Category: Don’s Blog

Tips for Fishing and Living # 67, Part One:

Tip #67:

Part One of Two:

“Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course, I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.”               Norman Fitzroy Maclean, A River Runs Through It

The other day I was trying to explain to a couple I am working with what could be available to them through the particular dialogue technique I was attempting to teach them. But for some reason they just weren’t getting it; he especially so. Finally I blurted out:

“Screw the technique! It’s the connection with each other’s souls that I’m wanting so badly for you.”

I am convinced that the WHY – the Reason – for wanting to do anything is the most important component of any goal. Once we know the WHY, then all of the HOWS become a matter of mere details. We first need to know what it is we want before we go can about getting into the various things that might improve the possibility of us effectively achieving any desired result. When we don’t know the WHY we often are just spinning our wheels. The old adage: “If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will do,” readily applies.

This also applies to lots of things. And it certainly applies to committed relationships and marriage. I don’t think many couples set out with very ambitious or audacious goals when it comes to what they want from their marriage. They may have vague or general ideas, such as a partner that they get along with, a house, a child or two, but then that’s about it.

When my wife and I got married I took on that we would create a marriage that is extraordinary. I didn’t know at the time what that really meant, except I wanted us to become fabulous lovers and grow closer with each passing year. I also didn’t know what it would take to create an extraordinary marriage.

Call it naïve, or silly, or grandiose, but I am truly glad to have set the bar high. I contend that couples are either slowly growing closer together, or they are drifting apart. You might also say we made it clear that our WHAT was: we wanted to have a relationship that is thriving and growing and that we are always discovering how to love one another more. Over these many years since our wedding we have discovered newer and more effective HOWS. We have discovered some of our approaches were not helpful and so we have jettisoned them. We have found others that have proven to be helpful and we have built upon these in our efforts to grow in our capacity to love.

Older people who have had the benefit of putting in sufficient time may learn a few of the tricks of the trade.  Those couples who have managed to hang in there with a life-long partner, and who have refused to settle for some sort of sad and unfulfilling arrangement, as well as, have not otherwise become so discouraged – resigned – so as to no longer keep trying, are very special people. These are people who have discovered something quite miraculous. These are people who may have endured and suffered some minor or serious setbacks in order to have gained the wisdom that now carries them today.

Grace perfects nature is an expression I love. In addition to this I also know there is no such thing as quick and easy grace. Couples that endure and learn – often by trial and error – have a sustaining fortitude and a perseverance. They are willing to go to that “school of hard knocks” and get their PhD! What these life-long learners discover often comes as a result of their initial desire to be loved. Somewhere along the way they come to believe that in order to get love you must give love. This carries them to a point’ but it isn’t enough.

For the really special couples something truly miraculous happens: they discover that giving love turns into a steadfast and graced series of opportunities in how to give love unceasingly, and to give it without expectations. Their new found capacity to give love grows and eventually becomes limitless. It has no boundaries; it does not require anything in return. It is, instead, a matter of the soul and of a soul connection. This is what I was hoping for the couple I mentioned earlier who I am trying to teach how to communication better.

The people that have discovered marriage to be a place to learn how to become masterful lovers are all around us. They rarely make the news or headlines. Masterful lovers is not what they describe themselves to be. They are humble people who are able to be vulnerable. They are also courageous enough to totally risk everything without any assurance that the risk they take will be worth it. And, of course, it always is. But by this point it is NOT why they do so. By now it is as though they cannot help it.

As I have said, marital relationships can be the place for growth and development like no other – a school for learning – but only if the two parties choose to make it so. It isn’t automatic. It is not even easy. It is, however, where every crisis or bump in the road can become an opportunity. It is also an on-going and lifelong commitment to discover how to grow closer and how to learn to love each other on the other’s terms. Masterful lovers eventually arrive at some fundamental understandings regarding marriage. Here are but a few:

  • Being right is highly over rated and is not very important.

In fact when we surrender our compulsive need to be right we gain an understanding and insight about becoming close and intimate with our mate. Understand that each party naturally thinks he or she is right, and in a sense each one is. Each is right from his or her vantage point – from each one’s different and unique perspective.

 

Therefore it is simply one’s perspective that isn’t shared with the other partner. Our partner sees it to be different. It’s just different; not better. The late Bert Hellinger, Ph.D., once chided a couple that their so-called discussions were mostly designed with the sole purpose of each wanting to convince the other person to believe something he or she doesn’t believe. He stated, “That’s always a waste of time. Let him/her have their opinion. Yours isn’t any better; it’s only different.”     

Part Two will be posted next week:

Tips for Fishing and Living #66

Tip #66:

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.”

                                                                Norman Fitzroy Maclean, A River Runs Through It~

At my church we regularly revisit the great gospel story of when Jesus first meets Peter, who is on the beach repairing his fishing nets. I’ve heard this story many times and have reflected on it often. It seems obvious Peter hasn’t caught any fish yet Jesus asks Peter what he is doing and “did you catch any fish?” I imagine Peter was already in a foul mood due to his poor fishing results, and how he could have become even more irritated by this intruder’s inquiry. Peter might have taken Jesus as trying to deliberately provoke him. And yet the two continue talking until Jesus tells Peter he ought to go back out in his boat to a certain area and “he will surely catch a lot of fish.”

It is unclear exactly why Peter, a veteran fisherman, takes this advice but by now he has seemingly picked up something remarkable about this Jesus. So, as the story goes Peter does go back out and he catches so many fish he has to have help from another boat to bring in the vast amount of fish caught. We then read that when Peter’s boat gets close to shore he jumps out and runs up onto the beach near Jesus and immediately prostrates himself as he shouts “get away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

I think that if we had been Jesus we might have been tempted to tell Peter that this was, indeed, a great insight; and that the first step toward growth is acknowledging one’s mistakes and wrongful ways. We may have even suggested to Peter that if he should go about working on his self-improvement, that perhaps by the time we returned to this town again Peter might then be ready – be somehow worthy – of joining us, and to “come follow me.”

As we also know, Jesus does none of this. What he does do is not this seemingly very human-like response at all. Instead Jesus totally ignores Peter’s sense of unworthiness. He overlooks it completely, and simply tells Peter to “come, follow me,” – as in, come right now – just as you are – and then he adds, “And I will make you a fisher of people.” 

This is a radical love. It is counter-cultural. And it is illustrative of a kind of love we cannot earn or cannot lose. It is a love we find so difficult to wrap our heads around since it is not our usual way to love. This ideal way of loving – this unearned or un-achieved love – isn’t how we humans tend give love to others. But God’s love is exactly this kind of love. God’s love is generously given; and it is given to each and every person without us even asking.   

Because we’re born into a capitalist worldview that makes a virtue out of accumulation, consumption, and collecting we are blind to another way. This is part of the reason we find it so hard to recognize that our worldview is not sustainable, or do we see it as an unhappy trap? It is the only way we know. We may feel a tug every so often, and have insight into our living in an unsustainable way when we slow down enough and take stock of our present lives.

It is in those slowed down reflective moments we can see the love I am describing that the love Jesus offered Peter is counter to our usual way. Our worldview of life – the one we are born into – leads us to a predictable future of strained individualism, environmental destruction, and severe competition, especially as we think that our resources dwindle as the world population grows. Perpetual war is also a logical outcome of our worldview.

Our culture can ingrain in us the belief that there is not enough to go around (a scarcity model), which determines most of our politics and spending. As I have said in the past, we behave as if there is not enough money for adequate health care for all, quality education for everyone, support for the arts as offering significant value, the necessity to maintain our basic infrastructures, or treating our environment as a living organism. At the same time we always have the largest budget for war, bombs, and military equipment. Simply put: our worldview is based upon fear and survival.

A slowed down life is fostered by a lifestyle committed to Contemplative Living. Such a life draws us toward a different worldview – one based upon love. It brings with it the wisdom of how a simplified life and one of having less so that others can have enough is desirable. This less can only operate with a conviction that the universe is expanding and that there really IS more than enough for everyone. This attraction to less paradoxically leaves room for more soul. Possessions and soul seem to operate in inverse proportion to one another. We mostly have a distribution problem rather than not enough resources.

Living simply will come out of a commitment to Contemplative Living. This will draw us also to the foundational social justice and teachings of Jesus, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Dorothy Day, Pope Francis, and mystics and prophets since time immemorial. Clare understood that love and poverty are connected. She, as others, taught that poverty frees one from the bondage of material things and from all that clutters the human heart and soul.

Monks, and women and men religious, embrace a vow of poverty. It is their way of living detached from material possessions, and engaging in a life where material things become unimportant. Such detachment opens one to what is truly important.

An emphasis on theology, catechism, and religious education can seem like good things but are actually the wrong things to emphasize. Rather, prayer and a genuine practice of caring and sharing with our fellow brothers and sisters, serves us much better. A focus of prayer and good practices assists us in bringing about a deeper spirituality – one that draws us toward greater communication with God. A theology of God, but one without a love of God, is a theology of no use. At best it is merely an intellectual exercise and distraction. At worse it can be a justification for all sorts of corruption, bad attitudes and behaviors. 

One does not need to be a vowed religious to live a life of poverty. It is a life that fosters an attitude of detachment to material possessions and a practice of simplifying one’s life in general. It is a taking on a poverty that steers one toward a better love of God and of neighbor. It calls us to generosity and a sharing of what we have with others. This is known as stewardship. It is also about preventing material things from owning us.

The purpose of such a committed life that embraces poverty is that we are aided in avoiding the obstacles in our way of pursuing spiritual perfection. When I speak of perfection it isn’t about perfectionism. It is about a completeness, and about gaining a greater capacity toward union with and love of God and neighbor. It is about living one’s life to the full. It is about being who we are meant to be.

With the sad news of the passing of Rep. John Lewis this week we have experienced a great loss. He was an icon and hero in our midst. He lived a life totally dedicated to service and to bringing about justice for all. He was and is a great teacher. While he fought to the very end for justice, he did so with humility, decency and kindness, while also with tremendous courage. His brand of love was always founded in non-violence. He challenged our Nation to live up to being a place where true justice carries the day for everyone.

Add John Lewis to the list of those mentioned earlier as one who embraced a contemplative life. He is an American saint whose death now more than ever challenges us, and hopefully also inspires us, to stay engaged in the hard work at hand. May we carry his motto of doing “good trouble” as we are going about righting the many wrongs that still persist in our imperfect democracy.  After all, our founders expected us to keep at the business of forming a more perfect union.

One thing Jesus told Peter was “come follow me.” The next thing was, “and I will make you a fisher of people.” This is a call to all of us. It is a call to put our faith into practice; to walk our talk; to take a stand for what we believe in and know is right. To speak out when injustice is there. Love must be at the foundation for all our actions. Our actions must never promote or encourage violence, or be the source that might otherwise justify it. Even in our thoughts we must remain non-violent.

Martin Luther King Jr., friend and collaborator of John Lewis said it this way.

“Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. . . . The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil . . .  and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.”

Pope Paul VI said it this way: “If you want peace, work for justice.”

Love – powerful, healing love – as it turns out, is the only thing that can conquer hate, darkness, and intolerance. Let us honor John Lewis by bringing our protest into policy – policies that facilitate a worldview that is sustainable and our rightful future as Americans.

Tips for fishing and Living # 65

Tip #65:

“Fly-fishing is a very pleasant amusement; but angling or float fishing, I can only compare to a stick and a string, with a worm at one end and a fool at the other.”

                          Attributed to Samuel Johnson (a/k/a Dr. Johnson) (“The Great Cham of Literature”),

While television, movies and novels all provide some excellent entertainment, it is for the most part, a too convenient way to avoid actually living our own lives fully. Instead we can go about passively watching these entertaining experiences while living somewhat vicariously. People who watch soap operas tell friends and colleagues the next day the latest episode from the previous day as if it is real life. They’ll talk about the actors as though they are not playing a character but are real people.

Some people watch sports events and become so caught up in their team either winning or losing that we can get outright depressed if their favorite team doesn’t win, or get elated if their team does win a victory. In other words people sometimes opt for being spectators in life, content to sit on the sidelines watching others living as a substitute for the possibility for an interesting and engaging life of their own. This is a displaced way of living.

Those who are actually partaking in an active and fulfilling life do not have time to ponder what is exciting or interesting. They are too busy living it.  When one takes on a fully engaged life then they experience a tremendous shift. Such people become transformed. They find themselves often living in timelessness. And periodically they become altered into an eternity. Another way to say this is they are living in the present moment, and as such time stands still.

I am going to give the benefit of the doubt to the above fishing quote that the author is attempting to convey a personal joy in the activity of fly fishing. It also seems fine to be content, if one chooses, to drop a baited line into the water and wait to see what comes of it. For me as a non-fisherman, I find the best part of either practice to be in the enjoyment of being out there in the midst of a lovely waterscape, beautiful skyline, and surrounded by nature, all while fishing. You see while I know that God is everywhere I am so much better at taking in the omnipresent God whenever I do slow down enough. Fishing is but one way to potentially facilitate this slowing down process.  

This past weekend our refrigerator stopped working. Given the hot summer day we have been having and the uncertainty of our 8-year old unit as worth the expense of repairing, I became distressed as to what we ought to do. Should just purchase another one? Should we pay for a technician to first diagnose it? After describing the symptoms to our service person over the phone it seemed the compressor was the problem. Sunday morning, after several phone calls with long “holding” times for each call, I finally got through to the authorized service people because we learned our compressor is still under warranty but had to have the authorized service technician do the repairs. They could not come until the end of the week. I took the Friday appointment knowing that if the compressor was the culprit we would only pay for the installation.  

The entire morning was hectic and I was exhausted by the whole ordeal. We had come very close to cancelling a pre-planned visit with dear friends in the neighboring State, but decided to still go the 90 mile trip after we explained to them what our morning had been like. Once we got finally on the road I suggested to my wife we take turns recalling wonderful moments or fond memories we each had from over our long marital life. We soon began this fun exercise that lasted a good 30 to 40 minutes. One memory prompted another. By the end of our joint recollecting we each were feeling terrific – elated. My earlier distress was completely gone.  

I realize we could have easily dwelled on the earlier morning drama of our broken down refrigerator instead. We could have obsessed over what we could have, should have, might yet need to do, etc., or we might have started fretting over the whole business of the morning and continued to feel stressed, if not even worse. But we did not. Instead we put what had occurred that morning into the past. And we took charge of our present emotional state.

The fun activity we did brought about some welcomed laughter and joy. Upon reflection I concluded that the broken-down refrigerator is, after-all, just a machine! It broke down but this did not have to determine our happiness or lack thereof.  Rather we were responsible for generating a positive emotional state – one that better served us.

None of us gets to determine the circumstances of our lives. What we do get to do is determine how we respond to the circumstances of our lives. And to this extent we get to have a powerful say in the matter of our life.  As of this writing our refrigerator is still broken (The service rep will arrive today). We have an old refrigerator in our basement that we plug in during the holidays that is now holding our food. We’re getting by. It will be nice to have the repairs done, but “it’s only a machine.”

While I do not frequent fishing brooks or streams, I do spend time in parks, nearby woods, and local beaches, as well as, and I do a daily practice of journaling. These are some of my various efforts to cultivate a contemplative lifestyle. These practices have helped to set the ground work for my capacity to often remain calm or to shift into being non-reactive. This past Sunday on our car ride was an example of these practices paying off and facilitating a positive emotional state. I don’t always get it right, but I think these practices are proving them worthwhile.

Question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Answer: Practice, practice, practice.

Many of us are life-long learners. I see each of us as a work in process. Whatever so-called “failures” or mistakes I have made, and I assure there are many, I attempt to utilize and provide plenty of learning opportunities in my process of growing and developing.

Whenever I do make a blunder I usually ask myself:

‘What is the take-away from this latest mishap or blunder?’

A commitment to a contemplative life is not about trying to become perfect. It is about being able to live more consciously and more aware. This is the shift that can come about with a commitment to a contemplative life. It is there within those times that we have moments of feeling timeless. This really means we are present to the reality of God’s omnipresence and infinite love – Divine Love. From this we are compelled to love in return both God and our neighbor. This is most apparent once we realize that we are intimately connected to God and to one another. You might discover this while fly fishing, or in a myriad of other ways. Enjoy the process.

Tips for Fishing and Living # 64

Tip #64:

“The man who coined the phrase ‘Money can’t buy happiness,’ never bought himself a good fly rod!”

                                                                Reginald Baird, from his video Labrador Trout

Most of us have limiting thoughts and ideas. These thoughts we tell ourselves and tell others are the ones that keep us in the exact “reality” we have created for ourselves. The Law of Attraction says that “thoughts become things.” Gandhi said, “A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.” Too often we focus on and think about what we don’t want. The Law of Attraction would tell us to focus on what it is we do want, and to think only about that.

Money is a funny thing. Lots of times people conclude that “they can’t get enough of it” or they “can’t ever keep money,” or “money is the root of all evil.” And so this is exactly what happens. There are many stories of people who when they win the lottery they go right through their new-found fortune and end up soon being broke again because they have such limited thoughts about wealth and prosperity.

Some people have superstitious notions regarding money. They think if you have wealth you are a dishonest or mercenary person. Or if you are an artist you can’t have abundance but must struggle to get enough money to live. Hence the Starving Artist stereotype. The truth is that when all is said and done, money is just money. It is not anything more than what we use to provide us with whatever it is we need or want.  

It has always stuck me odd that as a nation we are always able to find the money needed to go to war. But we’ll conclude we cannot do some useful or noble thing because we say “there just isn’t enough money” for it. There is enough money for whatever we say there is.

Families always seem to find the money needed for a loved one’s funeral. Do we find it for living? Do we generate the abundance needed in order to have a life we say we truly desire? Or do we hold ourselves back with limiting and negative thoughts such as, “I don’t deserve it”? “It’s not practical to have the career or relationship or (fill in the blank) I’d love to have because it costs so much.”

This is not a blog about money. It’s really about living an abundant life. Thinking limiting thoughts and using phrases like “not enough” regarding the necessary resources to live an abundant life is the real obstacle. There is enough food to feed the entire population on our planet. We first need to believe this is true, then have the will to do so; and finally the persistence to go about creating structures that would facilitate ending world hunger. The whats is the key part. The hows are just the details. Included in this example would be redistributing various resources in order to insure all get enough food. One does not have to look far to see how so much food is wasted daily and not even utilized.

This brings us back to the basic understanding that we are all connected and we in this world together. We are but one race – the Human Race – and each of our individual actions have consequences – either for good or for bad.

Many of us had parents who were not environmentalists thinking about conservation. They were simply frugal people who liked utilize things rather than discard them. They had a value about not wasting. A favorite expression from my childhood was: “save the juice when not in use.” This meant we were to shut off lights, or a radio or T.V. when we left the room.

My father filled the bathroom sink with water and shaved his face by periodically dipping his razor into the sink water and rinsing only at the end. Often our supper was dependent upon what needed to be used next from the refrigerator so as not to have it spoil.

The fishing quote above isn’t about money; it’s about happiness. If an expensive fly rod makes you happy then by all means go get one. Real happiness comes from first using compassion and understanding to improve our own well-being. Knowing what it is that makes one happy and then pursuing this is a worthwhile pursuit. This pandemic has provoked a long social isolation and many of our usual ways of coping to get some stress relief in our busy and full lives have been seriously curtailed or eliminated. This has left us to discover the value of slowing our lives down in general, as well as seeking better alternative ways for coping. It has also shown us that life can be different from how we’ve held it to be up to be until now. The pandemic has become a tipping point. Most people are no longer interested in getting back to normal. As it turns out normal was not so terrific.

This pandemic’s “silver lining” has been a facilitated “down time.” It has provided us an opportunity to slow down and become more reflective. Even contemplative. Contemplative living provides one with access to a wonderful life. Cultivating an authentic and meaningful contemplative life can be developed at any time in one’s life. It starts by formal practices such as meditation and prayer. It can also come about from our experiences with nature, art, music, poetry, relationships and many other things.

Living a contemplative lifestyle is something that intersects all aspects of human life and activity. These various Contemplative Practices provide self-awareness to objectively and mindfully be present and aware of one’s thoughts in order to view all our thoughts as mere phenomena flowing in and out of one’s consciousness. We get to reflect about thinking our thoughts. This is a powerful way to live. Usually we only think thoughts. To think about thinking thoughts allow us to be mindful. It frees us from our otherwise reactivity and knee-jerk tendencies we’ve developed over a lifetime, and thus have become automatic and never questioned.

There is a Theology of Christian Contemplation. One way to explain it is that Contemplative practice rests on a theology of being loved by God and loving God, self and others in response. This is a huge and sometimes paradigm shifting idea. Those who live by this theology say that God’s Spirit permeates the whole of life and that God is relational.

When starting my day in contemplative prayer and reflection, and embracing the premise that God is in everyone and everything, I am able to become calm. I also become freed from whatever thoughts I was previously having that were causing me stress. When I dwell on the belief that God loves me exactly as I am I relax. I can surrender to this Divine Love and suddenly those things I was previously carrying around and were weighing me down dissipate. My body relaxes; I cannot help but smile, and I have am full of confidence that there is nothing I cannot deal with.

It is not magical thinking. My life struggles and problems do not vanish. Rather I am able to face them calmly and with a conviction that I have or will find whatever resources I need. I also bring into this moment a practice of having gratitude for my life, as well as, for all that is about to happen. I imagine the future I seek already here or soon to come about. I focus on this end result I am seeking and see it as having occurred.

We often associate the contemplative lifestyle – a life filled with deep and serious thought – with monks, nuns, philosophers, and theorists. But it is quite possible and very much available for all of us. This pandemic’s “time-out” has nudged some of us into such a practice.

An obstacle that has possibly made such a practice less viable has been a long suffering mentality that stems from a classical spirituality that separates the body from the soul. We’ve come to think in either/or terms. But the truth it is our spirituality is a both/and – needing a non-dualistic approach – and one that can then carry us to a greater depth and a more solid happiness.

Modern psychology has professed an impressive list of benefits that comes about from a practice of contemplative living. These include the following:

Remedies for ADHD, addictions, high blood pressure, eating disorders, fibromyalgia, and heart conditions. Also there is evidence that it increases creativity, memory and empathy, and healing from anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. This is a powerful drug-free approach to living a happy and more balanced life.

The take away? Slow down. Reflect and learn to live a contemplative life. Discover your connection with God and all of humanity, as well as, all of creation. Acknowledge we are each other’s keepers. Ask for what you want. Believe you can have it. Live in gratitude.

Final thought:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Matthew 7.

Tips for Fishing and Living # 63

Tip #63:

“An angler, sir, uses the finest tackle, and catches his fish scientifically – trout for instance – with the artificial fly, and he is mostly a quiet, well-behaved gentlemen. A fisherman, sir, uses any kind of ‘hooks and lines, and catches them anyway; so he gets them it’s all one to him, and he is generally a noisy fellah, sir, something like a gunner.”

 Dr. George Washington Bethune, 1847~

Sometimes we need to be well-behaved, act kindly, and be gracious; the situation requires of us to use this approach. Often it then requires us to choose to keep our mouth shut and to politely listen. Then there other times we need to be that “noisy fellah” to show up and confront. We need to speak up and make some noise. The expression is to ruffle some feathers. These are those times we need to tell our truth, or else be mistakenly judged as agreeing with what is being peddled. Also we run the risk of letting an important opportunity for making something right what is not right.

Someone recently used an old expression in regards to a good approach for marital success. They said marriage requires that each party have the ability to “choose their battles wisely.” This is a valid point, yet it can also be used as a cop-out for not speaking up or taking action regarding injustices or offense behaviors. In such cases the abusive one thinks what they are doing/saying is acceptable.

I go further and say when we do choose to speak up we need to say exactly what it is we want, and not simply speak about or against things we don’t want. It’s pretty easy to just speak against certain things. But do we also stand up for what it is we do want in place of some not-so-good ways? For instance, can we talk up how we want justice and equal opportunities for everyone? And can we articulate what this would look like?

I recently listened to a man describe how he stopped a co-worker from telling a racist joke in front of him and some other people. It takes courage and a willingness to endure some likely ridicule and rejection for doing so. He acknowledged how uncomfortable this was for him, but how he knew he had to do this out of his own integrity. 

There is a handmade sign in front of one of our neighbors’ home that reads:

“Treat racism like Covid-19:

  • Assume you have it.
  • Listen to experts about it.
  • Don’t spread it.
  • Be willing to change your life to end it.
  • Fight for a solution.”

This is an excellent approach to the systemic racism and social injustice that is embedded within our society.

I am advocating we do all of this with love. There are also two kinds of love – or rather two ways of expressing love. There is the expression of love that is a caring love. This is the most popular and the one we most often utilize. It is the kind and generous and mostly listening expression of love. We listen while often remaining silent as we attempt to take in this upset person while trying to accept what the he or she is doing or saying. Perhaps they need to vent, or cry, or are in such a terrible state that we intuit this isn’t the right time to do anything other than show support. We can see they cannot take in another perspective at this time, so we simply do our best to care. We’ll cut them some slack realizing that he/she is coming from some trauma or pain or grief. Perhaps later we’ll do more.

There is also the other kind of love. This love is expressed as a challenging love. This kind of love is the love we use to potentially draw the other person to a better place – to help him/her step up and be all they are capable of being – of getting them to that “more evolved place” we suspect resides within them.

So we literally challenge them to be and act in ways they may not even think they are capable of being. We take a stand to convince them otherwise. It is like saying, “I know you are capable of more than this way you are presently acting,” or, “This is not your best, and I know you can do much better.”

Usually we are not as eager to go this route and express this kind of love. It is certainly a riskier love and often we feel we’re being prickly expressing this way of loving this person. Part of our hesitancy has to do with our wanting to avoid rebuttal or rejection. They may react poorly; yell and scream at us. They might tell us they want nothing further to do with us. If we already have a positive relationship with them we might have some leverage to go this route, but it’s still risky. It is more possible to do so if we truly come from a place of love as we challenge. This is like saying to them, “Because I love you, you deserve to know what I believe about this…” 

It’s important to know the difference between criticism and critique. Criticism is like saying to another person, “You’re a bad person.” This is never good. Critique has to do with the person’s actions as being misguided, incorrect or faulty.  

Which expression of love to use requires we use some discernment. We need to take in the given situation, what our relationship with this other person requires, and what is at stake. This will dictate which way we are required to love. Both ways are good while at the same time either can be appropriate or inappropriate. Usually we over-use the first expression of loving – caring love.

We’ll think we are being caring when what we’re really doing is using caring as a guise, a cover-up, for our own anxiety. We’ll then fall short in challenging or stepping up due to our anxiousness. We may be anxious about upsetting ourselves or others so we remain nice or caring. We over-function this way in order to relieve our discomfort of seeing someone in an anxious state, as opposed to doing what may be the better course of action for them.  Our feelings interfere with our ability to provide what is needed – a challenging love.

Right now we are in the midst of a major cultural shift. There is plenty anger and outrage. And for far too long there has been too much silence. Overall, too much toleration and blind denial. We have tolerated intolerance. Sometimes this has come about out of a misguided belief regarding freedom of speech. An example of this is when a KKK group was given permission to march in a city. Any group that promotes violence towards and even the killing of others does not have the right to march under the so-called banner of free speech. Responsibilities comes along with our freedoms.

The pandemic, along with the long down time, has made many more conscious of what is important. As a result many people are starting to become acutely aware of the inequities that are reality for so many.

Regarding this current time of coping with the pandemic, Oprah, in her June issue of O Magazine, writes in her monthly column called: what I know for sure, that “we have gotten a time out and it required a reset so we could see without obstruction what is essential.” She further states her hope that coming from this time out we each get the lessons we most need so we can move forward with a desire to heal ourselves and our planet.

Oprah ends her essay with a stern warning that, “if we don’t learn from being literally sent to our rooms, when we finally come out, the next challenge will be even harder.”

What she offers, I believe, is an excellent example of being both caring and challenging. Let us take her love to create our nation into its true potential.