Sunday, January 22, 2023

Repost: We cannot go backward

Photo by Todd Robertson
Update: 5 years after this post, after Charlottesville, and hate still rises, ugly and foul. I still hold the question: what is my role in helping to end this virus of hate?

I came of age on the edge of darkness. My senior year in high school was spent in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where I saw “whites only” drinking fountains and there were no black faces in my school. I went to college in Oklahoma and heard tales of black students having to sit in a roped off area of the law school classes. In the dorms, we had long conversations about whether or not we would want to swim in the same pool with “them." At my first "real" job, I was shunned because I went to break with the only black person in the all-women department, supervised by, of course, a man.

I didn’t grow up in a particularly progressive family, but it wasn’t filled with hate. When I looked at the photos from the Charlottesville rally, what struck me was the angry hate that filled the faces of the young, white men. What happened to them? How did they get to a place of such deep hatred, teetering on the edge of violence?

It reminded me of a time in the early 1990s when I visited the compound of the Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group led by Richard Butler from his compound outside Hayden, Idaho. I was writing a novel about white supremacists and, at the time, the Aryan Nations was a well-known terrorist group. I wanted to see for myself what they looked like and what they said in a one-to-one conversation. I was surprised when they granted me an interview. I was a nobody from no where.

When I drove into the compound in my tiny rental car, two old dogs came up to the car, tails wagging, which somewhat relieved the pounding of my heart. At least the dogs were friendly.

The compound had a rural, run down look: worn wooden buildings, people sitting in chairs on a long front porch. I noticed two, tow-headed children coloring on the porch steps. I could have been visiting my grandparents.

Butler’s office was a make-do metal building overflowing with papers, pictures of Hitler, swastikas and t-shirts for the believers. Butler was in his mid-70s and was kindly enough as he began to spew a well-rehearsed stream of how white people are threatened and have to stand up for themselves. He had heard all of my questions before. His answers were ready and pat so he didn't mind that I was recording them.

After about an hour of his disturbing monologue, I left. As I walked to my car, I glanced over at the children and could see what they were coloring: swastikas. That image of those young, innocent children coloring a symbol of hate shocked my system. I managed to get my car started and leave property, then stopped and wept and still tear up thinking about them. That was about 25 years ago. Were they part of the torch-carrying crowd in Charlottesville? 

When Jimmy Fallon said in his powerful message, “We cannot go backward,” it made me weep again. Weep for the hard-earned progress made over the past few decades, when all it took was one man with no moral compass to puncture the apparently unhealed wound underlying that progress.

We have much work to do. We cannot go backwards. However, those of us who believe in love, have to find a way to connect with those who hate. It reminds me of Edward Markham's poem Outwitted:

He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But, love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle and took him in!

We cannot go backwards. We have to draw a bigger circle. Each one of us who believes in love has to try to pass that love along to those who may have literally spent their childhoods amidst hate. Last year's election separated us into camps, divided friends and families as we drew a line in the sand and defended our positions, creating "them" and "us."

We cannot go backwards. Gandhi said, "We have to be the change we want to see in the world." We must have the "wit to win."

If we want to see a world of love, we have to BE love. Maybe it's time to refriend the people we've unfriended on Facebook. Maybe we can't understand their political position, but each one of them is a person: a mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son. Each of them is carrying wounds that cannot be seen, facing fears that darken their days.

If we can't love them, how can we expect those young men in Charlottesville to put down their torches?

We cannot go backwards.

Many years ago I was at a spirituality in business conference in Puerto Vallarta. During a break I was walking down the sidewalk and a young man was walking toward me focused on something in his hands. The sidewalk was narrow and we were on a collision course. Suddenly, the thought came to me: He with the most awareness has to be the one that moves. Of course, I just stepped aside and he moved on unaware of the life lesson he had just provided.

Those of us who know and believe in love are aware of its importance and power. We have to be the ones making the first move. We don't have to accept or condone their hatred or positions, but we do need to love the person.

We cannot go backwards.

Photo Credit: The photo above comes from a newspaper article taken during a Klan march in Gainesville, Ga., by photographer Todd Robertson on Saturday, September 5, 1992.

Love. Nothing else lasts.

Only Love

Maria Shriver in her Sunday Paper, quotes a response from one of her friend/readers to a column she wrote about AI.

"Maria,” Tom wrote, “Many people seek innovations that will change the world (ie. AI). Here is an innovation that will change us: answering ill will with good will, and absorbing pain without passing it on. All our inventing and discovering and experimenting and exploring will lead us back to this: the greatest human achievement is the power of love. No matter what.”

“There is really only one enduring purpose of life, and that’s love,” he continued.

“We can have thousands of paths to love, but we know it means to find a way to remove the hateful thoughts from our heads. It means bringing down the barriers that separate us. It means giving up the identities that pit us against each other. It means seeing the dignity in each human being and letting that divine insight drive the way we organize our systems.

“Love. Nothing else lasts.”

“So, how do we assess ChatGPT?” he asked. “Is it something that helps people achieve love? Can it help spread the effects of love? If not, then it's just the result of the restless mind of humanity, which, when it confronts the deepest riddles and challenges of life, gives up and—lying to itself about the significance of its quest—takes refuge in clever puzzles and cute stunts that do nothing to ease suffering or spread love, but instead give the restless, addictive mind a buzz, which tricks us into thinking we're on the right track.

“So, to the question, will AI replace us? Well, it may displace millions from their work, and that should be a profound concern, but it will not displace a single human being from their true purpose, which is to find a way to break through our divisions and become one with each other in love. Because that original and primordial human challenge is a battle that can only be won in the dark and terrifying chambers of the human mind, where we confront and defeat fear. And ChapGPT is not a tool that can help us in that quest. It’s just another artifact produced by our habit of fleeing the quest."

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Love Letter to my life #55: The incredible gift of SLOW.

 (We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day: the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my joy-filled life. — Joyce Wycoff)

   There seems to be a gadget in my brain that sweeps through the day’s debris as I sleep and spits out a ponder-bit as I awake in the morning. Yesterday, it was a question: Am I an empath? (Answer: probably not, but deserves more thought.) This morning it was the title for this blog post: The incredible gift of SLOW.

   I believe I was born slow and got to spend the first 13 years of my life in the slow lane before getting shoved into the rushing river which seems to go faster every year. An unrecognized-at-the-time blessing of the 2008 financial crisis was being spit out of that river. Now, I’m going on 15 years of “meandering with a mazy motion*” with only occasional bursts of shoulds and external deadlines.

   For the past two weeks I’ve been with a friend in La Paz, Baja California Sur, a place that seems designed for slow … peaceful waters, quiet beauty, and not a frantic bone in its body. I came full of plans: kayaking, snorkeling, exploring; and god laughed. My travel buddy has been nursing a sinus infection and her reduced energy invited me to let go of expectations and just relax, read, contemplate life, nap a lot.

   La Paz may be Mexico-lite, but it is Mexico. During the night, the dogs bark … a lot. We’re in a mixed neighborhood typical of Mexico: commercial enterprises (each fenced and guarded by multiple dogs) sit side by side with residences (with their own dogs), and hotels and airbnbs (where people try to sleep). 

   Often the dogs get restless at night and, since I’m not worrying about losing sleep because there’s always naps, I’ve thought a lot about those dogs. The story I’ve told myself is that one of them gets lonely or scared and calls out to his friends … “Anyone out there? Did you hear that noise? Did you see a stranger?”

   And across the neighborhood, his friends begin to call back … “Yes I heard it, too. What was it? Make more noise; maybe we’ll scare it away.” And sometimes it sounds like they’re refighting the troubles of the day, “You took my bone! I’m pissed. You do that every time. Now I’m hungry.” And the others chime in, barking their own opinions into the brouhaha.

   I listen to the canine drama as it reaches a crescendo and then drops away until one last dog … I think it’s the English Bulldog I see every day on my way to the malecon … he always seems to want the last bark. Part of me wants them to shut up and part of me wishes I knew the script.

In 1883, a lemon-sized and colored pearl was found in La Paz.
It wound up in Queen Elizabeth's crown.

   This morning, though, when my brain gadget delivered the ponder-bit about the gift of SLOW, it also added an acronym/life lesson: 

SLOW: Savor, Listen, Own, Wonder

Savor threw me out of bed this morning in time to experience a stunning sunrise and watch the fishermen heading out for their day.

Listen … put me into the minds of the neighborhood dogs, feeling their insecurities and fears, recognizing their connection to my own, and noticing how my own mind often “barks.”

Own … reminded me that this is my life and I don’t have to respond to the shoulds and expectations of others. However, I do need to own and honor the journey I've chosen and live it fully.

Wonder … connects me to all life as I explore the how, what and why of this incredible world I get to experience.

* From "Xanadu" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every year I post this poem written to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s  birthday and honor all that he gave us and to also honor Rosa Parks and all the brave people who gave so much to the fight for equality.
In these trying times we are still trying to live up to his words and actions. Our democracy and ideals may be tested; we have to stay strong and follow leaders who believe in equality and justice for all. We can't be too tired to stand up for the ideals of our country.

Twenty-six he was when destiny crooked its finger,
beckoning the still-green minister-scholar into the world.
Forty-two she was when she pounded on the door
theoretically opened ninety-four years before.
It was the first of December, 1955, when history wove
their fates together into a multi-colored tapestry of change.
“Tired,” she said, “Bone tired. Tired of giving up.
Tired of giving in,” she said and sat in the front of the bus.

Montgomery, Alabama, shivered as the temperature rose.
The old ways could be heard keening long into the night
as 42,000 people left the buses to stand by Rosa’s side.
381 days they walked: nannies, maids, carpenters, all.

Two hundred years of anger rose up to shatter the silence
and from this deafening roar came a molasses-rich voice
spinning a song of hope with a melody of peace and love.
“I have a dream,” boomed and echoed across the land.

The young minister-leader painted a picture of a life
without color lines, a world without violence.
His voice lifted the dream: Richmond, Little Rock,
Dallas opened their buses, took down their signs.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent
about things that matter," he said, never silent again.
He took our hands and led us step-by-step onto a new path,
brothers and sisters connected by heart rather than skin.

“Always avoid violence,” he said.
“If you succumb to the temptation …
unborn generations will be the recipients
of a long and desolate night of bitterness,
and your chief legacy to the future will be an
endless reign of meaningless chaos."

Thirty nine he was when one man with a gun 
silenced the voice,
but not the words …those four words 
branded into our brains:

“I have a dream …,” saffron-velvet messengers 
left behind to carry forward the dream 
of a color-blind world of hope and peace.

Dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. born January 15, 1929;
Assassinated April 4, 1968.
And Rosa Parks, civil rights activist, born February 4, 1913,
died October 24, 2005

-- Joyce Wycoff, copyright, 2020

Friday, January 13, 2023

Good Morning Thinkers!


In another time and place, I was a consultant and conference designer for creativity and innovation in organizations. Recently I found the leftovers of a blog I did for several years and it was so fun, like looking at baby pictures,  that I'm posting it here.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Live Out Loud by Maria Shriver


Magic is in the air

This newsletter from Maria Shriver touched me. Life is so fleeting and fragile. I don't want to waste a moment of it not "living out loud," not living in a constant state of gratitude for this gift of life. May 2023 bring you your heart's desire.

Live Out Loud

By Maria Shriver January 07, 2023
Happy new year, my friends! Happy, happy new year!

I hope you are doing well, that you had a restful and reflective holiday break, and that you have entered this new year feeling good about the days ahead. As for me, I have entered 2023 with a renewed passion for life. I am determined to feel alive, live out loud, and make the most out of every day and every relationship that I have.

I’m feeling this way in part because between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, I lost three good friends. Three.

Yesterday, I gave a eulogy for my friend Nick. Nick was a year younger than me and he loved life. He loved his big family, his friends, his work, and his relationship with his God. And even though he was battling pancreatic cancer, he was determined to live.

Nick did everything he could to prolong his life, and the last few words he said to me were these: “I have so much more to do, so much more to live for. This cannot be happening to me now. Not now.”

I really had no words, so I spoke about my love for him. I recounted all the amazing experiences we had shared, and I thanked him for always making me feel beautiful (Nick was an extraordinary hairdresser, but when you sat in his chair, he was also a motivator and an inspiring spiritual presence and guide).

Nick was an artist, a brother, a dedicated son, and a self-made man. He died with some of his dreams realized, but he had many more he still wanted to fulfill. My heart broke for him that he wouldn’t get the chance to live and see them through.

My friends, now is all we have. Today, right now. So in honor of all those who don’t get the chance to live, let us all commit to living. Let’s all commit ourselves to the lives we are lucky enough to have right now.

Over the holidays I played this game with my granddaughter where I drew pictures for her on a tablet. When I finished, she marveled at it and then pressed a button on the bottom and yelled, “I’m clearing it away!” Then poof, the picture was gone.

“Again, Mama G! Again!” she said to me.

I thought this was a great metaphor for life. Press the button and clear away that which does not serve you. Clear away the baggage that you’ve carried to this moment. Clear away anything and everything that drags you down, belittles you, shames you, or makes you feel as if you don’t belong here. Clear it and poof, let it go.

In this new year, we all have a clear canvas. We all get to choose to live big or small. We get to choose to be of service to our fellow human beings and our country, or to sit back and complain on the sidelines.

I’m feeling a lot of clarity right now. I went into this year feeling more optimistic than in years’ past. I feel lighter, more hopeful, and more determined to live big, experience some magic, and root for others and myself. Yes, all of that and more.

I’ve worked hard on myself these past many years. I’ve worked hard on my relationships to make sure that I didn’t leave things unsaid. I wanted to make sure that I could do all I could to make sure those I loved knew it. I wanted to resolve things that needed to be resolved.

Losing three friends back to back to back and spending time with others in the homestretch of their lives has made me wake up to the reality that this is it. I’ve always known that this life wasn’t a dress rehearsal, but if I’m honest, I didn’t live accordingly. Now I’m going to. I must.

For Christmas, I gave my kids things I owned and loved right off my shelf. My belongings went into their homes and, hopefully, into their hearts. I also tried to take compliments out of my heart and give them to people who have made me feel loved and who have walked alongside me. There’s no time like right now to tell others what you see in them and how they have made you feel. It’s no time to be stingy or selfish.

Speak and share love with abandon. Who cares if your friends do better than you? I don’t. I want to cheer them forward. Who cares about that slight from years ago? Life is too short. Let it go, make amends, and forgive. Treat others as you want to be treated. Time is short. You and I are alive, and we are the lucky ones. We made it here. We can choose to look ahead, to live out loud, and to fully embrace what it means to be alive, or we can choose not to do those things.

That’s my wish for myself and it’s my wish for you. It feels good to be optimistic and to leave things that weigh us down in the past. I’m embracing my magnificence and my magic. Yes, I am. I’m choosing to live in my power, not shrink from it. I’m choosing to stand in my light and not veer towards the darkness. I’m choosing to be hopeful about my own journey and the future of my country. I’m choosing to look for the good in others. I’m hopeful they will return the kindness, but even if they don’t, I will move forward with my intention.

I know there are terrible, challenging problems in our world right now, and I know many are pessimistic about the state of our country and its future. I know many of those I love, and also those I don’t even know, are struggling to get by every single day. Their minds don’t give them a break. Their lives feel heavy and dark. That’s all the more reason that those of us who have been there and have found our way forward must shout from the mountaintops that light is around the corner. We must let each other know that all of us can make our world better and that each of us is needed in a deep and meaningful way.

There is a bit more to her newsletter, but this is the part I wanted to share, the part I want to live.