I’ve Been Thinking About Human Rights Lately

Having grown up outside a small town in Idaho, everything that I knew about the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Rights Movement came from history books, classrooms, and television. Honestly, I grew up thinking that it was all settled, dealt with, that it was history.

Clearly I was wrong.

Being gay, I have known for the past 25 years that I am at best a second class citizen. I believed that there was no real chance for that to change any time soon, but I wanted change and in a small way I worked for it. And I have always been grateful to those outside the gay community who made a point to demonstrate that they were working for me to have equal rights too.

This past year, the gay community has made some clear steps toward equal protection under the law in the United States. However, the fact that these steps have been taken on paper does not mean that we are done working on this.

Here is the reason that I’m writing this: realizing that the work is not done for gay people to have equal rights and protections under the law, I see that the work is not done for anyone really. The battles may appear done on paper, but now we have to acknowledge that the real site of this war is in our minds. As long as we fear that adding people other than ourselves to the family of those fully enfranchised in our culture, we are not done.

So I want to be an ally. Like the allies of the gay community that I admire, I know that I will sometimes make mistakes, that I will sometimes overstep. For several years I have considered myself to be a feminist. To many, that is itself an overstep. But there are enough others who appreciate my willingness to apply that label to myself that I feel it is defensible.

There have been times, recently, when I have wondered what, exactly I can do, to move all of the disenfranchised closer to equality. Today I have realized an answer. I can start by changing my mind. I can seek out and redirect racist, sexist, and bigoted thoughts. I can repudiate my acceptance of these thoughts and deliberately seek to have different ones. By making the inside of my head more equal and free, I will make my instinctive response to normative tyranny an utter rejection.

Is this enough? Probably not. There are, obviously, changes that have to happen in the world outside my mind. But the more clearly I understand how I have upheld the problem in the past, the more easily I will be able to recognize and enact remedy in the future.

Play or Game?

As many of you know, I play games.

In my experience of playing games for many years, I have long held that there are two fundamental types of behavior demonstrated by those who engage in game play.

First, there is the behavior of “play.” Playing is characterized by seeking to have an experience of having fun or of sharing fun with others while engaged in the activity.

Second, there is “game” behavior. Gaming is characterized by seeking social advantage through the activity whether it simply be membership in a social clique or superiority in social interaction with others.

Of course everyone engages in both behaviors to varying degrees. Over time, however, you get to know where the other people involved generally come from. If a player loves to expostulate about how cool their old character was, well then they are “gaming” and their satisfaction with the current game will be dependent on how well they feel that they are gaining social advantage.

You can see, of course, how all of this applies to how you live as much as how you play games.

There is a root lesson here but it comes from a fact that is extraneous to everything that I’ve said so far. That key fact is that no matter how you try to manipulate other people you cannot entirely predict their individual responses. Therefore if your enjoyment of an activity, be it game or life, is dependent on how other people esteem you, then you cannot know whether you will succeed. You will always be looking for signs from other people as to whether you are having fun.

Now nothing says that you can’t enjoy the mystery of not knowing whether you are having fun, but isn’t it just easier to… well… play?

Do you find it easier to empathize with happiness or sorrow?

Do you find it easier to empathize with happiness or sorrow?

Maybe it seems twisted, and I haven’t done a scientific study on it or anything, but I’m pretty sure that I have a much easier time “feeling with” loss based emotions. It only seems to take a few symbols – be they words or images or music – and I’m right there suffering with. Yet it seems to require fairly well fleshed out story to manufacture the ecstatic feeling of enjoying with. And usually any hint of triteness, the slightest flavor of deliberate manipulation, and I’m suddenly observing it through fission reactor viewport glass.

This isn’t really how I want to be. I want happiness to rub off on me. I want sorrow to find no purchase. There is no reason for loss to bring sorrow: waterhouse-miranda

“…though the sea with waves continuall
Doe eate the earth, it is no more at all ;
Ne is the earth the lesse, or loseth ought :
For whatsoever from one place doth fall
Is with the tyde unto another brought :
For there is nothing lost, that may be found if sought.”
― Edmund Spenser

Yet I find myself forever sorrowing with others and much less often able to enjoy their triumphs and happiness as my own. I am utterly aware of flow and change, yet it appears that I’m addicted to loss and hardly notice gain.

Have you ever noticed how romantic losing is?

Have you noticed that stories and movies spend a lot more time on the suck of life than on the glory? Oh, we love to see triumph, but do you notice that 90% of a movie is the protagonist face planting over and over just so that we can accept a mild triumph at the end? And in that structure, only failure leads to more living and learning, triumph is rewarded by a fade to black and credits rolling. Do I believe that happiness should be timeless, that nothing should follow happiness? Do avoid it because I’d rather live on feeling sorrow than go to credits because I finally succeeded?

To be clear, I don’t think I’m miserable. I love my life! Sadness MUST exist for happiness to be sweet! But why is it so much more difficult to believe in the happiness of another than to feel their loss?

Do you find it easier to empathize with sorrow than believe in happiness at all?

I do. And I want that to change.

Differences

Funny thing…so many people think that being different from them is a big deal–some even think that it is something we should apologize or even die for–and our differences are so very small!

It is important for us to be able to discern the difference between a bear and a bunny. It is important for us to be able to recognize a gun whether or not we can rattle off it’s name and caliber. But we place way too much significance on the little differences between other people and not enough on the one fundamental difference between them and ourselves–they are not us and therefore we have ZERO ownership of them and ZERO call to try to change them..

Tulips-smallThe most significant reason to distinguish other people from one another is to know whether we already know ourselves in relationship with them or not, and “not” represents an opportunity for us to broaden our horizons and get to know them so that we may have a greater understanding of exactly who we are by seeing more clearly who we are not. This is not so that we can judge them or try to make them act like us; it is so that we can evaluate our own experience in a meaningful way by comparison to our perception of the experience of those around us.

Being “in relationship” with someone, even to the extent of being “IN A RELATIONSHIP” with someone does not constitute ownership. You still have ZERO call to try to change that person because you are still yourself and not them. You are free to work on yourself as much as you want; You are free to invite them to participate in activities that represent a change for you; you are even free to hope that working on yourself will inspire them to work on themselves; but if you work on that person, even if they seem to change, the change isn’t genuine. It doesn’t reflect who they actually are, but is instead a twisted mirror of who you are. They might wear it for awhile, but eventually it will irritate them enough that they will cast aside your narcissistic illusion of who you think they should be. This kind of detour from self determination and personal responsibility is counterproductive for all concerned.

Being different from each other is what we have in this life. As individuals we are defined by our differences. Resenting and even hating our differences shows a profound lack of self worth. If we are secure in ourselves, we are never threatened by how other people are not us, because we’re just fine with being unique.

What Do I Believe?

What do I believe?

Although unasked, it is a question that comes up often in my interactions with family and friends.

I’ll admit that I, like many, use Facebook as something of an instant blog. A quick post to Facebook, often with very little explanation, serves in lieu of actually reaching out and talking to people. Rather than getting together with friends and having deep discussions, rather than getting together with family and hashing out differences, I make a post and move on. Sometimes there is no response, other times the response is surprising and gratifying. Often the post offends a family member–or offends their sensibilities which is actually much more likely to elicit a response!

I come from a strongly religious, Mormon background. Although my family is actually quite liberal minded and science was more likely to be discussed at the dinner table than religion, I was a zealot child. I was obsessed with being perfect, with being good and worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven.

To what do I ascribe my zeal? I can point to many things, some rising up from before I am aware of being able to think—the fact that we lived in a virtually mono-religious community in southeastern Idaho; the fact that my father taught at the nearby church-operated junior college; the fact that in my small town schooling I believe that there may have been a couple of non-Mormons who passed through our school system in my grade, but I don’t think any stayed long or graduated with me; the fact that the rhetoric of the Mormon church is that it is the “one true church,” with “the only perfect book” (the Book of Mormon;) the fact that my youthful eyes watched older brother after older brother leave on seemingly eternal missions for the church only to return with an endless supply of funny and inspiring stories of life “in the mission field…” But the truth is, I wanted to be a believer. I wanted to be with my family forever because I couldn’t imagine a better world than the one in which I grew up.

So obviously, things change, right? My dad died, I developed OCD, my beloved older family of brothers and sisters had moved on and out leaving me with the immediate older brother and younger sister who were, like me, a little adrift, and our amazing mother. We did the best we could, all of us did. We didn’t talk much about the fact that I took three or more showers per day, nor about the pile of basically clean washcloths by the door to the upstairs bathroom from my using a fresh washcloth every time I opened the door, nor the fact that as soon as I got home from church or school I took a shower and threw all of my clothes in the wash, nor, later, about how I would spend half an hour at night in the Idaho winter washing out the inside of the car I drove because I remembered that maybe, just maybe, I hadn’t been paying enough attention and someone or something made it dirty.

I remember, oh so clearly, that I knew I was broken. I didn’t know why, but I knew that I couldn’t deal with the world the same way everyone else seemed to be able, and my mom tried everything to understand but I couldn’t explain. I went to see a psychiatrist because I was putting myself under incredible stress and he diagnosed me with stress—basically told me not to worry so much. Actually that did help me deal with the stress…and my grades dropped quite precipitously. When I was seventeen, we saw a special on TV about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and finally, finally some light showed through the clouds. A little research and Mom and I flew to Washington DC to NIH to see if I was eligible for a study about this new disease. (I will never forget how the driver of the Metro said, “Red line train…to GROVE-NO (Grosvenor)” nor how horrible fountain sprite tasted made with chlorinated water, nor how our low end motel room smelled of stale garlicky b.o.) However, I don’t really remember the questions at NIH or the tests. I do remember that they told us that Yes, I had OCD and No, I wasn’t a good fit for the study because I was too old. I’m not sure exactly how, but the upshot was that we found out about a Canadian Doctor in Provo who could prescribe drugs available in Canada but still under investigation in the U.S.

Unless you’ve had experience with having a medication for an emotional/mental disorder that really works, you can’t know how utterly amazing it is. I can think of images—a flower opening to the sun, finally being able to breathe, a shaft of sunlight through parting clouds—but these images don’t really cover it. Here’s the thing for me; when I was thirteen, I stopped developing emotionally and socially. When I was eighteen, I started again. But I was five years behind, and the people I was associating with weren’t. I didn’t fit very well.

Backtrack a bit. When I was in the middle of OCD, I still believed in the Mormon Church, but going to church was just another stressor because of having to wash everything afterward and, honestly, wanting everyone in the family to do the same thing. Since I couldn’t have what I wanted, and recognized that it was unreasonable even though I wanted it, I retreated. I knew that going on a mission was out of the question for me. I needed far more control of my life and my surroundings to be able to not just break on a mission—particularly as most of the people who went on missions had at least one story about (to me) horrific sanitary conditions.

So when I was getting relief from OCD, suddenly going on a mission seemed almost possible! Oh happy day, right? This was the thing that I was assured was the most important thing in my life by my Patriarchal Blessing!

And then, sneaking out in my delayed emotional puberty, came the biggest blow. I realized that I was significantly more interested in my male friends than in my female ones, you know, that way.

Please don’t get me wrong. I had loved at least one girl in High School. She was like light to me. Things seemed right when we were hanging out and talking. She was an incredible kisser, and I discovered with her that if you keep your eyes open while kissing two beautiful eyes merge into one and girls don’t really like it when you laugh when you kiss them. It was thirteen year old love in a sixteen year old body. I am still quite convinced that I could have married one girl or another and loved my children and perhaps have been a good father for a few years before my actual preference broke my and my wife’s hearts and our children’s lives.

I saw a show on PBS, late one night. It was a BBC production of “The Lost Language of Cranes.” I thought it was beautiful, but the most poignant part, for me, was a scene where Rose confronted Owen (her husband of many years) with her feelings about his sexuality. He had emphatically stated that he wanted to stay married to her, but that he was, sexually, more interested in men. Her reply was heartbreaking. “How do you think that will make me feel?” She points out that their whole marriage, he had been the one for her, but she had never been the one for him. There is truth in fiction as great as the truth found anywhere else. I knew that I was looking at something my life could be like. That I could be the one to destroy, utterly destroy the self worth of a beautiful woman, just by doing my best to love her and failing.

I committed to myself that I would never do that, and that commitment has rested down at the bottom of my heart ever since.

So here is the thing. I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to go to heaven and be with my family forever. And I knew that I couldn’t have that if I was gay. But I also knew there was nothing to be done about my sexuality. I never, never doubted that it was immutable despite the fact that I had very recently experienced the glorious transformation from being crippled by OCD to being functional. I knew that OCD was always going to be a part of me to one degree or another. I knew that I would need to shepherd it so that it didn’t take over my life again. Likewise I was absolutely sure that my sexuality wasn’t going to magically change, or even miraculously change. My sexuality was a fundamental to me as the heart is to a tree. So I hated myself.

There is nothing like the hate of a religious homophobe, and it’s even worse when you can’t get away from it because it is yourself. You see, I was still convinced that the Mormon church was true; that the gospel was, in fact, the only way to heaven; and that there was actually no place for me there.

I’m not sure, entirely, why suicide never seemed like an answer to me. I know it seems like it to many in that situation. I guess I was just too self centered. I wanted to live! I wanted to fall in love! I wanted to live happily ever after, even if we were living in sin!

Years passed and I eventually came to an uneasy truce with the gospel when I came across the Hindu concept that there are many paths. After all, we all start in different places in this life, and we all end in different places, how can one path work for everyone? It is illogical. I decided, at that point, that while the gospel may be the path for those lucky enough to be heterosexual, there is no way that God hates his creation and thus he doesn’t want me to hate me either. At that point I bid the church a fond farewell. I knew that as the church then stood, there was no way I could hold it to my heart and not hate myself. It seemed to me far more in keeping with Christ’s teachings to love myself and others than to remain with the organized religion that made love impossible for me.

More years passed. Lots of them. And then I was presented with information about myself in a totally non-religious but spiritual setting that caused in me the same inner confirmation that I had always associated with “The Holy Ghost.” That information about the nature of reality and the soul framed our experience of this life in a much more responsible and choice based manner. And I realized that it was far more true for me than Mormonism had ever been. It took a few months of self examination and contemplation, but eventually I realized that all of the tattered remains of Christianity had finally fallen away from my eyes and I was seeing the world in a much more clear, responsible, and spiritual manner.

What do I believe?

I believe in a creative force in the Universe. It doesn’t matter to me how exactly this creative force looks and I honestly doubt that our limited minds can accurately perceive it much less relay that perception to others. Perhaps one sees this as loving light that permeates down from higher dimensions. Perhaps another sees this as the energy of all the cosmos actually intelligent and aware. Perhaps this is the oneness of all experience. I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter to me that I don’t know. I do know that tyrannical, petty, and jealous emotions, as ascribed to deity in the Old Testament, are entirely incompatible with what I believe.

I believe that we are more than just physical beings. I believe that we are energy for what is matter but energy? What does this actually mean? I’m not always certain, but it seems to me that what we believe is very powerful, and sometimes being hung up on being exactly right stands in the way of having a productive frame of reference or model from which to approximate. I guess the easiest way to think of it is that I believe that each of us has a spirit, our personal holy spirit, that is in us but is much more than just us. It is fundamental to us but we cannot possibly know it in its entirety.

I believe that we are the hands of divinity in creating miracles in our own lives and in the lives of others.

I believe that we are completely responsible for our experience of the world. I believe that the process of growing from childhood is the process of transferring responsibility for the experience from the surrounding adults to the child. Thus I believe that parenting is the most powerful, the most dangerous responsibility we can ever have.

I believe that the energy we are has gifts and knowledge that are not necessarily the same as those we have brought forth in our current incarnation.

I believe that reincarnation is, at the very least, a useful model from which to approximate our experience of ourselves. Therefor, I believe that single lifetime models don’t as accurately model our experience of ourselves. I don’t know if this is because reincarnation is an accurate model or not and it doesn’t really matter to me either way because, as I’ve said, a productive model is more useful than insistence upon perfect correctness.

I believe that models that include a spiritual component to our existence are more conducive to my well being than those which deny spirit. Perhaps this is intellectual laziness. Perhaps I simply cannot believe that the energy that makes up our experiences evaporates into nothingness once we die.

I believe that every consequence stems from a choice we have made. I believe that consequences can be best understood as, “the current set of choices available.”

I believe that you are real, although from some perspectives, I can’t prove it, nor can I prove my own existence. Everything is SO dependent upon the postulates that you accept as the starting point. You must already believe something is possible for it to be possible to prove it to you that it is possible. Heh. Even the idea of “proving” depends upon rules of logic that you must accept before “proving” is possible.

I believe that to hide the truth as I see it is selfish and lazy. There are so many voices shouting about how awesome this or that philosophy, government, or religion is. When I see how others may be damaging themselves on these institutions as I have damaged myself on them, how can I in good conscience stay silent?

I believe that we are standing on the knife edge of change. We can either move forward into a world that is more loving, compassionate, and aware that our differences are illusory, or we will collapse into chaos and destructive revolution. The disparities in our civilization are too great, social unrest just barely disguised beneath a placid seeming surface…revolution lies somewhere between the horizon and the ground at our feet. Will we finally move forward or simply fall back and come at this again in a few hundred years? I’m sure excited to find out and I’m pushing for love, compassion, and oneness!

While I think it would be neat if a savior showed up to make everything better, I believe that the Christian dependence on this concept has allowed them to justify becoming deeply indolent, spiritually lazy, self righteous, proud, false, and possibly the most hypocritical group of faiths in the world. It is kind of funny, when you think about it, that this prime teaching of the faith is basically, “Don’t worry, you won’t actually have to deal with  the consequences as long as you apologize to God in the right way.” Even if this were true, I’d rather live as though it is all up to me. I would rather live as though I am responsible for the pain I cause and I am responsible to ease it. I would rather live as though the resources of the world should be shepherded for future generations so that I’m not caught unawares when we run out of helium for MRI magnets. I would rather try to create heaven in my own life than waste it hating myself and hoping to squeeze into the Mormon heaven which I’m assured has a big sign over the gate that says, “NO FAGS ALLOWED (unless you never loved).”

I believe that family and friends mean well when they tell me about Christ’s infinite compassion and when they tell me that I can be forgiven for my sins. And I believe that the modern idea of “sins” is a heap of horseshit served up for our delectation to give us something to fear that we cannot gauge in spite of the fact that we CAN gauge harm to ourselves and others and this is all we need to be able to make ethically responsible decisions. “Sin” is a control mechanism that is no longer in our spiritual best interests to propagate.

I believe that all of the resources of our spirit are ours if we will let ourselves have them. I believe that our soul is a direct connection to the Creator and the only intervention we ever really need is to help us to recognize our own divinity and that we already have all of the spiritual resources that we need.

I believe that separation is an illusion and oneness is the deeper, truer reality.

I believe that my understanding of my life and what it means to me is slowly opening like a rose–I am in wonder at how lovely it is today, breathless to see its final form, and I would not rush it for the world.

I believe that visionaries have been telling us for millennia the real secret to life—Love and open yourself to the Creator that is you.