Syrian refugees and a time for compassion, not cowardice

Why we should assist refugees, irrespective of their origin:

– Helping others shows compassion
– Compassion removes cultural barriers
– Removing barriers encourages people to listen to new ideas
– Listening to new ideas helps people learn
– Learning helps people determine what’s true
– Understanding what’s true helps people jettison irrational beliefs
– Getting rid of irrational beliefs removes the justification for harmful behaviors inspired by those beliefs
– Eliminating harmful behaviors that cause others to suffer means people no longer need to seek refuge

Terms matter, now more than ever

normaldistributionAs we paint “Muslims” and “Christians” with broad brushstrokes, we concede the labels entirely too much descriptive authority. In other words, religions are simply large bundles of beliefs and ideas, with no way of discerning within them, what, if anything, is actually correct.

For example, say we survey 100 self-identified Christians to discover how one gets in to heaven or avoids hell. Do we expect 100 identical answers? Similarly, if we survey 100 self-identified Muslims to discover the true meaning of “jihad” do we expect 100 identical answers?

The answer to both of those hypothetical questions is of course, no. A part from the top layer belief that a certain deity exists, interpretations of the scriptures that underpin a particular religion fill the normal distribution curve. Given that, how could we possibly predict a specific behavior from someone, simply because they identify themselves as a Muslim or a Christian?

Hint: we can’t.

What we are really concerned with is the area under the belief curve that, when compared to universal rights and liberal values such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion, would be considered “extremist.”

We must talk about that specific area of the curve using terms other than the name of the religion or the blanket label by which practitioners identify themselves, if we are going to create the allies we need within the belief system. For these are the people simultaneously closest to the problem, and closest to the solution. We can’t expect the belief curve to evaporate, but we can slide the entire curve to the left, making the extremist area ever smaller. But to effect that movement, we have to exercise discipline and use linguistic precision.

In the case of Islam, we need to stop blaming “Muslims” for the extremism of Islamism.  But we need a word, like “Islamism,” that not only encapsulates the problem of extremism, but also recognizes the reality of the relationship of that extreme end of the tail to the rest of the belief spectrum curve.

Business travel apprehension; a mindfulness approach

travel-globeTonight I head to the airport. Business travel is wrought with potential hiccups. Flights, taxis, rental cars, hotels, luggage, expense reports, schedules, all on top of leaving the family; this is the business travel recipe that presents so many opportunities for life to get, well, a bit messy.

I’ve traveled, depending on my projects, quite extensively at times, but for the last seven years or so business trips have been the exception, not the rule. When I was traveling all the time, I had developed a rhythm which minimized disruption.  Like a choreographed dance, I had everything nearly perfected: when I packed my suitcase, how I packed my suitcase, what time I left for the airport, where I parked at the airport, how I unpacked and repacked for the security line, etc.  But now my travel is so intermittent, I have to think through my list each time.

I recall a business trip from January of this year, before I started my mindfulness meditation practice, and the thought of struggling through the business traveler checklist again, had me thoroughly stressed. This stress manifested itself in to shorter tempers with my family and longer sessions imbibing in the days leading up to my departure. Without a doubt, as evidenced by my expense report, the week itself was made more “numbly tolerable” through the liberal consumption of beer and wine.

Fast forward eleven months. With each day, I’m more and more at ease with my thoughts and emotions as they present themselves, and while I still enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, I have no interest in dulling my feelings with more alcohol than my bloodstream and liver can process.  I’m still aware of the apprehension that builds when flights must be made, hotels must be checked in to, and meetings must be attended, but now that I’m aware of it, I can simply notice this feeling without feeling like I’m at its mercy.

In fact, it’s interesting; before I started meditating, I would literally feel the anxiety in the pit of my stomach and I used to subconsciously clinch my jaws. Now, I smile, because frankly it’s sort of a trip to objectively recognize and label an emotional response that I’ve always just sort of tangled rather ungracefully with. I know what it is and where it’s from.  And in the act of observing it, it sort of just falls away.

It’s hard to clinch your jaws when you’re smiling.