had all of the power.”

“I don’t mean the power. I mean the… awareness. The understanding. You had no way of knowing that you were participating in racism. I see that now. If everyone around you does it, then it’s normal. You’re making me realise now that I grew up in a family that had some pretty harsh ideas about Indians–about Natives–and I’m… maybe I’m not as good a teacher as I thought.”

“You’re fine Ms. Simms. You’re one of the most popular teachers in the school. The problem isn’t you. It’s me.”

Now she was feeling stronger. “No, it isn’t. The problem is that I didn’t have a discussion about racism, I just called one side good and the other side bad and that was it. I didn’t leave you any room. I didn’t leave a space for you and that’s my fault. That’s my failing. I not only let you down as a teacher, I let that whole class down and I see that now. I need your help Cameron.”

“My help…?” He was lost. He was young enough that he thought in absolutes. But she was changing her mind. And it was opening up new possibilities.

“I want you to teach us Cameron.” He seemed shocked. “I mean it. You’re right. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Just like you I’ve never even questioned my biases until now. I’m no better than you and you’re no worse than me. The problem here isn’t you. The problem is a lack of understanding. You can help us with that. Racism is subtle here in Canada. We like to think we have none, and yet I displayed some to you. I was intolerant of you. We have to fix that. This class can be better and it will be better if you explain it to us. We need to know why you had those dogs. We need to find our own versions of those dogs. Will you help me? Will you help us?”

She seemed serious. He liked her. And he liked school. He really wanted to be more comfortable with his black classmates but he had no idea where to start. Maybe this was his chance.

“Please Cameron. I mean it. I really need your help with this.” He looked at her a long time. He wanted so badly to believe he was a good person. He so badly wanted her forgiveness. He wanted all black people’s forgiveness. He started to cry. I mean cry. It started as tears but soon he was sobbing. She went around the table and put her arm around while he sobbed.

After a while someone appeared next to them. It was Robert. He was a sensitive boy. He’d been a refugee from Somalia. He was black. “Are you okay Cameron?” he asked. Cameron looked up and started to cry even harder when he saw who it was. Robert sat down across from him and took his hands his own. “It’s okay.”

Cameron looked at him through his tears. He felt so incredibly bad that he started a new jag of tears. He squeezed Robert’s hands. “Robert will you help me?”

“Of course I will.” He pulled Cameron up, into an embrace. He held him closely as Cameron bawled on his shoulder. People started watching them but they didn’t care. This was the beginning of it getting better.

When she looked up at her university class she was crying. They were too. Even the harshest, toughest boys. She took a moment to gather herself before speaking. “If I teach you anything in this class I’d like it to be this: you will learn more from your students than you can ever hope to teach them. So remember that when you’re at the front of your classes. Remember to never, ever, stop being a student too. Because in all of my years of teaching, no one ever made me a better teacher than Cameron and Robert did. Your job isn’t to police what’s good or bad or right or wrong. Your job is to build understanding. Do that, and you’ll have done the most important kind of teaching there is.”

And with that the bell rang.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The New Ism

910 Relax and Succeed - Out beyond ideasA lot of people have a lot of ideas about how other people could be making the world better. One of the keys ways to improve it would be to simply get rid of all of those other people. The real trick is how you go about making them go away.

There are a lot of people who would strongly disapprove of racism or sexism or ageism that would very publicly and aggressively practice what I would call prioritism. These differences arise when people do not share priorities, as is the case when some people value natural resource jobs and others prioritize the environment, with most people ultimately being in a fluctuating bell curve in the middle.

Protecting community assets is what government and regulation were built for. So there is no need for hatred or fights, people are better to focus their energy on the systems that exist and use those to change regulations (or even governments) if they have concerns. There literally is no problem if you’re busy working on a solution that just doesn’t exist in time yet, but holding angry or worried feelings in our hearts is not good for us any more than if we were hating a race or religion. It’s our heart that carries the hate.

910 Relax and Succeed - When you talk you areToo many people are seeing the world in a very simplistic, binary way because the media presents it to us in short soundbites and then only discusses those as though they represent all of the actual interpretations. Their very job is to create conflict where there isn’t any, so we cannot use the media as a basis for us to experience outrage on a personal basis. That’s an expensive and toxic emotion to experience so it should only be undertaken when there is an upside to the person paying the price.

Opening our minds means we must avoid slotting people into categories. Not because you can’t use other categories to defend your categories, but because categories only exist in the ego-world. You want to start connecting with people in that other world–that uncategorized, undefined open space where all people are equal and there is no separation between the individual members of a group or even between them and the thing being done. This is what any good band will do when they’re feeling on. They’re connected.

If you find a lot of they, them, me, you, and I in your speech or self-talk then you know you’re not connected and you’re invested in binary thinking. People need to be defined for those temrs to make sense, but what’s best is to forget the definition of the person and focus respectfully on their statement, action or creation. Drop me and them thinking. Just deal with the issue. It’s a good place to be clinical. Let your motivations to work on the solution be emotional, but let the work itself be as rational as it is positive.

910 Relax and Succeed - Raise your wordsThere are a lot of beautiful, very well-intentioned people who invest enormous amounts of time in very negative and combative approaches, all in an attempt to force solutions on the world. Since that naturally creates resistance, just diverting that energy to more positive approaches will absolutely be felt by all of us. Do not invest in fighting. Look for opportunities to build bridges and create greater understanding. That is your route to a  better world.

Positive actions will lead to a positive situations. Take your opportunities to remove energy from negative thinking and turn it instead into positive action. Both you and the world will be better for it. So go make friends with someone on the other side and get them to teach you about why they’re on that other side. It will do you both more good to talk than to shout.

Enjoy your day.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The Subtlety of Racism

A while back I was contacted by a very conscious individual. She was a blog reader of mine and she had managed to make many changes in her life that were very beneficial. One of the things she had gotten quite good at was feeling her day. Every student has their own way inside what I’m teaching them and that was hers. She was good at ignoring her word-based illusory thoughts in favour of focusing on her feelings.

788 Relax and Succeed - Love and compassion are necessitiesThat ability to sense herself and her emotional reaction to her day lead her to an awareness. What initiated her call was that she was developing a consistently negative reaction to any Muslim woman wearing a niqab (the face and head scarf), or for that matter even a hijab (the head and neck scarf).

She knew the feelings were coming from her thoughts but she felt so strongly about the subject that she was unable to alter the course of her anger. It’s no secret to anyone that world tensions are a bit high and that in the most general terms Islam is seen as some sort of general threat. This plays out in big and obvious ways as in the case of governments or even armies. In smaller ways it plays out in everyday life, as with this woman.

I started off by noting the very un-racist-like reaction she had to her concern that she might be racist. She’s a very conscious mother and she didn’t want to teach her children to judge others based on appearances and she knew they learn from your actions not your words. Wise mom.

788 Relax and Succeed - Darkness cannot drive out darknessI simply explained that she had a firm narrative about the scarves and that we needed to replace it with a natural, real empathetic connection. The woman was clearly a feminist and so I offered examples of two feminists I know who have chosen to cover their faces with a niqab.

The first is a very classically beautiful, slim, high-cheekboned elegant woman who was raised by very spiritual parents. Back at home her parents would have been considered hippies. And her husband will laugh if you suggest he has any sort of control over his wife. He’s not that keen on her wearing a niqab himself but he respects his wife and he knows she takes her spirituality very seriously–and one aspect of it is humility. Inner beauty is what is valued and the ego is to be suppressed. On top of that, as a beautiful woman she wants to be sure she is succeeding by her abilities and not her appearance. That all sounds pretty healthy, doesn’t it?

Like the liberated woman sitting in front of me, the friend who wears the niqab does not believe that a woman should be judged based on her appearance and yet study after study proves that from dating to job prospects, that still happens. She also wants to respect herself as a creation of God. If you’ve read my previous post Loving Balpreet you’ll know that this is similar to the Sikh practice of allowing the body to exist as a creation of God’s, without any intervention–including haircutting or shaving. It’s a sign of respect for inner beauty and natural holiness.

I also added that my friend never needs to purchase or apply makeup when she goes out. That raised some eyebrows in envy.

788 Relax and Succeed - The cultural icebergThen I also told her about another friend who left Canada to move to the arabian peninsula. I told my student about how I asked that friend why she chose to wear her niqab. She very confidently noted that as a 240lb woman in Canada she found men never paid any attention to her, but where she lived she was often asked on dates and treated very respectfully. She felt she was being valued for her personality and not her appearance.

In both cases the women subscribed to the idea of the niqab as an expression of their values, not of oppression. It wasn’t that their husband wanted them covered, it was that they valued human spirit and expression more than appearances–these are the exact same values my student extolled to her children and the same ones most of us say are noble.

In the end the niqab is much thinner than a winter scarf. It’s certainly not a barrier to these women being able to see each other for what many of them really are: true feminists. Once my student could see that connection between her and these seemingly different women, her veil of thought made no more sense and she dropped it in favour of her new awareness.

788 Relax and Succeed - Before you assumeIt’s important to note–had we not intervened in that thinking when we did she could easily have expanded the narrative of her incorrect assumption into a full blown story that would result in bigotry and hatred. And she would then have taught that to her kids. It’s that easy. We all need to be vigilant.

We all love everyone. If you think you can’t love and respect someone and you really want to grow spiritually then I would suggest you look more closely at their life. Because if you do so honestly and openly you are certain to find someone just like you. Someone who’s had to overcome great hardship and who has felt great love. Our differences exist only in our thoughts.

The woman left feeling comfortable that she would no longer create the negative reaction that had been attached to her thoughts. With better understanding came empathy and from that came connection and a lack of desire to judge. It’s really that easy. You’ll see that if you try it. 😉

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

Driving People Crazy

I was riding in a friend’s car a few weeks ago and the guy beside us made a crazy no-look, no-blinker lane-change and had my friend not nailed the brakes hard it was a for-sure accident. I was a bit surprised when I heard my friend yell at his front window, “Stupid #*@%ing Asian driver! Go back to China you moron!” We were pretty pumped on adrenaline after the near miss, so the outburst itself wasn’t surprising, but I found it amusing that an Asian guy had just been yelled at and called names by another Asian guy.

Similarly, years ago I was driving with a brown friend who had a similar interaction and he pulled up at a light, had me roll down my window so he could tell the “stupid #*@%ing Paki” next to us to learn to drive like a white man. Like a white man?! My buddy was also Pakistani. So are these two people self-hating or what’s going on here?

What’s going on is that we think when we’ve heard the words that we understand the idea behind them but that’s ridiculous. As I’ve often noted here, when I told my university and college classes that “last night I shot a man in my pyjamas,” every class agreed that they’d understood what I’d said—odd as it was—but in reality they couldn’t have understood it because the sentence has four possible meanings. So what they mean is that they presumed they had understood it correctly because they had found an idea that made sense to them. They never looked past that self-confirmation to see if there were other possible meanings.

So what’s happening to you, me and my Pakistani and Chinese friends is that we are having an experience via chemistry which we interpret as an emotion that we then convert into language. This isn’t to say the language is accurate, sensible, logical, or even decent. We’re rarely good when we hurry at anything. So our response is just what’s instantaneously assembled in the face of the immediate chemistry. It’s why people that don’t usually swear will often cuss like a house on fire if they hit their finger with a hammer. So my Chinese friend wasn’t insulting Chinese, he was simply using the man’s Chineseness to help point the resulting chemistry at the appropriate cause. But when that chemistry is adrenaline etc., we can get a little broad in our applications of language.

493 Relax and Succeed - Don't be in a hurryIt’s like when my relatively short, 280 lb friend complains about the fat people taking too long at the grocery store checkout. He’ll start attacking their food choices even if he has the exact same stuff in his basket. Again, he’s not really attacking them, he’s just reacting to his thoughts that the process is taking longer than he expected. Well what was he doing expecting anything? Does he think he’s a prognosticator? He doesn’t know the future, so he’d be better to just wait for it to unfold, but because we have words we tend to time travel and build futures that won’t come true.

So my over-tired friend compared what he thought would happen at the checkout to what did happen and the result was a burst of adrenaline and an instantaneous anger that he wanted to point at someone. And so fat was the word he used to do the pointing at the person he was blaming for not making his imagined future come true. And even when he said it he knew the skinny cashier was more the reason we were going slow but the other woman was simply more convenient to attack. He’s not assigning actual blame, he’s just having an emotional experience that’s emerging as words.

When people suffer they will want to blame. It’s a natural reaction. It doesn’t mean anything because it’s just the immediate reaction. Once they calm down they’ll process the event as themselves. When it first happens they’re a drugged version of themselves and the drugs don’t help. The fear comes out as a combination of neuro-chemistry that has you feeling angry when in fact you’re afraid. And that anger is what comes out of us at some velocity, and it’s natural to want to focus that energy somewhere and the words are what defines the target.

So does my Chinese friend hate Chinese? No. Does my Pakistani friend hate Pakistanis? No. And does my overweight friend hate overweight people? No. So if you’re still re-living some schoolyard fight where some kid referred to you as anything—it doesn’t matter what identifier they used—then you just can’t take that personally. Not and be healthy anyway. People say all kinds of things they really don’t mean.

493 Relax and Succeed - The pendulum of the mindIn my initial example, two blocks down the road my buddy had chemically calmed down and he actually let that very same Chinese guy into traffic when he got stuck behind a bus. When he did it he said, “go ahead you idiot”—which made us both laugh. His tone of voice wasn’t mad at all, but he was being darkly comic because he needed a stepping stone between the angry place he was and the calmer place he was headed. Bottom line he was polite and helpful to the guy, so what matters? What he yelled at his windshield? Or how he actually behaves throughout most of his life? We all say all kinds of crazy stuff when we’re emotionally high. So no, my opinion of my friends does not change. Over time they have repeatedly demonstrated their good character. They are allowed to be human.

Try not to judge people for individual moments because that’s not who they are, that’s who they’re being under those conditions. And you’re the same way. When you’re expressing fear/anger you will absolutely think/say things you patently do not believe. So don’t assume other people really mean everything they say either. They might mean the emotion but they very well may totally disagree with their own words. So pay less attention to what they’re saying and more attention to why they’re saying it. Because bottom line, when you get right down to the nitty gritty, the vast vast vast majority of people are pretty decent. If you want to see how a person’s character can conflict with their words, simply watch Clint Eastwood’s brilliant film Grand Torino and you’ll see an excellent example of what I mean.

493 Relax and Succeed - There is no better test of a man's integrityTake the world less personally. And don’t be hard on yourself when you lose it for a moment or two. That’s human. Those emotions are useful in the right circumstances, its just that they can sometimes be tricked into showing up when they’re less useful—or worse, even hurtful. Let others and yourself have your natural bursts of fear/anger and then let them go. They are natural experiences. But you ultimately control your emotions, so it’s on you to reign them in well enough to strongly ensure that no one is physically intimidated, or injured, and there is no intent toward psychological or any other kind of harm. Because in the end people are people and they’re all pretty amazing and awesome, and if you ever did end up in a car accident, it might just be their blood that ends up saving your life. So then you and they can’t really be all that different in the end anyway, can you?

Have a great day and please be as courteous on the road as you can and everyone will get where they’re going more safely and more efficiently. All the best.

5 Random Driving Tips

  1. If you’re driving well you have lots to pay attention to. And you don’t want the nickname “Killer” in prison. Put down your phone. And yes you’re still driving when you’re sitting still at a red light. (See point 5.)
  2. It’s a natural impulse, but try not to speed match passing cars, nor race to fill gaps. Particularly approaching a zipper merge: if someone puts their blinker on, don’t race to fill the gap where they would have otherwise gone. Instead make room and maybe even flash your lights to let them know they’re safe to come over. Everyone will get home faster that way.
  3. 493 Relax and Succeed - Humility is not thinking less of yourselfIf you live in a cold climate and your side windows are always fogging in the winter, that’s because you have your climate controls set on inside air, so the air that’s supposed to come up your windshield and circulate around your car to clear the windows is instead pushed up the windshield, and then is promptly sucked back into the intake fan under the dashboard, so it never gets to hit the side windows. Switch to outside air and your side windows will clear. And if you want to reduce humidity to clear glass, turn on your air conditioning (with the heat still on).
  4. When driving down residential streets look for shadows under the parked cars to see if kids may be behind them, where they could suddenly run out onto the road.
  5. Always look around you when you’re stopped. 5 times out of 10 you’ll be in a situation where—if you moved just a bit—someone else could get where they’re going. I see this all the time. 25 cars lined up to turn right onto a clear road, but they can’t because the person going straight—the person at the front of the line—needs to pull forward a tiny distance to allow everyone through. But they don’t notice those honks are for them because they’re too busy texting. Or a guy wants to turn left into a side street but people lining up for a red light block the road entirely unnecessarily. We’ll all do better if spend a bit more energy on trying to make the roads run smoothly for all of us rather than just prioritizing what we’re doing and where we’re going.

We need to start driving spiritually. Meaning: as though we actually care about each other. If your commute sucks, then stop thinking about where you’re going and start thinking more about where they’re going. Because in the end, that’s far more likely to get you to where you where you really want to go.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.