Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Compassion: a Requirement and an Expectation

There is a fear that violence, so frequent and extreme, may be inseparable to our nature. But it is often forgotten that we also have a deep-seated capacity for compassion. On this, perhaps we can rely. It comes naturally to us in the form of empathy, as a need to quell another’s sadness with kindness and understanding. Likewise, it is essential to human relationships, a necessary tenet to building and keeping them. Compassion, because of these reasons, has the ability to break down political, economic, and religious boundaries – these very walls that have caused centuries of war and strife. By analyzing what compassion means to us and how we can incorporate it into the fabric of our society, we may just find an answer that will assist us in our never-ending struggle for peace.

“You know, there's a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit - the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us - the child who's hungry, the steelworker who's been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this -when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers - it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.” This was said by our President, Barack Obama. He describes compassion perfectly, and manages to illustrate exactly why it is so important to our world. Compassion, according to most people, is a form of empathy felt at another’s hardships. It is a deep desire to help each other, to be there for each other. It is a wish and a hope that others be free from suffering. When people think of compassion, they might think of the Haiti earthquake, and the massive movement that ensued to help and provide resources. The earthquake is a huge example of how compassion can get people working together. Also, in most world religions, compassion is a common theme and main virtue. It is something we all know of, and all, if only briefly, have felt. It is that connection that will bring compassion forward as a necessary tenet in a more stable future.

While compassion already exists in our lives, it needs to be more deeply incorporated within them. Compassion must be given a more permanent home in our culture, our society, and our hearts. To do this, our children must be educated about it from the start. Compassion should be taught in schools and included in lesson plans. As we teach a child not to pick up a gun, we must teach him or her to be there for the child who has. College must have credit courses on compassion, possibly even required for graduation. Compassion should be a requirement and an expectation (a small price for world peace). People cannot be taught how to feel, but they can be encouraged and rewarded. Compassion needs to be exposed in literature, and new literature about or created out of compassion may be written. Other forms of entertainment must reflect compassion also. Music, movies, and television – these things we see and hear every day – they must, as frequently as possible, show knowledge of and rejoice in compassion. Compassion shouldn’t be just written in the margins of our lives. It needs to be in the text itself. We must start a dialogue on compassion with the entire world, and let it go on forever.

Because compassion is one thing all have in common, it is something we can all understand. Due to this, it may just be able to break down religious, economic, and political barriers. In all religions, compassion exists. In no church or temple shall it be turned away. In all social classes, compassion is possible. It is what created the soup kitchens and the shelters, the charities and nongovernmental organizations around the world. Those things were born of emphathy, and empathy continues to feed them every day. Finally, regardless of political party or government, compassion, even at that level, remains. We wouldn’t have welfare, food stamps, or other forms or government assistance programs without compassion. Look at everything compassion has done for us thus far. The question is, how much further can we take it? Why should there be a limit? Used creatively, integrated into the very fabric of our lives, compassion could heal our capacity for violence and continue to change societies and the world.

The opening words of the UN charter state that the purpose of the UN is “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women, and or nations large and small…” It is compassion that allows these things. It was our innate need to consider others, to assist them in times of struggle because we too have seen our own. Without compassion, perhaps the UN would not have been possible, or any other peace efforts and organizations around the world. Thanks to compassion, one day this amazing world will have the opportunity to see peace, longlasting and abundant.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fast, Fun, and Friendly

Fast, Fun, Friendly will forever describe the years I dedicated to a company and received little in return – only the smallest paycheck I’ve ever gotten in my life, in insult when compared with the workload I’ve been given. Fast, Fun, and Friendly equals working somewhere where neither my concerns nor opinions are an issue, where I am treated with the least possible respect by executives who care nothing for their team members – those who do everything necessary to keep their store running. It means being looked down on by their barely-BA, sixty grand a year attitude, these executive team leaders with their debt, empty condos and endless excuses for our financial woes. Considering them, I wonder if I, at 23, had finished my Bachelors degree, would I accept a job as meaningless, unstable, and unforgiving as in retail? Would I think that my scarce or shift-like four years of college granted me supreme authority and the ability to sit behind a desk barking orders? Would I pleased as I watch my employees get sucked deeper down a financial drain, meanwhile treating them as indentured servants or members of a sweatshop? Would I be satisfied with this?

I think not.

Having said this, I begin to realize even more painfully that the phrase “indentured servant” almost perfectly and hauntingly describes what I am at Target. An indentured servant slaves and struggles, not once seeing a penny. And yet, they agreed to it, to pay off past or current debts. That is what I am. A couple of years ago, I agreed to this, yes, and now I am trapped. It seems the longer I work at Target, the more trapped I am, and the more my debts increase. And, alas, as hard as I try, I can’t get out! I struggle for that elusive degree, as my only hope for salvation. Meanwhile, I observe Target and wonder what Fast, Fun, and Friendly really means. I think, 20 years ago, it was meant to describe a place that was fun to work, the people were nice, and they did it with speed. In other words, it’s merely retail propaganda. And now, more than ever, it describes not one shred of the Target Corporation. Cutting hours until team members lose their medical insurance and can’t pay their bills while giving them greater responsibility and a miniscule raise or none at all – well, I suppose it does happen - increasing their workload and sending them home earlier, without so much as a thank you, is that what Fast, Fun, and Friendly was meant to be? Because now, that’s all it is.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Worn Insignia

Through my dreams
and in my ears,
I hear you
in sticks and starts.
My heart hurts,
but I feel you..
And I trust myself
not to fall apart.
As I trusted you
even as your purple grip
and aching squeeze
knew me…
more deeply than I ever thought.
I worry now that I might be like her,
The iconoclast; worn insignia.
Purple and smelling of fear.
The taste of shame on my tongue
and vomit my only release.
Embarrassment keeps these lips shut,
the truth hiding within,
my purple hippo and her stinking fear.
I must learn to be silent,
yes, silent in the bed I have made.
The bed we made together with our loving touch...
But my anger betrays me every time
and I end up tasting of loss.
But I don't regret you...
Your love is like the vampire's kiss,
impossible to be ignored.
Forceful when necessary.
That's why it's so fitting that my
purple hippo wear a tutu and
a grinning smile.
So fitting that she be so decorated with joy.

I don't feel like this anymore... but I did.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Biased Way of Speaking

The English language has been progressing toward more gender-neutrality: mostly in titles. But the words we use to describe one another, in casual speaking, are not moving toward neutrality at all. In general, words that refer to women have negative connotations, whereas words that refer to men have positive ones. I have, all my life, heard people call one another specific names, which are sometimes joking and often insulting. We use certain terms to describe each other, but we have never stopped to consider what they really mean. My concern is: how is this affecting our society? What can we do to bring our language toward a less-biased condition? My hope is that the trend toward gender-neutral titles will encourage us to change the way that we speak as well.

Once upon a time, most job titles were gender-specific. Some obvious ones include: stewardess, waitress, and actress. I have noticed, with some delight, that these words have changed and become gender-neutral. For example, stewardess is now flight attendant; waitress has become server; and actor is now usually left as actor. The reason this has occurred is because of the concern that gender-specific job titles may promote sexism in the workplace. I believe this to be a rational concern. Studies have shown that the words children hear affect their perceptions of the gender-appropriateness of certain careers. Also, other studies show that men and women apply for jobs in more equal amounts when the language used to describe a position is more gender-neutral. Therefore, the language should always be gender-neutral. While this change is great, still more need to be made.

In conversation, words such as player and slut are often used to describe men and women with similar promiscuous behaviors. While their sexual habits may be the same, the words are not. Player does not have a negative connotation, but the word slut definitely does. A slut is to be avoided as something resentful and disgusting, a player, on the other hand, is usually considered amusing and often prosperous. While listening, I have heard so many words to describe women similar to slut. Some examples include: ho, whore, hooker, bimbo, skank, and tramp. These are the ones heard the most; there are many more. Strangely, I heard nothing else similar to player to describe a man. Thinking hard on it, I suppose you could use gigolo or playboy, but these are not in common everyday usage. Why is it that there are so many words to describe women but only one to describe a man, and it’s not even inherently bad? This is only one of the questions that arise. Other words to consider are bachelor and spinster. They both mean the same thing, but a bachelor is fine and acceptable, and a spinster is definitely not. It seems that most words used for women have a negative connotation, often sexual, and those used for men do not. But still, we continue to use them. This equation, I believe, could have disastrous results.
These casual words we use as jokes or nicknames reflect an unequal state of society. When we speak in this way, we are teaching others that it is acceptable and normal to think of another woman as a slut, or a man as a player. But when it is broken down, is it acceptable? Is it equal? It’s not acceptable or equal. Instead, it is promoting discrimination. Therefore, the strongest thing we can do, in my opinion, is to stop. Stop talking so disparagingly to one another; stop using biased terms! We have clearly and successfully gender-neutralized many words already and so we should with the rest of the language, especially in our verbal usage. The way that we reference one another has a lot to do with how we treat each other.

While we have made changes toward gender-neutrality in the English language there are still some setbacks. Our conversations with others reveal many discrepancies in that we allow others to call us by gender-specific nicknames that are actual insults. Some complain that it goes against their freedom of self-expression to gender-neutralize everything, and they don't want to be troubled with the idea of "sexist terms." But it can hardly be a crime to take these disparaging terms out of the equation. I would feel a lot more comfortable with our language if, at least, the insulting nicknames were equal.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

But Still, They Fight

But Still, They Fight

The Battle was long and hard,
Slow, not the Spanish American,
Not this. Raining blood
From skies of knives,
Guns that explode to create
Death where none
Should have been.
Black clouds, warning:
None should rise today.
If they do, none
Shall rise again.

Soldiers awake at a dark dawn,
Ignore caution, accept
A peaceful rain's dark lie.
A day of their's, not unlike
Any other, each with blood
On their hands, each day
Passing - weeks convert those
Hands to bayonets, their fingers
Little shafts that explode for
Blood but do not hurt.
Their hair, once golden, now gray,
Accents their faces,
Once smooth, now rough,
Tired, worn and old. He's 34.
His face lies, it says 61. His
Hands shake. From fear
Or sickness, who can tell?
Both are probable. He knows
Not what day he'll die, soon
Or later, now or then...
But he is afraid of soon, now,
And also then. Prolonging war
Torture: Must I live,
Suffering this war torture?

He killed a boy yesterday,
He remembers him, new to war,
Fresh as a baby, really. Not
Likely to have been long fighting.
But now dead, need not worry
About a future of killing. Oh, but he
Was young, innocent though foreign,
And deserved not death but life
Overflowing, strong and vital,
Taken by the gray-headed man,
Who has a son
His age at home. A wife,
She cooks for him. He met her
And knew she was for life.
She waits for him, her hair
Has become gray also, she worries...

But still, they fight
Beneath a gentle rain,
Not much blood spilt, not yet.
The rain gets harder, angrier.
It beats the soldiers
For giving in. Blood now runs
In the rivers, puddles of
Rain and blood, guns overworn,
Lack of bullets, of
Anything but fists. They grow
Now weak, fists fail, fall.
Transformed into blood in the dirt.
Fists fallen under a stressful sky
Back to where they birthed.


We spend so little a time anymore contradicting this culture of violence we have created. I thought humans adapted; I thought humans were becoming more civilized? As we grow toward better standards of living and higher technology, shouldn't we be growing also toward less violence? It seems to me to be the natural necessary progression of humankind (i.e. we should be proud of our ability to grow and change and become more peaceful, symbiotic - mutualistic creatures). The big ethical argument then will become, "Is it right to fight violence with violence?" And I am still struggling with this one.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Thank you for everything and for nothing

I feel as if I am making all the effort to get you to see me and yet I remain invisible. I am speaking out, I am pressing urgently against the mirror, barking, screaming, wagging my tail. I am voicing my frustration, I am thrusting honesty as my mace.... I am "communicating," communicating. But you can't hear me. You don't hear me. You don't want to. And my skin is replaced with this bitterness, an acid... And acidic bitterness that you can no longer touch. You have created it an you have controlled it to its completion. Thank you for everything and for nothing. I am not combustible (as you have hoped) but, I am steaming. I find you inaccessible and avoiding and my resulting bitterness makes me a match for you.