Live well and flourish

It’s a strange and beautiful world–and dangerous.

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I am thinking of all the tragic world news lately. Actually I am inundated with all the bad news and need to turn off the television and just sit quietly. The words of the poet Wordsworth come through the silence: “The world is too much with us….We lay waste our powers….For this, for everything we are out of tune.”

When I was young I thought I could write the next great novel as well as save the world. I’ve done neither. And now that I am older, I know the youthful goals were good but very unrealistic, even self-defeating. I would have done better to remember the wisdom of Mother Teresa: “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” I would only add that there are no small things if done in a great way. Every act of compassion means something to the one for whom compassion is shown, whether toward one’s self or others.

There are days I wonder if the human race will survive. Denying climate change we continue to destroy the planet on which we depend. Waging war to make peace we think, the landscape is full of the losses. Making money rather than sharing with others, we drain the earth of resources and fill the world with more hungry children.

When I was a journalist I used to go home at night and feel the need for a shower to rinse all the bad news off. Maybe that’s why I kept a slogan above my desk: “Today’s news is tomorrow’s kitty litter.”

You can become that to which you give your attention, whether its bad news, money, sex, or power. But here’s the good news: you can change that to which you pay attention, and you can do small acts to make things better in your corner of the world. Ethics, as Aristotle noted long ago, is what you do with your life, not what you say you will do. Excellence is a matter of habit, which you can practice day after day until your life is in tune with what you say you value. This is called integrity, and it seems in short supply these days.

It’s easy to lose hope these days, but that’s no way to live well (to live well, wrote Aristotle, is the purpose for living, and the title of this blog, Arete, which means roughly translated to flourish). Maybe this why I say to myself and students: “Live well and flourish.” That’s why I am here and what I hope for every person.

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Filed under Ethics, John C. Morgan, wisdom

Extend and Verify Voting Rights

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There seems to be a rather confusing debate raging in this country about voting rights. There are some who say every vote needs to be verified. There are others who say everyone should have the opportunity to vote. I think the confusion comes from viewing voting rights as an either/or issue rather than both/and.

Few of us, myself included, would argue that we don’t need to make sure every vote is from the person voting. And, few of us would argue that extending voting rights should be a national priority in a country with such poor voter turnouts.

The issues that arise seem more confused by those who claim they want to make sure every vote is legitimate but end up restricting voting when there are few voter frauds in any state. They are offering a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, even while the concept seems fair–making sure the person voting is actually the registered voter.

For someone like myself who supports the extension of voting rights in this country and who went South long ago to stand with those who had been denied those rights because of their race–and who also supports the need to make sure every voter is properly registered, I don’t see why we can’t see that both concerns are ethically and politically good for our democracy–extend the right to vote and make sure every vote is legitimate. Surely in a somewhat technologically advanced country such as ours we can figure out how to extend voting by having more than one day on which to vote, more online voting, more hours in which to vote, etc. At the same time, surely we can find ways to certify who is voting and provide persons with a card that will not require them to travel to a distant office to register.

I remember Ronald Reagan negotiating an arms deal with the Soviets and selling it by saying his motto was “trust and verify.” Surely we can do the same for the most basic of all rights: the right to vote. A vote is a terrible thing to lose.

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Filed under Ethics, Political philosophy

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

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(Photo by Cynthia Brink)

A picture is worth a thousand words (more or less).

This one haunts me since I saw it a day ago. It evokes deep and often personal meaning. Mine might not be the same as yours, but I suspect there are also some common themes we share. Use your imagination.

And, for once, I will let the photo rest and continue to haunt me. Maybe when I can find the words to express what I see and feel, I will get back to writing, if not a thousand words maybe a poem. But I suspect there are many levels of meaning here, some universal and others personal. Once upon a time a publisher took a quote of mine from one of my books and turned it into a book mark: “The truly personal may also be the truly universal.”

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Filed under Living an dying, Nature, Philosophy for Beginners, Poetry, seasons, Time, wisdom, Writers

My Favorite Garden Path

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I suppose I could name the pathway outside the old farmhouse in Northern Wales. But it wasn’t really a garden path, but like a journey through an imaginary forest to a walk to the river and past the remains of an old stone chapel. I return to that pathway in my mind’s eye from time to time when I need to feel the world slowing down and hear the sounds of the river. But it is not my favorite garden path.

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Perhaps this pathway is a better one, this leading across the college campus where I teach. But it is not my pathway even though I have crossed it many times, first as a student and now as a teacher. It’s familiar but not mine.

My favorite garden path, like most of what is really important for me, is a few steps away, outside my back door. I have searched for truth in many places and times, but only lately discovered the truth was as close as my breath or the garden outside.

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I know this pathway well. I have walked it quietly in the morning light, passing the statues of Buddha and Saint Francis. I have sat there in the morning sunlight welcoming a new day and in the evening as the dwindling sun signals the end of light. I have planted seeds and watched them mature, gifts from the earth back to me.

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And so today I pause for a minute of silence to give thanks for the garden pathway outside my back door, this sanctuary there before I was, in which I witness the miracle of life.

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Hope

The awards given to two human rights activists are signs of hope in a world that sometimes seems full of hopelessness. One, a Hindu and citizen of India, works to free children from inhumane workplace environments. The other, a citizen of Pakistan and follower of Islam, struggles to encourage and support young women to continue their educations.

In times of religious bigotry and political authoritarianism, it’s important to hold them up and however we can follow their examples, not just in other countries but our own.

It does matter what you believe and what you do with those beliefs. Judge others by what they say and do. Some will alleviate suffering, others add to it. Some will reach out to those excluded and include them; others will exclude others because of their religious or political views. Some will sow love, others hate. It’s not rocket science.

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Filed under Hope, Human rights, Justice, Philosophy and Ethics, wisdom

Two Great Words Can Change Your Life (and Maybe the World)

Practice compassion.

These two words can change your life (and if enough of us follow them, the world). Compassion is a value common in many world traditions. A version of this value has sometimes been called the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). I once counted fourteen different versions of this rule over three thousand years of human history.

Practicing compassion means showing kindness to yourself and to others. Jesus did not say, “love your neighbor” He said, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Buddha said to have compassion for all sentient beings, meaning more than humans. Too many think compassion extends to others but not themselves and they find themselves lost. Others believe compassion begins and ends with themselves; they often end lonely.

The trick is not just thinking about showing compassion, it is about practicing it. If you want to be a compassionate person, be kind of yourself–your mind, body and spirit. Then, practice compassion toward others, sometimes even those you do not like.

There are days when the most precious missing energy in the world is compassion. There are days when the planet seems inhabited by cruel and vindictive people. But they are not the whole story. There are those who quietly and without fanfare go about helping others and caring for themselves.

Mother Teresa reportedly said that if you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way. I would add, there are no small things if done with compassion.

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We’re Beyond 1984

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There are words that hold the hot fire of truth and burn within. These by the novelist George Orwell in his book 1984 won’t let go:

We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”
― George Orwell, 1984

When Orwell wrote these words the world still had wars and poverty and unspeakable acts of harm to one another, but it did not have one thing we do–instant communications, images available and shared instantly, every person as a reporter or photographer. Is there more violence today or do we simply know more about it and can’t avoid its images of horror? I’m not sure, but I am sure the world has become more interconnected and we know that truth every day. And these days we certainly have the power to destroy whole populations even the whole planet.

Because we are more bombarded with images and words, our brains have more trouble sorting them out. Therefore, in Orwell’s language, freedom means the “right to tell people what they do not want to hear. In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”

Here are a few truths we may not want to hear.

We are losing the democratic process in this country.Big corporations with big money buy elections and politicians. Voting is restricted. People don’t bother to vote. Congress doesn’t even vote on going to war.

The gap between the very rich and the rest of us is growing. We are losing the middle class, most of it becoming the new poor.

A great deal of misery in the world comes from true believers, either political or religious, who want to convert everyone else to their points of view by whatever means necessary.

Climate change is real and if we do not change our ways, we may lose everything.

We can change, but that requires a change of hearts and policies–and we are running out of time.

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Filed under Dr. John C. Morgan, Ethics, Philosophy and Ethics, wisdom