Calling For a Change


                                    `           

                                                                        –by Neal Lemery

            2021 is a year of change, of awareness, and a time to reconcile ourselves with our attitudes and prejudices.  At the core of this work is confronting our own racism and the racism of our culture. A re-examination of our history and our culture is revealing our prejudices, our privilege, and a compelling drive to change how we think and how we act.  

            The verdict this week in Minneapolis has hopefully gotten our attention to these issues, and has put a bright spotlight on the issues of racism, law enforcement, and cultural expectations.  It is an ugly sore to open up and drain. The infection is deep.  Our attitudes and opinions are facing the light of day, of public scrutiny, and of thoughtful self-examination. 

            Sadly, this tragedy isn’t the latest, and stories of similar injustices and responses continue to occupy the headlines.  Recent attention to our country’s history shows a long and deep saga of similar outrages and, at times, calls for reform and change. The lessons of history are still there, as opportunities to learn and to cause change. 

            Those of us who aspire to be people of faith and advancing a spirituality based on compassion and good deeds are wrestling with being engaged in a society that too often does not aspire to those values.  It is often too easy to do nothing, and instead to merely pontificate our aspirations to be good and kindly people.   Denial seems easy, and the least stony path. Change is hard. 

“Walking away from something that we’re used to, even if it’s unjust or inefficient or ineffective–it usually takes far too long. Fear, momentum and the status quo combine to keep us stuck.

“And so it builds up. The cruft [junk work product] calcifies and it gets in our way, making our world smaller, our interactions less human. What used to be normal is rejected and obsolete. It turns out that the status quo is the status quo because it’s good at sticking around.”

                                    –Seth Godin, Seth’s Blog 4/21/2021

            We all want to think that we come from good families, that we had a decent childhood, and that we have grown up to be good hearted, loving people, who are working to build a better society and to do noble and important work.  Yet if I want to change society, I also need to change myself, and to examine myself so that I can truly become an agent of my good values and my talents to do the Godly and charitable work that I aspire to advocate. 

            To not do that self-examination is to be hypocritical and untrue to my highest goals and aspirations as a “good person”.  My own spiritual challenge is to understand that me acting as an instrument of change is one of my purposes as a human being on this earth. A friend calls that being an instrument of God. 

            As Gandhi urged us, we need to be the change we want to see in the world.  And, that starts with self-examination.  It is ugly, often dirty work.  Each of us had a seat in that courtroom in Minneapolis.  Part of what was on trial was a criminal justice system and a culture of how law enforcement officers respond to an encounter with a man, situations where a person’s race and very presence on the street were factors in how a police officer acted.  Our culture of prejudice, discrimination, and bias (even unconscious) was deeply interwoven in that incident and how a cop, and everyone else who was present, responded. The scope of responsibility and accountability for George Floyd’s death casts a wide net.  

            My great uncle was a member of the Klan, and proudly rode his horse in Klan parades in our family’s hometown.  I heard stories of racial and ethnic prejudice from family and friends, and witnessed bigotry and prejudice, often subtle and minimalized. Like all of us, I witnessed bigotry and prejudice, and felt the social pressure to sustain those attitudes. 

We all learned the “code words”, the vocabulary for this thinking. The disease was labeled something else, throughout my life, ever-present yet often cleverly disguised, or covered up.  After all, racism was something that occurred in the South, or the big cities, somewhere else.  Not here, not in my town, my neighborhood, my family.  

            That denial is also part of the disease, the “stinking thinking” that nurtures racism.

            Those experiences are also present-day.  Perhaps they are more subtle, even disguised, conveniently wrapped in the camouflage of politics and “free speech”.  And, pretending that cultural and personal prejudice and intolerance isn’t here and now is simply being a cultural ostrich, naively hoping that these tough issues will simply go away.  They won’t, until we do our tough work, and change. 

            We need to tell our stories.  We need to air out the ugly anecdotes, and look at our own attitudes and beliefs, looking deep within ourselves to learn why we believe and think what we do.  We need to embrace education and deep conversations with family and friends, no matter how uncomfortable those conversations can be.  We can change, and we can grow. That is what good citizens and spiritually-minded people do. 

            Tomorrow can be different.  

4/22/2021

Discovering


                                        

“Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well, he would never know, now.”

                                    –Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1936)

            Afraid to try; not good enough. There’s that fear of digging in deep, opening old wounds, leery of discovering what’s I’ve buried deep.  It is my lifetime work of denial, in all its many facets.

            What if there were really monsters under my bed as a kid, and I put them away, trying to ignore them, or burying them deep in my soul, so I wouldn’t have to confront them? I’m good at denying the existence of that question. 

            “Go away and leave me alone,” I say to myself. 

            In my writing work, there are topics and germs of ideas “out there” that should be explored, that remain on the “idea list”.  They are controversial, provocative, and daunting.  Some are political, most are sociological hot potatoes. Some of those are today’s monsters under the bed, the thoughts and fears I am now denying, at least not confronting. 

            I’m good at running away from confrontation, from the difficult stuff of life, the emotional chaos that literally begs for self-examination, self-reflection. It’s flight or fight, and denial.  Yet, when I dig into the tough stuff, scraping off the scabby outer coverings, and allowing the pus to seep out, so I can cleanse the psychological infections, a newly revealed truth emerges.  I begin to heal, and, more importantly, to understand.  

            All writing is a form of self-exploration, a teaching moment for the soul.  I work at trying not to realize that, which is part of my denial and my lifetime of procrastination in dealing with the tough subjects. 

            Hemingway’s character wasn’t ready to face his monsters and put pencil to paper to dig into those personal challenges.  He knew that, and knew he wasn’t ready to take it on, yet also knowing that he should take it on, because that is where the challenges are, and, ultimately, the reward of going deep and wrestling with the really tough stuff in life. 

            Writing challenges me, pushes me to go deeper inside of myself, to confront my night monsters, my fears, my doubts, and my unfinished thoughts.  There is work to be done when I write, so much more than moving the pencil across the paper, an act of growing myself, of discovery.

4/16/2021  Neal Lemery

On Writing


“Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well, he would never know, now.”

                                    –Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1936)

First Jab, Second Jab


                        

Like everything Pandemic

a process, a waiting —

delays to slow us down, make us

appreciate what is to be done. I remain

Impatient.

First jab in so easy, the nurse and I 

high fiving, filling out the card, 

scheduling round two, ready for another

                        Wait. 

A band-aid souvenir, with the slight ache, the knowing 

I had a shot, time now for the body to

React, respond, build an army in defense

To the unseen, the deadly. I am no longer, maybe, a

                        Corona Contaminator.

In limbo land, another wait to be complete, now much less likely

to die, even wanting to, as a ventilator’s captive.

Four weeks for #2, dreaming of 

vaccinated freedom, the beginning of plans to 

escape, to be a 

                        Pandemic Parolee.

Jab Two comes, easy as pie, another “little pinch”, another high five,

another line on the CDC card filled out — “complete” —

no new appointments, the only wait

two weeks to be one who is

Fully Vaccinated. 

I breathe easy now, not waiting to maybe fall ill,

to gasp for life, be a Pandemic Death statistic. I am no longer 

“possibly contagious”, and I can move on, no longer

Vulnerable. 

4/5/2021. 

Letting Go


            I often carry a lot of extra weight, excess baggage that holds me down, emotional “stuff” that prevents me from flying, from achieving my dreams and my full potential in life.

            “If you want to fly in the sky, you need to leave the earth. If you want to move forward, you need to let go the past that drags you down.”  — Amit Ray

            Stewing and fretting, that’s what my aunt called it, when we hold on tight to a past wrong or a troubling problem that defies a ready solution.  Intellectually, I know that my often obsessive talent at worrying something to death doesn’t offer a solution, or make the problem a lesser burden. Instead, it is as if I hold a magnifying glass over the problem.  It only grows in my mind. All that worry can take me over, making my life just a Gordian knot of worry.  I end up just spinning my wheels. 

            My pride gets in the way, and I am afraid to let it go.  If I no longer claim ownership or power over the issue, then I free myself to do other things in life, and to move on, free of the burden of this worry.  That work is easier to talk about than the actual release I can give myself, but my ego gets in the way.  I’d have to give up my desire to be in control, to be the powerful one in “solving” the problem.  

            I often need to remind myself that almost any problem isn’t worth the worry, or my time and energy I can spend on “working the problem”.  My rule should be that if the issue matters five years from now, then I can keep worrying.  But, if it really doesn’t have that long of a lifespan in my life, it really isn’t worth my time or energy.  I have other things to do, other problems to wrestle with. 

            What others might say about me and my problem-solving abilities, or inabilities, really isn’t my concern.  After all, I am the one in charge of me and how I think about life, where I am going, and what I want to be doing.  

            It is an act of resilience. 

I do this work for me.  It is a release of my own demons, my own obsessions. It is being the captain of my own ship.  It is good self care.

Neal Lemery 4/9/2021

Triggered


                                                

In the moment

the wave hits me, self-generated tsunami 

from deep in the gut, unplanned, unexpected

knocking me down, losing control —

A jumble of triggers, rages, furies, past

injustices and pains, my orderly day turned

upside down, inside out. I am

overwhelmed.

I rage, I fury, I rant, the sounds from my mouth, the stifled tears, only

a small fraction of the storm inside.

Boundary-less, unrestrained, I rage, my world almost black with occasional

lightning bolts of unrelenting storms, cyclones, a 

tornado of self, yet so disjointed from who I claim to be, who I 

aspire to be, a man in control, organized, systematic. But not

now.

Overcome by past habits, experiences, patterns, my

operating system gone awry, hacked into by my inner darkness, my 

shadow self.  My 

badness, my evil twin — let loose, unchained, unleashed, 

explosive, ungoverned, uncontrolled. 

Released, finally, I reboot, reset, calm down, take a 

breath, and begin

again to be my usual, expected, anticipated self, the man I 

choose to be, 

want to be, 

claim to be. 

Looking back, dissecting the tornado that has just passed, I see the 

grief, frustration, rage, anger, the lack of 

control, the absence of calm, of rationality, of my own 

expectations — a man in control, sensible, genuine, who I truly

want to be, who I expect to be, the need for boundaries, limits, the understanding

of where this tsunami came from, how I can 

defuse it, how I want to honestly

                                                               live.

                        –Neal Lemery 3/15/2021

Shopping the Cultural Marketplace


                        

Published in the Tillamook County (Oregon) Pioneer March 9, 2021

                                                by Neal Lemery

            When it comes to opinions and ideas, we are both the producers and the consumers.

            I’m always looking out for the latest idea, the most interesting cultural experience. “New stuff” takes many forms – local news, some new political development, updates on a friend’s family or business, not to mention a beautiful photo a talented photographer has posted on social media. The list of what piques my interest seems endless. I’m like the house cat with a ball of yarn or a catnip-filled toy.

            Most of my interest comes with a new idea of how to look at the world and approaches to challenging problems.  Finding a well-written new book, meeting with a good friend or joining in a group discussion gets my juices going. And if the new idea comes from me, I’m more than happy to “market” it to my friends and others who have the same interests.  

            Like everyone else in this age of social media and digitized information, I’m able to wear both the hat of the producer and and the consumer.  The choice is mine.  I’m the gatekeeper of my cultural experiences.  

            While some may bemoan the perceived censorship or manipulation of a snippet of our cultural offerings, each of us is still capable of finding the story, and choosing how we react, and what we do with the new knowledge.  If someone wants to cancel my own cultural experience, to act as my censor, they face a daunting, if not impossible task.  

            I’m drawn to the deep discussion. The op ed page of a great newspaper is like honey in my tea, and I find a deep satisfaction in the well-thought argument, the well-researched point of view. I might even change my mind or have an intellectual growth spurt.  The more diverse the opinion, the better.  I love the mixing of curious minds.

            My coffee table groans with a wide assortment of books and articles on a wide variety of topics. And, it is up to me, not some powerful media mogul, to decide what ideas I’m going to spend my time on.  If I am going to be manipulated, what I consume is truly my own choice.  

            The idea of freedom of speech also includes both the freedom to listen and the responsibility to choose my materials wisely.  

            I am my own traffic cop in this hectic intersection of ideas, the melting pot of the great American conversation. How I respond to the ideas of others, as well as what I choose to put out into the world, is my choice.  We traffic cops have responsibilities, with truth telling and well-reasoned viewpoints being the primary duties we all have to the community. 

            This marketplace of ideas is at the heart of the American experience. Innovative thoughts and new approaches have always brought about needed change, and has helped us improve our lives and the lives of future generations.  The clash of ideas, the often heated discussions, provide the sparks that light the fires in our brains, and bring about a renewed, invigorated society.  

            If I fall to the toxic atmosphere of fear and intolerance, I’m cutting myself short, and denying myself access to the riches of the marketplace of ideas. I’m neglecting my own duties as the producer and the consumer, and I’m making the community conversation a mere shadow of what it can offer all of us.  

Raging against an opinion or perspective that is not your own only serves to suffocate this marketplace, and limit the work of the marketplace in producing new thought and dynamic change.  We need to learn to be better listeners. We also need to examine another viewpoint without the limits of our own fears and biases and be the seekers of truth and reason.  

If I am the good listener, and an advocate of reason and truth seeking, at the end of the day I might have even learned something, and come closer to helping to solve a problem. 

3/8/2021

Running on Empty


                                    

                                                By Neal Lemery

            If I think I am empty, then I am also open.

            I often yearn to fill up the voids, the blank spaces in myself. In that emptiness there is often pain. What is absent is what I hunger for, be it love, contentment, or that elusive sense of wholeness that would make me complete, satisfied.

            I sometimes wonder if I am deeply flawed, defective for all the emptiness inside. I try to fill it up sometimes, overindulging myself with my cravings and addictions. I know those things are not the answer and I will be unsatisfied and hungry still. Yet I’ll ignore those wise observations and thought and look to emotional junk food in my search for satisfaction and fulfillment.

            When I quiet myself and truly listen to my soul, I know what I need, I know what will truly satisfy me and truly fill up all that emptiness, that openness deep inside of me. 

            If I give this work some time, give it some purposeful intention, then in that quietness, I will find what I need and be satisfied. I will become whole, satisfied, spiritually complete.

            This work is my journey, to search out my emptiness, and realize that it is a gift, that I am not empty, I am open. This is honest work. It is an opportunity to truly and genuinely fulfill myself with the inner goodness that I know is available to me. I can find my peace, and turn my emptiness into openness, and work towards my wholeness.

2/24/2021

Courage


                                                            

                                                                        By Neal Lemery 

I’ve been reading and thinking about courage lately, which seems to be in scarce supply lately, and much needed in these times.  I found some useful definitions.  

“Physical courage.  This is the courage most people think of first:  bravery at the risk of bodily harm or death.  It involves developing physical strength, resiliency, and awareness.  

“Social courage.  This type of courage is also very familiar to most of us as it involves the risk of social embarrassment or exclusion, unpopularity or rejection.  It also involves leadership. 

“Intellectual courage.  This speaks to our willingness to engage with challenging ideas, to question our thinking, and to the risk of making mistakes.  It means discerning and telling the truth.  

“Moral courage.  This involves doing the right thing, particularly when risks involve shame, opposition, or the disapproval of others.  Here we enter into ethics and integrity, the resolution to match word and action with values and ideals.  It is not about who we claim to be to our children and to others, but who we reveal ourselves to be through our words and actions.  

“Emotional courage.  This type of courage opens us to feeling the full spectrum of positive emotions, at the risk of encountering the negative ones.  It is strongly correlated with happiness.  

“Spiritual courage.  This fortifies us when we grapple with questions about faith, purpose, and meaning, either in a religious or nonreligious framework.” Lion’s Whiskers http://www.lionswhiskers.com/p/six-types-of-courage.html

            Courage comes in many forms and expresses itself in numerous ways.  One’s act of courage may not seem courageous to others, but it remains a courageous act.  Each type of courage comes into use for different occasions, and different needs.

            I think the source of courage comes from deep inside of us.  It can spring into action often without any deep analytical thought, and instead, literally rises out of us when the occasion calls for us to be courageous. 

            Sometimes, when I worry about something, my mind will anticipate and I will analyze how I might respond.  I’m being thoughtful and analytical, my brain drawing on past experiences and past “learning”. Old habits and prior learning, and prior conversations with others come into play.  Sometimes, it is remembering a story someone told me, or that I read.  

            More common for me, though, is what I like to think is spontaneous courage.  It arises out of the moment, the circumstances, and seems to be impulsive.  But, after the crisis, looking back, I realize my courageous act was mostly the product of prior experiences, and the memory of stories I had heard.  I often realize that I am more courageous inside of myself than I give myself credit for, that I have some deep values and motivations that I am often not very conscious of.  But, that courage is there, inside of me, and is a strong and vital part of my inner self, and arguably, a big part of my soul.  

            I often look back on an experience and, it is only then that I can see the courage in action, that I did a good thing, and that I acted with courage and with strong moral values in play.  At the time of the situation, I wasn’t that insightful, that thoughtful, that aware that the moment required me to be courageous and to act in a morally appropriate manner.  

            I probably don’t give myself adequate credit for being courageous.  I am, I think, deep down, humble an unassuming, and modest about what I can and should do in a situation.

            This week, the Capitol guard who diverted the mob from the Senators was also discovered to be the hero in saving another Senator, his actions caught on video and shown to the Senate during the impeachment trial.  He didn’t mention his actions to others, and didn’t seek attention and accolades. But, the video spoke for itself, a demonstration of courage and swift action to save another person from harm.  

            His actions were courage in action, and serve to show him as a hero.  

            People are courageous in so many ways, and almost always are not recognized for their actions.  I think each of us often doesn’t see what we are doing as being courageous acts.  But, if we are aware of a person’s situation, the circumstances, the background, we can then take the time to realize that what they are doing is truly courageous.  We may not see that, at first.  But, if we take the time and are sensitive to a person’s situation, then the courage becomes visible to others.  

            We can do that with ourselves, seeing our conduct, our interactions, as being courageous acts, brave an often fearless in the moment.  

            I think it is important to recognize that courage, that bravery, is often alive in ourselves, that we often act with courage, facing our dragons, our self-doubts, our fears, and do great things in spite of our feelings of unworthiness, self-doubt and fear. And, I need to give myself some recognitions that I am often brave and fundamentally a good person.  

2/14/2021

Free Speech: A Limitation on Government, a Tool of Responsible Citizenship


                       

                                                            By Neal Lemery 

            When I have deep discussions with friends and family on issues near and dear to everyone at the table, I like to become reacquainted with the essential facts and the original source material.  Recent heated social media postings about personal opinions, free speech, and our rights as citizens have led me to look again at the Constitution and the words carefully chosen over 200 years ago.  The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (1789)

“Many consider this section of the Constitution the cornerstone of our democracy. Some scholars have argued that the foundation for all other freedoms are those guaranteeing free speech and a free press. 

“The concept behind that view is that access to information by the public is the basis for a functioning democracy. James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, said it this way in 1822: ‘Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.’

“What this means is that a free people must have full access to information about their government, and that they must be allowed to share this information with others. In practice, “the press,” or as we know it today, the news media, are the agents of the people in acquiring and distributing that information. The First Amendment guarantees access to information and guarantees the right to distribution information.”  ACLU of Oregon websitehttps://www.aclu-or.org/sites/default/files/freespeech_full_background.pdf

            Fifty years ago, the US Supreme Court held that the intent of the First Amendment was “to allow the media to examine and criticize public figures such as government officials, and that the only exception would be if there was a showing of actual malice or careless disregard of the truth on the part of the media.” ACLU, supra. (NY Times v Sullivan)

            As we have dual citizenship (being citizens of the country and our state), we are also protected from governmental restrictions by Oregon’s Constitution.

“No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right.” 

— Article 1, Section 8, Oregon Constitution (1859)

“[W]e have little trouble in concluding that the people who framed and adopted Article I, section 8, as part of the original Oregon Constitution intended to prohibit broadly any laws directed at restraining verbal or nonverbal expression of ideas of any kind.” State v. Ciancanelli 
(Oregon Supreme Court, 2005)

            These federal and state Constitutional provisions are essentially limitations on our governments from limiting our individual freedom of expression.  One of the ideas from the American Revolution was to limit government regulation of personal opinions. Individuals and businesses can still restrict your expressions on their property and within their own businesses.  My contracts with Facebook, my own website platform, and other social media are just that, contracts, with limiting terms and conditions.  Those contracts give me access to public forums, but on the conditions the provider proscribes. Their platform; their rules. I’m a customer, a consumer of access to the media. 

            These Constitutional rights have very little to do with my relationship with the companies I have chosen to use to express my views on social media.  After all, publishers of malicious libel and slander have legal liability.  One example is the recent lawsuit by a voting machine manufacturer suing Fox News and a commentator for libel to the tune of over $1 billion. 

            If I want free speech (except if I am malicious and libel or slander someone or their business), and not risk censorship by the media, I can go stand on the street corner.  Even there, it is against the law to incite a riot. And, as was held in one famous Supreme Court decision, I can’t falsely yell out “fire” in a crowded theatre.  

            The other side of the coin of having free speech is that I also have responsibility in how I express myself and what I have to say.  That’s part of the duties of good citizenship and civic obligations.  We are a community, and a democratic society functions when we act intelligently and advance the common good. Democracy can be messy but we’re in this together.

            We have agreed to pay taxes to support public schools, roads, fire stations, and public utilities, because we have decided that educated kids, fire fighting, safe roads, and clean and dependable water are good things to have around. We follow the traffic laws, because, at the end of the day, we’ve been able to travel in an orderly and safe manner.  All those good things only happen when we all follow the rules. The Founders of our country referred to those concepts as a social contract.  

Like our other civic obligations, speaking our minds and being responsible for what comes out of our mouths and the viewpoints we express comes with obligations to carry out our citizenship duties in the spirit of advancing the common good and the welfare of the public.  

            I’m all for a rich and vigorous conversation and debate on the important issues of the day. Those engagements are frequent and sometimes range from enthusiastic to boisterous, thanks in part to the Bill of Rights.  When we engage with each other, hopefully we all seek to benefit from the experience, and advance the common good. Improving the quality of our conversations is much like that popular saying, “a rising tide raises all boats.”

2/6/2021