Friday, May 23, 2014

Rare Gem

I've been seeing this meme going around: "Kindness. It doesn't cost a thing. Sprinkle it everywhere!" 

Kindness is a good thing to spread, but it does cost. Sometimes it costs dearly. To say it doesn’t cost “a thing” is to blue-light special something as precious as platinum, and is to misunderstand the true value, the true depth, the true cost of kindness. To see kindness as not costing anything is to potentially use someone badly who is being kind. 

Kindness is not the same thing as pasting on a bland smile on and being "nice" or being polite. Kindness is not quite the same thing as being a good citizen or being useful to the community.

Kindness can cost the painful effort to treat another with compassion when you're having a rotten day. It can cost donations to charity. It can cost the shirt off your back. It can take a toll on your body and emotions when you're caring for an elder with Alzheimer's. Kindness costs the teacher who isn’t allotted money for resources and who delves into her own pocket to make sure kids get the things they need. Kindness costs comfort when you knock on the door of an unfamiliar and/or cranky neighbor to check on them during a power outage. Kindness costs time spent with someone who needs you. Kindness is time spent in prayer or making offerings on behalf of people who may never know.  Sometimes kindness costs great personal sacrifice at the expense of someone’s life. Somewhere along the line, no matter how small a kindness may appear on the surface, it may well have cost the giver everything he had

Kindness is done without strings attached, without a quid pro quo mentality, without desire to get "brownie points," not because it feels good, not because one feels guilty about something, or not because a person wants emotional leverage on someone else at some point in time (it's called "using guilt to get what you want"). Very few people are actually kind enough to give actual kindness, and very few people are truly honest with themselves and their motivations for doing what they would consider acts of kindness. Doing helpful things with strings attached, with a quid pro quo mentality, with a want to be paid back at some point, because you feel guilty about something, with a desire to earn "brownie points", or because it feels good--these have their place, but in many of these situations, this is called being a good citizen and being useful to community. There's nothing wrong with these, so long as one is honest with oneself (and preferably others as well) when one engages in these. It's different from actual kindness. 

It takes an extraordinary person to offer kindness continually when beaten down by the trials, disappointments, pain, and hardship in life, and to do so from a point of clean and honest motives. It takes an extraordinary person to offer kindness when it costs so dearly.

Let’s face it. Kindness costs. Kindness costs money, effort, emotion, time, resources, comfort, and self-honesty. Kindness is expensive. When you think of it cheaply, you discount how precious it truly is. You discount your own resources when you offer kindness, and you underestimate, disrespect, and discount the efforts and resources of someone who offers you kindness. When someone offers you kindness, treat it for the precious, rare gem it is.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Religion Like Sex...

Religion, like sex, better when it's real.

The movie Demolition Man tells the tale of John Spartan, a man who had been cryogenically frozen then thawed several decades in the future so that he may resume his job as a cop. He finds out that "all things bad for you" are now "bad" and therefore against the law: tobacco, alcohol, eating meat, eating chocolate, and using foul language. In this particular scene, he is with his cop partner Lenina Huxley. Aroused by the minor violence she's witnessed in a place and time where violence is mostly unknown, Lenina asks John Spartan if he would have sex with her. He is surprised, but agrees.

She retrieves two virtual reality helmets and places one on John's head and one on hers; he has no idea what she's doing. Lenina and John do not touch, and Lenina takes her seat far away from John. Flashes of light and electronic erotic scenes and impulses are fed into his brain through the helmet. While in the midst of the program, he pulls off the helmet and demands to know just what the hell was going on. She tells him that it is sex. John knows full well what sex is--the warm flesh, the sweaty bodies, the closeness, the joy, and he tells her this. Lenina responds with self-righteous modern socially-instilled disgust for what she sees as a primitive, regressive man and she tells him that such activity was outlawed a long time ago. It is here that he finds out that somewhere along the line "bodily fluid transfers" were also considered "bad for you" then "bad," then subsequently outlawed. Sex was outlawed, and kissing had been outlawed too. Her gut-level "eww" and her accompanying outrage was not based on her experience with sex, but on her culture and what she thought she knew about sex--living in a culture of virgins, she didn't realize how little she knew.

Lenina's entire society, long ago, had slowly come to accept the virtual reality program as sex. It had gotten to the point that now no one her entire society knew what sex really was, so this was misidentified as "real" sex. But John Spartan had known what the real thing was, and this was nothing like the real thing: this wasn't sex at all but an erotic virtual reality program that two or more could play. Erotic virtual reality programs that two or more can play...are probably really great things...but they aren't sex even if Lenina and her entire culture claims that it is sex.

We think that's silly now. Of course we know what sex is. But what if we didn't? We would respond similarly to how Lenina did in this tale, unless we had John Spartan's dose of reality--a gift of the ancestors. We, too, would bristle with self-righteous modern socially-instilled disgust for the quaint, antiquated, sometimes jarring or uncomfortable "ways of the 'primitive man'." How do I know this? Because of how polytheists and their practices have been referred to in the past several months. I've seen descriptors tossing around: from superstitious, literalist, backwards, fundamentalist, intolerant, irrational, anti-science, anti-reason, anthropomorphizing, and as having "imaginary friend" issues. These words are just shy of "primitive" and "barbaric." Like Lenina and her culture in the fictitious example above, those making these judgments about polytheism are not polytheists and only think they know about polytheism even as they are steeped in a culture that knows nothing about it and do not realize how little they know. It's like how our virginal character Lenina only thought she knew about sex.

If a polytheist responds with anything from surprise, to misunderstanding, to complete befuddlement when another proposes "religion" and breaks out the virtual reality really shouldn't be a surprise.

Religion, like sex, is better when it's real. Too long we've mistaken a sham of what we thought was "religion" for the real thing. We've mistaken it as a "system of beliefs,"and thinking that religion is created by people about people for people. Religion is—and should be restored in human thinking as—systems set in place with the participation of the deities, the ancestors, and people, as a constant negotiation. When it isn't, it isn't religion.

Image notes: Ames developed (Pop Optics) goggles, NASA, photo in Public Domain.