Being ‘Right’ – or Being Yourself – and Be Human

For a long time I have thought about and observed what people do, what they think, what they fear at times, what makes them cry, what makes them laugh – and I have the strong impression that in many cultures emotion, as a concept, and emotions as individual ‘moving aspects’ in life are highly underestimated.

Partly, any culture in the world has its own rules about what is accepted behaviour and which emotions are acceptable to display. Often there are differences between the sexes in these rules. In patriarchal societies, very often for women to become angry or furious, enraged and loud, is considered ‘unladylike’, at least. In former times, women often were condemned for being crazy and eventually were locked up.

On the other hand for men, being sensitive and easily moved to tears in such societies can mean to be considered disturbed of mind or at least a ‘problematic case’.

We have come a long way, partly because psychology and its insights helped. Partly, because social scientists looked closer at those rules. Because people ask and asked questions and started doubting customary ‘truths’.

We know more about what is human, what is perhaps just this ‘little wonderful difference’, that the famous French saying puts so nicely into perspective.

But many people out there believe, that everybody should be more or less the same, do more or less the same things and then will live happily and healthily ever after.
This is not true. Although we are human beings and there exist lots of similarities, as regards cultural tradition, region of birth and upbringing, gender and family – yet in detail each and everyone of us is as unique as their fingerprints.

As a renowned food chemist put it (paraphrase):
“Many health rules are built like this: When they started researching who had the healthiest feet in the country and then found that such people usually wore size 32 shoes, they made it a rule that everyone should wear size 32 shoes. But if your feet are bigger, this rule won’t fit you.”

Therefore it can be very important, to observe these two things:
Learn more about emotions, as Daniel Goleman called it first, develop your EQ, the emotional intelligence, as opposed to the IQ. The IQ tests certain functions of the brain, bluntly put, analytical thinking.
But humans are more complex than just their IQ results. For quite some time, IQ tests are ‘out of fashion’, and rightly so.

Another problematic ‘fashion for behaviour’, for ‘personality traits’, if any, in certain countries, especially in polite society, for centuries, has been taken from business:
be always cool, calm and collected so as not to appear too eager about a deal.
This almost inhuman dictum may well be at the root for many apparent ‘disorders’ being diagnosed these days, in children or adults.

Secondly, question rules that force you to be, or feel, or behave outwardly what you do not feel inside, at all.
If people have been treated with electric shock therapy for certain ‘mental disorders’ in the past century, it is a ‘shocking’ way to reveal the underlying dogma:
be right, be like everyone else, otherwise you will be ‘made to fit in’.

Another fine simile for this is the story of the farmer, who thought it might be interesting to put a piglet in a box so it would grow into a square pig. That worked nicely.
But one day, the farmer opened the box to take his square pig to market – and with a little ‘plop’ it rounded out again and was natural and pig-like.

So, I think, find out what and how you are, apart from the general rule or rules and be true to yourself, to become human and perhaps healthier than ever before.

Athena – the Goddess of Wisdom, War and Craftsmen in Greek Mythology

Athena, goddess of wisdom, war and crafts in Greek mythology, brought to life again…in a manner of speaking.

Why ‘real’ – or ‘true to life’, when talking about ‘mythology’? Which in the tradition of almost all peoples around the globe is a ‘myth’ to begin with, something like a ‘highbrow fairy story’?

Of Greek mythology it can be said particularly well that it was built, based on what was common in the society at the time:
life, love and war or parents and children, brothers and sisters. Kings, queens, gods and peasants, they figured in it, fought, won, lost, loved and hated just as human beings did – and do.

As a child I encountered the German retold stories of Greek mythology ‘en vogue’ then. I didn’t like the style. It seemed cramped and rather bent on trying to provide a sense of blind worship for the old traditions. Typical among those that seem to hold anything of ancient Greece in highest regard without checking twice – or real understanding and a broader view.

Still, recently I came across a documentary about the Greek myths that not only was colourful, consists of more than 20 parts – but also seems true to ‘life’.

The second time after reading Joachim Fernau, historian, of hotly debated, enlightened approach, who yet successfully made ancient history come to life in his books on Roman or Greek mythology and history.
Colourful, too, great fun to read, with real insight.

Athena, the Modern Woman?

Athena is particular to me because she seems to represent a figure as a woman I feel I can relate too:
not perfect, but well-liked, desired even, yet not easily taken in – or had. She fights only in order to make more peace.
She sprang from the head of her father Zeus, reigning god of Greek mythology,  at birth, also a striking way to come to life: a father’s thought or idea…

She failed once dreadfully when killing her sister in a sparring fight, where her father Zeus interfered at the last minute, blinded her sister momentarily to weaken her and thus makes Athena kill her sister accidentally.
A little background here makes it clearer:
‘Pallas’ had been her uncle Poseidon’s daughter in the tales, but both had been raised and felt like sisters. That Zeus would interfere at all, in the tales was due to an old rivalry between his brother Poseidon and himself.

That’s apparently why she is called ‘Pallas Athena’ on most statues or scrolls or in texts: she put the name of her beloved sister in front of her own to remind and be reminded for the rest of her life.

She is protective goddess of all crafts, close to arts and although I am not a craftswoman as such, I like many crafts very well, such as knitting, crocheting, or cooking.

Wisdom, last but not at all least of the main characteristics and responsibilities of her as a figure in the tales:
wisdom is dear to me and I try to attain more, as the years pass  by, always have held in it in high regard.

Wisdom and knowledge are not the same thing by a long chalk. But experience and a kind heart, as well as knowledge are the best possible bases for wisdom to come – sometimes sooner, sometimes later.

Non-violently ‘fight’ for peace, be wise, do not let them fool you and look your fellow-man – literally and figuratively – squarely in the eye, yet remember also about love or passion, quality-wise, instead of quantity: that’s what this image means to me in a nutshell. Athena.

Stereotypes – Images – Mistaken Judgement

In literature and philosophy one of the things you learn at an early stage is, to look beyond the obvious.
Or that which is apparently obvious.
The great works of art, especially in poetry, often have layers of meaning to them. And not just one or two layers. But several, in many cases.

In life, this kind of knowledge can be crucial: that the surface, the apparently obvious, the first impression, the things you hear and see with the ‘naked eye or ear’ can be completely misleading.
This fact is made use of in marketing: use images and ideas that are easy to grasp, are part of common knowledge and that way, sell – chocolate, cars, or clothes.

That’s why advertisements are often full of stereotypes, such as the wonderful housewife and mother. The cool and always superior father, the cute kids, who never complain, except when chocolate is becoming scarce… and so on, and on…

Why is this misleading, though? Aren’t there cute kids around? Aren’t there wonderful housewives and mothers? Or the superior father – not to say passionate lovers?
Of course there are!
But they are not always the only thing to know about or the most important aspect of a person.

Stereotypes exist everywhere and are almost countless.

A particularly impressive because very colourful one, connected with heaps of imagery and at the same time so easily dismantled is that of the passion of Spanish natives as opposed to that of the average European, supposed to be far more sedate in outlook:
bluntly put, unfortunately, that’s just complete bullshit.

Why, again?
What the emblematic image conjures up in the mind is the Flamenco dancer, clapping, stomping, scowling, accompanied by apparently fierce musicians strumming the guitar and the sad, sometimes fierce songs of, among other sources, the gypsies in Spain. They had been chased and abused for centuries and Flamenco, so the legend has it, expresses their fight for life.

The Flamenco as well as other dances considered to be passionate, such as the Tango or the Rumba, has seen for decades now a new appreciation and recognition in countries such as Switzerland or Germany.
Where people are considered to be less passionate, than in other regions of the world.
How is it possible then that among the famous and even in Spain recognized Flamenco dancers, there is a Swiss woman?

Because people take preconceptions and stereotypes for granted. They do not look beyond the image, the impressions, eye and ear seem to convey apparently.

But the truth is: we only understand and recognize what we know.
If our knowledge is marked by stereotypes, stereotypes is what we will see and find.

And that is a great pity!
The above example about apparently passionate as opposed to less passionate human beings is a striking one to make the point:
if we believe in it, the really passionate nature in ourselves, wherever we’ve been raised – and other more subtle aspects of people around us, may completely escape us!

So, go beyond stereotypes! Find the truth, not just the image!

 

Pluralism – Tolerance – Life or: Why It is Difficult at Times to Accept the Other

For quite some time now, research about peace and how to keep it has been going on, at least since WW II, one of the most dreadful catastrophes mankind has seen.

Among the most important aspects are these two, which actually are two sides of a coin:
pluralism and tolerance.
They seem easy in theory, but everyday practice shows they are not. Why?

Because it is human to be afraid or at least intimidated by what is different from ourselves. To judge – and more importantly – feel judged by the ‘other’. The concept, idea, shape or, simply, behaviour that is different from what we are used to.

In ancient times so research seems to confirm, this point of view was a lifesaver: trust only what is the same, difference can be dangerous. Apparently animals still act that way: any smell, colour and shape different from their own seems a danger.

Yet, there are details that can make all the difference: animals that are smaller, insignificant, or have a smell that is considered neutral, may be ignored altogether.

This points to something that makes the whole idea even more poignant:
The other is only made an issue of, if it is not just different – but when it appears to be dangerous!

Unfortunately, this is true for human behaviour too:
Most of the times human beings start fighting, on smaller or larger scales, they do so because they feel endangered.

Xenophobia is the ancient Greek term for the behaviour that is at the root of these situations: the fear of the stranger, the other, the dangerous one.

Peaceful coexistence, if aimed at, needs these few ideas:

  • Remember that with self-esteem and the realization of being human and thus imperfect comes more security by feeling adequate.
  • Start getting to know yourself better to help self-esteem along.
  • Stop thinking that feeling insecure or inadequate is something bad – or very singular. It’s human to feel afraid sometimes, to feel inadequate or insecure. Deal with it.
  • Do not try to feel more secure by making others smaller, in deed, or in words.
  • Most importantly: try to cross the boundaries, get to know the ‘other’ on safe grounds – and start relishing what plurality has to give.

This is the high road to peace – and more respect, for yourself and for others.

Religious Books, Truth, Knowledge – and the Fellow Being!

Religious books these days are taken as basis to judge people. As if people following Islamic traditions were equal to what is found in the Koran.
As if every Christian you can meet would be exactly the way the bible states.

A more stupid approach cannot be imagined: people who study religion for a living, who are either university fellows or academics in the field of one religion or even religions as a subject, will tell you how contradictory the bible can be in only ‘one book’.
Take the old and the new testament and place them side by side and find out what values are purported there:
you will be amazed.

Compare Versions and Ages

Take the Koran and study its Suras and find out how many of them are really applicable to modern life.
How much of it was dependent on living conditions and then recent changes ~1400 years ago!

There have been researchers who found that society before it was not only matriarchal – which basically means, women were considered to be the most important members of society and the ones who were free to choose their ‘mate’ when and how they thought fit.
It is said they would suspend a little bouquet of herbs in a certain place at their house’s front door to indicate to the current partner that he was free to leave because they had found someone else.

These researches are still in dispute among the traditional scientists of these fields. Some people would perhaps refute them just because they cannot bear the idea that things could have been so much more in favour of women.

Be that as it may: matriarchy and matrilinear societies and religions exist to this day. Matriarchy as the earliest form of society has been established!

To this day, in Jewish religion, the religious membership of a newborn is determined by the membership of the mother: is the mother a Jew, the newborn will be too.

Findings

What I am driving at with all this:
Religious books or scrolls are just that: books, with a partly very long established tradition of reading and interpreting them in the respective religious body.
Historians and social scientists were among the first who dared looking for the truth behind it.

And if you do only for a few minutes around Europe with the bible, as I suggested above, and afterwards go into the ‘streets’ of your home town and try and find people that are like that… I’ll hand it to you!

So, stop comparing the Koran with people living in the Islamic tradition. And stop trying to make out that the bible was always the only truthful basis for the human rights act – in other words:
know them by their deeds!

The Art of Making Mistakes and Yet Thrive: Try Again!

There’s no shame in failure, only in not trying again. (Henry Ford)

Many quotes similar to this have been attributed to Henry Ford. The image of the proverbial entrepreneur is associated with him.

Regardless of this being really his own words – I have found them to be quite true in the course of my life.

In a number of cultures, the strict rules we grow up with as children can create the impression that making mistakes can lead to serious consequences. During education the consequences of a mistake or an error are often painted in very dark and sinister colours. This method often is used to make children and adolescents better understand that consequences should be taken into account before acting.

The concept of Yin and Yang is often used to describe the fact that nothing and no human being is just one thing – or another.
Black – or white. But both, more often than not.
In some ways this is true.
The Chinese concept itself is a little more complex.

In order to find out what concept helps understanding life and human beings as well as situations wholly and thus truthfully, and so make our ideas reliable, the Yin-Yang-concept is not sufficient.

To make it clearer and yet easy to understand, I like to use the image of the kaleidoscope: most situations, people and even mistakes are not one- or two-sided, but rather multi-faceted, that is:
colourful!
Therefore, to be afraid of a mistake can also be the result of not looking at the whole picture. Of all the pros and cons a situation, a person or especially a mistake can have.

Basically, as the quote above also shows, not trying again is the real shame. And not seeing what is true, but jumping to conclusions.
I’ve posted about this in another context before.

If we slip on a banana peel, fall and get hurt, we pick ourselves up. We attend to the scratches – and we may notice in the event that the slip has prevented us from running across the street, without watching out for the van that might have killed us.

That is a simple example of what I mean:
Get up, try again – and see if there aren’t upsides after all!

Tolerance – or: Accept the Other by Looking Beyond the Image

When we work or live together, everyday life can be made difficult by disagreements, arguments or even serious quarrels, with misunderstandings at the bottom of them, very often.
What can help to solve this all-to-common occurrence? How can we get past petty arguments and self-righteousness to allow for a broader view and deeper understanding?

Listen to Your Peers

This sounds like easy advice but it isn’t. In everyday life, we are busy and these days internet and digital devices are everywhere. With work, family and friends demanding our full attention most of any day, it can get difficult to really listen; pay attention to what is being said, and what a person may even not say, but what is still there.

Identify Guilt and Get It Over With

Why should we identify it – or even assume it’s there?
In most countries and cultures around the globe the expected conduct, behaviour and rules of the community are strict, especially when listened to closely. Some more than others. But this strictness, these rules, between people, between parents and children, between lovers, between husband and wife, between friends – lead to easy and repeatedly felt emotions of guilt in the sense: “I did not follow the rule. I behaved or acted inadequately. Or seem to have. That is bad.”
After such, often not completely conscious thoughts, the next step in such chains of thought is:
“I have to prove myself. I have to contradict the other person, to make clear that I am good.”
With this the defensiveness sets in, anger enters the conversation, and mutual accusations of what the other person got wrong, will follow.

How can that be got over?

It cannot completely, because we are human beings and we live in this world and have been raised to certain standards and beliefs.
It can be relieved, though.
Because if we are ready to see the whole picture, we may teach ourselves and thus our surroundings, forgiveness.
Based on the realization, that we all at times have differing needs, even in the same family, not to say across cultures. That this difference of need and emotion can lead to excitement and even anger – and we are still good at heart!
Because, just as much as we are trying to do our best and occasionally fail – so do the others.

Look Beyond the Image

What image? And why look beyond one?
Culture, education, upbringing and history of our respective countries shape our idea of the world, of what is acceptable behaviour, what is not.
Women and men are usually supposed and expected to act or behave or talk in a certain manner. If that manner is markedly different from our expectations, we start wondering, why and how – and very often jump to conclusions based on what we learned so far.
That is the image: what we have learned, what we expect, and what these presuppositions actually let us see – or miss.

So, in this sense, looking beyond the image means: realize what the values are that you learned, which of them you actually live by – and what could be different, in the other person.

Accept the ‘Other’ as such – different, not better, not worse, just different, in most cases. And, sometimes the most difficult task of all: accept yourself!

Tolerance

With this comes tolerance:
A wonderful word, to my mind, it encompasses the concept of allowing for variety – of being open-minded, and accepting that not everyone is the same as we are, at least in detail, and that this fact is – and thus the other person is – welcome.

Trust – and How to Build It

Trust is crucial, is precious and not always easily found.

If we trust a person, we may feel a little as if there was a rock around we can rely on,  eternal almost, always there. Someone we could talk to about what moves us. Someone who would not use us or our emotions, perhaps. Who’s there when the times get tough, or who we know will tell us the truth, no matter what. About themselves – or about us.

Trust is not always ready-made, but can be built. But how to build it? What is it, really?

I recently came across a video by a speaker of the TEDx series of talks. As far as is known to me from research, the series and the organization are independent of any ideology or creed. And the sole purpose is to provide  a platform for people to exchange ideas. Although the speaker’s and my life’s choices are completely at odds, I admire her talk, her way of getting the concept across, and ultimately, providing a sound idea of how to build trust. As I think she has put it in a nutshell, I like to share it here:

The Church, Crime, Creation and the Freedom of Choice

The recent years brought to light something that is as disturbing and dreadful as it is tragic for many people: the Catholic church unearths more and more details about abuse that has been going on behind its walls at least for decades, if not much longer.

So far it seems, bringing to light and the first apologies by bishops and the Pope himself have been first steps to acknowledge what in fact is criminal behaviour in a religious body.

It could make people, who attribute a value to that faith as well as that particular belief, despair, of the church as well as religion or even life.

One is tempted to ask, why do we need a church at all? Or a religion, for that matter?
I think, Erich Fromm was right in stating that religion is an expression of the yearning for transcendence in man (and woman). Transcendence of life and the sometimes hard to explain pain and suffering we see every day.

I have been a Christian in my time – and in some ways where people grow up and are raised, the respective history and prominent religious orientation of a society are important for mind and thinking – the frame of mind of a human being.

In this context modern Christians could be tempted to despair because the message in the later part of the bible, the gospel is focused on neighbourly love. On goodness and on God’s grace for all that have sinned on the day of resurrection.

This made Dostoevsky in one of his great novels, “The Brothers Karamazov” ask, how it could be that a gracious and judicious God could allow suffering, and especially the suffering of innocent children.

To me, one of the most wonderful answers to this almost eternal question has been given by John Steinbeck in “East of Eden”. The main character one day realizes that his faithful Chinese servant of many years is not only highly educated but a scholar. His servant tells him that after studying the bible in its common English translation and the Hebrew original, and especially the chapter Genesis, whose interpretation modern Western society is based on to a great extent, he found one sentence particularly striking and its interpretation crucial to what was going on in a great part of mankind.
‘Thou shalt go forward into the world and rule it and subdue it…’

Quoting Steinbeck’s text from memory at this point: he goes on to say that after years of study, he found the verb ‘shalt’ had been wrongly translated from the Hebrew and instead of ‘shalt’ it should be ‘mayest’.
From this would come the realization, that God hadn’t just entrusted his creation to mankind in a sense of commandeering action and correcting human errors himself where necessary.

Rather, the term ‘mayest’ encompasses the idea, that – human beings are also entrusted with choice – the choice between good and evil – every day.

To me this is the most important answer to any wrongs, crimes, pain, cruelty and suffering we may observe or go through: there is always some choice a human being can make, in any situation.

Many people due to this special context grow up in the firm and mistaken belief that someone else is responsible for their deeds, be they good or bad.
They feel and behave even as grown-ups not much differently from childhood: a little ashamed now and again they still think, breaking the rules cannot be too bad, if no one finds out – or no one complains.

This idea of choice is also the idea of personal freedom in this sense: ultimately any choice we make, is ours. Whatever way we decide.

It is responsibility, for creation, for our neighbour, for ourselves.

Freedom of Choice.

Human Rights, Extremists and Rudyard Kipling – Can the ‘Twain’ Ever Meet?

Rudyard Kipling in his poem ‘The Ballad of East and West’ put it in his famous phrase: ‘East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.’
His idea was that the differences were too great to ever be fully reconcilable. The term reconcilable in turn stems from ‘reconciliation’, something two or more parties at war would do…

These modern times see the discussion going on just as forcefully, opinionated and to some extent just as wrongly prejudiced as Kipling was. He also was the poet laureate who coined the phrase of the ‘white man’s burden’. It’s another way of saying that ‘the West’ actually has an obligation and a duty to go elsewhere into the world and teach ‘them’ there what life should be like and how to think and feel.

The prejudice this idea is based on of course means: here (in Europe, the West, US) ‘we’ know all about it, are always right and could not accept another point of view because the truth is to be found here.

The ‘devil’ in such ideas lies in two things:

  • That there exists one real truth only.
  • That there are whole countries or regions filled with tribes or people who have to be taught what is right. In former times: to be religiously converted in a ‘mission’.

This is actually the same principle ‘the other side’ employs when influencing simpler minds into attacking and killing people, or go to war.
The propaganda for centuries has been the same:
Find an image in the ‘other’ that is harmful, problematic or even dangerous, paste it up, make it look shiny and ‘red’, present ‘the enemy’ in the most gruesome colours and then take up the weapons and march.

A very simple and core argument today is in judging Islamic terrorists by the fact that allegedly ‘they’ have the fierceness written into their religion, namely the Koran contains suras that explicitly ask its followers to go to war or kill. Although this is true – here comes the interesting and even more simple fact:
Terrorism sanctioned by the government is called just – war.

More importantly, if we take the human rights act and lay it beside the allegedly worthy, because peaceful bible, that is taken as proof that the West is worthier still, we may be astonished: the bible has many parts in it that are just as fierce, ‘bloody’ and dangerous to simple minds than any possible counterpart in the Koran. I just like to bring up the ‘eye for an eye’ phrase as an example.

If you want to understand and truthfully judge, how people think and live in a majority of a culture, you do not just take up their religious book and make an equation.

You start to understand this:

  • Living, breathing and caring people are all around the world. They very often have very similar dreams about a peaceful life that contain love and reasonable wealth.
  • The propaganda is the same – in basic fact – around the world, in words as well as in deeds. Using simple concepts and even simpler wording to ‘drive people crazy’ – and into torture or killing.
  • Putting your own view of the world ‘up there’ as the only truth that has value and should be adhered to, namely be self-righteous, is the starting point of any narrow-mindedness and ultimately may lead to war just as easily.

If we want to really change the world, let’s start at our own door: open it to let different point-of-views in and thus different kinds of people from around the globe and try and understand, that many things can be differentiated and sometimes difficult – but they are certain to be exciting and fruitful, not to say beneficial too. Because variety is what makes life colourful!