Monday, April 26, 2010

The Best

The best are like water, bringing help to all without competing, choosing what others avoid, dwelling with earth, thinking with depth, helping with kindness, speaking with truth, governing with peace, working with skill, moving with time.

Lao Tzu
Can it be said any more clearly than it was by this ancient Chinese philosopher? He wasn't just addressing the good people, he was addressing the best people.

Bringing help to all without competing. On the way back from the market with two bags of grocieies I tripped and fell face down on the sidewalk. I was immediately surrounded by three young boys and one adult. They came from different places but set right to work gathering up my groceries. The man helped me to stand up. Each of the boys held out a bag to me with everything put back into it. The third boy had rescued my hat. When they saw I was standing and okay, I thanked them and off they ran. I thanked the man who said "No problem" and he disappeared. Who did the best job of helping me? Who cares?

Choosing what others avoid. "In my pocket not a penny, and my friends, I haven't any. It's mighty strange, without a doubt, nobody knows you when you're down and out." That's an old song but it's words are still new. In the city the homeless sleep in boxes if they're lucky. In the Winter they try to sleep over the grates, because warm air comes up there. If they are fortunate enough to get into the subway they will sleep in less traveled subway stations. On my way back home one night on the Number 1 train, as it stopped at 135th Street I saw many people, wrapped in blankets, sleeping like windrows on a dark end of the subway platform.

I know what it is to be down and out, with not a penny and not a friend, sleeping in strange places and being avoided. Walking from work one morning I saw a man asleep in a nook on the side of a building. I woke him and asked him if he could sit up. He did, and then he stood up. He smelled bad but not of alcohol. I gave him $5 and told him to get some breakfast. He was grateful.

Dwelling with earth. We recently celebrated Earth Day. It strikes me as a redundancy. All it really does is to remind people of the need to take better care of the planet we live on. And it comes about as a result of some good people becoming aware of the damage civilizations have been doing to the Earth for centuries. There is a great fear of never being able to turn back the outrageous destruction and pollution to the natural environment that have taken place over the years and particularly over the last 100 years. And it's all based on a presumed stewardship. We divide up the land, hold deeds to it, raise live stock, cut down forests, build cities all under the theory that we own the Earth. But the Earth owns us, and nature could do away with the human race in a puff of smoke if it wanted to. Could you blame it?

Thinking with depth. We are a nation of freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of the press. And along with those freedoms comes the freedom to think for ourselves, the one freedom least likely to be embraced by the average individual. Why do we turn off the thinking mechanism when we go to work or turn on the TV? Why do we garbage out the garbage that has been put in by other non thinkers? What happened to reason? And why don't we demand from our so-called thinkers a higher degree of reason and wisdom? Why do we listen to bromides instead of ideas? What's wrong with being an intellectual? There are many things that need to be thought about very deeply.

Helping with kindness. Two of the nastiest traits humans are capable of are cynicism and irresponsibility. It is so easy to shrug off one's potential ability to aid in soothing and healing the troubles of the world. When John Brown was out in front of the fight against slavery people gave him money but otherwise he was essentially by himself. As soon as he died the country filled up with abolitionists. Where were they when he was alone in the battle?

It is estimated that about 1,000 children die every day in Africa from starvation. One can say that the organizations that are trying to help are never going to stop that from happening so why bother. I give money for that and other causes when I can. So do many people. But is it enough? What more can I do to help those on the front lines of that fight? It's not easy but it requires letting go of any sense of haplessness and criticism. It requires being constantly aware that there are continuously desperate situations in the world and that as citizens of the world we must bear some degree of responsibility for seeing that they are being taken care of.

Speaking with truth. It takes courage to speak the truth. People don't want to hear the truth. They would rather hear fantasies and lies. But worse than that they will seek to silence those that are honest. I like the quote that says if you tell the truth you better have one foot in the stirrup. Truth is a very dangerous thing to some people. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake, as were many other people, for telling the truth, but in his case they were so frightened of what he would say on his way to his execution and even when tied to the stake that they made a special wooden devise to put in his moth to prevent him from uttering a word.

People aren't sent to the stake these days, at least not in this country, though there are some neighborhoods where you might get shot to death for telling the truth, but there are some people who have become known as whistle-blowers and snitches who lose their jobs, can't get hired and are denied some benefits. Is that any reason for not telling the truth? It should not be. The lesson is, if you want to be honest, be careful.

Governing with peace. This country has been at war almost every year since before it was a nation. Why should that be? Why is the history of the world written in wars? It seems that there is a war or the threat of war going on some place in the world all the time. There is one group of people trying to destroy another group of people somewhere. It appears in many cases that when one political party comes to power it sets out to capture, torture and destroy the other party. What has put the human race into such a degrading ethical level that it can't think of anything but armed conflict? Why can't we step back and say that the purpose of government is to provide the best possible life for it's citizens and deal harmoniously with it's neighbors, then let it do that and help it along? And why can't governments accept that mandate and act accordingly? It just seems to me that many of the governments in the world just don't give a rat's whisker for it's people.

Working with skill. Anyone who has dealt with Tech Support lately knows how easy it is to get someone on the line who knows next to nothing about your problems. As annoying as that can be, I don't seriously fault those guys. They're trying to make a buck and yet haven't been sufficiently trained to take on many of the challenges that come to them on the phone. Sometimes they have to go and talk to a supervisor. And often, I think, they're rudeness comes out of the frustration of language barriers and lack of immediate knowledge.

No, I point the finger at the large corporations for trying to save money by out sourcing and getting labor for less. One day about 8 years ago I was stunned to find out that my tax return had been audited by some fellow in India.

The money they save may go into new equipment (which may put more people out of work) but, more than likely, it goes into the pockets of the executives and share holders, or at least improves the value of the stock. In my sometime job as a proofreader I read many of the documents from the corporate world that spelled out these policies very clearly.

When a skilled worker is let go to be replaced by unskilled labor attempting to do the same job, that's a rotten deal for everyone.

When I received an appointment to take a proofreading test for a temp job, I went to the bookstore and bought a book on proofreading, studied it thoroughly and when I went to take the test I knew as much about proofreading as I could. As a result I aced the test. I worked with skill.

Moving with time. "Gimme that ole time religion, it's good enough for me." There are some people who want to go back to what they call the "good old days." But the fact is the good old days weren't so good. Anyone who wants to return to an outgrown past shows a great lack of perspective. As someone wrote to me recently the best of the past tends to make it into the history books along with the worst, but the ordinary is forgotten. There are people who want time to stand still or else who are faced in the right direction but walking backwards. We can't go back and be babies (although some seem to try) and we can't restore things that are no longer useful to us and expect them to take the place of the new and more efficient. The world has advanced so much and so rapidly in the arts, the sciences, technology, transportation, communication, trade, education, social structures, individual freedoms of expression and, yes, religion, that one who does not understand and appreciate the forward motion of life and desire to experience what next unfolds in it is living in a basement.

DB - The Vagabond

Just as the checkered flag was about to come down and I was deciding to cancel all future weekend tests Val came across with the winning entry. It was a tough choice, and the judge was threatening to quit on me, but he came through with the pick, and so to Val of the Blogspot Tigers goes the genuine linoleum name tag for (drum roll)

The British fence saleswoman - Barb Dwyer

runners Up, all from the Tigers, include

The German Farm Girl - Brigitta Bauer (from Krissy)
The Clown - Peter Pratfall (from John)
Asian male adult film star: wang hung lo (from Mr. and Mrs. Alaineus)
and (also from Val)
Irish Bartender - Tom Collins
Alan Armstrong - American pitcher (or arm wrestler)
Bob Barker - A German carnival man with a loudspeaker
Cardinal in the Catholic church in Philippines - Cardinal Sin (I hear this is actually true)
Canadian gardener woman - Grace Green
Irish alterboy - Ian O'Neal
American luggage salesman - Justin Case
American electrician - Ida Sparks
British policewoman - Robin Banks

Okay. I'll do another one next week.



Gerry said...

First of all did you know that your entry Spin the Top was printed twice, not that it matters. On this entry "The Best" I was just thinking how little was asked of me when I went to school and how hard I had to work to fill my life up with more complex challenges than I was getting in school. My dad challenged me a lot by taking me to do hard tasks, tasks that were beyond me at the moment which he was bound to teach me. He challenged my mother by giving her the job of driving truck, fixing anything that broke down, and becoming the case dealer who had to help set up the new farm machinery and learn how it worked. Her motto was 'read the book and go on from there.' She later read the electrician's manual so she could write the houses and even a motel they built.
But what practically defeated me was the heavy conformity that was expected of me not just in the nation but in that particular state. My fight to be able to say what I thought caused me to be incarcerated, but that helped me to back down anyone who tried to force me to conform after that. I used the same techniques that got me locked up, but they worked more than they didn't so I continued to use them until I had built up enough of a circle of support that I could act more normal and not lose ground. Conformity will soon reduce you to doing nothing again, not challenging yourself or anybody else, just content not to make waves.
In this country I see people who run for office so afraid they won't get elected they conform and agree with the powers that be. Instead I believe in holding out for the long haul when people are finally able to recognize the worth of someone who sticks to a principle and can't be intimidated into giving up on it.

Liz said...

The best like water are undervalued, underfunded, underrated, underdeveloped, and underestimated but unfortunately not understood(underscored).