To See for Ourselves

We each have the ability to see and interpret things for ourselves.  Yet, all too often we allow other people (and their agendas) to influence our own best judgment.  Naturally, we are attracted to views that support our preconceived assumptions, but can we really depend on others for the truth?

The dishonesty and deceit of partisan politics runs rampant.  Mass media is particularly insidious, creating a variety of alternative realities and imposing them on us in an incoherent stream of sound bites and disconnected images.

Social media is worse.  When our friends post an opinionated viewpoint on Facebook, does that make it true?  Can we determine our own independence and objectivity?

How can we test the accuracy of cherished perceptions?  What means do we have for seeking truth in the midst of upheaval?

We can never fully comprehend the reality in which we live, physically or spiritually.  But, hidden behind every disruption (and illusion) there is a stability we can depend on.  The world survives repeated cataclysms, always recovering its balance and somehow progressing despite human delusions, duplicity, and chicanery.

In the previous post I proposed a way to keep our balance.  I wrote of a dependable, self-sustaining foundation underlying the whole of reality, both material and spiritual, which has the character of justice.

We would do well to align ourselves with this standard, to unite with its’ principles and meet its’ conditions as best we can.

Religious people may recognize this truth as a manifestation of God’s Grace.  Others might see it as a function of the integrity of the natural order in the universe.  I believe both are true.

A balanced and coherent unity can be recognized in both the human and natural worlds, when they are freed from manipulation.

The elegant balance found in nature will, if left alone, always manage itself with a highly sensitive, yet robust and resilient functionality.

Human society has a similarly purposeful balance.  But, this is often distorted by insistent efforts to control things according to our selfish desires, rather than with any sense of the right order of things.

Religion has taught us of the interdependence and integrity of the relationships that form the fabric of human communities.  Science has shown us that the earth’s biosphere is a delicate web of life arranged in an integrated network of networks.

Whether in human affairs or in the natural world, any disruption or harm inflicted upon the balance will incur consequences that may not be immediately apparent.  Yet the repercussions of injury and injustice spread rapidly abroad, as each impact leads to others in widening circles that extend themselves in perpetuity.

Why is this important to our understanding of freedom?  Understanding the fundamental form and function of things allows us to see things for ourselves without undue influence from others.

While dialog and consultation can be important safeguards, the ability to recognize the consequences of events for ourselves, “to see the end in the beginning,” allows us to determine our own course of action freely, independently.

And, recognizing the far-flung after-effects of our own deeds provides us with a degree of protection from engaging in overly emotional, ill-conceived, or destructive acts.

A cursory review of human history reveals numerous examples of poorly conceived actions leading to disastrous consequences.  As we have all seen, both individuals and groups are quite capable of serious error.

How does this happen?  Well, sometimes we think we have everything figured out when, in fact, our information is limited and we are only aware of parts of the truth.

It is important to look for diversity of experience and perspective when we consult with others.  Only then can we step back to think critically for ourselves.

Always mindful of the foundation of justice, which is a given, (and rechecking our own motives periodically), will pay ever greater dividends in constructive outcomes and the avoidance of unnecessary trouble.

The framework of justice is a gift that will not go away.

However destructive unjust acts may be, the foundations of reality remain trustworthy, unperturbed and uncompromised – even in the darkest night.

Tom

Please watch for the next post on or about July 14.

New readers please note that posts adapted from the forthcoming book will usually appear on Fridays at both the main blog site and the Facebook page.  To receive emailed alerts, click “Follow” on this page.

Liberty and Justice: Beginning or End?

Neither liberty or justice can be pulled out of the air or handed to us by those in authority.  These are aspects of the elemental substance of reality and they depend on our actions.

It is through personal responsibility that we find the personal freedom to act on the principles of justice.  There can be no liberty without responsibility.

As we saw in the previous blog, personal liberty can be asserted even in the most terrible circumstances.  In a troubled world this is important to understand.  If we are to keep our balance when the ground is shifting under our feet, how can we best prepare ourselves?

We must do more than prepare materially for hard times, although that is important, too.

How can we find the moral and mental strength to persevere?  How can we take a long view in the midst of chaos – to gain a sense of ultimate purpose and a vision of the future we can believe in?

If we seek an even temper and a steady hand when the world around us is coming unhinged, I believe it will be with a firm understanding of the ground on which we stand.  And, I believe the ground of human reality is defined and governed by justice,

I know it is difficult to see justice in the midst of the present disarray.  So, let’s think for a moment about the world we were given, the real world – before we messed it up.

It is my firm conviction that there is an integral order underlying all things, and it has the character of justice.  This is the ultimate ground of the reality of things.

Stated briefly, justice can be understood as the ultimate balance manifested in the self-sustaining structure of things.  Or, to put it in another way, justice is a dynamic framework upon which all things depend, and which remains unified and transcendent despite the disruptions caused by human activity.

We can learn to see this “original” reality with our own eyes (and not through the eyes of others), and to understand it for ourselves without being swayed by others.

Justice is the governing principle and inherent character of this truth.  In my view, there is a reason to believe that this character is indestructible and will prevail in the end.  And, it is what allows us to keep our balance in a disturbed world.

Whether this idea is viewed through religious or philosophical eyes, all of us can benefit by gaining confidence in the ground we stand on.  It is reasonable, it is dependable, and it offers a stable basis for constructive action.

Everyone sees things differently and none of us can comprehend ultimate truth.  Yet, the concept proposed here can be helpful in maintaining our composure, and in determining the right course of action in difficult circumstances.

Such an understanding can be the starting point for both thinking and action.

If we are to rebuild our communities and nation in a constructive and principled manner, it will be necessary to adjust with flexibility to the unexpected changes that come with crises.

America is staggering under the assaults of discord, divisiveness, and hostility.  If this nation is worth saving, it is up to each of us as individuals – to reach out to those who are struggling with hardship, to rise above our differences and to unite with our neighbors to address our shared needs constructively.

Justice will come when we forge an indestructible unity with true American generosity of spirit.  There will always be differences.  It will be shared needs and common purpose that matter.

If we cannot win over a few with the invitation to selfless responsibility and mutual respect, leave them to themselves.  Some will insist on learning the hard way.  Join with those who are ready and get on with the work!

Understanding the ground of justice gives us confidence when exercising responsibility, building trustworthy relationships, and conducting our lives with integrity.

Justice furnishes the ordered condition in which we have the opportunity to bring ourselves into balance with the world of existence as it truly is – and as I believe it is meant to be.

Tom

Dear readers, I depend on your comments and constructive feedback.  Please look for the next post on or about June 30.

Where the Work Begins

Living or working with other people might be the most difficult thing we ever do. Even a marriage can be hard work. And yet, if we wish to lead a meaningful life – or choose to rebuild the foundations of the American Republic – this is our core mission.

A spirited civil society is a central part of our American heritage. More than that, without dependable neighbors there can be no real safety or security. And, without trust nothing is dependable. These are prizes to be fought for and gained through consistent and determined effort.

Where do we start? How shall we navigate the inevitable bumps and bruises of working relationships?

When we become acquainted with someone who is emotionally mature and relatively open-minded it may not be hard to develop an understanding. If, however, we need to work with someone who suffers from anxiety or has wounds from the past, (or is convinced they already know everything), then building a constructive relationship will take time and labor.

This is almost always possible, if we have the patience and courage to persist, and if our circumstances allow us to proceed safely.

There are two basic requirements. The first is to get our thinking straight, to have a positive attitude and reasonable, clearly formed intentions. The second is to gain certain practical interpersonal skills. Both will be addressed in the book.

In any potentially sensitive interpersonal relationship it is wise to look beyond superficial impressions to recognize the free personhood and integrity of the other individual. New acquaintances may not seem attractive at first, or might seem more attractive than they deserve.

Each of us is a complex mystery. We can only come to genuinely know one another if we have the generosity of spirit to inquire and take interest. This can be a rich and meaningful experience.

Stephen Covey has written that “every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom…, the power to choose, to respond, to change.”

If we seek to build trust, and if we believe in freedom, all of these endowments must be recognized. Many of us are unaware of our own endowments, our own potential to grow and mature. And the surest way to learn and grow is in the effort to build functional relationships.

Many people will not share our vision or sense of purpose. They may not understand what we are inviting them to do, and may be distrustful until we prove ourselves. So, we need to communicate clearly, making sure we are understood, and find ways to work together. Such things take time and thoughtfulness.

We cannot wait for others to take the lead. The initiative must be ours. This is how we test our skills and put rubber to the road.

Elbert Hubbard said, “Responsibility is the price of freedom.” And Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Understanding comes through relationship, and the best way to build strong relationships is to team up to meet community needs. While spending relaxed time offers the possibility for meaningful conversation, it is in working together to address felt-needs and resolve practical problems that we really come to know one another.

Now, suppose we need to join forces with people who are very different from us. Perhaps our politics are at odds, or someone has religious or philosophical views that we find strange, or we simply see reality very differently. How can we get along – and actually trust another in difficult or dangerous circumstances? We will touch on this briefly next week.

Again, I believe the bottom line is this: In every matter our concern must be to preserve and deepen the level of trust, because we can expect to remain under the pressures of disrupted lives, deteriorating social conditions, and the threat of violence for a long time.

We can do this. We are a resourceful people. And we will get better at it as we make the effort.

Tom

Next week: Living With Differences

Liberty: With Integrity and Responsibility

In the previous two posts I have suggested that the defense of liberty depends on justice, because justice serves as the foundational order of all things. Knowing this provides us with the potential for wisdom and effectiveness. However, the potential can only be realized through personal responsibility.

Responsibility is the necessary action that gives meaning and order to our lives. It is the partner of liberty, which cannot exist without it.

A dear friend once pointed out to me that the implicate meaning of “responsibility” can be found in the compound word, “response-ability.” Without this ability, justice cannot be realized and freedom has no meaning.

We heard from Viktor Frankl several weeks ago in a post entitled: “The Realization of Inner Freedom.” Dr. Frankl emerged from his World War II ordeal in a Nazi death camp with the firm belief that freedom can only be secured with responsibility.

Freedom,” he wrote, “is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.

For many of us, seeking freedom is a gradual process of maturing, letting go of dependencies, and trying to make a go at life with what resources we have at hand. This is meaningful for a time. But, eventually we begin to recognize that both the character of the society in which we live and the material limitations of our lives impose themselves on us in uncomfortable ways.

Do we then decide to simply indulge ourselves, if we possess the material means to do so? Or, do we seek freedom in the nobility of asserting control over our personal vices and limitations, and by engaging with life in constructive ways?

In the world where we now find ourselves there is really no escape from the necessity to construct the lives we wish for from the wreckage of past mistakes, our own and those of others, and to do so in unity of purpose with friends and neighbors.

We cannot wait for things to change, all the while complaining about what should be different. We each have the ability to reach for self-sufficiency in collaboration with others. We are each capable of taking responsibility for the conditions we face in life.

Accepting responsibility can mean many things, depending on the circumstances. Usually we think of responsibility as the act of responding to whatever needs to be done. We wash the dishes not to help in the kitchen, but because the dishes need to be washed. I suggest, however, that there is a core responsibility which underlies and guides all others. This is the responsibility to build and ensure trust.

Without trust, the fabric of this nation will continue to disintegrate. Trust is the substance of integrity and the single most essential ingredient making it possible for us to build the future.

By integrity is meant a way of thinking and being that is fully consistent with the foundation of justice we have been discussing. It is foundational to all human affairs in the same way that a sound physical foundation is required before one can raise any material construct.

Integrity is integral to our character as individuals, and it can easily be squandered in a moment of carelessness. A principled integrity must gain primacy in our very identity, our way of being.

So, there you have it: Integrity is the quality of being; trustworthiness is the substance of that quality; and, responsibility is the action with which we make it so. And, finally, justice is the beginning and the end, the structure that holds it all together.

Responsibility follows immediately from integrity and is the expression of it. Stability and order depend upon this. When responsibility is understood and applied to the challenges we face, progress is possible. Otherwise the integrity of intention is lost.

There is no middle ground. Either integrity and responsibility are wholly present or they are compromised. Without them no true civilization is possible.

Tom