A Measure of Public Self-Accountability

So I am back from that whirlwind retreat-convention-convention trip that has been the last eleven days. The beginning was Imbolc retreat, in the middle was a professional conference, and the end was Pantheacon. At each one, I managed to find a few more elements to add to who I was, as well as develop even more questions about who I am, where I am going, and – as Kristoffer Hughes states – inspire myself. To finish that particular quote – “…because how the fuck can you expect to inspire others if you cannot inspire yourself?”

Indeed. Getting the opportunity to be around so many creative and talented people at each point, there was a lot to be inspired by. And best for me, this has developed into several exciting short-term goals, as well as a few super-long-term goals – in my mundane life, my professional, and even in my magickal life. I am not fond of compartmentalizing aspects of my life, and while I can combine some aspects of each one into various projects and moments, such as using magickal techniques to help visualize data models – to keep things separate is sometimes a necessary component of keeping my sanity. I mean, think about how bad things could get if I started scrawling Cabalistic symbology around the edges of my whiteboard while diagramming an extensive data model? Right?? Or if I started using hardcore statistical inference when trying to get ready for some magickal rite. I could take an informal survey of the various Spirits that I encounter during the ritual, and utilize non-parametric techniques to determine the statistical relevance of the responses, Naw, it is far better to keep those things apart from one another. For my sanity, and for the sake of not opening a portal to another dimension.

Goals; however, are good things to have. A few years back, on the advice of John Beckett and a few others, I started writing a daily journal. That journal now spans seven full Composition notebooks, with an eighth currently in progress. In those journals are everything I encounter, everything I perceive, and everything I dream of over the course of each day. Some entries are several pages in length. A few of the entries are three to five sentences. But these document my goals, the things I want to accomplish in my life, and how well I do (and sometimes do not) manage to reach that goal. Every once in a while, I pick up one of these journals and read where I have been, and create an entry comparing that day with today. For me, that is extremely important because I can chronicle the changes that I see utilizing how I felt in the past as a contrast.

For a long while, I lived a not-so regimented life. I floated wherever I wanted to; I did whatever came to mind, and to be honest, I wasn’t precisely the most reliable friend to have in the bunch. A lot of that was me being completely rebellious to the uber-structured life I lived for eight years in the United States Air Force. Everything was scheduled, had a step-by-step process, and if there was not a manual for it – they would make one. There was even a manual for how to take a shit. No, I’m kidding. But it sure felt like there was one. But that rebellion made me a very chaotic person, and I am still living down aspects of all of that. Plus, I also still find pieces of that in my current life, even though I try to be a bit more structured, and a touch more regimented in how I approach my daily Life. This includes my magickal and Spiritual Life.

See, for me, everything gets tied to ritual, which can be a fairly structured process. I like off-the-cuff ritual formats, but when you work with others – that stuff just does not work well. Well, usually. If you have a group of folks that you just “fit” with – off-the-cuff stuff can become some really special magick. But you just don’t walk down the street and bump into these folks at the subway stairs. Ritual with structure is important. Important for the how, important for the when, important for the why. And if you discard all of that stuff, and try to handle ritual as an off-the-cuff, impromptu New Orleans funeral, what many might refer to as a “Jazz funeral“. That stuff might coalesce with your chosen Gods, but I find that a structured basic format is more comfortable for working magick, as well as putting other practitioners in the ritual at ease. For my personal, solo stuff…jazz hands it is! But there is an appropriate time and place for that. A structure is definitely necessary for public ritual or ritual within a group, from my experience.

The same goes true for the professional life. We use a ticketing system to keep track of data requests and work completed by the Data Analysts in my group. Without that ticketing system, a data request can fall through the cracks, and wind up not being delivered to an internal or external customer that has need of the information. With just a touch of structure, we can ensure that things do not get missed. Provided that people use the system properly.

My journals serve a very similar purpose. Not only is this an issue of finding reliability with continued, measurable action, at the end of the day, I use my time with pen and paper or keyboard and fingers to provide a moment of self-accountability. I can write whatever I want. Shit, I can even lie to myself if I wanted to. But rather than play personal mind games with the journal – I choose to be frank, brutal and honest in what I write. I do beat myself up quite a bit because of one error or misstep here or there. But I also spend time writing about the things I did right, or even the things I learned. After all, this is why I write in my journal in the first place. It serves the purpose of essentially being the little reminder to my brain of what went right, what wrong, and why I think things wound up in the manner that they did.

Over the next few blog posts, I am going to explore a few things – who I see myself as, my relationship with the Gods, and why I find myself staring down a particular Path that I am totally unsure of. As I noted in a previous blog – Life continually changes. It is not how it changes that provides the measure of context and quality for me, but rather how I approach, handle and incorporate each change. And in some ways, some of these changes are about to place my feet on an old, and familiar Path….with different shoes on my feet, so to speak. And for this, I would like to document it openly…for whoever would like to read. Call it a measure of public self-accountability, if you like.

 

Before We Make Changes, We Need to Change

If we hope to turn for help to Native American people, we have to understand that we have always been guests in their house. For a long time, we forgot that or we denied it. But, finally, we’re beginning to realize what that means. Now, we all find ourselves standing in the middle of a battle over our relationship with the earth—and whether we can even survive on the planet. We know this because, over and over again, the earth is slapping us in the face. And, at last—after centuries of demonizing and destroying native peoples—we realize that we need their wisdom to help save us all. The genius of native peoples is that they know how to walk humbly on the earth. But the question is: Can we humble ourselves and listen to them?  -Kent Nerburn

I find this quote rather interesting…at least for my mind. Not so much from a perspective of trying to save the planet, as Nerburn is noting here. Rather, for how Nerburn points to a way of utilizing the ways, thinking, and to a large extent the relationship that First Nations peoples have with their environment.

At times, thoughts of how that might be useful seem at odds with the typical outward look at life on the various reservations. Back during my trip to Glacier National Park, I drove through the middle of Pine Ridge reservation – and right through the start of a protest just across the border (literally) in Whiteclay, Nebraska by First Nations peoples from Pine Ridge. The living style that you could easily see from the highway was one of abject poverty. In some instances, which I found out to be true, it seemed that some of the homes didn’t have a front door, but rather just a screen door. I knew winters could be bad with high snow drifts, and found out that in most instances, the screen doors are replaced with another door from within the home. The screen doors are in place during the Summers because the homes have no air-conditioning, except for an occasional window unit which would cool specific rooms.

So how would these people who seemingly couldn’t find their way out of poverty enough know a better way to live closer to our Mother Earth? Single-wide trailer homes that looked to be from the 1970s, surrounded on all sides with detritus that made you wonder if Fred Sanford lived here….how could these people know about a way to find a better relationship with our planet? Its not because of the way some of these folks live. Its not because some of these folks are trapped in a never-ending cycle of alcoholism and dependency. These are some of the First Nations people, but these are not all of them. These are the ones that the public eyes of the over-bearing white society see – and the image that is used to repress these First Nations people. An image used to “keep them in their place”, if you will. But dig deeper. Dig beyond this stereotype, and you will find people who cherish their families, help their neighbors, understand the true concept of “tribe”, and have a strong Spirituality that is connected directly with their environment.

Mother Earth, Father Sky. Bear. Coyote. Fox. Crow. Eagle. Buffalo-woman. Their myths and stories showcase deep connections with the Earth, with the rhythms of the seasons. If you look closely enough, you will find deep, grooved parallels between this and other beliefs around the world. The cycle of the Seasons are there. The reverence to the Gods and Goddesses are there. Deference to the Spirits of Place. Respect and Honor to one’s Ancestors. Its all there. Letting all of that become deeply ingrained into who you are, why you are, and how you are…it can be there as well. With time, patience, and practice.

But we, the mainstream society, have left that behind. Our gods have become those of Fashion, Consumerism, Hero-worship of celebrities, and politics. And all of that is not centered around our environment, but rather around money. If we were to ask the Gods what happened, we might hear the answer of “you forgot where you came from, and how you were placed within the world.” Human beings have a place within the complicated web of relationships we have with everything here. But when we forget how we are a part of everything, and place everything beneath us; see the world as a resource placed here for us to use – we run the risk of losing that balance, and finding ourselves at odds with our planet.

What is Climate Change? My perspective of that is that its our planet trying to bring back into balance. In essence, our existence – the overuse of planetary resources, our inability to dispose of our waste in a manner that continues to find balance with our environment, our over-population of areas that forces wildlife to migrate to other areas and adapt to new environs….all of that destabilizes our planet’s delicate balance and intricate web of relationships with everything. And our planet responds. Because we refuse to accept our place within that balance.

Nerburn is right. For us to achieve what we need to, to try and relocate that delicate balance; we – as a collective society – will need to reach back into our human past, and reconnect with our environment. And in my nos-o-humble opinion, we will need to reconnect with our collective Spirituality. We all connect to the Gods and Goddesses in unique ways, each of us forming a unique bond with Those that call to us. If we are going to find a way to achieve balance, to find respect for other aspects of this delicate balance – we will need to achieve a similar bond among ourselves.

…and to be honest, with our current societal setup, I don’t see that happening. And it just so desperately needs to.

 

Change is Inevitable

Its always been done this way. It worked for Joe Schmo back in 1872, it should be just as relevant for us today, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Do we cast our circles with this certain element in that particular cardinal direction, or can we change things up? Is it set in stone that this is the way that ritual has to be done, or can we alter things without angering the Gods and Goddesses? Essentially, it comes down to tradition versus experimentation. Or if you prefer, structure versus free-form. And I sit somewhere in the middle of this entire conversation. Because, in the end, its not a debate. Its a matter of personal preference.

There are elements and appointments that are ascribed into the very stone of our ritual souls. Water goes here, Fire goes here, Air goes here, Earth goes here, Spirit goes here. Rarely is there an element of argument as to “why”, and even more rare is the question of “what if we change it up by putting Air over there instead?” And nearly every traditionalist I know is gasping for breathe. Well, possibly. But it does begin to beg the question of whether change can be a good thing or not.

Major League Baseball is going through some of this right now. Changes to the rules concerning how intentional walks are conducted, where a pitcher must throw four pitches outside of the strike zone. Now, the change decrees that a pitcher merely has to point at first base and the batter automatically goes there. No pitches thrown. All done to “speed up” the game. Instant replay has made it to baseball. Certain types of plays can be challenged by the manager. Previously, the manager could challenge the play all the way to the next pitch that was thrown. Now, managers have thirty seconds to make the same challenge. And there is an unlimited number of challenges that can be over the course of the game. Ironically, this one aspect has lengthened the time of the games, nullifying the no-pitch walk. Now, there is talk of removing the Wins/Losses statistic from a pitcher’s accumulated statistics. Its considered to be a poor metric of pitcher performance, given that a Win or Loss is determined more by team play than it is via pitcher performance.

Every single one of these changes, along with the proposed statistical change, have been met with skepticism and outrage from old-school baseball types, such as myself. It changes the game, and evolves it into something that is slightly different than it was before. But the essential rules of the game are still the same. There are nine-innings that have to be played. Each team’s chance in the inning happens until three outs are made. The bases are still 90-feet apart. It still takes three strikes to get a hitter out without a batted ball into the field of play. Four balls outside of the strike zone give the batter a free pass to first base. The scoring rules have not changed whatsoever. In essence its the same game it was.

The same holds true for ritual – to some degree. Change any of the elements, and it changes the formula for the ritual. But the intent of the ritual is still the same. And for me, the formula based aspect means far less than the intent behind the entire ritual.

Now, let me add a few notations of where I am coming from. I am a firm believer in free-form ritual. Outside of the framework that OBOD provides for ritual, I have never done the same ritual, intentional or not, in the same manner. I merely utilize whatever comes to mind at the moment. One short ritual I did down near the banks of the Red River went along these lines:  face each cardinal direction, say the word “Please” out loud, and then step right into main aspect of working – which at this time was merely making a quick space where I could meditate for a few moments. Rather than reaching through a long, somewhat wordy intonation, my single word request was enough to quickly build what was necessary for me. For me, its not the framework that really places the emphasis, but rather the mindset that I had at that moment that mattered most. In fact, I could call to the cardinal directions with a simple “Yo!”, so long as my mindset is in the right place.

There is; however, a matter of decorum and respect where the Gods and Goddesses that comes into play as well. Given that the Gods that I work directly with are Tricksters, irreverent perspectives are sometimes quite welcome. So, I would note that free-form aspects are not useful where Gods and Goddesses that require strict, proper form within rites, requests, and prayer.

Free-form ritual works for me. The simplicity of my rituals lends to the easiness of how being fluid with style, and framework is useful for me. Were I to do a more structured ritual, where certain things must be done at certain times, in certain manners, and stated in certain ways; I would follow the syntax as stated. Coloring outside the lines would likely not be useful or obtain the desired results. For certain aspects of celebratory rituals, I can see where bending the rules is a bit more appropriate. Or as Morpheus tells Neo in the movie The Matrix:  “Some rules can be bent, others can be broken.”

Because adaptation is the key to evolution. And yes, I do believe that Paganism is evolving. I do not believe that the rituals we present to our Gods are the same as the ones presented to Them back in the mid 1800s. Nor do I believe these rituals are the same as the ones that go back into the mists of Time. I also do not believe that our rituals of today will be the same rituals presented to our Gods in the 2100s or even beyond. Our rituals today are the rituals we have today. Some will change. Some will be altered to one degree or another. Some will never be utilized again. But these are our rituals today, in whatever form we give to them. Much like baseball has changed over the years, and will continue to change going into the future – so will Paganism. Because change is inevitable.

Creating Ripples

Intentional family. What exactly is it? Well, perhaps the best definition I have read comes from the wiki site Kinhost.

An intentional family is formed when a group of people choose to re-create a family, whether official or not, by choosing people to surround themselves with in familial support of each other. (Kinhost.org)

I have a few folks that are very, very close to me. For these folks, I would drop everything that I am doing – and get to where they are. Once there, I would help to bury the bodies, ditch the evidence, and never speak of it again to anyone. They are the part of my life that I cannot do without. I do whatever I can to help them whenever they have a need, even if it creates a temporary hardship for myself. They are more than friends to me – they are the family that I want. We go through the normal push-pull dynamics that families go through. We have arguments and disagreements. I am fairly certain that they do not vote in election cycles for the same people that I do. And a few of them have very different religious and spiritual practices than I do. But they are family to me. And I have no problem shelling out money, time, effort or emotions for them – just as I know they would for me as well. Nor do I expect any reciprocal act on their part. A mere hug and thank you goes far beyond that with me. Some of them are aware of this connection between us; some of them aren’t to some degree or another. But that’s a private conversation to be had between us at some other time and place – not here on a blog.

In John Beckett’s most recent blog, Something Bad Isn’t Coming, It’s Here, he noted:

If you’re part of a good, well-functioning extended family, consider yourself fortunate… and don’t alienate them. For the rest of us, find the people who will be your family of choice and start developing those close ties now. That means you give your share toward the collective good. Ideally, everyone gives more than their share.

For me, this is what intentional family and intentional community is all about. We all give to the collective good that is our family, and our community. I experienced a whole lot of this during the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering this past weekend. I received and gave love, comfort, support with all the folks there. We learned together, we ate together, we were definitely together in that physical space. And even today, we are together. We formed a community, a special bond between all of us, and that bond holds us together. We came together as a group, and formed an intentional bond as we did rituals, and workshops – held discussions in various corners of the camp – and sang songs and acted silly among one another. What we gave to one another was a piece of one another. We chose to be vulnerable to one another by opening our hearts to each other. We developed trust with each other. We created an intentional community and family.

So why is this important? Well, harkening back to John’s blog post, tough times are certainly ahead. Whatever the future holds, the outlook does not seem as bright as it has been. Much like John, and many others, I have heard the whispers among the Spirits of Place, and between my trio of Gods and Goddess. I tend to avoid the news as much as I can these days, but one has to stay informed too. This morning’s attack in Brussels is but one piece of evidence of the potential changes that loom large on the horizon. The political climate here in the United States has the potential to change drastically over the rest of this year. Every day, my local news (or as local as DFW is to me nearly 70 miles away) broadcasts tell the tales of shootings of civilians and police officers over the last 24-hour period. Its not rocket science to realize how much turmoil is around us. My intentional family are my rock and my stability. Staying in touch with them is not always the easiest thing for me to accomplish – but after this past GCG, I am realizing that I must amp up my effort to do so. Without them, my compass disappears and I wind up lost in the miasma that permeates our mundane world.

IMG_0215
One of the camp fire nights at East Coast Gathering 2015

How do you find people like this? Well, you can’t do it by sitting idly by. You can’t do it by being a wall-flower. I did that for too long, and watched good relationships dissipate because of my inactivity. You have to interact with people, find common interests that hold you together, and then begin to discover the rest of the stuff that is there too. You have to accept people for their differences, look past their physical appearances, and discover who they really are. And you need to nurture the positive aspects of your relationships with them. That’s not going to happen if you are sitting in the corner of the room doing your own thing. When you go to a Pagan Pride Day or an OBOD camp or an ADF Retreat – connect with the people you know, but also reach out to the strangers that you’ve never met before. You’ll never get to know them just by staring across the room at them. Unless you are Deanne Troi or some other Betazoid, you won’t be able to discern who they are, or how they feel just by jumping on their wave-length. And who knows? perhaps by breaking the ice with them, you will discover a new family member for your intentional family, or perhaps you will help bring them a bit more out of the shell so that they can make new friends at that gathering that may not be you. In that respect, you are serving as a catalyst towards a positive change in their lives. Ain’t that grand? I certainly think so.

I know that this single blog post is not going to change the world. Nor am I egotistical to the point of thinking that I can change your mind. Folks who already have intentional families or are part of an intentional community may be nodding their heads in agreement….or maybe not. For me, this is a big part of the change I have seen on the coming horizon for my life. For too long, I have lived a life with no true family. Only a handful of my DNA relatives are people I can count on for anything. Thus, I have to search a little further for my support base. And much like a garden, I have to cultivate it, grow it, expand it, and harvest from it. I also am part of their support gardens as well. Cultivation, nurturing, and harvesting will occur from me as well, for them. And its long past time for me to get my hands into the dirt of that garden…

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. -Mother Teresa

Samhain – Change and Transformation Goes Hand in Hand With Reflection

Walking on Wild Horse Island in MontanaYesterday, I wrote about my feelings about Halloween – particularly the more bloody aspects of it. Today, its a little shift of the gears. Instead of the spookier element of the Halloween celebration, let’s turn to the more spiritual side of things and have a peek at Samhain.

I’m not going to go into a reiteration of what Samhain is about, or its origins or what not. What I am doing here is taking a small exploration of why I don’t spend a lot of time during this point on the Wheel of the Year with other people. And honestly, this is typically the point on the Wheel that I go into a self-hibernation of sorts.

Self hibernation. What an odd way for me to declare my own positioning. But it does fit in a bizarre manner. Every year, it seems that I get invite after invite after invite asking me to come to some group’s Samhain ritual. And every year, I try my best to accept at least one of the invitations, and then don’t go at all. I have had some people tell me that they were sorry for whatever it was that they may have done or said that caused me not to go. And I wind up having to explain in great detail why its not them – and why its me.

A lot of this has roots back into my desire to be a Solo Pagan. No, not a Red Solo Cup Pagan…just an individual doing my own thing. Red Solo cups are for something completely different.  🙂 I have discussed why I am a Solo Pagan to a great deal throughout this blog. Its a primary basis of who I am, what I am, and how I approach the world around me. But as John Beckett once pointed out on his blog (and I am far too lazy to go and find the exact post), even Solo Pagans need some company from time to time. Typically, I do this during the Summer Solstice period – the weather is usually nice, and it tends to be a gathering time for a lot of Pagans. Just factors that make it easier.

“But why just a single point in the year?” That’s something that continually is brought to me in meditations where Crow appears. I am a Solo Pagan, who enjoys being an individual on my Path, and I am called to A God who just happens to be one of the more social birds in the entire world. So there’s plenty of push there.

Which brings me to the current point on the Wheel. Samhain.

For me, Samhain is a time of reflection on what has happened over the past Year. Granted, I see the new Year starting each morning, but that is a very microcosmic view of the World around me. A more macrocosmic view brings further out, further on — and provides a much wider viewing lens. Everything has changed in the period of a year. Its much harder to notice that at the microcosmic level, as my immediate surroundings I see every day. Change happens every day, very slowly – almost imperceptible. But further out, where I am not everyday – those changes happen at the same rate, but my awareness is not there every single day. Thus when I step back into that awareness, I see the changes very clearly. I am holding memory up to present day and seeing very clearly the change that has occurred.

Then there is the thinning veil, the far easier connection to the Ancestors. This, for me, remains a solid aspect of my personal, individual time for this particular point on the Wheel. While I may be coming out of the darker edges of the fire’s circle of light to participate with my fellow Pagans and friends on celebrating the turning of the Wheel, my veneration and communication with my ancestors remains a very personal thing.

This year, I was invited to several Samhain gatherings. I turned down all of these invitations, except one. From a group that I respect because of their very tight-knit relationships with one another, and for their very honest, friendly, open acceptance of people who are outside of their group. Its not much of a first step back into the public light, but one gathering is far better than no gatherings.

I have very strongly held perspectives of both Samhain and Beltane – and why I avoid each. But it is based on the experiences that occurred from another group. And those experiences happened nearly twenty years ago. Its time to set those experiences to the side, and realize that this came about because of a particular time and moment in my life. The group in question, has changed over those years – and I hold no ill will or resentment towards the people still with that group. They have changed, I have changed. Holding to a perspective of broad-brushed painting an entire point on the Wheel based on actions that happened, nearly twenty years into the past – that’s honestly silly. This past year has been about change and transformation for me. Its time that I continue that – one small step at a time.

Samhain is an important point on the Wheel of the Year for me. Its a time to look back, reflect, see what I have accomplished, see what fell short. Its also a point where I look forward, to see what may lie ahead, and bring my projects and lessons forward with a new plan to insure they don’t fall short again. Its also a time to remember those who have walked beyond the veil, and a time to enjoy the company of those who have remained. Forging stronger relationships with them, and moving forward from that point. As a Solo Pagan, I have managed to do all of these, except the last. For that, you need other people…

A Dollar is a Dollar; a Human is a Human

The damage that my neighbor's falling tree did to the fence line
The damage that my neighbor’s falling tree did to the fence line

As I sit here and type this, I am listening to the distant rumblings of thunder. This is announcing the fourth round of thunderstorms to come through my local area in the last three days. Yes, that means it really is Spring here in Texas. The first round of storms blew my neighbor’s Cottonwood tree over with 80mph wind gusts. It tore up about six panels of my fence line, but thankfully the tree landed in his backyard and not on his house. When I approached my neighbor about the damage, his first response was “our insurance will get the fence replaced.” My response was a little different than he expected (I guess): “That’s fine, I’m just glad that no one was hurt or killed by it falling down.” Its an odd little statement of difference, but its really another indicator on some of the misplaced emphasis that I see in the communities around me.

Earlier in the week, I had gotten into a protracted argument with someone about what the purpose of the Community College was. I argued that we turn out a product: educated students – some that graduate from our program, some that take our credits (at a lower cost) and move on to a four year institution. But they leave with a measure of knowledge that they did not have before. The counter argument was that we turn out a single product: money. Our students go back into the work force, where their education allows them to become more productive employees, earning a higher wage, and thus bringing more taxable income into the pool of workers in the region. For my stance, I was openly labeled as a “liberal” — and that’s fine with me. Labels don’t bother me as much as they have previously. They are, after all, just labels. Whether I choose to allow them to adhere to me or not is another thing – and another post for another time.

I understood the sentiment, and the reasoning behind it. But its the emphasis that I have a problem with – Money. Now, before you start freaking out and calling me a hippy (thank you very much) that wants to destroy the monetary lynch-pin that holds up our market economies throughout the world which I am not advocating whatsoever. Currency in whatever form, permeates our lives. We all work jobs. Those jobs pay us currency to do the jobs they hired us for. In turn, we take that money, pay a tax for the “appropriate” care-taking of our governmental system by others, and use the rest to purchase petrol for our vehicles, pay our various bills, and purchase groceries and clothing. There’s nothing wrong with what the concept of currency represents. But when currency gets a higher position within our measure of needs and concerns than the people around us – in my estimation, there’s a problem.

So when did we become a society of people that essentially worships money? When did we start clamoring for a governmental structure that emphasizes how much money we can save by cutting this project or that program without worrying about the impact it will have on people? And even more important – how do we change this?

Without spending a major ton of time looking through the histories of the various parts of the world or even the United States, I can say that I don’t have an answer for the first two questions. And to be honest, where/when/how this starts is not nearly as important as making some kind of change where its all concerned. Furthermore, there is one political movement that emphasizes this more than any other – the Conservative Tea Party.

Ok, those of you who are rolling your eyes and mumbling about me being a liberal or a hippy — ya’ll can stop reading, and find another web page to be at. There’s honestly nothing I can do or say that will change your opinion. Those of you that are cheering my statement and saying “right on!” — you can move along as well. For a lot of the same reasons.

Now for those of you that are still here – listen up for a second. Before we pan the Conservative Tea Party movement and lay blame anywhere, let’s remember a few things. There are good points that the Conservative Tea Party makes, particularly where government spending and taxation of the citizenry is concerned. Their problem is taking it far beyond the scope it should be intended for. To dismiss the movement out of hand without finding where its merits might possibly be is just as bad. To do so removes any vantage point of critical thinking we may hope to achieve. Finally, let’s remember, this post isn’t about the merits or the toxic nature that the Tea Party and its adherents bring to the table. My point is about how we can change our own perceptions – something we do have control over.

We all attach some dollar figure to various things in our lives. My iMac has a very high price tag, and yet I find that dollar figure to be negligible for what it allows me to do. My beloved Subaru Forester has a typical car value associated with it. If I sat down and did the calculations, I am sure I could come up with a dollar value for each one of my three cats. All of that can be figured into a budget, which I can then calculate against my salary. If the money came up short, I would have to decide what will happen. Do I get another job to make due? Or do I figure that one of the cats is too expensive, and send her out into the world of the Animal Control folks because she is too expensive? Under the dictums of the Tea Party philosophy, I would turn one of my precious girls out or remove one of the expensive items I mentioned from the equation and make due without it. For me, it would be the removal of one of the expensive items or getting another job. My previous girls are part of my family, and I am fiercely protective of my young ladies.

But what about a government that makes a similar choice where a food-for-the-poor program may be in question? Utilizing Tea Party philosophy, as I have come to understand it by watching and reading Tea Party adherents discuss these issues, the program would be cancelled. “So those people starve, so what?” “If they just got themselves a little cleaner, they would be able to get a job. Right?” “Dirty, scummy, hippy-types. The world would be a better place without them.”

What the Dormouse SaidWould it? Most people don’t realize that it was hippy-types dropping LSD and other psychedelic drugs that came up with the concept for the Graphical User Interface (GUI), and spent time making it work within the experimental computer research labs of AT&T and other companies. For those who would scoff at such a statement, read John Markoff’s book “What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Computer Industry” and find out differently. And yet, in today’s environment most businesses would never allow such innovation to take place. Not because they want to stifle the innovation, but because the stigma attached to engineering types dropping acid and becoming inspired from their trips would be too much to sustain a good business model in today’s society. In other words, it would cost too much money in lost prestige in the business market. Yes, we are placing a monetary value on these people.

Its done in your jobs too. Every employee has a dollar value associated with them. Their salaries, their training, their medical benefits packages, their retirement packages…all calculated together to put a monetary value on the individual. And when the individual becomes too costly compared to their output? They are terminated on some meager pretense, and a younger individual willing to work at a lower wage, and less benefits is hired in their place. For a cost savings to the company. All designed to buffer the bottom line profit, and keep the shareholders happy with increased margins.

Occasionally, you will find a company that eschews this business model. Employees are considered to be individual human beings – all with differing needs and differing levels associated with those needs. If you have ever encountered one of these places, you find happy employees who care about their product. And when the company places the employees before the product, the employees seemingly are motivated to turn out a far superior product in terms of quality. Because the company gives a shit about the employees, the employees care about their company and in turn care about their product. Monetary value of the employee? Well, its the same as any other employee in the company. The pay scale may differ, but the company treats all employees as necessary and indispensable, from the janitor to the Chief Executive Officer. This, in my opinion, is how you build undying loyalty from your employees. You care about them and how they are doing – they will give a shit about what they do and the product they make.

So, smart-ass Tommy – how does that equate to how we need to change our perceptions? How does this make our world any better?

Well, let’s draw the dots a little together. Most people do not know the neighbors on their street. I confess, I am one of them – but not from a lack of trying. My neighbors tend to close in around themselves and not congregate together in the front yard and occasionally talk. Corinth is a commuter town, and most people here pull inside of themselves, and only open up to the people that they want to consider friends. But have you ever tried to talk with your neighbors? You don’t have to be pals – just know enough about them to recognize when there might be problems. And when you perceive that, offer a hand. If its rejected, thank them for the consideration, and remind them that if they have need – they only need to say something, no strings attached. You are letting them know that you care enough to help, and that you are willing to do so on their terms. Instead of treating them as commodities and dollar figures or what they can do for you in the future, you are setting them on equal footing with yourself and saying that they are people too.

Ever give money to a homeless person on the street? I have been told by other people not to do that. That these homeless people will just go out and buy a bottle of booze with it. So? Who am I to judge on what got them to this point? If its a bottle of booze that helps them make it through another day – fine. Perhaps, by making it to the next day, they will encounter that person that will be able to give them what is necessary to change their way of life. When I worked for the Texas State Medicare program, I would pass a homeless guy under the interstate bridge right near the data center. He had the same sign always: “Will work for food”. One day, when I started back home – I saw that he was under the bridge because it was a rainy day. I turned around, went back to the McDonald’s that was nearby and bought seven cheeseburgers, three large fries, and two large cokes. I then went under the bridge and introduced myself. He seemed to expect me to reach into my pocket and give him money. Instead, I sat down next to him, removed one cheeseburger, and one of the fries, and offered the rest to him. “I’m having lunch, and I thought it would be nice to join you.” I sat and let him talk between mouthfuls. I found out that he was an Army veteran who had been discharged dishonorably for striking an officer. That stigma had followed him since his discharge in 1983. Since he couldn’t get a job, he worked odd jobs that paid cash. Essentially, he slipped between the cracks in a system that didn’t care enough to help him. For the next two weeks, I stopped by each day I worked at the Data Center (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) and brought lunch for Patrick. We would talk about our mutual employment history – he in the United States Army, and mine from the United States Air Force. Then I stopped seeing him there. I never found out what happened to him. Perhaps the Dallas police had rounded him up for vagrancy. Perhaps another pan-handler had chased him from that location. Or perhaps something else. I only know that I was greeted every day during that time with a smile. And that smile reminded me that this guy was a person, just like me.

I work with data and numbers that are about our students. Its very easy to get sucked into the numbers and forget that each one represents a student. We typically have about 10,000 students registered in our classes per semester. Sometimes the number is higher and sometimes its lower. But each and every one of them is a unique story. How they got to this point in their life, what brings them to the college for education, what their dreams are, what they are doing to achieve those dreams, how their lives are now…they are all people, and all deserving of respect for whatever they are trying to accomplish in their lives. To forget that is to disrespect who they are, and to treat them merely as dollar values. And that alone — THAT is the problem.

We forget that people that are not in our immediate circle of influence are human beings with hopes, dreams, lives, and the stories that are associated with all of that. And when we forget that, those people cease to be people. They become dollar values that need to be maintained and controlled. They become tax dollars that we perceive as being “wasted” or “stolen” because we have no value for these people. Or place value on them by the amount of money that they earn, and the taxes that they contribute to the running of the government. The more they have, the more we respect them. That, ladies and gentleman, is the way of the Conservative Tea Party – monetary values attached to everything in life.

Sorry, but money is not the be-all, end-all for my life. Its merely the currency that I need to live my life the way that I choose to do so. I choose to see Life in a very different way….or as Damh the Bard says:

‘…Life is more than the money that you earn.’