Monday, March 25, 2013

Steubenville: on Education and Social Responsibility

This Steubenville situation has me real fired up. The incredible disconnect of these boys and the witnesses to the violent sexual act is disturbing, at best. How can people be so disconnected from others' humanity that they don't see they are harming, violating, disrespecting, and abusing another human being?  Are we that self-involved and desensitized to humanity?  Are all human beings no longer worthy of respect? What is going on in our world? Are parents, teachers, leaders, no longer teaching the value of a person to our children?

This just bleeds into the broken education system in which we live. We need to nurture people's spirits, feed into children's souls, allow for their ultimate expression and care for it.  Let them be as they are and allow them to feel loved and appreciated, wholly. 

Demonstrate that appreciation so they can pass that on to others and see the value in each individual's contributions. 

We don't have that anymore.  Each person needs to de-"self"-themselves. Lose who they are to become a piece, an equal soldier in an army of conscious-less, spirit-less drones. (Teaching to the test? Pass/Fail to rate the quality of our schools and educators?)

Maybe this is the intersection, this disconnect, between artistic endeavors (our soul) and education and policy.  We remove passion and love and expression from our children's lives by not funding arts education, and by doing so, we tell our children that art is unimportant, that their soul dancing is irregular, unnatural, unacceptable, and their spirit soaring is an acrimonious violation of the social order. Their spark is diminished for the sake of conformity to a system… a well-oiled machine that needs to continue running, requiring its little workers to be one and the same, not alter the system so as to prevent it breaking. We can't handle change, difference, dissonance. We can't see the beauty in it.

But this system is already broken.  We teach children to remove their uniqueness, to learn to pass uniform exams, and we remove music and arts, the things that nurture their spirits and emotional intelligence, and replace them with basic, formulaic education, lacking creativity. Children no longer play with free minds, but rather desensitize through computers and gaming, numbing the frustration of an education that bores and discriminates. The system creates individuals so hardened that their hearts no longer see the hearts of others as beating, bleeding muscles of love and pain. They do not see that their touch, even their words, create gashes in the tissue… They do not see that it is life that exists around us and it is life they take through their coldness and disconnect.
Is empathy dead?

The reality is that we are socially responsible for each other. We are socially responsible to teach our children they are responsible for each other, that they exist in unison with their brothers and sisters. We are socially responsible to create a society with a living, beating, bleeding heart. This is our duty and where our responsibility lies.

The children in Steubenville that committed these horrific acts need to understand their actions for the harm they caused their sister, not for the negative consequences they receive themselves. Children need to learn of the humanity of others, awaken their hearts to their connection with this other person, and understand more deeply that the pain they feel about the status of their lives is tiny particle of a much greater pain, a drop in the ocean of pain suffered by the young woman they violated, and a mere hint of the pain experienced by the thousands of youth who suffer sexual violence every day. What they feel, others feel, and that can be their bridge to sharing in others' humanity. What she felt and feels today is an experience we all share in.

When one suffers, the whole suffers. We can't numb ourselves to this because in that numbness is where we lose our hearts, the heart of whole world, and we lose sight of our relationship and connectedness with every individual around us. We are one part of the whole. We cannot divorce that.

We are responsible for one another. We are all at fault here. And we are all empowered to change.

Friday, March 22, 2013

"Imaginary though it was, its influence affected her, for she was feeding heart and fancy..."

Fiction is not merely entertainment. It isn't fluff or an inane part of our existence that doesn't mean much for our lives. Fiction is part of our reality.  Why? Because fiction is how we experience life. Fiction is where we learn to experience emotions, and where we go to continue to experience them: to experience excitement when our life is dull, joy when our life is sad, pain when a release is needed. Fiction is regenerative. It is invigorating. Fiction truly matters in our lives because our experience of it keeps our hearts and minds awake, alert, and alive.

I realize that crying over the death of a beloved character in a favorite TV show may seem to some to be ridiculous and immature, but it is my personal and passionate opinion that it being fiction does not make it unreal. The reality of our lived experience of those emotions is not diminished because it is a story of characters that do not exist in our world. I may not have known this person as a real human being in my every day existence, but this character, this person, kept me company on certain evenings, told me stories for weeks, made me laugh with them, and gave me joy through her experiences of love and excitement. We traveled together through time as she grew and married and created a family. We may not live in the same realm or reality, but she gave me these experiences and joys and pains, and my experience of those feelings that I shared with her through her story is not any less real.

We often hear about how our reality is that which we create. How we perceive the world to be, and how we respond to it. Our reality is that which  we imagine and perceive.  At the end of the day, what we experienced, how we felt, what we went through--that is what is real. Therefore, these experiences through the fiction that we live through by reading them, hearing characters, and watching life unfold in shows and movies… these are part of our reality.  These are relationships we have built in our lives that we manage and maintain, that give us new experiences, and create in us real emotion and reactions.

You may ask why this is so? As discussed on the "On Being" podcast episode on fairy tales, we are able to experience fiction as real because these stories reflect our other realities. As Krista Tippet of "On Being" stated on "The Great Cauldron of Story: Maria Tatar on Why Fairy Tales Are For Adults Again," these stories carry plots "we endlessly re-work in the narratives of our lives--helping us work through things like fear and hope." When we experience joy or pain through watching or reading something, our body connects to a moment in time where that experience arose. We live that experience again… Anew.

Fiction, then, helps us learn how to manage our experiences by giving us new ones to live and work through, and guides us on how to live a better existence by fine-tuning and deepening our emotional experience. Do not diminish the experience of fiction in our lives.  Relish in it.  Don't hide when tears well up in your eyes as we are forced to say goodbye to a beloved storyline, or rejoice in the joy of a happy ending. Instead, appreciate the experience as a privileged chance to live more deeply, love more fully, explore your emotions, and grow your heart. See fiction as rehearsal--the practice part of what makes perfect. It is our tool. And our experience of it is not any less real than our experience of a friend or a parent, a sibling or a child, causing us pain or great joy.

"Late at night my mind would come alive with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world. I gave myself up to it, longing for transformation."
- Jo March, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 

Sunday, March 17, 2013


I won't say that today marks a new beginning... because every day is a new beginning.  We start fresh every day. In yoga, they say that our body is different every time, so to be open to what it has to offer each day and accepting of where it can go in that moment. Every moment is different. We are constantly changing energy.

So today, like every day, is a new beginning. The start of something new. The person I am today. And like Brené Brown teaches us, that is enough.

Today, I am taking on this new project to create this blog and share with others, opening up the space for safety and love.

   "As I began to love myself
     I freed myself of anything
     that is no good for my health
     -- food, people, things, situations,
     and everything that drew me down
     and away from myself.
     At first I called this attitude
     a healthy egoism
     Today I know it is

~ Charlie Chaplin