Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Three Dangerous Words

We are born with the concepts inside us, the concepts represented by the three dangerous words.

When we are first able to express ourselves these three words are among the first we learn how to use and use correctly. Use them we must and use them we do. We use them to our advantage and we use them to our detriment. Properly used, they can be a blessing. Improperly used, they are dangerous.

The three dangerous words are "me", and "mine", and "more".

"Me" is the first concept formed in our infant minds. It is the name I call myself. With its other forms, "Myself" and "I", "Me" expresses self awareness. "Me" separates me from you from and from all others. In this it is useful. But, "Me" becomes dangerous when I use it to lord over you or others. "Me becomes dangerous when we think or assume "It's all about ME!" or "The world revolves around ME!" or "It's all for ME!"  Too quickly we forget about others who may be as much or more important than "ME". Too quickly we become self-centered. Too quickly healthy self respect becomes vanity, conceit and selfishness.

Me is a dangerous word. Use it with care.

"Mine" is the word of ownership. Closely related to "Me", "'Mine" is probably the second concept our minds recognize. "Mine" asserts ownership. "Mine" separates what I own from everything else in the world. The concept of "Mine" is essential. But "Mine" is dangerous when used to assert and justify ownership that is of what is not rightfully ours. "Mine" enables the selfishness of "Me" and is the root of envy, covetousness, and conflict. "It's mine because I wants it" says Smeagol shortly before murdering his brother in Lord of the Rings.

"Mine is a dangerous word. Use it with care.

The third dangerous word is "More". More is used to express insufficiency when one has not enough. "More" brings to mind the image of a starving orphan who, having consumed his miserable bowl of gruel extends the bowl to an unfeeling master and mouths the word "More".

"More" becomes dangerous when, having sufficient for our needs, we continually strive to amass "More" than that. "More" is the enabler of excess. We may have sufficient and not need "More". We may acquire "More" and hoard it to our detriment. Yet we continue to strive for "More" still. After all, if enough is good, "More" is better. And if "More" is better, then even too much may not be enough. So, we expend our time and effort to gain ever more. We become wage slaves, incur debt beyond any rational ability to repay, refinance and increase that debt again and again all for the joy of having and the burden of maintaining "More" and "ever More".

How do we maintain the usefulness and avoid the dangers inherent in these dangerous words?

First, we emphasize respect for others and concepts such as courtesy and honor, civility and compassion over the concept of self esteem inherent in "Me". We learn to put the best interests of others above our own.

We emphasize giving and sharing above the concept of ownership inherent in "Mine". We learn that the words "what's mine is also yours" represent not only a noble concept but also a workable strategy. To the extent possible, we become content with and value what we have and are willing to share what we have with others.

We re-learn the concept of sufficiency and satisfaction expressed in the word "enough". Recognizing sufficiency, we learn to relinquish excess. We experience the joy of saving up and paying cash for things we really want. And we learn that in many things having less really is easier and more fulfilling  than having more.

How will you do it?

What one thing will you do this month to mitigate the danger lurking behind "Me" or "Mine" or "More"?


Monday, February 10, 2014

Whose Valentine?

This week, we celebrate Valentine's Day. Red and white displays featuring cards and chocolates in heart shaped boxes appeared in stores the week after Christmas. This week, flowers -- most often roses -- have been ordered for delivery, dinner reservations recorded and bottles of wine carefully selected and chilled in anticipation of a romantic evening. Cards featuring hearts and flowers implore those who receive them to "Be my Valentine."

We think we are celebrating love. We are actually celebrating romance. Romance -- the love people talk about when they speak of being "in love" -- is a special kind of love, but not the only kind. When we concentrate on romance, we lose sight of the love demonstrated by affection, friendship, and acts of compassion as performed by Saint Valentine.

According to legend, Saint Valentine was a Roman priest arrested and imprisoned for performing Christian marriages at a time when aiding Christians was a crime against Imperial Rome. Emperor Claudius Gothicus took a liking to this prisoner until Valentine tried to convert the Emperor whereupon he was swiftly condemned to death. After beatings with clubs and stoning failed to kill him, Valentine was beheaded and buried beside the road outside the Flaminian Gate. According to one legend, before his head was cut off, he healed the sight and hearing of his jailer's daughter. According to another, while imprisoned he wrote notes urging his congregation and friends not to grow weary in well doing and to stand firm in the face of persecution. 

The love demonstrated by the saint had nothing to do with romantic feelings and everything to do with compassionate deeds. It had nothing to do with obtaining the favor of the beloved and everything to do with demonstrating that the beloved was favored. The love of Saint Valentine took no regard of personal consequences. The saint did not ask anyone to be his Valentine, but demonstrated by his actions that he was theirs.

How will you celebrate Valentine's day this year?

Will you send flowers, or buy a box of candy?  Will you go out to dinner or plan a romantic evening or weekend get-away? If so, enjoy! You do well. 

Will you perform some act or acts to be someone's Valentine for no other reason than it needs doing, you can do it and it's the right thing to do? If so, enjoy! You do better.

Or will you commit to performing some act or acts of compassion to be someone's Valentine for the entire year or however long it takes whether such service is recognized or appreciated or not. You may or may not enjoy, but you do best. 

In the prayer attributed to him, Francis of Assisi asks

"O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be comforted as to comfort;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

It is the prayer of one who seeks to be a Valentine.

Whose Valentine will you be this year?

What will you do to demonstrate it?

For how long?