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My yard is populated with birds, squirrels, and an occasional deer. There are also some squatters that hang around: Rocco and Enrique, the raccoons, and Fred Sanford, the red fox I see once in a while. Inside, every so often, I’ve had to contend with Sid and Sylvia, the silverfish. And of course, Steve, the spider who lives behind the bathroom door.

Every last one of them thinks that this is THEIR house.

They look askance at me as I’m looking askance at them.

What are you doing in my home? we’re each thinking.

If we startle each other, both of us react in fear. I always try to capture bugs as opposed to having to squish them, but if they surprise me, I make no promises. As long as they respect my space, we can co-exist in peace. Isn’t it the same way with the world?

This is my country. What are you doing here? In this country that was founded by immigrants. Mind you, this land was already populated by native Americans. Religions all stake the same claim: We alone possess the truth. Abide by our rigid rules, or suffer the consequences! When we overlap, we tend to squish each other, talking louder, claiming the community’s shared space as our own.

Then there’s Grady the groundhog, who keeps finding a way back under my house despite a wildlife company trapping nine of his family members, sealing holes and installing underground fencing. It took him a while, but he found his way back in. I hear him knocking sometimes under my sunroom. We aren’t each others’ fans, but like religion and politics, if the best I can do is not burn down the house to get rid of a few pests, it’s a tiny step in the right direction.

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A news segment on airline mechanics who feel pressured to hurry through repairs or not do a thorough job was really eye-opening. Reporter Gayle King commented, ”It’s amazing how much trust we have in people we don’t know to do their jobs well.” But even when we realize we can’t do the job, we still need to eat. Pay for minor sundries like heat and electricity. And pay the note on the car that gets us to the job we can’t do anymore but don’t know why.

Then there are the choices we have to make when there is no other choice.

Like the length of time it took me to realize that I couldn’t see well enough anymore to get behind the wheel and drive. Then one day, I was coming out of my garage and said “Hi!” to my neighbor on his porch across the street, only to realize it wasn’t my neighbor at all. It was a life-sized scarecrow sitting in a rocking chair that they’d put on the porch as a Halloween decoration.

Okay. This has to stop, I told myself. But with that choice, a host of other daily choices were spawned. With no source of transportation once I took myself off the road, I’d have to rely on family and friends when they were available, but they had their own obligations. I ended up using a paid rideshare to get around.

Look into the eyes of the people you meet today. The ones who deliver your mail. Ring up your groceries. If the cashier gives you the wrong change, it may be because they’re dealing with pain you can’t see and are working through it. You’ve been there. Maybe you are there. Being patient with other human beings is the point of being human.

Is it possible to speak about heavy subjects and still keep a light spirit? I think so.

Due to my obvious adeptliness at the Inglish langwich, I give all of the household items around me pet names. My car is named Carrie (pronounced Kahr-ee), my plant is named Plantie, and my phone, for reasons I know savvy readers will understand, is named Really. (Get it? I knew you would!) Words. Yes. Words are my strong soot.

But I think we ought to do a deep dive into the words that people of faith use to describe themselves.

“Christian” really doesn’t apply when you weaponize your faith as a way of targeting people with other beliefs.

“Because it’s a part of history” isn’t reason enough to display symbols of bigotry like the confederate flag. History should be stored in a museum, properly placed into context and used to educate, not perpetuate hate.

“That’s how it’s always been done” isn’t justification for doing the wrong thing, this far into our civilization’s development. The point of evolution is to continue to improve, and not to stay stuck in an antiquated era, like it’s set in stone and society cannot move forward.

The fact that we get to hit the re-set button isn’t just a random occurrence. Every new day is a clean slate. We can learn from yesterday or live the same day, the same way.

PS All of the creative misspellifications in this post are intentional. Have a gud dae!

The blueberries I had with breakfast this morning were so big, they could’ve been plums-in-training! I was so amazed, I took a picture of them, putting them next to other fruit for perspective.

Now, you could look at that blueberry and say, Sure, you’re big for a blueberry, but why can’t you be as big as this Mandarin orange? Or this Pink Lady apple?

Berries can’t conform to dimensions they can’t possibly live up to. Why should they? They’re perfect for what they are.

It might seem like we’re in a big race with each other, based on the fact it’s called “the human race,” but that’s not the case. We’re all running, or walking, or meandering on our own pathway.

It’s never helpful to say, “Why can’t you be like the other…”:

  • Students
  • Siblings
  • Employees
  • Believers
  • Writers
  • Runners
  • People somewhere in the world

Those others can do this thing well. Why can’t you?

Comparing is actually a passive-aggressive way of trying to control others, as well as a quick-and-dirty way of deciding how to treat people. If you believe someone is not trying their best, you feel justified in mistreating them.

Remember: it’s how you treat those you consider “the least among us” that really shows the world who you are.

You can’t possibly know God if you don’t treat people with respect. That’s across the board. Even the people you think aren’t trying.

If you’re doing your best, why not assume others are as well? It might not be your best, but it may be the best they can do right now. And who knows? One day they might catch up and even surpass you. They’ll remember you were kind to them as you raced past. Maybe they’ll even offer you a Gatorade and some freakishly large blueberries!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Looking for a picture to go along with this post, I typed in the search term, “Golden Rule.” The result was the picture you see here: a ruler placed on a golden background. Oh, dear. Could it be that the younger generation has never heard this term before? Is it not being taught anymore?

Here’s a little pun. Maybe in 2020, everyone will miraculously wake up with perfect vision. Even if we still have to wear glasses, there must be a way to fine-tune our vision to see that the words we say have lasting impact. If we all woke up on January 1st and made the resolution to speak kindly to everyone, we’d be looking at a whole new world.

Last week, UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi went viral with this exuberant routine that earned her a perfect 10, but she had once quit the sport altogether. Nobody knew her struggle behind the scenes. Fans would tell her she “wasn’t good enough” or “didn’t look a certain way” and when she gained weight, she was compared to a “bird that couldn’t fly.” With fans like that, who needs enemies?

I gave up on social media this week after I realized its net effect (another pun!) on my psyche was negative more often than positive. It seems to be standard operating procedure for most to mock and provoke people who don’t see things the way they do.

If something or someone in your life isn’t building you up, it may be tearing you down. Let it go. You’ll lighten your own load and see the world more clearly.

With all the divisions in the world – in politics, between countries, even in families – it shouldn’t be surprising that there are those who believe we should eliminate the population of certain species to save other ones.

There’s author Jonathan Franzen, who believes that cats should be killed, since they kill birds. Then there are the scientists who have created a robot designed to kill the starfish that kill coral reef, so that the coral reef can provide food for other species (which, I assume, would also end up killing coral reef.) Others say that the starfish are a symptom and the real problem is port activity and pollution caused by humans. I don’t think any of us would vote for eliminating humans to save the coral reef!

On a more sinister note, there are those who truly believe whole groups are inferior to their own people. The Rohingya in Myanmar have been the focus of a genocide carried out by the country’s military. Leader Aung San Suu Kyi (a former Nobel Peace Prize laureate, yet) said recently that “the situation could have been handled better” but that “we have to be fair to all sides.” Hmm. Where have we heard that before?

We’re so used to looking through our own lens that we might not even really see each other anymore. Just a reflection filtered through our own worldview.

I can’t believe it even needs to be said, but what do you say we take “extermination of entire populations” off the table, across the board? Of cats, of starfish. Certainly of people. Of others who espouse a different political ideology or religion. Let’s all agree to this basic idea, and with any luck, eventually, we’ll work our way back to the Golden Rule.

Journalist Sarah Jeong was recently named to the New York Times Editorial Board, and since that announcement, her past provocative tweets (for example: “#CancelWhitePeople”) have made the news. She said she’d been attacked online repeatedly by racists and misogynists and had used obnoxious tweets as a way of “counter-trolling” the trolls.

This reminds me of the time I overheard one of my son’s friends using a racial epithet. I barged into the room and reiterated my house rules. “Listen. I don’t care if you guys use expletives when you’re in the heat of a video game. But here in this house, there are three words I never want to hear. The ‘F’ word (pejorative for a gay person). The ‘R’ word (pejorative for an intellectually disabled person). The ‘N’ word (pejorative for an African American.) Those words are only ever used to hurt. They’re weapons. If I hear you use them once, twice, I’ll warn you. Three times, you’re out of here. That’s your first warning, son.”

The boy was instantly remorseful and told me that he was just kidding. He’d meant no harm. My son said, “It’s okay Ma, he was just trolling. Everybody knew he didn’t mean it.”

That was my first exposure to Troll Culture. A kind of over-the-top, so-outrageous-it-should-be-obvious-I’m-joking way of interacting. The Columbia Journalism Review explores the trend through the lens of “the largest fault line within journalism today: the one between journalists who have grown up on the internet, and the media organizations who haven’t.” (Please note: the article contains offensive language.)

At the end of the day, when you troll people – even if somebody trolled you first – you’re still a troll. Using the tactics of those who want to disparage or even destroy you makes you no better than they are.

Fashions come and go, so maybe it will become fashionable again to take the high road. Instead of rolling around in the mud with our detractors, we’ll decide clean living is much better for the soul – and for the world at large.

In my heart and mind, I know Langston Hughes said it right.  I just wish that I had memorized his words.  Not long ago, a friend asked us why our church has a green committee.  What on earth does environmentalism have to do with

Heart beat.

Cricket.

Mute confusion.

Finally after far too long I pulled together a coherent answer.  Caring for the environment is part of God’s call to mankind to be stewards of the earth.  Not exploiters.  Stewards.  That involves care and awareness.

But environmentalism also has to do with social justice.  The poor and exploited are the ones at risk of not having clean water, healthy food and an environment that isn’t actively killing them.  Do unto others.  Love your brother.  Take care of the earth.

For me, they are all strands of faith.  But, like I said, too bad I didn’t have this poem memorized.

–SueBE

Being trolled by a fan seems an oxymoron, but reading SueBE’s post about opposite day, I was reminded of author George RR Martin. Game of Thrones fans have been trolling him to stop living the high life and finish the last book already.

My theory is that Martin has no intention of finishing the series, because once he does, fans may forget about him. Even if they seem to be holding him in contempt, they’re still holding onto him. I guess it’s better to hear invective than to be invisible. Also, there’s the very real possibility that he’s got “you’re-not-the-boss-of-me” syndrome. Fans yell at him to finish the book? He’ll show them. Not gonna do it.

There are sycophants, and then there are psycho-phants. Star Wars fans? Trolling actors to the point that they leave social media? What is wrong with this picture?

In the same way, when you bully someone for being a bully, you’re now part of the problem. We’ve got deep divisions in this country right now, extending all the way to the dining table. There are Washington DC restaurants in the news for refusing to serve political operatives with whom they disagree. I suppose they have the right not to serve any patron. And anyway, wouldn’t you rather know someone hates your guts before they’re alone in a back room with your food?

Still, there must be a better way to make a point that to heckle each other in this way. Fighting fire with fire just leads to a big conflagration. Sooner or later, someone’s going to get burned.

Travel guru, Rick Steves, tells the story of why he decided to donate his retirement “nest egg” to house homeless women and children. In the 90s, he decided to buy a building complex to help the community. In time, the buildings became uninhabitable due to mold.

“To me, this was actually good mold. God was in that mold. After much thought the right move became clear. I’d tear down the duplexes and replace them with four­plexes, doubling the people I could house and creating a little community I’d call Trinity Way.”

God was in that mold.

Today, I had to contact a company’s customer service about an issue, and I felt myself tensing as I was talking. I had to remind myself that the outcome would not have been improved had I screamed at the representative on the phone.

In the end, I’d say that I wasn’t completely calm, but I didn’t blow my stack. The best I could achieve was to be tight but polite. And that was enough in that moment. Tight but polite.

In Don Miguel Ruiz’ The Four Agreements, he writes:

“Always Do Your Best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.  Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.”

In the case of Rick Steves’ vision to house the homeless, maybe that mold was an obstacle that led to a miracle. A blockage that turned into a blessing. Things may not always go as you’ve planned, but sometimes detours lead to a better destination.

Heading into the new year, just a gentle reminder that, no matter who we meet, we’re always talking to God in human form. Sometimes, he even morphs into mold.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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