Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The voice of a 92 year old and the voice of a Vietnam War combat veteran who became a Zen Buddhist and the voice of a Nobel Prize winner and the voice of a commencement speaker

Abe Markman

As a white man living in a black family for the last fifty-eight years, and having served people of color as a social worker in inner cities, I can attest to having prejudice toward blacks and learning how to act without it. The key, I think, is to fully acknowledge it. Malcolm Gladwell discusses this phenomenon in his 2005 book, Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. He quotes a psychologist, Keith Payne, who writes that, “When we make a split-second decision, we are really vulnerable to being guided by our stereotypes and prejudices, even ones we may not necessarily endorse or believe.” Gladwell goes on to write that when one of our own hidden biases flashes before us, “we need to wait a beat before identifying the object in an unbiased way… the giant computer in our unconscious needs a moment to do its work.” (from an article in The Humanist)

In the following talks, Claude AnShin Thomas addresses what I perceive as the same process of learning not to act out of previous conditioning, of learning to act in ways that don't promote endless suffering.

Claude AnShin Thomas

Again and again, I find myself asking, "How much violence are we willing to tolerate so that we don't have to feel uncomfortable?"  And, "How much violence are we willing to tolerate so that we don't have to alter our lifestyle?" These are questions that echo in my mind as I move from place to place.  They apply not only to the obvious fighting taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan; they address the roots of violence that exist within me and within each one of us.  (from At Hell's Gate, p. 162)

Toni Morrison -- 1993 Nobel Lecture 

... She is convinced that when language dies, out of carelessness, disuse, indifference and absence of esteem, or killed by fiat, not only she herself, but all users and makers are accountable for its demise. In her country children have bitten their tongues off and use bullets instead to iterate the voice of speechlessness, of disabled and disabling language, of language adults have abandoned altogether as a device for grappling with meaning, providing guidance, or expressing love. But she knows tongue-suicide is not only the choice of children. It is common among the infantile heads of state and power merchants whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts for they speak only to those who obey, or in order to force obedience ...

... It's quiet again when the children finish speaking, until the woman breaks into the silence. 

"Finally", she says, "I trust you now. I trust you with the bird that is not in your hands because you have truly caught it. Look. How lovely it is, this thing we have done - together."

(quotes from the Nobel Lecture)

(Transcript from the Nobel Lecture)

Louise Erdrich

"Do your best for this beautiful world." (from the 2009 commencement speech)

This all took some time to listen to.  It was worth the time.


ellen abbott said...

re Abe who thinks that through science we will one day know the mystery of mysteries...that is the height of human arrogance, that we think that we, through whatever means...our senses or our science...can know and understand the mystery of the universe. that's like a single cell knowing the mystery of the body of which it just an infinitesimal part. we are not special and all life is intelligent. he's right though in that unless we humans come together in unity as humans, we won't survive.

I have not listened to the others just yet. but yes, we must do our best for this beautiful world.

beth coyote said...

Thank you for all of this.

X Beth

Sabine said...

There is much to listen to and I will do it slowly. Thank you.

I often wonder what the uptake is from these commencement speaches, would be interesting to ask the students maybe 10 years later.

As for science eventually providing (all?) the answers to our mysteries, I agree with Ellen. I remember a talk by bioligist Anne Glover I attended last winter (a longer version is here: https://youtu.be/dP3e67sqG6s) where she stressed again and again the importance to recognise that science will always *question* but never find *conclusive answers* simply because you can always ask the next question once you found what looks like a conclusion and so on and on.

In other words, uncertainty is inherent to science - unlike faith or belive systems which are based on various certainties which we dare not question.

And it is this uncertainty that makes science so challenging and frightening to some. But it actually reflects life ín all its shapes and forms, where nothing can ever be certain. Which is why evidence is so important. But that's another thing.

I adore your latest mandala!

am said...

Thank you, Ellen and Sabine, for your comments regarding Abe Markman's confidence in the power of science to answer all questions eventually. Although I don't agree with Abe Markman on that point, I appreciated his perspective as a 92-year-old man of Jewish heritage, an inner-city community social group worker and activist who married an African-American woman in 1953 and wrote a book about how they dealt with five generations of changing attitudes.

It is occurring to me that I am as cautious about putting absolute trust in the path of science as I am of putting absolute trust in the path of traditional faith and belief systems. I have absolute trust in whatever it is that connects us all and whatever connects all that is. Whatever it is, it is neither science nor faith or belief systems. My trust is based on my own experience, nothing else. Of course, not everyone has a sense that we are all connected. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, "To each one's own, it's all unknown." And there is something absolutely sacred about having a sense of humor and wonder. I sensed that in all the people whose voices I listened to and shared in this post.

Thank you, Sabine, for the link to the lecture by Anne Glover. I will listen while working on the next mandala, which I might be finishing in the next few days. Thank you for appreciating my mandalas!

37paddington said...

Power merchants. Finally a name for people in congress who stand by watching the president set fire after destructive fire.

Your mandala is beautiful.