REFLECT UPON THIS: What The World Needs Now… Respect @RRBC_Org @RRBC_RWISA @Tweets4RWISA @JohnJFioravanti @NonnieJules #Quotes

“We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.”

~ Barack Obama

Barak Obama head shot

As a retired secondary school educator, I am a firm believer in lifelong learning, and it need not take place in a formal classroom. Today, the Internet allows anyone who is curious to discover information and analysis about any topic they can imagine. It is in the context of the lifelong learner that I wish to reflect on President Barack Obama’s words quoted above from his final State of the Union Address on January 12, 2016.

In my study of history, I realize that human progress does not occur in a linear pattern and that often we regress on the way to positive growth. In some very tangible ways, we are experiencing a regression in our behaviour towards others today. News headlines from around the globe give testament that division and polarization around extreme ideas and attitudes are fuelling discord and conflict between us.

At the root of this discord is a startling lack of respect for others. What do I mean when I speak about respect? The teacher in me goes directly to the dictionary and in my case, several dictionaries. I was dismayed to find the term defined as having a high or special regard for someone. This definition is far too narrow. What about the man who lives down the street from me? I don’t know his name or anything about his talents, skills, accomplishments, attitudes or beliefs. So what am I to hold in high regard? What about all the people in the world with whom I’ve never been in contact? Do I respect them because their country is powerful or wealthy? Perhaps, but how do I approach a stranger with respect?

I began to understand the essential concept of respect when I came across the phrase, “to consider worthy…” The lights came on, and I knew I had found my elusive key. Every human being must be considered worthy of the same freedoms that I desire, worthy of consideration,  of assistance when needed, and fair treatment. We are all worthy of being free from prejudgment based on physical traits, age, culture, and beliefs; of having the opportunity to live in a healthy environment and to be successful. Most importantly, respect means being considered worthy of equal treatment.

The polarization I spoke about earlier has driven many of us to demonize anyone who disagrees with us. We see this unfolding each day in the United States as Republicans and Democrats have no kind words for each other. Fear brought on by years of terrorist attacks causes us to regard Middle Eastern people with suspicion and distrust. They are the enemy! Protect the country by closing our borders! These things are happening in many places around the globe, not just in America. Yet America, a nation that has held itself up to the world as a beacon of hope for over two hundred years is now projecting rancour, disrespect, and bullying. Fair or not, if something happens in the U.S.A. the whole world knows about it quickly. My country, Canada, is guilty of many of the same things, but the world rarely hears about it because we’re just… Canada – no big deal.

I also understand that societal or global change begins within an individual and spreads from there. Upon introspection, I’m not pleased with what I see in my heart, my words, and my attitudes. Before I can respect other persons, I must accept their humanity and see them as worthy beings. I don’t do that when I demonize and dehumanize people who anger or upset me. I don’t have to agree with them to be respectful, but if I accept another person as a worthy human being, I must find better ways to express my disapproval, disagreement, or dismay with another’s choices or beliefs. As a writer and blogger, I have not done well in this regard. In my own way, I have participated in the politics of division that Obama warns us against.

President Barack Obama’s speech contains wisdom and truth. I need to step back and consider his words carefully. We have clear evidence around us that divisiveness and polarization exist between people today, people in our own countries and between people around the globe. This makes us weak and ineffective. We have lost sight of the main reason why humans created civilizations back in antiquity – to work together in peace to survive, build robust economies, and express our humanity, our very soul, through the arts. Our diversity is our strength! Ethnocentrism is the belief that holds one culture or ethnic group superior to all others. That is intellectual arrogance at its worst! I may espouse liberal ideas and policies, but I need to consider the conservative positions of others. When we do battle over these things, we all lose!

If we fail to accept others as worthy beings, then we have failed to respect them and ourselves. If I demonize you for something you said or did, I have disrespected myself. Without respect, there is no building for tomorrow. There will be no working together for the common good. I need to learn to respectfully disagree and criticize, and then put forward my ideas with humility. None of us has a monopoly on wisdom because we have different perspectives – and those perspectives can help us arrive at the best solutions.

I need to do better.

My friends, I was honoured to be named the 2020 RWISA “SUPREME” Book Award Grand Prize Winner for my first collection of REFLECTIONS.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the reflection above from my upcoming second grouping of interpretations in REFLECTIONS II.  Today, my first collection is being hosted over at Watch Nonnie Write!  I hope that you’ll drop by to soak up the reflection, “DON’T TRIP ON YOUR WAY TO GREATNESS!”  
 
Reflections II Book Cover

BOOK BLURB FOR REFLECTIONS II

The word inspiration is derived from the Latin word inspirare which means to breathe into. It occurs when someone is filled with the desire to do something creative. While some cast aspersions on the existence of inspiration, I doubt that there is anyone alive who has not experienced this uplifting phenomenon. I call it uplifting because an inspiration lifts us to new or greater effort to do something – even if that something is to think about a topic in a different way.

I believe that inspiration is real and it is essential to the well-being of the human condition. This book is the product of inspiration. After the original volume Reflections: Inspirational Quotes and Interpretations was published, I was moved by the reaction of many readers to create a second volume. In their own words, these people claimed they were inspired to consider the selected quotes in the light of their own life experiences.

In Reflections II, inspiration has come full circle.

Leave a comment on this post or on Nonnie Jules’ post and your name will be entered to win a $5 Amazon Gift Card!

 

The Cost of Freedom and Rights

“We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defence.”

Barack Obama

Although he needs no introduction, Obama was the 44th President of the United States. He and his family occupied the White House from 2009 to 2017 and suffered great stress as they bravely coped with hatred from those who could not accept a black president. He spoke these words at the Democratic National Convention on September 6, 2012, as he accepted his party’s nomination to run for re-election as President.

Barack Obama is not a hero because he was without flaws. There is no leader, past or present, who completed their stewardship without making errors. History will judge the decisions Obama made in the White House; I will not. I will write this post as a celebration of one man’s faith in himself, in his country, and in humanity.

As a Canadian, I have a stake in what goes on south of our border in the United States. I have many friends and literary colleagues living there and I am concerned about the angst they live with as they navigate their lives in a bitterly divided nation. While I understand that Barack Obama is a flashpoint that has contributed to American disunity; this is not what he stood for as a man or as President of the United States.

The opening words of the passage quoted above speak to the very heart of citizenship in any free, democratic society. Every single citizen has responsibilities as well as rights. What are these responsibilities? I think the most important one is to stand up and defend the common good. With so many diverse interests competing against each other, citizens must insist that leaders exercise courage and wisdom to reach the necessary compromises that will serve the common good. Too many of us have lost sight of the goal of the common good, and too many of us remain silent, sullenly refuse to vote, and therefore, fail in our duty to insist that our leaders act on behalf of everyone.

Obama rightly points out that our destinies are bound together. A nation can be strong and successful only with the combined efforts of all the stakeholders. Unfortunately, too many people in our western democracies feel disenfranchised. Government decisions are influenced by and for the benefit of the rich and powerful few at the expense of the many. We can debate all day about how this situation came about and who is really to blame but it really doesn’t matter because the blame game provides no solutions. It is an exercise in futility.

Some are touting frightening predictions about the demise of American civilization. They claim that Americans are so deeply divided that they will tear themselves and this once proud nation asunder. That is one possible outcome but I have stated to my good friend, Jill Dennison in Ohio, that I don’t believe that I’ll live to see that day. I have personally met many wonderful people in America, both in-person and online, and I have faith that they will rally to President Obama’s call.

Oh really? Oh yes! Obama speaks about love, charity, duty and patriotism in that 2012 speech. Despite the ugliness, we see in the mainstream media every day, My friend Jill Dennison goes beyond the political morass and finds stories about ordinary Americans who put themselves out to help others in need. The characteristics Obama highlights are alive and well in American society. We all need to widen our focus to see and acknowledge this truth.

We have it within us to rise to the challenge. To return to the ideals of democratic leaders who founded our nations and to act in the best interests of the common good. We used to put these ideas in the context of building a better nation. Today, the environmental crisis we face forces us to think outside the boxes of our individual countries and to put the good of the planet and all of humanity before our own personal interests.

Are we going to give in to the hopelessness and despair fostered by our current problems or are we going to dig deep and find that courage within us to rally to cause of goodness, truth, love and charity – for the benefit of all?

Failure is unthinkable.

Has Our Soul Been Taken?

The true identity theft is not financial. It’s not in cyberspace. It’s spiritual. It’s been taken.”

Stephen Covey

Portrait of Stephen Covey.
Stephen Covey

Born in 1932 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Stephen Covey was an American educator and taught at Brigham Young University. He fathered a large family and died in 2012. As an author, his greatest achievement was his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which is cited as the most influential book in business education in the 20th Century.

There has been much written and discussed about our materialistic society. As a group, we collectively pursue the relentless acquisition of goods which has resulted in a spectacularly prodigious amount of personal debt. I do not wish to enter into a discussion or debate about how this materialism came to be. But this reality is the backdrop for Stephen Covey’s words cited above.

Covey speaks of the current issue of identity theft. Our personal identity is sacred to all of us. The theft of our name and official government identifiers, like social insurance numbers, is a vexing problem that the existence of cyberspace has made more dangerous than ever before. Victims of identity theft face financial ruin and, perhaps, criminal and civil consequences in the courts.

And yet, Covey boldly states that true identity theft is not about financial loss or about cyberspace criminals. No, he claims that we are the victims of the theft of our spiritual identity. He also claims that our spiritual identity has been taken – not lost. Really?

For most of my life, the spiritual realm and religion were one and the same. Certainly, there is a relationship between the two, but they are not synonymous, not the same. The human spirit is not necessarily about religion in general or about a specific religion. I believe that everyone possesses a soul, the spiritual core of our being. We cannot see it, hear it, or feel it. But it is powerful.

Many people turn to religion to satisfy their spiritual needs. And for some, religion has become a badge of social respectability that one has earned by attending church regularly – saying all the right prayers and singing the right hymns. For them, it goes no farther. Others work hard to live the tenets of their chosen faith in their daily lives. But religion is not for everyone because the rules and regulations of formal religions can be restrictive.

Our common spirituality transcends religious practices and communities. The human spirit is about the values and personal truths we hold dear. These realities are not our birthright as humans, but they must be cultivated through great personal effort. It means setting aside alone time to meditate or think deeply about the things we truly value. To question ideas that originate within ourselves and from others. What do we truly value? Things? Yes, sadly, things.

I believe that Covey is telling us that our craving for material possessions which has been institutionalized into mass shopping sprees on days designated by the corporations that profit from them, has driven us not only into deep personal debt but also into a soulless existence. Our education system prepares us for jobs. Jobs are our means to earn a living. Those jobs give birth to an overwhelming need to be promoted into higher-paying jobs so that we may acquire more things.

We are not being educated to live our lives well. We are not encouraged to seek out and meditate on the wisdom of those who went before us. In fact, we are not encouraged to meditate at all! Where are we now? We are facing ecological disaster and extinction. Are we waking up to the fact that our rampant materialism has stolen our souls? No, it doesn’t look like it. Listen carefully to the messages of politicians running an election campaign. Look at the commercials on television. What does our behaviour reveal about our values?

I agree with Stephen Covey but I’m not prepared to write off the human race just yet. It is clear we need to nurture our spiritual identity. How we do that is a matter of choice. But we need to take back our spirituality.

I Believe in…

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.

E. E. Cummings

An American poet, Edward Estlin Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1894 and died in 1962. He was a prolific writer who wrote almost 3,000 poems, two novels, four plays, and many essays. As a poet, he was best known for his non-conformist approach and this gives me some insight into this quote.

“Once we believe in ourselves…” These opening words literally stopped me in my tracks. Do most of us believe in ourselves? Do I believe in myself? What does this mean? To be honest, in this respect, I am a work in progress. Sometimes I feel a strong sense of uncertainty or doubt. So I look outside of myself for assurance. When I step back and analyse this lack of self-confidence, I see it as silly and child-like. It is based on fear and leads to no good.

Confidence means that I accept or I own who I am – with all of my virtues, talents, strengths, along with my vices and weaknesses. If I accept myself as I am, then I can love myself. This allows me to move forward boldly, according to my beliefs and my decisions. As well, I am enabled to reach out, unencumbered, to embrace others.

“…we can risk, curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight…” If I am tangled up in foreboding and fear, how can I risk anything? Fear is the great annihilator of risk, of taking a chance. If I am to navigate my own life well, I need to ask about things, events, and people who impact my life and my society. Expressing wonder about the beauty of life is risking ridicule from others who might not share my view. Expressing spontaneous delight can be met with disapproval. In each instance, we risk disapproval from others – even those we love.

“…or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” The revelation of our human spirit is substantial exposure! Nothing speaks more eloquently to others than our behaviour – how we live our lives. People easily recognize the self-confident person because too few of us believe in ourselves. Sometimes, I wonder if our crowded urban lifestyle contributes to this phenomenon. Are people in rural areas less fearful about what others think of them?

It is my view that I am responsible for what I believe and how I live my life. This is what I can control. I can be a non-conformist if that’s how I can best express my true self without harming others or breaking the law. We live in a society that prizes conformity, so behaving otherwise is a risky business. Hence, I believe in me – a work in progress.

We Are All One

Dear Readers, it has been a hiatus of many months since I posted a blog of my own on this site. After spending a lot of time soul searching and listening to words of encouragement from my wife and close friends, I have decided to return to my blogging roots and resurrect the series of blogs I called “My Inspiration.”

Today’s post focuses on the inspirational words of Maya Angelou who was one of America’s most influential people and continues to move us to search our hearts with her immortal words.

“The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you. May not call God the same name you call God – if they call God at all. I may not dance your dances or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody. That’s what I think.”

Maya Angelou

The element of Maya Angelou’s writings that always strikes me is her innate humility. In the first line, “it seems to me” she makes it clear that all she wants to do is share personal thoughts instead of preaching a truth that we must accept. Immediately, my mind opens wide to what follows and I read on in anticipation. This gives me pause. Do I invite people to share in my thinking or am I sounding more like the booming gong and clanging cymbal in St. Paul’s epistle about love?

In her next breath, Ms Angelou encourages us to prepare ourselves to be “a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” Many of us, I think, associate preparedness for a test or for success that benefits us in some way. How often are we asked to prepare ourselves in order to serve others? She makes it very clear that we should be a source of brightness and joy in the life of another person who is in the shadow of some personal trouble.

As I turn that idea over in my mind, I wonder how one prepares for that kind of service. Cultivating a point of view that looks outward beyond my own wants and needs towards others would be a good start. I need to develop genuine empathy so that I can recognize another’s need. As well, I need to shed any negativity about life that I’ve accumulated along my own journey, and be a hopeful person who looks for the goodness in others.

This kind of personal growth is no small task, in my view! Perhaps for some, being a beacon of light for others is as simple as rolling out of bed in the morning. Regardless, I agree with Maya Angelou that every human being should strive to serve with no expectation of reward from the world around us. From my own experience, the times when I have helped someone to smile, the warm inner glow I felt was reward enough.

In the last few lines, Angelou addresses the things that divide humans: race, gender, religion, and culture among other things. For her, our shared humanity is paramount. There is nothing more important than reaching out to all persons we contact, not just the ones who share the same identifiers with ourselves.

I remember reading an article that discussed the traits that are shared in common by all humans. As I read about our shared physicality, physical needs, psychological needs which drive us, and our common spiritual yearnings, I was struck by the triviality of the things that we allow to divide us. The resulting intolerance and fear of our noticeable differences precipitate conflict and warfare among us.

I believe that Maya Angelou was a visionary. She saw and experienced great ugliness in her life yet chose to live a better way. This realization on my part leads me to better appreciate our freedom to choose. We can decide for ourselves to serve others or be selfish. Do we choose to dwell on the ugliness in this world or to live joyfully in gratitude for the beauty in our world and within every human being?

Thank you, Maya Angelou. I’d also like to thank my good friend, Jill Dennison, who blogs each week at Filosofa’s Word about people who have chosen to follow the path made clear in this quote and reach out with kindness to strangers in need who are in their midst. Thanks, Jill, for these uplifting examples of how ordinary folks can work miracles in the lives of others!

What the World Needs Now… Respect

“We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.”

~ Barack Obama

“We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.”

~ Barack Obama

In my last post in this series, “Let Us Change the World!”, I reflected upon the role of education in bringing about positive change in the world through a quote by Nelson Mandela. His words were spoken in the context of a speech he made to students in Boston in 1990 to encourage them to remain in school and help transform the world into a better place. Continue reading “What the World Needs Now… Respect”

Let Us Change The World!

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
~ Nelson Mandela

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

~ Nelson Mandela

Courage and hope are greatly admired human attributes that were featured in the last post in this series, “Hope… Is It Enough?” It was inspired by words spoken by the former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama when she urged young South African women leaders to give voice and form to these attributes because they will be caught and spread. Continue reading “Let Us Change The World!”

Hope… Is It Enough?

“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” ~ Michelle Obama, 2011

“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”

~ Michelle Obama

It may be an understatement that we live in very troubled times. I know from my study of history and my daily history blog, “John’s Believe It Or Not,” that every era has had its troubles, yet the present seems especially fearful. The fact that the leader of the free world exacerbates the issues plaguing humanity gives one pause. How can there be hope for progress and a better future when a narcissistic megalomaniac has been allowed to run amok in the White House? Continue reading “Hope… Is It Enough?”

The Price of Silence

Martin Luther King Jr. Donald Trump. Charlottesville Protest. Silence in the face of evil. Responsibilities of citizens

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

In an earlier post, “Indifference Is the Enemy”I reflected upon the issues of love, hate, and indifference. The quote above, by Martin Luther King Jr., is focused on the same idea. These words are relevant at any time, in any age, but they have taken on a new urgency today. Continue reading “The Price of Silence”