2014-12-18

Hope 2

Why is hope so important? Is there something to it beyond wishful thinking, living in the future instead of the present, and being in denial about reality? Let's explore these questions.

Serenity Prayer canvas print by Michael Keck: CLICK HERE
Last post mentioned that colostomy patients who knew the procedure wasn't reversible fared better because they were better able to adapt to their reality and get on with their lives. You may be thinking: OK, that’s when you can’t do anything about it. But what about when you really can do something about your situation, but it’s hard, and you’re tempted to give up? Isn’t that where we need to invoke hope and say, “Don’t give up hope”?

You probably know the Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1930s and frequently recited among AA groups:
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
Shall we say, then, that hope is about that courage to change the things we can? That feels like it’s starting to get at why hope is so important.

The crucial part of the serenity prayer is the wisdom to tell the difference. How would you rate yourself on your ability to tell the difference between the things you can change and those you can't? Try this exercise: Get out your journal, or just grab a legal pad, and make a list of everything you can think of that you have neither fully accepted, nor are you actively, intentionally working to carry out a plan to change. List at least 10 things. If you get to 20, stop.

Now look over your list. Go down the 10-20 items, and mark each item with “A” or "C." "A" for "accept" -- meaning you can’t change this, so you’re going to work on accepting it. “C” for "change" -- meaning you think could change it, though it will perhaps take courage.

Do you suppose you have the wisdom to know the difference?

If you were to try this exercise, I think you would probably encounter some difficulty. You would probably begin to notice that the issues of our lives don’t all fall into exactly one of these two categories: either needing the serenity to accept or needing the courage to change.

What if the thing that needs our courageous effort to change IS our own capacity for adapting and accepting?

John Schneider, a trauma psychologist, works with people traumatized by sudden loss, or witnessing a catastrophe – people who saw the twin towers go down, for instance, and are deeply disturbed.
“Perhaps the most important dimension of witnessing [particular moments that jar and uproot],” writes Schneider, “is our ability to hold hope for another. . . . Sometimes people say, ‘I can’t imagine ever recovering from this’ or ‘Do you ever think it will be better?’ or ‘Can I make it?’ To say at such times that we do believe it can be better, though all evidence seems contrary at the moment, is an offer to ‘hold hope.’ Holding hope can be a spiritual covenant we enter with a person. . . . It may not be until later that people feel empowered enough to hold their own hope.”
In the meantime, we carry, sometimes we embody by a non-anxious presence,
“the belief that within each person, no matter how powerful the truth, given the resources and time provided to deal with that truth, we have the strength and potential to handle it.”
Here we have a situation where the courage to change is the courage to change ourselves so that we can functionally adapt to the traumatic reality we’ve seen and cannot change. Courage to change and serenity to accept are not two different things but in fact the very same thing. The wisdom we need is not the wisdom to know the difference, but the wisdom to know there is no difference. Serenity to accept and courage to change come from the same place.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Let us consider the possibility, in all things, of being oriented toward BOTH acceptance and change at the same time: serene and equanimous acceptance of, and embrace of, reality exactly as it is, while at the same time, transformative engagement with that reality. Those subjects who were told their colostomy was reversible felt more dissatisfaction because people don’t adapt well to situations they think are short-lived. It’s our tendency, when we think a change-we-regard-as-positive is coming to grow impatient for it. But a focus on embracing reality just as it is can help us adapt well to what we’ve got, whether we do or don’t think it’s permanent.

* * *
This is part 2 of 4 of "Hope."
Previous: Part 1 (No Hope?)

2014-12-16

No Hope?

"Hope" isn't always a good thing. Sometimes "hope" urges wishful thinking when a dose of reality would be more helpful. Hope might consist of dreaming when awakening might be what's called for. Hope directs the mind to an imagined future when attention to the actual present might be more salutary. "Hoping" might be a euphemism for "in denial." Hope is about wanting things to be different; spiritual wisdom is about loving what is.

One study has found that the chronically ill may be happier if they give up hope.
'People who suffer with a chronic disability or illness may be happier if they give up hope that things will ever improve, suggests a small but intriguing study . . . Why? Because people don’t adapt well to situations they think are short lived, they hold out for something better, which can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction. “Hope has a dark side,” says Peter Ubel, MD, one of the study’s authors. “It can make people put off getting on with their lives; in essence, it can get in the way of happiness.” For the study, researchers from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Carnegie Mellon University, followed 45 patients with new colostomies, meaning each patient had his/her colon removed and had to use an external pouch to contain bowel contents. At the time of the procedure, some were told their colostomy was reversible—that they would undergo a second surgery to reconnect their bowels in several months. Other patients were told their colostomy was permanent and that they would never regain normal bowel function. . . . Over the next 6 months, the participants filled out a series of surveys designed to measure their psychological well-being. In the end, those who didn’t hold out any hope for getting their colostomies reversed were happier than those who clung to the hope that they would some day be back to “normal.” About the upbeat group, Ubel says, “We think they were happier because they got on with their lives. They realized the cards they were dealt, and recognized that they had no other choice but to play those cards.”' (Time, 2009 Nov 3 -- CLICK HERE. Slightly more detailed version at U of Michigan site: CLICK HERE.)
I’m into reality, not escaping into wishes. I’m into living in the present, not an imagined future. I’m into nonjudgmentalism, not judging things bad or hoping for a different state of affairs I would judge to be "better."

What commonly goes by the name “hope” – hope for a specific result – is nonacceptance. This kind of hope is no more than fear of the world as it is, or the world as we are afraid it may become. "I hope the bill passes," or "I hope I get the promotion" is not substantively different from "I'm afraid of the bill not passing," and "I'm afraid of not getting the promotion."

Debbie Hampton's blog asks: "What if it is the hoping that keeps us from finding peace and happiness?" She spent years
"recovering from a serious brain injury which was the result of a suicide attempt. Immediately after, my sons went to live in a different state with their father, and, without a significant other, I was left alone. Life was very bleak and painful, at first. Over the years that followed, I learned to reframe my thoughts and to see my situation differently."
By neither "dwelling on the negative thoughts," nor "hoping for something different," she writes, "I was able to drastically relieve the suffering and pain."
"Right smack dab in the middle of the muck and mire of life, even at its very worst, it is possible to find happiness and peace because these qualities are in your mind. They exist in your thoughts ABOUT what happens, not in the actual happenings. Happiness is not in hope. It is in your thoughts and actions." (Debbie Hampton, "The Dark Side of Hope" -- CLICK HERE.)
Psychotherapist Karen Krett has written a book, The Dark Side of Hope: A Psychological Investigation and Cultural Commentary. When an adult hopes for the impossible, points out Krett, genuinely useful steps toward getting much of what he or she wants may be ignored. (Krett's article-length reflection on the topic: CLICK HERE.)

Danielle LaPorte blogs, "give up hope." She suggests that we drop the word "hope" from our vocabulary. Instead of saying, for example, "I hope I'll get the job," she asks us to consider one of these alternatives:
“I really want to get the job.” (“Point taken,” says the Universe.)
“I’m praying to get that job.” (Prayer is an action too.)
“I have done all that I can do to get the job.” (Yes! Stand tall.)
“I will either get the job, or I won’t.” (Precisely. Now you can get on with your day.)
“I expect to end up with a job that I love.” (Excellent! Open-ended and affirmative!)
(Source: CLICK HERE)
Concludes the American writer Henry Miller (1891-1980):
“Hope is a bad thing. It means that you are not what you want to be. It means that part of you is dead, if not all of you. It means that you entertain illusions. It's a sort of spiritual clap, I should say.”
And yet.

Here we are in the season of advent (which started four Sundays before Christmas and continues through Christmas Eve). It's a time of expectant waiting and preparation. Traditionally each advent Sunday has a theme. The four themes are hope, peace, joy, and love. Does hope not belong on that list?

Does hope not also belong on that slightly different list in Corinthians: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three”? Peace, joy, love, faith, hope: these are the greatest blessings of life and the greatest virtues we could have. Aren’t they? What do you think?

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This is part 1 of 4 of "Hope"
Next: Part 2

2014-12-13

This Week's Prayer

Dear World of abundance and grace,
This season of Advent
May we be free from greed, pride, and anger.
We see the darkness and we long for the light of love, and of justice.
May we shine it more brightly.
Our police use deadly force so often in part because the prevalence of guns creates a context in which many situations appear threatening even if they aren’t.
May we shine a brighter light.
Black males are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than their white counterparts.
May we shine a brighter light.
Violence rends hearts and lives all over the world.
We grieve the death of Palestinian cabinet minister, Ziad Abu Ain, in a clash with Israeli troops during a rally on the West Bank.
An estimated 2.4 billion people worldwide live on less than $2 per day, even as the wealth of the wealthy grows.
May we shine a brighter light.
We look into the darkness of these winter nights and ponder how we may burn with a penetrating light of compassion and justice.
Our hearts are heavy with the revelations about the use by of torture by our CIA.
May we shine a brighter light.
Arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators continue in Hong Kong.
May we shine a brighter light.
Many are working to shine that light, and our hopes are with them.
Officials from 158 countries met in Vienna, Austria this week to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons.
In Lima, Peru, diplomats from 196 countries are gathered for talks on climate change, with the possibility of a historic agreement on combating global warming.
The Ebola fighters, named Time magazine’s person of the year, continue their courageous campaign against the disease.
We are shining a brighter light.
May it grow and shine ever farther.

2014-11-25

Ferguson

When I first heard that the Grand Jury had decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, I had some anger. Today I've been looking up what I could find and reflecting on the issues.

photo by BBC
My Unitarian Universalist faith is famously rational. My heart cries for justice – and its habit is to ask my head to help it figure out what the heck that means in a particular case.

We’ve got big problems, and they require our commitment of hearts and heads. I would like to be indignant about the Grand Jury’s decision, but the fact is I’m not sure they were wrong in this particular case. I am sure, though, that there are big wrongs in our land.

What Happened
11:54 a.m. Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson leave Ferguson Market and Liquor. Surveillance video shows Mr. Brown stealing some cigarillos. They walk along West Florissant Avenue and then in the middle of the street on Canfield Drive.
12:01 p.m. Officer Darren Wilson arrives, alone in his police vehicle. Speaking through his window, he tells the two men to move to the sidewalk. He sees that Mr. Brown fits the description of a suspect in a convenience store theft.
12:02 p.m. Officer Wilson makes a call to the dispatcher about the two men. He positions his S.U.V. to block the two men as well as traffic. There is an altercation between Officer Wilson and Mr. Brown, who is standing at the window of the vehicle. Officer Wilson fires two shots from inside the vehicle, one likely grazing Mr. Brown’s thumb, and the other missing him. Mr. Brown runs east. Officer Wilson pursues him on foot. Mr. Brown stops and turns toward Officer Wilson, who also stops. Mr. Brown moves toward Officer Wilson, who fires several more shots. Mr. Brown is fatally wounded. (New York Times - CLICK HERE)
Wilson testified that Brown reached into the vehicle and fought for his gun. Wilson fired – plausibly in self-defense at that point. Brown’s blood (evidently from the shot that grazed Brown’s thumb) on the inside of the police vehicle and on Wilson’s clothes indicates that Brown had reached in the vehicle. Some witnesses said Brown punched Wilson while Brown was partly in the vehicle.

Brown then ran 150 feet from the car. Wilson pursued. Brown then ran 25 feet back toward Wilson. Perhaps Brown was trying to indicate surrender. Witnesses differ on whether his hands were up. Wilson interpreted Brown’s move toward him as a charge, a re-initiation of the assault. Wilson fired 10 more times – a total of 12 shots (counting the two fired in the vehicle). The autopsy said Brown was struck with at least 6 bullets – one in the right hand, fired from inside the vehicle, plus 5 more hits – three in the right arm and two in the head. As many as 6 of Wilson’s 12 shots missed entirely. No bullets struck Brown from behind.

Under those circumstances, I, too, might have found that Wilson acted within the guidelines for use of lethal force.

Even so . . .

The fact remains that Michael Brown was unarmed. We need our guidelines and trainings to better ensure that alternatives to lethal force are used when an assailant is unarmed.

Moreover, it remains likely that race played a role and that Wilson would have been less likely to have shot a white man in similar circumstances.

It’s About Police Brutality and Growing Police Militarization

Statistics on police abuses are inconclusive, but the trend of militarization is clear. Beginning in the 1990s, Congressional authorization has allowed local police forces around the country to become militarized to a degree never seen before in the United States. Transfers from the Pentagon have included tanks, armored personnel carriers, grenade launchers, helicopters Then, after the September 11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security paying for new military-grade equipment for local police departments. An ACLU report released last June found “police overwhelmingly use SWAT raids not for extreme emergencies like hostage situations but to carry out such basic police work as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs.” Some SWAT teams are sent out as much as five times a day.

Last spring in Georgia,
“a SWAT team, attempting to execute a no-knock drug warrant in the middle of the night, launched a flashbang grenade into the targeted home, only to have it land in a crib where a 19-month-old baby lay sleeping.” (John Whitehead, Huffington Post - CLICK HERE)
In Minnesota, a
“SWAT team raided the wrong house in the middle of the night, handcuffed the three young children, held the mother on the floor at gunpoint, shot the family dog, and then forced the handcuffed children to sit next to the carcass of their dead pet and bloody pet for more than an hour" while they searched the home.”
As one reporter concluded, the problem is
"not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it's that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone."
It’s not just the increasing use of SWAT teams. We’re seeing
“a transformation in the way police view themselves and their line of duty. Specifically, what we're dealing with today is a skewed shoot-to-kill mindset in which police, trained to view themselves as warriors or soldiers in a war, whether against drugs, or terror, or crime, must 'get' the bad guys -- i.e., anyone who is a potential target -- before the bad guys get them. The result is a spike in the number of incidents in which police shoot first, and ask questions later.”
Perhaps it is necessary that police be permitted to use deadly force if they have probable cause to believe a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm either to the officer or to others. The reality, though, is that an officer’s subjective assessment of “probable cause” is rarely questioned – with the practical result being that it’s almost impossible for a police shooting to be judged a crime. And when police do shoot,
“most officers are trained to shoot at a target's center mass, where there is a higher concentration of vital areas and major blood vessels, according to a report by the Force Science Institute, a research center that examines deadly force encounters.” (Sabrina Siddiqui, Huffington Post - CLICK HERE)
It’s About Our Insane Gun Culture

In many ways, the police are simply doing the best they can. If police are using deadly force more often, sometimes without good reason, it’s partly because the prevalence of guns creates a context in which more situations appear threatening even if they aren’t.

We’ve become a society without the capacity for sanity about guns. As a result, the police, as do all of us, have good reason for suspecting that any angry person may be on the verge of pulling out a gun and opening fire. This reality of contemporary US life forces our officers to react very quickly and extremely. When real guns are as common as they are, a child’s toy gun looks like a threat. As Rev. Christine Robinson notes:
“The wide availability of guns changes everything. We are not living in the world of our childhoods and it is not fair to blame the police in general, or scapegoat any individual police officer for that change. We could, however, work to change this insane gun culture we live in."
And, Yes, It’s Probably Also About Race

White officers mistreat, and are perceived as mistreating, African Americans. As President Obama noted when he addressed the Grand Jury's Brown decision last night, “there are still problems, and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.”

Yes, Brown reacted with hostility to Wilson’s initial request that Brown and Dorian Johnson step aside. And that hostility was perfectly understandable. There is a widespread sense among the African American community and anyone else who has been paying attention that that our police are unfair – often violently unfair – toward people of color. To some extent, the police racial bias becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you treat a population as presumptively hostile, threatening, and needing to be subdued, often violently, then this will tend to make them, in fact, hostile and threatening.

I’m a middle-aged white man. I’m going to respond an officer’s requests as respectfully and cooperatively as I can. I have every reason to believe that this strategy will work for me. Increasingly, African Americans and other marginalized groups have no such reason. Police brutality has become epidemic and it is disproportionately directed at black people.

Over the seven years, 2005-2012, white officers killed a black person on average almost twice a week. Blacks constitute about 12.3% of the population, but are 24% of all people killed by police officers in the US. (These statistics on police shootings, particularly of blacks, are likely to be significantly understated. Police departments self-report the numbers, and these are based on the reportage of only 750 of the 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the US. USAToday - CLICK HERE.)
“A widely publicized report in October 2014 by ProPublica, a leading investigative and data journalism outlet, concluded that young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than their white counterparts: ‘The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.’” (John Wihbey, Journalist's Resource - CLICK HERE)
We’re not in Mayberry anymore, Toto (if we ever were), and today’s police are not Sheriff Taylor (if they ever were). Surveys of Latinos and African Americans show that their confidence in law enforcement is low. And its no wonder.
A Huffington Post-YouGov poll of 1,000 adults released this week found that 62 percent of African-Americans believed Officer Wilson was at fault in the shooting of Mr. Brown, while only 22 percent of whites took that position. In 1992, a Washington Post-ABC News poll foundd that 92 perccent of blacks -- and 64 percent of whites -- disagreed with the acquittal of the Los Angeles police officers involved in the videotaped beating of a black man, Rodney King. (NY Times, 2014 Nov 26 - CLICK HERE.)
Opinions differ because experience of law enforcement differs.

We need justice. I don't know if we needed a different decision from the Ferguson Grand Jury. Maybe. In any case, we certainly need better training for our police officers, better community relations between police departments and the neighborhoods they serve -- and we need to address the insanity of our gun culture. None of this will be easy, and none of it will be quick. We've got to be in this for the long haul.