Falling with Grace into Winter

As a mythologist, I tried to connect this article to the stories of an Algonquin bear hunt that explains why the leaves change colors in the fall or of Persephone’s yearly return to the Underworld that causes the seasons to shift, but I was more inspired from simply watching the animals and trees in our mountain community. The animals are not out as much, but even though I do not see them, they are busy making nests and storing food. Their work is not as obvious as their spring and summer activity, but it is important for their survival. I also noticed that the trees are turning colors and beginning to lose their leaves. Their fruit is a memory of late summer and a distant promise for next year. The animals and trees are focusing resources on the basics and preservation. It became obvious, to me, that I needed to fall back too and reorganize my mindset for the transition of the seasons.

You see, recently, I had been feeling out-of-sorts. I have felt more tired, less productive, and frustrated with myself. Regular seasonal mountain things, like power outages or road closures, felt more challenging and I was losing my patience more quickly than I should. I could not figure out what was wrong with me, but then, I realized – it is fall! Even though I have lived through enough years on the mountain to remember that the seasons are dramatic here, I forgot what those seasonal transitions mean for our day-to-day lives.

I was trying to live my life by summer standards and feeling myself falling short. While I filled my home with fall colors and good-smelling fall foods; I had not prepared myself for the fall. Instead of resisting with frantic attempts to be outwardly productive that is more suitable for summer; I needed to allow myself to do less, to rest, and to embrace the natural, more domestic nature of autumn. We physically retreat inside during the cold, dark days of winter, but we also need to give ourselves time to stop and go inside to ourselves during this time. Fall, and especially winter, are times for restorative stillness, reflection, and planning.

By researching for this article, by quietly watching nature, and reflecting to write – I learned to give myself grace and regain my patience. I learned by watching the trees that it is not only okay to release what does not serve us at this time, but also, that it can be beautiful to observe. The animals showed me that it is proper, not selfish, to focus resources on the home and that activities do not need to be obvious for them to be valuable. I learned to take time to rest, to reflect, and grow the seeds for spring.

Thank you for taking your time to read my ramblings. For more about the Algonquin myth of the bear hunt and the changing of the leaves in fall or the story of Demeter, Persephone, and the reason for the seasons according to Greek mythology, please listen to the links below.

Bear hunt
Persephone

Because of you, Ms. Susan

Because of you,
my children learned to read;
they learned their math and abc’s.

You watched them struggle.
You helped them grow.

I don’t know if we ever told you so,
but we love you more than you will ever know.

You were my children’s teacher,
but even more than that.

You’ve been so very much more
to them, to me, and our family.

Because of you
I learned to be a better mother.

Because of you
I’ve become a better friend.
A better person for my community,
for myself, my body, my children, and
every person I can.

You’ve taught us through your patience,
through your laughter, honesty, and love.

You’ve taught us all these past five years
you’ve been teaching us all along.
You walked with us through the heartaches,
through the confusion, and the tears.
You’ve walked with us so gently,
right beside us through the years.

Because of you my children learned to read;
they learned their math and abc’s.

But because of you, we all moved forward.
Because of you, we have learned to THRIVE!
Because you walked us through our darkness
Because of you, we are truly alive.

Because you are so much more than a teacher,
so much more even than a friend.

Please always remember,
our dear Ms. Susan;
when you see my children succeeding,
when you see my family smile,
when you see our life-long learning,
It’s because you are the awesome you that you are,
Ms. Susan, it was all because of you.

Ripples of Gratitude Poem

I thought of how to thank you,
the words alone seemed flat.
I had some wood,
I had some string, some nails, and a hammer too.
And with these things I made this gift,
a special gift for you.
I made this art,
From wood and strings,
From thoughts and hopes and words and dreams.
I didn’t know how else to show
my thanks for all that you have done;
but to give you this art I made for you,
I hope you like it, making it for you was fun.

By: Tracy Marrs

From fishing to bean soup

The time grandpa lost his patience with me

My grandpa was a kind and patient man. He was slow to anger and quick to smile with us kids – but there was a time he lost his patience with me, a time with Jeff, and a time his dad lost it with him that I want to share. These stories have continued to be told in our family as the few examples of times when grandpa’s patience wore thin.

I don’t know when my grandpa started to take me fishing by myself. I must have been about my kids’ ages (7-10) when I became a good fishing buddy. We enjoyed fishing the Santa Ana River in Southern California together.

My kids when they were little, at the Santa Ana

I was a city kid. My dad didn’t take me fishing and my mom and stepdad do not fish. It was grandpa that introduced me to the river, that taught me about the currents, and that showed me where to cast my line so it wouldn’t scare the fish, but flow naturally so they would bite.

Grandpa also shared his love for photography with me, specifically black and white photography. One winter day, grandpa thought it would be fun to take me to the aspens to take black and white pictures in the snow and catch a little fishing on the way home.

Like I said, I was a city kid, wearing city clothes. A long sleeve shirt, light jacket, jeans, and tennis shoes. If you are unaware of how to dress for a day in the snow and at the icy river – it is not jeans and certainly not tennis shoes.

The day started out beautifully. The aspens were the perfect subject for our pictures – especially in the snow. Soon however, my feet started to hurt and I wanted to go back to the warm car, but I was a trooper and I didn’t complain. I don’t think I even had gloves on – I was clueless.

We had time to warm up in the car from the aspens to the river. It was a pleasant drive as grandpa told me stories and we watched the snow covered mountains and trees pass the window.

As we walked out to the river, I hesitated. I knew the further we walked out, the further we had to walk back – and I was still cold. But, grandpa loved fishing, he wasn’t going to let a little ice on the creek stop him (he had full waterproof waders on). His enthusiasm was contagious as we got to the river to fish.

It was cold – but it was also very pretty. Until I slipped on one of the icy rocks in the river. I fell – hard – into ice, cold water. That was it, I had enough and wanted to go NOW! Grandpa was concerned but I was okay and we hadn’t fished long. I was crying and making lots of noise – between my splash and noise, he wasn’t catching any fish anyways and we hurried to his green Ford Explorer and cranked up the heater.

It wasn’t major, but I know my grandpa was irritated with me that day. His tone was different, his actions sharper – he has lost his patience with me. I felt like a fussy baby, not the tough oldest grandkid of Jack Jones. I was wet and cold and at that moment couldn’t even enjoy the beauty of the snow – it was the only time I remember grandpa becoming irritated by me.

The time he lost his patience with Uncle Jeff

Grandpa told me a story about a time he lost his patience with my Uncle Jeff when he was just a boy. They were walking the river, fishing. My uncle, being a small boy was lagging behind, I’m sure, and his arm brushed against a purple thistle. If you’ve never touched a thistle, it stings! The sensation is similar to how I imagine a hundred burning pins. There is an easy way to ease the pain – you either hold the affected area in the cold water or put cold river mud on it. At the time, my grandpa was already annoyed with Jeff.

Maybe grandpa didn’t know how bad a thistle sting could be but after seeing why Jeff was crying, my grandpa did something uncharacteristic – he lost his patience and got angry. He told Jeff that those flowers didn’t hurt that much and grabbed the thistle firmly into his hand.

Purple thistle
Illustration by Ben Levitt

Now, I’ve touched thistles plenty of times, but never grabbed it to were the needles would press into my skin. Grandpa told the story about how his anger made him foolish and the pain made his eyes well up with tears. He told me it was one of the worst pains he ever felt and it was even worse because it was a pain he deserved because it came from anger at his hurt son. He told me the story to teach me not to touch thistles but also to warn me not to let the anger win.

The time grandpa made his dad swear

I never knew my great grandparents except through stories, but my great grandfather was a good, kind, and gentle man. He was a farmer that prayed and often shed a tear when he took an animals’ life for food. My grandpa was raised a Quaker and according to him, his father never cussed or swore but did have two ‘Yankee curse words’ and I want to share a time of when my grandpa made his kind and gentle father so mad – he said them both.

Grandpa as an adult was mischievous and a bit of a trickster so I can only imagine what sort of fun he must have been as a young boy. One time, he and his friend got the idea to trick his dad. They got a bucket, filled it full of water, and balanced it on the wedged door his dad would be coming through and then, hid and waited.

When great grandpa walked through the door, the bucket did not turn over and instead of having a bucket of water spill out on his head, he had a bucket full of water fall directly, with full force onto his head – and then spill on the floor.

My grandpa said he could still remember the sickening sound of the bucket hitting his father’s head and the extreme sudden remorse he felt. He had only meant to play a joke, not seriously injure him.

Little boy grandpa and his friend stayed hidden out of fear as his father’s face grew red from the neck up and tears rolled out of his eyes down to the floor and he very quietly, but with great anger said “Rats … BEAN SOUP!”

And that is the only time my grandpa said he remembered his father cursing.

I found this image when I typed in rats and bean soup. Kind of funny (it was with a story of a soup company that made rat meatballs which isn’t as funny) but I liked it enough to add as a combo of the swear words – rats and bean soup.

Parvati, Kali, and Balance

Siva, god of destruction, is associated as the consort or husband of Devi, the Mother-goddess, who is represented in the form of several goddesses. Two Devi representations that stand out are Parvati and Kali because they are so very different, especially in the way they relate with Siva. Parvati is a calming force for Siva while Kali incites him to greater destruction. Parvati attempts to civilize Siva, to change him, but Kali is even more uncivilized than Siva so through their relationship another, more civilized, Siva is revealed. Studying the myths and relationships with these three deities demonstrates both duality and balance.

Western perspective and confusion

These myths and information about the deities can be very confusing, the more information that is uncovered, the more confusing it becomes. Part of the confusion, for me, was from looking at these myths through western eyes. Zimmerman warns about reading these myths through western perspective, but every person uses their background knowledge when reading so it is almost impossible not to incorporate your own cultural perspective in any reading. The other part of the confusion is the fluidity of the characters. Parvati is identified as the reincarnation of Sati, Siva’s first wife, but she is also being represented as Durga, Rudrani, Uma, and Kali, entirely different goddesses, but in truth, all of these goddesses are aspects of Devi. How can one deity be so many different goddesses; such extremely different personalities? I believe the way to reconcile this is to look at our own natures, are we as individuals easy to label? Are we calm or wild, happy or sad, or funny or serious?  The truth lies that we identify somewhere in the middle, we are at times happy, at times sad – we are complex beings and so are the gods and goddesses in the Hindu religion. In the western world, it is expected for religious personalities to be easy to label and understand, not fluid; they are extreme. However, to a person who understands the nature of duality and the complexity of whole characters, it is understood that no one is all this or that but a mixture of qualities, this is what is known as duality. What the myths show with these two consorts is a need for balance of these extremes. Siva must be at times destructive, as is his nature, but at times he must also be calm to allow for Brahma and Visnu to create and preserve. With Parvati, we see her as the cause of balance but with Kali, we actually see Siva as the one that calming force for the wild goddess.

Another misconception that arises with looking at the myths with the western perspective is that the Devi goddess is not as important as her consort god, Siva. Since Parvati doesn’t have any history separate from Siva, she would be seen as less than to westerners. “Her identity and nature and nearly all her mythological deeds are defined or acted out vis-à-vis her consort/husband, the great ascetic god Siva” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 35). In fact, she was reincarnated specifically so that Siva could have a child that was necessary to save the world. In reality, she is equal to or more powerful than Siva. She is the only one powerful enough to make Siva change his mind. It is implied that “the great male gods are entirely dependent on the Devi for their strength and power and that if she withdraws her power, they are impotent and helpless” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 137). In the westerner’s mind, it is he who does the action that is important, not the one that inspires it. The mind can be much more powerful than the body. What westerners do not often recognize that both have power and importance; it is about balance.
Who is Siva?

Siva, pronounced and often written as Shiva, is one of the three gods responsible for the creation, upkeep, and destruction of the world. Brahma is the creator of the universe, Visnu is the preserver, and Siva is the destroyer. He must destroy the illusions and imperfections of the world so we can have positive change. Often, destruction is thought of in negative terms but it is necessary to have destruction in order to have creation, it is balance.

Siva contains many contradictory elements and an untamed passion; he can be seen as both good and evil. His behavior is often extreme, especially when without Parvati. “Paradox is the very heart of Saiva mythology” (O’Flaherty 300-337). He is an ascetic that abstains from all worldly pleasures while at other times; he is a hedonist that gives in to his every whim. “Although the apparently contradictory strains of Siva’s nature may well have originated from different times and places, they have resulted in a composite deity who is unquestionably whole to his devotees; this is why the Hindus accept and even glorify what might otherwise seem a meaningless patchwork, a crazy quilt of metaphysics” (O’Flaherty 300-337). It is Siva’s contradictions that make him whole and more realistic because upon reflection, it is apparent that humans also have contradictions and this makes Siva more relatable. The way Siva achieves balance is through his marriage with Sati and later her reincarnation, Parvati. “Together they are fertile, generative, and equilibrating, but apart they are potentially destructive” (Handelman 133-170). Siva also achieves balance with Kali, however with Kali; he is the calm to her destructive nature, showing that Siva contains both the wild and out of control as well as stabilizing aspects in his nature. The inclusion of the Kali myths demonstrate that Siva contains duality and balance within his own personality.

The Devi Goddesses, Parvati and Kali

Since Parvati is the reincarnation of Sati, the two are often seen as the same goddess; two lives of the same goddess. Parvati, Sati, comes back to the world for the purpose of bearing Siva’s child to the world. There are many versions of the myth of Parvati and how she becomes mother to Siva’s offspring. This is a synopsis of the history of Parvati: there was a demon named Taraka terrorizing the world and the only way this demon could be defeated and balance restored was by the offspring of Siva. Since Siva did not have any children and had no interest in having any sort of family, Sati was convinced to return to the world to persuade Siva to have an offspring. Parvati gains Siva’s admiration by performing tapas, cutting herself off from the world and mastering her physical needs. When they are finally married and make love, they are interrupted and Siva’s seed is spilled outside Parvati. It is eventually deposited into the Ganges River and becomes the child Karttikeya, also called Skanda and other names. He returns to his parents and saves the world and restores balance by defeating the demon Taraka. Parvati raises Karttikeya as her own son but she also creates a second son, Ganesa, on her own. The reason Parvati decides to have the second child is to guard for her so she can have privacy. When Siva returns, Ganesa does not allow him in and Siva cuts his head off. Parvati demands that Siva brings their son back to life so Siva grabs the head of an elephant and places it on the boy’s body. The complete family is Siva, Parvati, and their two sons, each created individually by one of the parents.

Even though Parvati is the daughter of the Himalayas and lures Siva out of his ascetic isolation by becoming an ascetic herself, she values the household and society. She “represents the beauty and attraction of worldly, sexual life, which cherishes the house society rather than the forest, the mountains, or ascetic life” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 46). The couple represents the tension between the ideals of the ascetic and the householder. Siva has no desire for family or in settling down but Parvati desires, in fact is born, to marry Siva and have children. “Contact with his properly cultured spouse seems to connect him with ordinary social reality and temporarily domesticates him” (Yocum 119). While Parvati does partially domesticate Siva, she does not fully succeed in achieving her desire for a “normal” life. For instance, Parvati desires a proper home but they never do . Also, Siva retains his wild, ascetic appearance, and continues some of his wild behavior. Since Siva is a god of many extremes, it is Parvati’s role to be the tamer of these extremes, both ascetic and sexual and create balance. Siva never fully gives in to her desires as a householder and she never goes back to asceticism so they remain in a constant state of tension or balance.

The relationship of Parvati and Siva is a case for opposites attracting, duality and balance, but Kali and Parvati are also a representation of duality and balance. While Parvati hardly has any independent history, Kali is rarely associated with her male consort, Siva. Parvati is the householder that desires children yet Kali is often depicted as virginal and violent. Kali prefers the battlefield, Parvati prefers the home. Parvati and Kali may appear to be opposites but Kali is actually represented as part of Parvati. Parvati and Kali are an example of duality and balance existing within one individual.

Kali exists with Siva as the personified wrath of Parvati or Sita. She comes into being when we need to see the otherwise calm and beautiful Parvati be fierce. While Parvati is known for her beauty and quiet grace, Kali is known for a terrible and frightening appearance. Even when compared to Siva’s most terrible forms, she surpasses his wild appearance. “She is always black or dark, usually naked, and has long, disheveled hair. She is adorned with severed arms as a girdle, freshly cut heads as a necklace, children’s corpses as earrings, and serpents as bracelets” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 117). Her nature is fearsome and she enjoys battlefields and cremation grounds. While Parvati calms the wild nature of Siva, Kali intensifies it. In fact, Siva is the one that needs to calm Kali’s wild behavior. In their relationship, they are depicted “in situations where either or both behave in disruptive ways, inciting each other, or in which Kali in her wild activity dominates an inactive or sometimes dead Siva” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 119). When they are together, she is always extreme and uncontrollable.

While Parvati tries to tame Siva, Kali compliments his destructive habits and madness, bringing them to even higher levels, the opposite of balance. She is seen in most images as dominant over Siva, often standing on his body. She is never “subdued by him and is most popularly represented as a being who is uncontrollable and more apt to provoke Siva to dangerous activity than to be controlled by him” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 120). She is the one that needs taming, even in her role as demon slayer, which one would think would help bring balance. In battle, Kali becomes so drunk on blood that she becomes out of control and must be subdued or she may just destroy the world. Balance in these situations is attained by the intervention of Siva.

Duality and Balance

Through the relationships of Siva and Parvati, Siva and Kali, and Kali and Parvati the theme that we see over and over again is the existence of duality and the need for balance. Balance between the spiritual and social worlds with Siva and Parvati is important in Hindu culture since the stress towards living a spiritual life would almost suggest a break from the world of the household but balance is actually the message, not just renunciation. “Both renunciation of action ant the selfless performance of action lead to the supreme goal. But the path of action is better than renunciation” (Easwaran 29). Balance between out of control, destructive behavior and the need to have that destruction reigned in as seen with Siva and Kali is important since Siva’s destruction is meant so that a better world can be created not the entire world destroyed. Finally, the balance of independence and interdependence, wild destruction and calm house making, and beauty and terror are seen in one being with Kali and Parvati which demonstrates how we all have the capabilities of extremes within ourselves.

“It is sometimes said that Indian culture generally betrays a love for extremes, that moderation and balance tend to get lost in the Indian tendency to exploit everything to its ultimate limit” (Kinsley, Freedom from Death in the Worship of Kali 183-207). However, it is in these dual natural extremes that we see balance. Siva, Parvati, and Kali are extreme in nature but together they have balance. Humans and the gods and goddesses of Hindu myths have dual natures that contain extremes and balance. It is by nurturing different aspects of our natures that we become more to one extreme or the other. Often, it is the people we surround ourselves with that causes us to be either more extreme or balanced, like demonstrated by the relationships of Siva with Parvati and Kali.

Even though it may appear that the Indian culture has a love for extreme, I believe it is the western culture that actually embraces extremes, or absolutes. As demonstrated, the relationships of these three Hindu deities show a desire for balance, they show complex characters that contain dualities and balance. It is the dominant, western religion, Christianity, the non-human characters are extreme; Satan is purely evil and the personification of god, Jesus, is purely good and without sin. Even the actions taken by god in Christianity are extreme; when Adam and Eve commit the first sin, they are cast out into the wilderness; when the society is too corrupt, a flood is sent to wipe out all of humanity and life save for one family and pairs of each animal. This is why it is so difficult for westerners to comprehend the wholeness, the dualities that exist in Hindu deities. It is hard to think of a supreme being as both out of control and stable. For the western mind, these deities are too human which makes them hard to understand or respect. That is why, even with Devi, it is hard for a westerner to grasp that she is both Parvati, the householder, and Kali, the bloodthirsty warrior. The duality of the gods and goddesses in Hinduism doesn’t lessen their importance, it increases their ability to be relatable and makes the lessons from their myths relatable to our lives.

There are two lessons shown through these relationships, balance and duality. First, is duality; all humans have duality, we are not extreme. This is important to remember when dealing with each other and when reflecting on ourselves. We can be less judgmental by remembering that everyone has a dual nature and is struggling towards the second lesson which is balance; balance within the individual and balance in relationships. Balance is necessary within the individual, without balance there is dissatisfaction and unhappiness. It must also exist in a relationship or there will be the same result of dissatisfaction and unhappiness and often the termination of the relationship. Sometimes qualities can shift back and forth between the individuals in a relationship, as we see with the shift of Parvati to Kali with Siva but tension and balance must exist.

Balance and embracing our own duality can lead to a happier, more enlightened life. The Bhagavad Gita tell us “they live in freedom who have gone beyond the dualities of life. Competing with no one, they are alike in success and failure and contend with whatever comes to them” (Easwaran 25). We can be happier with who we are because even when we fall short, we know we have the qualities to be better. When we feel overly proud that we have a specific “good” attribute we can become more humble by recognizing that we also contain the “negative” attribute as well. By recognizing duality in others and having less judgment or comparison to them, we can be happier with who we are and who they are.

I would like to end with one of my favorite quotes from The Bhagavad Gita. “It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity” (Easwaran 21).  This relates to the messages of balance and duality. We need to recognize and embrace both our inner Parvati and Kali. Even if others may see one trait as better than another, it is within ourselves that we need to strive to succeed, not in the eyes of others. It is not competition or scrutiny of others that will make us happy. All people must strive to contend within their own dharma and understand their own duality in order to maintain balance and attain true joy and spiritual enlightenment and these are the lessons I learned from studying Siva, Parvati, and Kali.

Works Cited

 

Easwaran, Eknath. The Bhagavad Gita. 1st edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1985. Print.

Handelman, Don. “Myths of Murugan: Asymmetry and Hierarchy in a South Indian Puranic .” History of Religions. 27.2 (1987): 133-170. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062666&gt;.

Kinsley, David. “Freedom from Death in the Worship of Kali.” Numen. 22.3 (1975): 183-207. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org.pgi.idm.oclc.org/stable/3269544&gt;.

Kinsley, David. Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1988. Print.

O’Flaherty, Wendy. “Asceticism and Sexuality in the Mythology of Siva, Part I.” History of Religions. 8.4 (1969): 300-337. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062019&gt;.

Yocum, Glenn. Hymns to the Dancing Siva: A Study of Manikkavacakar’s Tirubacakum. Columbia, Missouri: South Asia Books, 1982. Print.

Zimmer, Heinrich, and Joseph Campbell. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Eighth printing. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. Print.

Storytellers: Weekend retreat for women with a story to tell

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

     I lived most of my life with untold stories inside of me. I wouldn’t acknowledge the stories from my past and was afraid to believe in stories for the future. This was a painful way to live because I wasn’t my true self. It took years of studying mythologies and depth psychology to begin to understand the importance of our stories. Once I embraced my stories – both lived and unlived – life began to change in ways I had not before imagined possible. I was no longer content to live the life that was easy. I wanted a life that was interesting and fulfilling. I learned how to write my story and actually live it! I had control of my life. It wasn’t easy, in fact it was terrifying, and continues to be an ongoing journey but the rewards are certainly worth the effort. In fact, the effort has been its own reward. I invite you to join us for a weekend of self-discovery to find out what stories need to be told and how to tell them to shape a better future.

Our speakers Juile Paegle, Kathy Jaffe, and myself, Tracy Marrs are enthusiastically preparing meaningful experiences for our exciting weekend focusing on the power of words. You don’t need to be a writer to have a story to tell but if you want to write, Julie and myself have years of experience guiding writers of all levels to awaken their untold stories and make them alive on the page. Oftentimes, facing these stories can be difficult, Kathy is a licensed therapist with a background in word power and living mindfully. Her experiences and training give her the ability to help others as they navigate their narratives to find their authentic selves.

If things get a little too cerebral, take a break and go for a swim in the pool, relax on the deck and listen to the birds, or wander along the many scenic trails, on your own or with a friend. Also, make sure to take time to quiet the mind and stretch the body with our amazing yoga instructor. Stories can heal the past, enrich the present and comfort and inspire us for the future. Your story is important – let us help you find it, express it, and live it.

September 16-18, 2016

Camp de Benneville Pines

 

Transformative power of story

Stories are transformative.
Stories touch the soul and the mind.
Data and logic are meaningless unless they make a person care. To care about data, the active thinker creates a story within their own mind – they activate prior knowledge and relate to the information. Data can move active thinkers to create change. Active thinkers can care about data but they have to be able to relate the data through their prior knowledge (stories). Stories or data converted into stories make people care because it is easier to relate to a story than a fact.
Stories create emotion which is what is needed to create change. Logic alone will not move people to action, for that we need our stories.

This is why I teach through story.

image

Right or Privilege?

Using precise language to clarify a point-

Carlin quote

A little over a week ago, I saw this quote by George Carlin posted on Facebook. As a lover of words and Carlin, this quote struck me and I began turning it over and over in my head. Once I had let it churn in my head, it began to churn in my heart and it became deeply disturbing. What is the difference between a right and a privilege? If Carlin is correct and the ability for something to be denied makes it privilege and not a right; then my rights just became considerably fewer. In fact, it became difficult for me to think of what could actually still be considered a right. Do I have any rights – or do I just have privileges that I think are rights?

In order to understand these words, the best place to start is the dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary offered the following definitions:

Right: “Legal, moral, or natural entitlement.”
Entitlement: “A legal right or just claim to do, receive, or possess something.”
Privilege: “A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by an individual, corporation of individuals, etc., beyond the usual rights or advantages of others.”

This helped add clarity – a right is legal (from the law), moral (from the self), or natural (inherent) entitlement. The word entitlement makes it really about law – a person may think something should be a right but if they are denied to any members of our society, they are privilege. There has been a lot of talk about privileges. Looking at this quote, I had to realize that there are many things I had thought to be rights but they are privileges. I had to face the fact that I have given the government power to give or take these privileges because I had not tried to stop the government from denying these “rights” to others. Through apathy, I have given these rights away and made them privilege, I now see the error of my thinking.

Our constitution states that our inherent (natural) rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but these are not really rights legally. Legally, a person can be denied life with the death penalty, liberty with imprisonment, and the right to pursue happiness is only a privilege given to those that pursue happiness in accordance to the values of others. The death penalty and imprisonment are thought of as ways to deter crime. Their effectiveness as a deterrent has not been satisfactorily proven for me to think this is an acceptable reason for me to lose life and liberty as rights. However, there are individuals in our society that commit violent crimes and seek to harm others. Violent individuals are imprisoned to protect the nonviolent members of society. In order to keep individuals that have proven themselves to be unable or unwilling to control their harmful desires away from me and the people I love, I am willing to lose my liberty to harm others.

I agree that were I to cause harm purposefully, I should be imprisoned until I can prove to no longer be a threat to others but what about other, non-violent crimes? A person can lose liberty for the inability to a pay ticket, for using illegal (as opposed to legal) drugs, or for the way they parent their child. This scares me because these are all judgement-based crimes. They are only crimes because other people think they are wrong, not because they are harmful or threatening in any way. I don’t mind relinquishing my liberty if I cause physical harm to others but these things are matters of personal choice. What I put in my body, how I raise my children, and how I spend my money should be my right to choose. So many people are fighting for a woman’s right to choose if she wants to have an abortion, something known to cause harm to mother and child. Where is this passion when it comes to a parent’s right to choose how to raise that child? This seems irrational. These things are moral and natural rights but not legal rights. Prisons are filled with people that exercised these rights but found out they were merely privilege. It is evident that inherent rights, our natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not legally guaranteed so they are privilege.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not rights. Until all the people of our country can enjoy these privileges equally, they are not rights. This is scary because these things can be taken away at will. Laws that are created to protect us from ourselves really limit our ability to choose how to live. Even an individual that has not committed a crime can be legally imprisoned if it can be argued that they broke a law. It doesn’t take long to look in the news and see cases of personal choice being cause for imprisonment. Parenting is under attack in this country. It is the responsibility of every parent to raise their child in a way that benefits the child and helps them to become healthy adults. The way each parent does this is different based on cultural norms and the temperament of the child. A parent can be arrested and have their child taken from them if someone else decides they do not think the way you raise your child is appropriate and they can convince the law they are right and you are wrong. It is a natural right and a moral right but not a legal right. I am NOT okay with this being a privilege. There is nothing more important to me in my life than my children. The thought that the government can come and forcibly remove them shakes me to my very core and gives me fear. I am afraid to make waves or in any way call attention to myself because it isn’t even my right to care for my own children. The fact that I can be imprisoned, even the fact that I could be killed do not fill me with fear like the fact that my kids could be taken from me and kept from me.

One recent example of parents unable to express their parental choice is the case of the Florida parents arrested for neglect because their eleven-year-old son was left alone playing basketball in his own back yard for ninety minutes. This is the time between when the boy got home from school and the parents got home from work. A neighbor called the police when he saw the boy home alone and the police detained the boy in the backseat of the car until the parents arrived and were arrested. There are so many things here that I thought were my rights but now I realize they are just my privilege. Liberty and the right to parent your child were stripped from these parents in the name of child safety. Neglect is a serious issue but this is not a case of neglect. The child was in no way harmed or in put in any real danger by being home alone until the parents arrived. The only trauma this boy experienced was the legal intervention. For a young boy, sitting in the back of a police car as neighbors looked on was probably scary and humiliating. On top of that, the boy had to watch his parents be arrested and taken away. This must have been incredibly frightening and confusing for the boy – much more frightening than playing on his own in the backyard. In this case, the right to parent was forcibly taken and the entire family made to suffer based off of someone else’s judgement of their parenting choices. When I was younger, kids were often allowed to be alone for short periods of time – it was so common that the term for such a practice was latch-key kids. I was a latch-key kid and I enjoyed the time between getting home from school and my parents coming home from work. I knew if I needed anything, I could go to my neighbors for help so I never felt neglected. It gave me a sense of independence and helped me learn how to take care of myself. Today, my parents could be arrested for choosing to let me care for myself.

Another nonviolent perceived right is our ability to care for ourselves in a manner we see fit. People are allowed to alter their bodies through surgery, tattoos or piercings but what we put into our bodies is not our personal freedom. Choosing to medicate through the legally acceptable methods using over-the-counter or prescription drugs is legally permitted but using other substances is not. Every illegal drug has its legal counterpart but we are not given the right how we want to medicate our bodies or minds. The privilege to medicate is only given to those individuals with health care and financial ability to legally obtain medicines. Self-medication is becoming more popular with the use of homeopathic medicines and essential oils but this is only acceptable because society has agreed to allow it for now but who is to say that this privilege won’t ever be taken away?

My natural rights are only privileges and my moral rights like parenting my children and how I care for my body are only rights when they are deemed acceptable to others – so they are also privilege. What is left? What are my legal rights? This is debatable because with the right circumstances, even a murderer can be legally allowed freedom. Law is a thing of privilege. Depending on the quality of counsel, the judge, the climate of the courtroom, and any number of other factors, a person can get away with breaking a law or they can be convicted even when they are not legally at fault. For this reason, we have no rights legally because once in a courtroom, those rights can be legally taken away.

I am still struck with whether or not I have any rights left. The only thing I can think I can control is my own is my mind and my relationships. My mind could be poisoned, I could be institutionalized and put on medications to subdue my thoughts, so having control of my mind is not my right, it is a privilege. My relationships, my ability to relate to others is my right. Once a relationship has been established, the people involved gain privilege. If someone else cares for a person then that person becomes less vulnerable to having their privileges taken away. It is because a person is cared for that a government has trouble taking privilege. The loss of privilege is noticed and others come in to help regain those privileges. The only right we have left is our right to care about each other and we throw this right away through fear, apathy, and hate. We can only fight this massive lack of rights through caring. Caring enough to create change, caring enough for each other to protect the things that should be rights, and caring enough to risk our own privileges to make sure others don’t lose theirs. The problem isn’t that we do not have lost our basic rights – it is that we do not care enough to realize that we lost never had them to begin with. We need to care enough to claim these privileges as rights so we do not have to live in fear of government or each other.