Time Stand Still – More Than Just a Rush Documentary

Last night, I trekked over to the Dallas suburb of Frisco to take in “Time Stand Still”, a documentary about the last tour of the band Rush. Between the physical ailments of guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart, this past tour is likely the band’s last one. The footage to the documentary not only took in the band’s point of view, but also that of their tour management, the people that work behind the scenes for the band, the fans who come to the concerts, and that of some of their contemporaries. The entire show will come out on DVD later this month, and I will purchase a physical copy so I can watch again and again. But there was certainly a lot to process throughout the entire documentary.

Just about everyone is aware that I am a Grateful Dead fanatic. Literally, I have several gigs of music and concert video of the Grateful Dead and the many incarnations that have come about. The Dead have been a constant backdrop to many writing sessions. Their music inspires me to write my feelings, forge my thoughts against the anvil of the world around me. But I also have nearly as much Rush music and videos in my collection as well.

Where the Grateful Dead were a link to the past, Rush has always been a link to the present. This trio has always been a part of my musical lexicon. And much like the day that Jerry Garcia passed away, the closing of this last touring chapter of Rush is just as difficult to process. Peart’s lyrics have always played a huge part within my concept of spirituality. Not because I got spiritual essence from the lyrics, but because he eloquently stated a lot of what I feel. For instance, “Tai Shan”:

Clouds surrounded the summit
The wind blew strong and cold
Among the silent temples
And the writing carved in gold
Somewhere in my instincts
The primitive took hold
I stood at the top of the mountain
And China sang to me
In the peaceful haze of harvest time
A song of eternity

I have never experienced climbing to the summit of Tai Shan. But I have experienced that moment of calm and serenity looking down into the valley between the mountains in Glacier National Park. The misty clouds were above and below me. And standing there, on the side of a narrow road on a near cliff face, my fear of heights was overcome by how peaceful everything felt. If I could be a bird of some sort, this would be the valley that I gravitated to. And I could definitely feel the primitive aspect of myself as a human being coming forth. The feeling that the world around me was completely connected to me, and I to that same environment. Yes, to me that connectedness is not only an aspect of the sacred, it is also an aspect of the primal – instincts that we, as the human race, have taken the time to purge from our instinctive nature. Suppressing it deeper, so that we can feel separated from Nature rather than a primal aspect of it. The song Tai Shan did not help me to realize this. Study, meditation, and time brought me there. Joanna van der Hoeven deserves far more credit for assisting me in getting to that realization through her writings than Peart’s lyrics for this song. Peart only formulated what I had been thinking into a string of cogent words and utilized them in a song to describe his experience of ascending the 7,000 steps.

But this is what Rush has meant to me. Intelligent lyrics coupled to excellent musicianship. And as I watched the DVD, I listened to what everyone was describing about this band, as the trio marched towards their final concert date in Los Angeles. It was readily apparent that these people were also touched by their experiences with the band, particularly through the concerts that the band played. Many of the people were describing the number of times that they have been to a Rush concert. Fifty, Eighty, Ninety, One-hundred and eleven. And I felt envy for them. I have never seen the band live in person. But that does not lessen my connection to their music. That does not make me any less of a fan of their music. But seeing how these fans connected to one another through their concert experiences, I could see the invisible strands that tied them together as a community.

Yes, concert going fans made a community among themselves. They even created their own convention – Rushcon – which meets at one concert per year. These folks made the Los Angeles concert. After the show was over, you could see the emotions in their eyes. Something that they loved was coming to a close. And they were all going to need their own time to process. But their connections to one another had not changed. In fact, it had grown stronger. They had shared experiences of something that was not going to change. Something they could share between one another. I have seen that look before at the close of OBOD East Coast and Gulf Coast Gatherings.

Imbolc Retreat 2015 – photo by Amanda Godwin

Shared experience is a wondrous thing. I saw that after Shauna Aura Knight’s workshops at Pantheacon earlier this year. People walked out of the room knowing that they just experienced a wonderful, touching and compelling moment. Forged together, those shared experiences make people stronger. It links and binds them together as one. I enjoy most of my rituals alone. My shared experience is between myself and the Gods. I have attended a few of the Denton CUUPs public rituals, as well as one of the Imbolc Retreats that are graciously offered by the Hearthstone Grove (ADF). The connection that each of these groups have with their members is incredible to watch and experience. It is even more amazing to be a part of their rituals. Anyone out there nodding their head as they read this, understands what I am talking about. I am quite sure that anyone that has attended a Rush or Grateful Dead or Dead & Company concert show will be nodding their understanding as well.

Music brings us together. We sing, play musical instruments, and dance around campfires into the night. It is no different than a concert setting. Well, except for the fire. That’s never a good idea in an indoor arena setting. Every Rush song has its own energy, its own feel, or if you prefer – its own vibe. And if you pardon my over-stretching of the concept, each song can literally be considered a mini-ritual. “Red Sector A” has its own energy and feel. Compared to the very politically charged and angst-filled song “The Trees”, the energy is quicker, the feel is more akin to a run than it is to defiantly standing with a raised fist aimed at the corporate machine.

I entered into the theater, thinking that I would see something closer to a DVD. What I was treated to was an exploration of Rush – the band, their road crew, their fans, and their music. At the end, the entire showing was exactly what it should have been – a gift from the band to their fans. A piece of who Geddy, Alex and Neil are, seen through the lens of their perspective; and just who their fans are. The band and their management left the door open for the occasional live performance, or even the occasional recording. But there was a definitive moment of closure at the end. It had the feel of a “last goodbye” from the band. Lighthearted, uplifting, starkly open and honest; “Time Stand Still” is a tender hug and kiss from the band to the fans who buy their albums, fill the concert venues, and purchase the related books, poster and other materials.

 

Examining a Life in Motion

Patterns. Relationships. Connectivity. These three words comprise a large part of what my Druidry studies are to me. Learning about how things relate to one another, their connectivity to everything else, and the patterns that can evolve from all of that. For instance, we build new housing areas here in the United States, expanding the reach of our cities further and further. Here in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, I can still recall when there vast empty fields between both major cities and Arlington, which sits between them on Interstate 30. Nowadays, I cannot even discern where Dallas or Fort Worth ends, and Arlington begins. It is a giant, enmeshed urban environment. At one time, wildlife lived in those wild areas between the cities. Now, that same wildlife lives within the urban environment, displaced from the growth between the two cities. The animals caught between have developed new ways of foraging for food, such as dumpster diving the local Taco Bell. Wow, I just realized how much of a different bend the term “dumpster diving” has taken since my days of piecing together shredded documents with long distance codes printed on them, which I “obtained” from the dumpster in the back of the local phone company building. Yeah, the times are definitely a-changing.

I have talked about these connections, these relationships before. I wrote at length on this back in July of 2014 when I was still teaching. “Aware and Awake in a Binary World” still gets the occasional hit from someone finding it on a search engine. In the post, I talk about the relationship of data within our overly connected world. When I was teaching my class, I tried to get students to be aware of how much information was floating in the nether-reaches of the internet on them. How companies would utilize social media against them during hiring processes. After all, an ultra-conservative-Christian company such as Interstate Tire and Battery would definitely have a problem hiring an individual who took a picture of themselves holding a large bottle of whiskey with a near orgasmic look on their face. You don’t bring that picture to an interview, nor would you attach it to a resume or application. But companies would search the online media to locate you – and scrutinize who you are by what is presented there. Nine Hells, I am search a company like ITB would have a very difficult time hiring an openly Pagan individual such as myself. And as a private company, they would have every right to refuse to hire me. But the point here is not the hiring process of a single company; the point is how connected our online world is, and how little we seem to understand the same concept of connectivity in our physical world.

“Everything is connected. One action creates a similar, equal reaction”, or so the two sayings go. But everything I have seen certainly seems to corroborate this. Every conscious and unconscious choice we make impacts everything around us. Trash thrown on the side of the road can cause problems for animals. Plastic six-pack rings can entangle birds in the same manner that a trap would, and leaves them more vulnerable to being caught by predators or starving to death because they cannot fly off to locate food. Half eaten food in the fast food bags that are thrown out may feed local animals, but it also makes them dependent on human beings for food, causing them to not fend for themselves properly in the food chain. Worse, it encourages wild animals to be unafraid of human beings, seeing people as food ATMs (essentially), and running stronger risk of face-to-face encounters that can end badly for both humans and animals. We humans don’t always see how our actions such as polluting or tossing out garbage on the side of the road as being destructive. It is unsightly, but no one is getting hurt, right?

That’s only a small aspect of the consequences we have on our planet, on our surroundings and on others. We are aware that the photos that we put online can be seen by a vast multitude of people, because we are made acutely aware of our digital footprint and the potential consequences from it. That’s always in the news. Right in front of your face. But your own footprint in the physical world is something that many people seem to be blind to.

When I talk of being aware of connections, relationships, and being aware of patterns, there is more to it than just a concept of Psychology. It is a conscious look at how everything is affected by everything else. It is a slow, conscious, thoughtful examination of everything. I do this nearly every day, as I sit on my back porch and view my backyard. And every day, I learn something, I see something I had not noticed before. Will I ever understand it all?  Doubtful. But once I understand the relationship and the pattern associated with it, I can see whether I am being harmful in my interactions – even on an unconscious level, and adjust my interactions accordingly. Every day is a moment to learn, a moment to examine, a moment to comprehend, and a moment to adjust – if necessary.

For me, the process is a purposeful examination of my life in motion. For others, it may seem like a futile proceeding. I get that. I don’t agree with it, but I certainly understand. Hopefully, a few others may attempt the process as well, but that is up to them.

 

Being Distracted From Connectivity….

One cloudy, misty afternoon, I decided to take my usual walk through the forest. Walking along the well-traveled dirt path, I eventually came upon a white fawn standing in the middle of the path. The fawn was barely discernible through the swirling mists, which masked the outline of the young deer quite well. “Follow the deer,” I hear a soft voice. I look around, slightly flustered at hearing a voice when I had been walking alone, but there was no one there but myself and the fawn. “Follow the deer,” I hear again. This time I lock eyes with the young deer, which seems to nod at me. Then the deer walks slowly off the Path, and I walk cautiously up to where the fawn had stood. Looking down the small break in the trees, my eyes follow the track of the deer along a slightly worn, very thin path – a “game trail” is what my hunter friends would have called this. “Follow the deer,” came the voice for a third time. I shrugged my shoulders and stepped onto the game trail, the fawn barely visible in my sight.

That’s a dream that I have had on multiple occasions. Sometimes, the time of day or the weather is a little different. On sunny days, the sun is brilliant enough to make seeing the fawn very difficult, and in the mornings, evenings, and night-time, there’s hardly enough light to see very much. Otherwise, the dream stays the same. And the dream always ends when I step off the forest path and on to the game trail.

What does it mean?  I am not really sure. Interpretation of dreams is not really my strength, plus the symbology can mean different things to me at different times. But its in my dream journal. As are many other dreams that I can recall shortly after waking. I learned the hard way to write the dreams down in as much detail as possible as soon as I awake. Almost every dream fades from my memory the longer that I am awake. And reading back over my entries, I can nearly get the same feeling as I had before – just by reading the words. Whether these are trigger-points for remembering what I had heard or seen or touched or smelled during my dream – I can’t really say. Psychology is not something I delve into very deeply. Its one of the sciences that holds very little interest for me. I prefer Sociology to Psychology any day of the week.

What I find more interesting is how words can evoke such sensations or the remembrance of sensations. Or even music for that fact. Bran Cerddorion, who I met for the first time at the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering earlier this year, wrote a song about attending that event called “Awen Flows Free (Not in Kansas Anymore)“. When I listen to that particular song, all the feelings and emotions that I experienced during that event come welling up inside me all over again. Some may call that evocative magick, others may call it something else – I merely call it fascinating.

Touch is another of those moments. Someone that I know quite well, when we shake hands or hug, I can literally feel a transmission of emotions that pass between the two of us. And with that moment comes the flood of emotional memories that continue to provide the connection between the two of us – even when its been a long period of time between moments of being together. Some call that connectedness, some call it weird or strange – I call that fascinating.

As someone studying a Path of Druidry, I am constantly reminded by the lessons that I have completed, and the lessons I am working on – that finding those connections is a part of everyday living. And that feeling those connections is a part of everyday living. And that cultivating those connections is a part of everyday living. And that all that connectivity connects me to others – some of whom I have never met before, and may likely never met ever. And some of those people that I have distant connectivity to may dislike me simply because I do not follow their path of belief. Or because I support the concept of loving who you love. Or because I don’t dress the way that they do. Or I don’t talk the way that they do. Or because I simply live in a geographic location that they have developed some degree of anger or hatred towards. Whatever the case may be, somewhere along the line, there’s a connection between the two of us. No matter how thin or frail that thread of connectivity may be, its there whether they want to agree or not. Whether they like it or not. Whether I want to like it or not.

A particular quote that is often attributed to the Dkhw’Duw’Absh Chief Seattle goes like this:

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.

Whether he truly said it or not, does not matter to me. I am not interested in such controversies. I am more interested in what meaning the statement has behind it. For me, this statement is a quintessential understanding of the connections that I am reminded of in my Druidry lessons. We can disagree with what others may say, or the actions that they commit to – but we cannot deny the connections that bind us together within the web. As one of my favorite characters on the Babylon 5 television show states:

In here you cannot hide from yourself. Everything out there has only one purpose. To distract ourselves from what is truly important.

At that time, G’kar was in solitary confinement in a jail cell. The Chief of Security had commented that he (G’kar) seemed to be more at peace within the jail cell than he was out in the general populace of the Babylon 5 station. For me, this quote is the perfect carriage in pointing out the meaningless nature of politics. Politics is only a manner of diving ourselves, allowing us to deny the connections between one another – particularly where we have differences of opinion in how governance is applied to a societal framework that we have chosen to live within. Indeed, at times it certainly seems that politics has only one goal – to distract ourselves from what is truly important… I would honestly rather continue to be aware of the connections that we seem to deny through politics. I would rather live in a world where I can see and experience that connectivity on a daily basis…and so I do. Or at least, I try my best to do so…

Aware and Awake in a Binary World

I spend a lot of time with my mind in data. I teach a class on Business Information Systems, and I emphasis a good portion of the class on data collection, usage, and analysis. For fun, I have databases that I created for Major League Baseball (MLB), National Hockey League (NHL), National Football League (NFL), and National Basketball Association (NBA). Currently, I am gathering statistics for the Japanese Baseball League going back to 1950. I will eventually integrate that database into the MLB database, and then eventually add Minor League Baseball stats (going back to 1990 only – the stats are rather sparse after that), Mexican Baseball League, and Venezuelan League Winter baseball stats as well. Yeah – I’m a nerd in that way. I love playing with databases.

A few years ago – I tried to create a database for my book collection. And failed a little at it. I really did not have an appreciation of how to connect some of the information that was necessary for it to work the way I wanted it to. But its been in the back of my mind – and I will probably start this project again in September. I have a little better idea of how I want to connect the books that I read – plus I think I have the Memo field figured out enough to add full-length reviews (my huge stumbling block from before) within Access. However, I have had a few colleagues at the college tell me that I might want to consider moving over to MSSQL Server – a far more robust database program from Microsoft. Problem is – I don’t have that kind of cash. The Open Source models are not something I really care to work with either. But now, I am digressing into the technical side of things – which fascinates me, but is likely putting you to sleep. 🙂

The point here is that I see patterns. I see patterns in nearly everything around me. And I see connections as well. When I shop for groceries, I don’t just see a product that I can use as an ingredient in a meal that I can prepare later – that is one connection though. I see a product that is made up of several things, each of which must be mixed together – in some cases – and then packaged by materials that also need to be delivered to a company’s facility. Most of those products are made by smaller companies or independent farmers. So, when I drive through the country-side on trips to various places – I see places where some of this product and ingredients came from. Then, I wonder about how the money flows down from my hand, to the distributing company, and then eventually down to the independent farmer. Everyone along the way – distribution, packaging, assembly, transportation – they all will take their cut of the money that I paid for the product. And that makes me think about how small of a return from that product that the independent farmer may get.

I see Farmers Markets all over the DFW area. People selling fresh produce at prices that are somewhat lower than that of larger distribution chains, such as Wl Mart or Kroger Grocery stores. In theory, I see how the profit margin on this would be greater for the Independent Farmer, a far better way to sell directly to the public. But then I begin to wonder – how many of these people selling at the Farmers Markets are really the farmers’ themselves? Yes, my cynical mind begins to kick in.

In this day and age, it is far easier to defraud the public over who you are and what you represent than anytime before it. Let’s face some reality. There are con artists everywhere, scattered throughout time. People pretending to be something they are not, preying on the good intentions of others. In this modern, electronic age – its far easier to be someone you are not – and get people to do things that you want them to do, just based on their good intentions towards others.

An example I use in my classroom is get a person at your table talking about a subject that they are very into. As they continue talking, start handing them things on the table. Your form, your knife, your spoon, the salt and pepper shakers, the sweeteners…see if you can quietly move everything from one side of the table to the other just by quietly handing items to them. They are distracted enough to do what you are wanting, and you never said a word. This is an example of social engineering. Getting people to do what you want without their knowledge that they are doing so.

A recent article running around the internet notes that Facebook manipulated people’s News Feeds to see if the users’ moods could be altered depending on what they saw. The results were then published as an academic paper.

In an academic paper published in conjunction with two university researchers, the company reported that, for one week in January 2012, it had altered the number of positive and negative posts in the news feeds of 689,003 randomly selected users to see what effect the changes had on the tone of the posts the recipients then wrote.

I hold two Masters degrees. In both degrees, I had to write an academic paper utilize information and data from a research study. In both instances, I was continually reminded that the subjects that I researched the information from, as well as any individual that came in contact with my subjects during the research, had to be aware of the study taking place. What was done here, by Facebook, and particularly by Adam D.I. Kramer, the individual who led the study, is unethical. Whatever degree program that was fed the information that resulted from this study – should revoke the associated degrees and collegiate credits that resulted from this study. I am well aware that Facebook’s “Terms of Usage” statement that every Facebook user agrees to when creating their account will be utilized as a defense in this situation. But that still does not absolve the unethical usage of the users’ feeds.

All of this has caused me to sit back and think – and wonder. When the internet started into the commercial realm in the mid 1990s, it was utilized for what the design was made for – a communications tools. A little under a half-decade later, companies began to realize the commercial tool that it could become. I worked for a dot-com company in 2000 and 2001. I watched the initial boom period, when I was hired. The company was doing great – hopes were wildly exuberant. Less than a year later, all but five people were laid off (we had an employee base of 175 people), because exuberance does not pay the bills. Many companies folded in under the digital seas during that time. At the bottom of the internet ocean, far beneath the waves of profitability, lie the wrecks of the companies that have gone before. Some acted ethical, some did not. But very, very few of them saw things such as data collection as a means to make their fortunes.

Everyone knows about data collection under the National Security Administration (NSA) of the United States government, thanks to the efforts of Wiki-Leaks, and Mr. Snowden. Honestly, its really nothing new. Grocery chains have been doing data-mining and data-collection for many years prior to the commercial explosion of the internet. Electronic payment via the credit card swipe machine at the register makes it even easier for the grocery chains to tie specific products to specific customers – allowing for better distribution of targeted marketing for various products. yes, targeted marketing is the junk mail you receive in your mailbox…and just discard into the trash can. Companies pay large amounts of money for these ad campaigns.

…and there’s a pattern here. Companies are not trying to rip you off of your dollar. They are merely trying to maximize their profit margins – a very necessary fact in a Capitalist system. After all, products are only worth what a consumer will pay for them – regardless of how much it cost to make the product. If it cost $35 to make a product, but the consumer is not willing to purchase the product for more than $15 – it only makes sense that the product is not worth manufacturing, right? Yet, in the early days of the internet, Microsoft gave their browser away for free, and marked up the prices on their other software offerings – such as Microsoft Office – to make up for the loss. This business practice nearly destroyed Netscape Navigator at the time. They were selling their browser for $15. There was no way they could compete with that model from Microsoft. Don’t sit there and think that this does not happen all the time, it does.

So, the bigger question – when you discover these patterns, what can you do about it? How can you let these companies know what’s right and wrong?? The tried and true method – don’t buy their products. Buy independent and local. Put the money back into the hands of the people around you…but how can you tell if those folks at the Farmers Markets are really the farmers themselves – and not some middle-man who purchased the produce at much lower prices, and is re-selling to you at a higher price? And what about online stuff? How can we keep folks online as honest as we can? How do we keep people from scamming people??

That’s a good question…and one that I am afraid I have no answer for. All I can really point out, is that you need to be vigilant, as a consumer, as a person. Within my own understanding of Paganism, and Druidry, I am starting to see connections and patterns in everything around me. Someone remarked to me very recently, that being in Druidry is about “becoming awake and aware” of the world around you. And that does hold true for me – walking this Path has certainly made me much more aware of things I have taken for granted or flat-out ignored in the past. Whatever Path you walk – I hope that your Spirituality helps you to become awake and aware…my walk in Druidry continues to open my eyes and allow me to see the world around me in a new light. And while I have a larger connection to my immediate eco-system, its only recently that I have become aware that this eco-system is more than the plants, animals, minerals, structures, and humans around me. There’s also the invisible world of binary ones and zeroes to consider.

Its Not About the Money or the Time…

IMG_5718Its been a little while since I have managed to get a blog post out. There’s a couple of factors in the middle of all that. My three classes that I teach are wrapping up – so I have some final assignment grading to finish – which I should have completed by the end of today. But on the bad side, I am a little worn down from some kind of bug I have apparently come down with. So sitting at the computer has not been a pleasant experience. However, it has afforded me the chance to get a little more reading and writing (the kind with paper and pen) completed as well.

Beltane has finally made its way through my zone of influence – as I noted before, its not my favorite time of the year to be around people. I like the ritual and symbolism that are part of Beltane, I’m just not a huge fan of the few people that shove their overt sexuality into the faces of others. But my Beltane was a lovely set of moments in the middle of my day yesterday. I was not feeling the best, but I still took the time to get outside, soak up some of the glorious sun that was out, and meditate out by my backyard stone circle – my small sanctuary in the middle of the DFW suburbs. I had a few “visitors” during my time there – a smallish, light-red Cardinal, a couple of my noisy Grackle friends, and my two uber-curious, fuzzy squirrel tenants that live in my backyard tree. None of these little denizens will come out when you move around the backyard too much, but if you sit still and stay quiet – they tend to make a few short visits.

It always does my heart and soul good to have these visits happen. It reminds me of the little connections that I have to each of my little neighbors. Every day, rain or shine, I spend a few moments making sure that my little neighbors have what they may need for the day. I spread some bird seed out by the water fountain, and if the water needs changing in the fountain, I do so there as well. I water my huge tree every morning and every evening – particularly now that the weather is getting a lot warmer. And every chance I get, I spend a few moments listening. Listening to the slight breeze moving the leaves above my head, providing a soft whisper for my ears. Listening for the soft chirps of my feathered friends – nearby, and always watching. Granted, I live next to a super-busy street in my neighborhood – and with the ever-present construction on both the near by interstate highway, and a local Farm-to-Market road — the number of cars passing by my backyard fence has increased several-fold. So there’s that extra added sound that is continually in the back ground.

But regardless of all of that, the connections I am seeking are there. It may be confined to my lovely backyard, but it is still there. And its those connections – to my feathered friends, my squirrel tenants, my sheltering tree – that provide the under-tone for my day. Those connected feelers, like a pair of hands intertwined together, fingers laced together – that provides me that feeling of belonging. My feathered friends and squirrel provide me with joy as I watch them eat the bird-seed and sunflower seeds that I leave for them. My tree provides the shade for my kitchen windows, and keeps my house from being too warm in the Summer months, as well as providing some degree of shelter from the wind. In return, I provide each of them with sustenance with the water and bird-seed…and a shelter of sorts from the rest of the neighborhood. Our little environment may be small, but it is something we all cherish and gain something from.

On my walks, I typically carry a trash bag with me. Most of the time, my walks tend to turn up a small amount of trash. Except on Mondays. Like I said, I live near a busy street. Throughout the weekend, our nights here are punctuated by loud engines, loud music, and squealing tires – as the exuberant high school youth “blow off some steam” from their earlier week. or whatever it is that they do. All I know, is that the result is typically a nearly full trash bag of beer cans, beer bottles, and assorted detritus from their activities spread throughout the neighborhood. On my walks, I pick up what I can get to of this mess. I don’t do this because I want to be a nice neighbor – though that’s a great by-product. I do this, because I want a cleaner environment (my local neighborhood) for my animal neighbors to continue to enjoy and live in. In a way, I feel like a babysitter cleaning up after a bunch of rowdy toddlers, but at the same time – I know that if I didn’t do this, there’s a chance that someone else might not. I’d rather it be taken care of. I’m just one person…hopefully my example gets others to think of doing something similar themselves. As the commercial says – courtesy is contagious. I hope the same can be said about trying to take care of one’s local environment.

I don’t get paid anything monetarily for this. Its just like my teaching gig – if it were about the money, I would definitely be doing something different. Teaching for me, is about touching other people’s lives. Inspiring them to better themselves, to continue on their educational track. The same can be said for being the caretaker of the neighborhood. Does it make a difference? I would like to think so. I cannot point to anything absolute that says that it does. But I cannot accept the idea that it does not. After all, from my perspective, my actions are mandate from the Gods to me – to take care of what I have. To be a part of my environment, rather than to treat the environment as something that is just used to further my existence.  /|\

 

The Connections that Bind Us – A Short Look at Behavior

Big Backyard Tree
Big Backyard Tree

I love my backyard trees. Used to be I only had one huge one. Its actually taller than the house (I live in a two-story). But I eventually added two more trees in the backyard, from branches that had been removed from this same tree. It was a foolhardy thought – I have never grown a tree before, but apparently it worked, because I now have three trees. Anyways, I love my trees. They are the best barometers for the seasons that I have. In the Summer, when they start wilting from heat distress, I know that I need to change the water system to a longer time period to help out. In the Fall, when the change to Winter is about to happen, they will lose ALL of their leaves over a three-day period. Not that I enjoy raking up the result, but it tells me its time to winterize the watering system, and prepare the yard for the Winter. In the Spring, I know that Winter is over when the leaves start to bloom. That happened the day before yesterday. Thus, I know that Spring has arrived here in North DFW.

Backyard Circle and Smaller Tree
Backyard Circle and Smaller Tree

I was only really aware of this connection between the seasons and my backyard tree at around five years ago. Five years of observations have confirmed a lot of my thoughts on the cyclical nature of the Seasons and how to tell when one ends and another starts. The calendar is no help there, its happened on various points of the calendar year. Nor have the cycles of the moon phases been helpful either. But, keeping an eye on my three friends of Nature…I have managed to step into each phase in the right frame of my mind. So interesting to “see” all these connections with the world around me.

You can also watch similar cycles happen in an “un-natural” environment such as the internet. I am not going to argue the point of natural vs. “un” natural – though that can certainly be the result of a future post for my thoughts. But there is a cycle to some of the behaviors that one sees, particularly in the social online forums. As things begin to settle down, an incident, post or statement will allow folks the opportunity to come out and bash against the perspective of the individual making the statement. The reasoning and the topic is immaterial. The resulting behavior will happen. Then the “defenders of the faith” will step forward to offer counter-points or throw in some very offensive behavior to drive away or snuff out the statements of the original dissenters. And slowly (sometimes very quickly), what was a simple statement of belief evolves into a flame war filled with hateful statements and insults.

Now, I am not saying that every single conversation on every single social platform will result in this type of behavior. In fact, I would posit that most people that utilize a social platform will roll their eyes at such behavior and move on without a response. But there are those that are wanting to wade into the fight, merely to fight. And before anyone makes the statement, let me add the following…  My observations are not on any single individual out there – in fact, I would say that less than ten percent of the people I have observed exhibit this kind of behavior. And of that ten percent, I can name one right off the bat:  ME.

That’s right. I am naming myself as being a part of the ol’ Troll brigade. In fact, anyone who remembers me from the ol’ BBS days, is well aware of my ardent behavior in “discussions” (and I am being kind here) of all types and flavors. Over the past two years, I have been attempting to work myself to a far better plan of discussion behavior, particularly where social platforms are concerned. My preferred way of operating is to make my point, restate or refine it if necessary in response to someone, and then let everything drop afterwards – particularly if the discussion begins to descend into the maelstrom of an argument. And over that year, I have come to understand that what one person considers to be “discussion” another may construe to be “argument”. Which makes the time to remain or dislodge one’s self from such moments a matter of personal choice.

Where does the blame lie for all of this? Why have we become such a changed world-wide society, where we argue at the drop of a hat, but barely seek out a discussion of the topic to locate the common-ground to work from? There are many theories as to why. I have my own. The anonymity of internet communications, the lack of news reporting in today’s modern media, the desire of the average news consumer to be entertained rather than informed (and thus the birth of the Infotainment format). And in many ways, changing any part of those aspects will remove the freedoms we cherish within our current political environment. The fix, in my way of thinking, is to attempt to change the way in which we communicate. To change the way we deal with the communicative techniques presented to us by others.

For instance, and again I am using myself as the example here, on Facebook I had taken to marking people’s political postings as “spam”. As someone who thoroughly dislikes the stupidity of the political memes, I thought it appropriate to do so. This past week, I made a status post thanking people for posting their politics so that I could mute the place that the posting came from, and then mark the post as spam. Several people came back with angry retorts (see above notation about angry retorts). However, one friend contacted me privately and explained to me in a reasoned, calm (if you can truly get “tone” from a writing) perspective of why she felt this was a wrong way for me to deal with such postings. She did not come at me about the possibility of someone getting a banned account over the spam markings (it takes a LOT more than just a single individual marking posts as spam to get an account banned on Facebook). She noted that the folks had a freedom of expression to make their points. That merely marking the posts as “Annoying” (another option on Facebook) would be far more appropriate. The difference here was that she didn’t come at me like I was a criminal for handling this in a manner that she did not agree with. Instead, she came to me in a composed, reasoned, adult manner and explained why my actions were wrong. No angry. No disrespect. No finger-pointing or name-calling. And most interestingly, she did so privately. When I asked why, she reminded me of a conversation we had back when we were both in the Air Force together – she was my subordinate at the time.

Me:  ….a piece of advice for you.

She:  Yes, sir.

Me:  Praise your subordinates publicly, but never ever scold them that way. Always handle bad behavior behind a closed door, and in a calm voice. You will get far better results. Treat your subordinates as the adults that they are, and they will respond far better than if you treat them as bad children.

And she was absolutely correct. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of what is appropriate and what is not.  And the delivery of that message, can mean the difference between getting results, and getting ignored. There’s that connection stuff again…I really can’t thank Emma Restall Orr enough for writing her book “The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind and the Self in Nature“. Its been a big part of getting me to change not only my way of thinking, but also my way of behaving.

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