1

Moving Past the Limitation of Sin

Being lost is not seeing the paths all around because of looking for the ‘right’ one. We encourage freedom of imagination in our kids because we want them to not get locked into bad habits. We entreat each other to think outside the box when confronted with adversity and seemingly insurmountable struggles. Corporations hire coaches and gurus to help make the stagnant, movable again. Our very existence as a species is due to the variations possible within the seeming limitations of genetics. Life changes, expands and manifests in new ways precisely because it is not caught in a singular way of being.

As in life, so then in each and every human being. Living is ever-expansive because our potential is not limited by any single identity or story of who we are. Being trapped, stagnant, and confined is what occurs when we get locked into a narrow way of visioning who we are and therefore what we are capable of achieving. This is true of ourselves and, given the interconnectedness of relational reality, of those we look upon.

Sin, within the framework of conservative fundamentalist religious traditions, is a way of framing humanity within a restricted vision. It is a declaration that the wholeness of humanity is found within a story of depraved, immoral and inherently self-serving boundaries. It removes intent and will, replacing it with an assumed knowledge of what lies beneath or at the core of a person. Behavior ceases to be a window into the multiplicity of human rationale, of the varied reasons, thoughts and stories of justification, and becomes an empty expanse unworthy of exploration. Why did the person do what they did? Well, we can look at what they say, but really it’s this thing called sin, the insurmountable evil at the heart of humanity.

The problem of sin is not simply that it’s a false idea, but that it separates us from looking at our potential. Our varied lives of layered thought and emotion become lies and obfuscations hiding us from our ‘true selves.’ This process of singular-visioning inexorably leads to shame and doubt, shame of who we are and doubt about our capacity for change and growth. Unfortunately this process is not limited to the notion of sin, it occurs any time we select a rationale for our behavior, separate it from the interactional and reciprocal reality of our relational lives, and make it the unalterable core of who we are.

library-of-knowledgeHow often have any of us faced failure and in the midst of defeat, callously declared “I’m just a loser” or “this is just who I am” or “I’m only ever going to be this way”? We may not be thinking of sin, but we are most certainly embarking on a similar path of limitation. Similarly, when we break someone else’s behavior down to a singular reason, we are artificially limiting our understanding of their humanity.

By selecting merely one potential rationale for our decision-making, we have cut ourselves off from the complexity that is our story-making, the formation of our identities. Instead of the multiple interconnected layers of a full life, we are crushed beneath the weight of simplicity and the desire to forge a clear direction forward. This process is not concerned with health, well-being or truth; it is a means of razing the trees to the ground to save the perceived forest.

Every one of us makes decisions based on a variety of factors, explicit and implicit, historical and future-projected, conscious and unconscious. Further, none of us are immune to prejudice, bias, appeal to authority and the myriad of other emotive-logical cognitive failings. To be called out for one stone out of place and have the whole of our identity-structures or personal narratives defined by it is to place the need for righteous judgment above and beyond that of humanistic understanding.

The determination of right and wrong does not occur starting from the assumed superiority of a singular position. This is where culture wars and the relationship fights we later feel ashamed for having gotten into, begin from. An understanding of ourselves and others begins where morality does, within the relational network that is our humanity. Individual actions can still be judged, but they need not overshadow the whole of that person, nor should they become the main or only lens through which we see ourselves and one another.We do not walk the path of understanding those around us if we begin and end with what we disagree with. Separation only furthers itself, it does not rejoin what was sundered.

Growth along the scale of human progress is a waltz between what we believe ourselves capable of being and the depth and quality of the relationships we live our lives through, it is not a sprint to a pre-determined goal. Dwelling in the space of potential means identifying the infliction of pain and move to reduce it by stretching the bounds of our empathy through touching the strands that bind us together.

 

© David Teachout

2

Identity Trumps Decency

America’s most powerful social product may very well be that of the politicized identity. Pick a label, shove the entirety of a person into it, then use this narrow caricature to condemn,  belittle, dismiss, celebrate and worship, depending on whether you like or don’t like said label. Any attempt at bringing up dialogue, suggesting that a person is more than any singular act or name, is met with varying degrees of disgust and declarations of not being a true ‘x.’ What that ‘x’ is inevitably centers upon the easiest and quickest way to differentiate that person as other, as different. Don’t agree with me? Well, it must mean you’re not a true Christian, Atheist, Liberal, Conservative, Democrat, Republican, Jew, Muslim, etc. The result of this slicing up of our humanity is a bloody floor littered with the ruins of potential conversations, personal growth and democracy.

Disagreement is inevitable, vilification is not. For every person who has an opinion that is inaccurate, that very same person has one that is/was true. Every person who has lied, cheated, or said something foul, that very same person has likely loved, cherished and said something supportive. We are amazingly capable of calling out our own moral failures as blips on the channel of our right-ness and dismissing the other person’s moral failings as intrinsic and unchanging qualities of their programming. Our humanity, the shared reality of what it is to be a human being, provides us the space to be both liar and saint, villain and hero, often within the same episode of our lives. The focus on one over another is not a sign of progress, it is promoting the myth of self-righteous authoritarianism.

What each of us cares about is not so different than anyone else. Our Values are universal, the behavior we use to manifest them is most certainly not. How a person gets from a Value to a Behavior is through their perspective/worldview. Simplistic labeling moves us right past what we have in common as human beings and places the entirety of our emphasis on a single sliver of behavior among the vast panoply of human life.

Labeling and calling names is empowering, it’s why we do it. If we can define the entirety of a person by a single biological fact, behavior, or idea then that person no longer has the power to step outside, in our eyes, of what we have proscribed for them. By this limitation we need never consider what role any of our actions may have had in their life or humbly submit ourselves to the realization that had our own lives been different we may be acting or voicing the opinions which we are currently condemning.

Beginning with what we have in common is not about dismissing the very real harm done through bigotry, hate and fear. What it does is remove the automatic association between what we care about and our behavior. Doing so recognizes that all of us act on our interests and for the promotion of what we care about, while also allowing for disagreement on the means. This keeps open the potential for change, for even the subtlest of shifts in worldview, because if two or more people care about the same thing and show it differently, then there is undoubtedly more ways of doing so, ways that are less destructive and more communal. A focus on what we do not have in common leads only to continued separation and various forms of open warfare.

Our shared humanity does not call us to agree about everything or to ignore pain and suffering. What it does is remind us that we are still connected to one another despite our disagreements and that one person’s pain and suffering can exist even as another’s does as well. Our growth as individuals and as a species will be based not on who is ‘true’ to a label, but upon whether we’re able to break free of the constraints such names make upon our behavior.

 

© David Teachout

2

Musings of a Connected Life

Whether sitting down for coffee, watching a form of media or engaging in an online discussion, the shared experience is being felt and thought about in quite different ways. My perspective of the world is both inevitable and a limitation. There are innumerable other possible lenses for viewing my experiences through, an observation born out each and every time I enter into dialogue with another person.  Every instance of miscommunication notes the potential problems, even as an active attempt at understanding the other view leads to an expansive exploration I could not have done by myself.

That inability to explore alone is what drives me to write and share within a digital world. I could stay within the confines of my immediate surroundings, interact only with work colleagues, friends and passers-by, and yes each of these visions of our shared world would and are worth exploring, but the modern digital world has opened up a potential market of perspectives that borders on gluttony. When faced with such a bounty and working within the acknowledgement that vision is an active engagement, exploring different understandings of the world is like going from a flashlight to a lantern in a dark room.

As Jacob Bronowski notes:

But we are in any case mistaken if we think of our picture of the world as a passive record. The picture is made by, it is made of, our activity, all the way from the logic of the brain to the use of the plow and the wheel. It is the implication and the expression, in symbolic form, of all our dealings with nature. The picture is not the look of the world but our way of looking at it: not how the world strikes us but how we construct it. (The Identity of Man)

 

Each offering of writing is not simply a declaration of my own view, it’s a request for and a seeking of continued engagement with the world. If all the potential perspectives of the world were a pie, mine is an infinitesimally small slice, though no less important because of it. This isn’t an equality of truth, but a recognition of equality in expression. My understanding of life and my place within it grows not in the echo-chamber of my own mind, but in every contact with another degree of perspective.

Again from Bronowski:

Our experiences do not merely link us to the outside world; they are us and they are the world for us; they make us part of the world. We get a false picture of the world if we regard it as a set of events that have their own absolute sequence and that we merely watch. (The Identity of Man)

Whether it be explorations of politics, spirituality, psychology or the social movements I find fascinating, all is done within a consideration of the active link I have to it and an eye towards all who share in the journey. I’m here with you, not simply watching life go by, trying to keep moving forward.

 

 

© David Teachout

2

2015 in review

Thanks to everyone who has read, commented and shared. The year has been one of changes and 2016 will see many of those bearing the fruit I’ve been working towards.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

5

Moving Relationally With Life Changes

To live is to change. Whether such change is directed from the inside-out through reflection, thoughtfulness and study, or from the outside-in through environmental shifts, life is a constantly moving beast we hold onto with smiles and gritted teeth. The difficulty with change is not found merely in the situation itself, though clearly this can be felt as small to monumental in that moment. What occurs with change is not bound within that moment however and it is in the ripple effects that our relational lives are most deeply known.

Consider that new job or home, losing a job or home, gaining a new friend or losing an old one, going through a dark emotional time or riding the high of a powerful experience; these are all events changing our lives and splashing over the sides of our personal stories. A new job and friends will bring about new social connections and shift our internal stories. A loss of a job or a friend will also funnel the power of change. Oliver Wendall-Holmes said:

“I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving; To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”

We cannot help but move our own lives within the flow of this relational reality. To attempt standing in one place in the midst of any of this is to be tossed about like flotsam in the sea rather than calmly shifting our balance at the wheel of our own ship.

That flow of relational life is how Daniel Siegel defines relationships, the form of which changing as the flow of information and energy moves. What used to be impossible to imagine becomes inevitable and what seemed inevitable becomes highly unlikely within this flow expressed through change. What new interests never before considered come about with a new intimate relationship? Consider how behavior that was once considered “not the real me,” becomes normal with new work and social environments? Mindfully reflect on verbal phrases picked up from friends and co-workers, jokes and stories retold that would not have been heard elsewhere and how people who are together for longer start acting more alike.

With these questions and thoughts being pondered, is it any wonder then why change is stressful and can feel overwhelming? Let the answer to this be both a thunderous yes and a powerful acceptance of such being normal. The wonder and privilege of living relational lives is how very much the limits of our imagination are largely due to the extent of our social connections. This means the difficulty that seems insurmountable awaits only a shift in those very connections to become less burdensome.

This process can involve searching for new people, but it can also be found in expanding the images we have of ourselves and those who are connected to us. The phrase “I didn’t know that about you” should not be bound to exasperation about a loved one, but a ringing cry of wonder at each and every new discovered facet of another and the connection between. We are much more, individually and together, than the current limits of our imagination would have us believe. To explore that potentiality is to ride the flow of our relational lives and not be tossed about when the sea churns.

 

© David Teachout


 

More information on Relational Mentoring

1

Removing the Negative from Negative Emotions

Our emotions are always with us, sometimes rising seemingly out of nowhere like a giant sea-serpent, at other times existing like a still ocean, always there but not causing any trouble. Unfortunately emotions often get a bad reputation, particularly when placed next to rationality, as if the two are diametrically opposed with emotions therefore being irrational. Directly leading from that is the notion that emotions can somehow be labeled as good or bad in, perhaps not always ethical ways, but certainly being qualified as positive or negative. “Don’t be negative” has become the mantra of the newest iteration of mind-over-matter, particularly in relation to cancer and other illnesses. Emotions have become objects to label, control and to be placed into neat boxes for further analysis or shuffled away to make life better.

This tendency to view emotions in positive or negative judgments can be detrimental to how we live our lives. Who determines which emotions are good or bad? Is that person speaking only for themselves or for everyone and if the latter, why? Can an emotion be good in one situation but bad in another? Let’s take anger. The person declaring anger as bad is often in a position of power, where labeling it as such is more about diminishing the legitimacy of anger’s cause. How anger is labeled goes a long way towards keeping the hierarchy of power in place. If you’re “just being emotional” or “acting out” or “being aggressive,” then the focus is shifted from considering what the anger may be about and onto why you need to know your place.

Questioning causes here brings up why labeling emotions in themselves as good or bad is unhelpful. Emotions don’t simply appear, no matter how that may feel at times. Calling emotions spontaneous is simply noting the speed of the reaction, not that they happened without connection to experience. Picture that quiet ocean again, this time seeing how the water reflects the colors of the rainbow in the light. Some colors may be seen more often, others may rise up with passing waves and then dip down again. This is your emotional life. Always there, always moving, an immediate reflection of the world in which you live.

IMG_1768Now place a moving object, a small boat or a large ship, cutting through the water and making it roil and splash around. That object is your current experience, a combination of perception (rational appraisal) and the world itself. Some things in experience are outside of perceptual control, that being the world itself as our biology, social structure and cultural standards. Our rational appraisal gets all the praise because it’s our conscious self, which requires words to describe it, as opposed to the supposedly more simplistic quality of mere feelings.

Where’s the cause and effect? The easy connections are difficult to follow in this picture. In fact, they’re practically impossible. We can’t stop living in the ocean of our emotions, constantly and quietly assessing our situations from below conscious awareness. Neither can we stop the “I” of our conscious lives requiring verbal description and therefore the creation of narratives to explain our experiences. What is cause and what is effect therefore get lost because either can be substituted for the other depending on the place in experience a person is looking from.

The result in seeing our emotions this way is a removal of judgment. They are no longer something to be feared or mocked, replaced or removed. They simply are a part of us, to varying degrees of strength but never wholly gone. Getting rid of judgment means being able to focus on our stories, the structure that scythed through our still waters and provides the path for meaning and values to manifest. Acceptance is letting the waves come and moving forward with how we live.

© David Teachout

1

Walking With Depression

The phrase “mental illness” brings up all manner of images, emotions and opinions. It also comes with a fair amount of social stigma even in this day of pill-pushing advertisements. Perhaps the ubiquity of medications leads to questioning personal struggles, supporting the judgment of just taking a pill and moving on. There exists then a social pressure with so-called “solutions” being readily available, that to honestly admit of a continued struggle is a weakness or personal failing. Further, the heavy presence of advertising can give a false impression that we as a society are indeed talking openly and honestly about such matters. A similar impression could be made given the prevalence of sexuality in our media. Both are unequivocally false.

Being honest about such matters is what leads me here. I walk with depression and have been for almost twenty years. I use the phrase “walk with” because it’s a helpful metaphor for my experience. I enjoy going for walks and while there is a level of similarity each time, placing one foot in front of the other, there is also a great deal of variation. The terrain changes depending on where I’m at, leading to changes in what is noticed and how often I stare at my feet so as not to trip. The length of time will change depending on what I’m up for, varying through the years and the level of personal fitness. I can still talk about going for walks, but without taking into consideration all these variables, it becomes just something a lot of people do.

Depression is similar, shared by millions yet unique to each person. The mental tapes of self-castigation, concern over potential loss, being unloved, and the inevitable underlying thread of being a failure and unworthy of life provide a description for what depression has been for me. Some of those aspects may resonate with others, but they are not the whole story.

Medication, counseling, diet changes, various books on mental life have all been part of the journey. All of these attempts at intervention have been helpful in their own way, even the unhelpful medication, having provided building blocks to where I’m at today.

The following is a list of personal lessons found along the journey.

1. I stopped using the term “illness.” I’m not sick and the term has far too much negativity connected to it, particularly as it alludes to there being something wrong or in need of curing. There isn’t. On the spectrum of emotional expression I simply fall more on one side than another.

2. Not every intervention works the same for everyone. Whether it’s medication, prayer/meditation, physical activity, etc., each will work differently because we are all composed of a unique combination of personal narratives, histories and social supports.depression

3. Not every intervention works the same way each time. This one can be particularly frustrating, though it leads to the building up of several means of self-care. Relying on any single one over and over again runs on the law of diminishing returns. Just as depression is complex, so then the self-care involved to meet it must be.

4. Self-care doesn’t mean an absence of social-care. Certainly there are times when a quiet room has been the only healthy way to go, but avoiding social contact entirely is more than likely counter-productive. The last thing the incessantly running tapes of self-recrimination need is to have the echo-chamber of the mind reflect the echo-chamber of an absence of social connection. Besides, loved ones do care and it’s helpful to be reminded of that.

5. Be careful of making causal connections. Just as interventions will shift in how helpful they are, so also do triggering events shift in their ability to lead to depression. Focusing too much on one can give it a power that it otherwise wouldn’t or perhaps even shouldn’t have. This isn’t to mean ignoring the personal context, only to see that connections can and often do change through time.

6. Fighting doesn’t lead anywhere except to a bruised self. Setting up depression as a monolithic Goliath may be a particular salve to the ego, but eventually one begins looking too much like the other. As in physics where every action has an equal reaction so then in the realm of the mind. The more attention is paid, the more that becomes due.

7. I and you are more than this. Depression cannot characterize the whole of who you are. No single action or thought or emotion ever can.

None of these statements are intended as universal. They’re lessons, as much a part of the journey as the depression itself has been. Each of our stories is a reflection of who we are, what we see and what we are striving to uncover. Whatever parable of the mind is being written, with its shades of light and dark, the result is always worthy of the life it is living in.

 

© David Teachout


More information on Relational Mentoring

 

3

Our Values Do Not Separate Us

“Family Values,” “Good Christian Values,” “He doesn’t hold our values,” “Core Values.” The list could go on and on, with each phrase immediately bringing to mind experiential examples, emotional responses and some form of positive or negative judgment. As a species, our social identification seems indelibly connected to whether or not we hold to a particular set of values. Step outside of that proscribed set and you’re immediately cast out or required to engage in some form of atonement. In itself, this makes sense, our tribal-making mentality needs a means of delineating in-group and out-group participation. To achieve a goal, groups need directional focus and those who are operating at cross-purposes make the meeting of that goal more difficult.

What makes this everyday-living into the truly troubling is how values are rarely ever considered in an ideological context.

“Reason is a faculty which must be practiced, in order to develop, and it is indivisible. By this I mean that the faculty for objectivity refers to the knowledge of nature as well as to the knowledge of man, of society and of oneself. If one lives in illusions about one sector of life, one’s capacity for reason is restricted or damaged, and thus the use of reason is inhibited with regard to all other sectors.” – Erich Fromm, The Sane Society, p. 65

The illusion here concerning values is that of the conflation occurring with particular behavior. Values are not then frames of reference, they are demands for behavioral conformity. To see the absurdity of this, we can look at a couple examples:

1) Person A, otherwise demonstrating a history of honesty and integrity, is caught knowingly telling a lie.

Now, regardless of the extent to which that lie may effect the person or others, would it be accurate to say the person has completely removed the values of honesty or truth from their lives? If the answer is yes, the judgment is not merely about the present situation but all currently present interactions the person is involved with. Clearly we don’t make such a judgment, else anytime we note a deception, however small, in one of our friends or family or co-workers, we’d no longer trust them with anything. Rather, in our everyday lives, we tacitly accept a compartmentalization for the actions of ourselves and others. In other words, what one does in one social context does not necessitate the same in another.

2) Person B, known for the value they hold for family, engages in business practices which harm family engagement.

In our personal lives we often concern ourselves first with whoever we identify as family, forgiving behavior that otherwise we’d never allow from those outside of that circle. In our work lives, if a family member is dealt with differently or above those of others, we immediately call out a judgment of nepotism and consider such behavior wrong. Does that mean we no longer consider the value accorded to family? Consider a close confidant like a spouse or lover, where a healthy and open exchange of information exists. Yet, depending on the job, such information from there may not be shared. Does the person no longer care about the values of honesty and openness? Clearly in both situations, the social context does not remove the value, though what it does indicate is how values are actually lived.

From these examples arise two qualities concerning values:adding-value

A) Values are hierarchical.

In any given moment of our lives we adhere to a number of values. These are not equal, however. When faced with a situation that puts disparate values at odds with one another, we often seamlessly act accordingly. When anxiety is faced, it is not from having to give up a cherished value, but of having to choose. We rarely question whether we still care about life, honesty, truth or community, etc., only whether in the given moment we are upholding the correct value over another.

B) Values manifest within contextually-dependent situations.

Here is where the conflation between particular behaviors and values flies in the face of real human experience. What a person says in one situation to uphold honesty may be different in another despite upholding the very same value. To declare the behavior in one situation cancels out the same value being held in the other is not only confusing, but inimical to what it means to be human.

From the debate on abortion, to acts considered terrorism, to tax legislation and so on, one side paints the other as not merely attempting to manifest a value differently but of completely denying that they even hold that value. This form of judgment has become the go-to place for dehumanizing people of different behavior. Rather than looking at the behavior to consider what exists in its promotion, the behavior is identified as being completely contrary to a particular cherished value. As a means of ending any form of generative dialogue before it starts, this tactic is brilliant. As a means of understanding our humanity better, it is a terrible affront.

“Values don’t occur in an existence void of relationship to anything else. We are not walking around plucking values out of the air like falling leaves. They are the mental constructs through which our worldview works to manifest behavior. This is why we can act in supposedly opposite ways and still think we’re being true to ourselves. Values do not demand particular action because there is no action that is equal in substitution to any value.” (“They Don’t Hate Our Values”)

 

Let’s be absolutely clear: there is no particular behavior that embodies a value so completely that any other behavior to support it becomes impossible. A person calling out judgment about the clothes someone wears is not against freedom of expression, only the particular form it is taking for the other. Someone attacking the embodiment of a social institution like journalism is not against freedom of speech, only against the particular form the other’s behavior is taking to support it.

Conflating a particular behavior with a value not only dismisses the person’s relevance to the human experience, it ignores the real difficulty at hand. Values are a shared aspect of human experience, but to manifest in contextually-dependent situations requires a worldview for them to work through. That a worldview is often not well considered by the adherent or is completely ignorant of by the person passing judgment, is undoubtedly why the easier tactic of dismissal is taken. Engaging with a worldview, the principles and schemas that provide the structure for living, is difficult, time-consuming and outside of the false security provided by dogmatism, fraught with insecurity.  To explore fully ours and others’s worldviews is to see just how many ideas, once considered impregnable to skeptical inquiry, have been changed and at times completely cast aside.

“Life, in its mental and spiritual aspects, is by necessity insecure and uncertain. There is certainty only about the fact that we are born and that we shall die; there is complete security only in an equally complete submission to powers which are supposed to be strong and enduring, and which relieve man from the necessity of making decisions, taking risks, and having responsibilities. Free man is by necessity insecure, thinking man is by necessity uncertain.” – Erich Fromm, The Sane Society, p. 174

 

The blindness afforded by abject devotion to the proscribed behaviors of a social group is one of submission for the purpose of no longer actively engaging with others. If a person’s behavior is no longer even tentatively connected to a value held by humanity, they are easily then cast aside as “other,” “alien,” and even “savage.” Disagreeing with a particular behavior is to first and foremost disagree with a person’s constructed worldview, regardless of how well such has been thought out. Indeed, the very fact that worldviews are so tentative and capable of change is precisely why they should be engaged with, rather than attempting to cordon off a particular value like an ideological gestapo.

If when confronted with a behavior we find an affront to a personal value, we first ask how that behavior is connected to a shared value, we will begin to better understand the inter-complexity of each seemingly separated world we walk in. We may find ourselves still parting in disagreement, but doing so with a deeper appreciation for why and, perhaps most importantly, some questions for ourselves.

 

 

© David Teachout