Tag Archives: compassion

My Religion’s Better Than Yours

Religion, ain’t it grand? Everyone can use it to feel righteous, superior and special. In fact, people can use it to preach tolerance, yet in the same breath turn around and show bigotry and narrow-mindedness.

Nine years after September 11 and what have we learned? Place the blame elsewhere and stoke the fires under the fetid brew of religious intolerance. I speak of some Qu’ran burning putz in the US and the masses of protesters screaming against a mosque being built near ground zero in New York.

The masses, as has been shown again and again, are mostly ignorant, easily swayed and influenced by hype. If there is a complete intelligence amongst them, they hide it in the mob mentality. Notice I don’t say the Christian masses or the Hindu masses or any specific religion, because a mass of people (as opposed to the Catholic mass) is just that; not necessarily an unthinking organism but a lower thinking one.

The problem with religion is that it’s open to interpretation, interpretations of interpretations, offshoots, branches, sects and other views of the same religion, let alone all the different religions out there. Take just one, even Buddhism, and you have moderates, those who are orthodox or who adhere to the most stringent rules, and those who are liberal. One extreme end holds the fundamentalists. It makes no difference if this is Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam or one of the host of many religious practices. Fundamentalists are sometimes raised in the tradition but just as often (if not moreso) they are brought to this view as adults.

Fundamentalists are often recognized as being stringent and unbending, narrow-minded, and resistant to truth and facts. They like going on tirades, performing highly dramatic proclamations and at the worst, killing people in the name of their religion. A fundamentalist, whether a Taoist (Are there fundamentalist Taoists? Probably),  a Wiccan or some other religion is annoying at best and downright threatening to life and liberty at worst.

Who is a fundamentalist? The Taliban subjugating men and women, the Holy Roman Empire feeding Christians to lions, the Spanish Inquisition toasting witches, and southern Baptists burning religious texts. This is only a small sampling of pointing the finger at another group and ostracizing them for their beliefs. Sometimes this religious prejudice has been wholly one group against another and that’s not necessarily fundamentalism (really, the Roman Empire was a state religion and not fundamental beyond that) as it is the tenets and interpretations of the era and culture, such as various pogroms against the Jews in Medieval Europe. But fundamentalists will loudly proclaim the right and might of their belief system, then put their hands over their ears so they do not hear anything which would make them doubt. And they just as loudly denounce everyone else of not being on the “one true faith.”

Most religions preach love, compassion and turning the other cheek but it seems it doesn’t run to your neighbor if they are of a different ilk. It’s okay to tell your wives to stay home and raise babies if you’re a fundamentalist Christian but it’s not okay if you’re a fundamentalist Muslim and tell your wife to wear the hijab.  It’s okay to guilt trip people into being of a particular faith but then not let homosexuals into your church. It’s okay to convert by the gun or the sword because that will really give you more believers but it will only be lip service. Oh and do I even have to mention that should you start burning, breaking or otherwise destroying one group’s symbols of faith, that that won’t make them go away but will have them in your face. But if it’s war you want, in your religious peace, then it’s war you’ll get.

I’m not sure when the world is going to grow up. I have little faith it will be anytime soon as religious superstition, suspicion and intolerance seem to be on the rise. And people, no matter their faith, should be willing to listen to another person’s belief system. If they’re threatened, then they’re already insecure in their beliefs. If they change to another path, so what? Spirituality is always an individual journey and coercing or forcing people is not the way to spirit and belief.

Blaming all people of one faith for what some men did of dubious and most likely fundamentalist beliefs is the same as saying half of the species (say, women) is inferior to the other half. It’s the same as saying, Joe killed someone; therefore all of humanity should be punished. It’s the same as saying, my great grandfather raped someone so all the men in my family line are rapists (and this is a what-if and not indicative of my family). It’s the same as saying all Christians are good and all Muslims are bad. Switch the nouns and names around and it will sound as ludicrous.

Anyone who supports such wholesale bigotry should not be surprised when vengeance is wreaked upon them by the group they denounce. Look at the individual and do not use that wide brush to paint all of any group with it. There are evil Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists (Burma/Myanmar is run by Buddhists), pagans, agnostics, atheists, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. all over the world. And there are many more people of all faiths and none who are compassionate, charitable, giving and willing to let each person live, as long as they do not damage or subjugate another person in any way.

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Living in a World of Rejection

Everyone gets some form or rejection at some point in their lives. If you’re fairly well balanced, you can take it in stride, maybe momentarily sad/disappointed/angry but you move on.

However, to reject seems a much harder action for some people to commit. Take the thinner side of relationships–that is, dating. How many times has it happened that someone says, “I’ll call you,” when they have no intention of ever calling? Or the slow disappearance of the person you’re dating, who can’t manage to say, “I’m no longer interested,” but instead becomes distant, talking less, laughing less, making love less or with less passion?

Really, who is being fooled in such relationships? Not the one being dumped slowly, unless they’re in complete denial. And if you haven’t learned by now, a slow dumping is much more wounding and demoralizing than a sudden one. Though that shouldn’t legitimize never calling again but still having the guts to say, “Look, this just isn’t working out,” or “I’m really more into my book than you,” or whatever. It comes down to communication.

However, I believe there’s often ego tied up in this that people don’t realize. “Oh, I couldn’t tell him/her I don’t want to see them anymore. It would crush him/her.” Yeah, I’ve been reduced to ashes every time some guy never called. Give me a break. Ego ego ego. Not needed. People survive, they move on. They continue to live their lives. Someone I’ve dated is not all-important in my life. (A longer live-in relationship could be a different story however; more time is invested.) If you’ve only had a few dates with someone, be decent and say it’s not working. Don’t be a worm wriggling away without the guts to say anything.

Which gets to the real point of this. Writing. I’ve been rejected so many times I cannot count. I used to say I could paper a house with rejections and a bathroom with acceptances. I think I could now paper a good-sized bedroom with acceptances. But the point is, a writer lives with rejection all the time. And it’s not just because personalities don’t mesh (well, maybe sometimes it is), but it’s more personal; it’s one’s writing that gets rejected.

Writing can be the blood and soul of a writer. A good writer can separate enough to take constructive criticism. A writer can also be completely emotionally unstable and think that you’re ripping the arms off their baby any time you say anything against their perfect child. That’s not a good writer, who will never get the perspective to see what is wrong with a story. That’s a crazed writer who might, from time to time, write well, but only if they can take criticism.

Still, no matter how professional you are, how gracious, how open and noble, how thick your skin, it can get to you. The perseverance of most writers is akin to beating your head against a wall with a nail sticking out, knowing it’s causing you to hurt and bleed, but still doing it, hoping you can pound that nail down. What gives first? How prevalent is depression amongst writers? Ask them.

Writing is not for the weak at heart. Over the years and the many workshops/writers groups I’ve been in I’ve seen people freeze up. Some never write again when they find out their perfect child has a flaw to some people. Some are closet writers, writing away, but paralyzed to submit or let anyone view their work.

And there you go; submission. A writer must be submissive. Passively and meekly sending in stories and poetry to the mighty god-editor of doom, awaiting the call or the casting out. You must submit your writing and submit to the will of others.

Now, when you look at the aberrant or colorful personalities of past writers: Dylan Thomas, Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron, to name a few, is it any wonder they turned out the way they did? And of course one can ask: does writing attract the unique personalities or does writing create them? Does a writer who has experienced the numerous rejections by editors become more compassionate in rejecting people in a relationship or less? Does the one condition have any correlation to the other or is it strictly one’s personality that dictates the way of rejection?

Whichever it is, the rejector should always reject gently and clearly, whether in a relationship or in writing (there are always exceptions). And anyone considering the life of a writer better be ready to face rejection and realize that nothing is perfect in the world to all people. Something can be rejected a hundred times before it is accepted (even true for relationships but not with the same person–that’s stalking). So here’s to a thick skin, persevering and weathering the rejections.

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Suicide and Depression

Someone I had known for a long time, but did not know well (we were acquaintances, sometimes a the same parties and events) killed himself a week ago. I was surprised as he just didn’t seem the type. Someone said, how selfish of him. Someone else said, that was the choice he made. I’ve written once already about my bouts with depression but this is more general, on how to recognize some factors.

Although he had been a man who could anger many people, who could be abrasive at times, I felt a bit bothered by these comments. Those who knew him better said he had tried to kill himself before but those had been more a cry for help. He had struggled for a long time. It seems he had been on meds but had gone off of them several months before because he couldn’t afford them. I’ve also recently heard he may have suffered a head injury. Probably all of these things contributed to his suicide.

Having suffered deep and enervating depression in the past, I found I have an added perspective; sadness, compassion and fear. I was sad that he felt so alone that he couldn’t ask for help. But this is the way we are in our society. We are expected to do our grieving at a funeral and then act normal from that point on. People don’t grieve in a single day; they grieve over a year or years. Likewise, we are expected, or feel it is expected of us, to not share our bad or sad or woeful emotions. People will say we’re wallowing, that we’re no fun to be around, that we’re self-centered. All of these things may be true but friendships should never be about only the bright sunshiny moments. If they are, they’re not true friendships. As I know from experience, if you try to talk to a person about your feelings, that you think they don’t care, that maybe there is something wrong with your personality, then you are as likely to be greeted in anger, or dismissed, or in silence or not talked to again. People will often invalidate the feelings of their friends without intending to. So a depressed person is not likely to ask for help because they don’t think they’ll get it or no one cares. It’s seen a weak, as needy, as less than what a person should be in this society.

I felt compassion because I have an idea of what this man went through. I felt for the pain he must have suffered. In my deepest darkest year of depression I suffered many things and not all were just thoughts. Depression can cause a person to lose their coping mechanisms. Answering the phone or a simple question can be too much, throwing one into a state of anxiety or anger because they can’t remember. Memory can be affected in different ways. Physical ailments can appear or persist mysteriously. My elbow began to hurt and no amount of physio was curing it. People can get bronchial colds that remain for weeks or months.

When a person is depressed the world becomes black. I have felt trapped, unable to see an end to the situation I was in. If there are stresses in a person’s life (and who doesnt’ have them) such as financial, career, family, love, health, etc. these can all be exacerbated. If something is not going well, it will seem there is no way out, no change in sight, no way to get help. It seems hopeless. Because, as I mentioned above, you’re afraid to ask for help or to lose what friends you have, you see your world as shrinking. There is less light, less joy, fewer friends, and then boredom, despair and futility set in.

People on the outside might just think a person is being difficult, or cranky, or wallowing, or self-pitying or elusive or snobbish. They dismiss or ignore and get angry. This is why I also felt fear, because I have been there and I know how isolated one can feel. We cannot always be vigilant of our friends and family but we can try to be more aware, to recognize the signs when they don’t. There are other signs and not all people exhibit all the same ones. But when one person said, this is the choice he made, remember it wasn’t a choice made with all the options. Depression hides many options and a choice made in such a state is one made when you’re not in your right mind. His selfish choice of suicide might have been seen as his only choice, that he would put his family through less pain if he was out of the picture. He was not seeing clearly.

Because the only thing I wasn’t when clinically depressed was suicidal, it bothered me when more recently I felt I was so lonely I should just die. That was a telltale sign, even to me. I write this to hopefully help others save their friends and family from a health problem that is still greatly misunderstood. Don’t be so quick to judge against a person’s behaviors but look to see if there is a pattern or persistence of such attitudes. Depressed people won’t always get help even if you suggest it. Sometimes it takes constant attention and if you haven’t heard from someone in a while, call them. Don’t wait. Some people are depressed for years but the black abyss of clinical depression is a dangerous place where fear and hopelessness rule.

And if a depressed person comes to you with their concerns, no matter how lopsided, with feelings that you ignored them or don’t care, don’t dismiss them. Don’t say, oh you’ve done this before and walk away. Sometimes the fears are valid and sometimes not. But if you dismiss a depressed person who is still trying to reach out and understand, then you validate their fears and lead them closer to the edge of no return.

Mental health disorders are hard for many people to grasp because the person doesn’t look physically ill in any way. We find it scary or hard to understand how something could change a person’s attitude or personality. But everything in the human body can be affected by an illness and depression is an insidious one. I wasn’t close enough to help this man and it could be that everyone was aware. A person serious about suicide is a lot harder to stop. But in many cases, getting a person to open up and talk about their feelings could be the first step of bringing light back to their lives.

Here is a list of some of the symptoms of depression:
* Persistently sad, anxious, angry, irritable, or “empty” mood
* Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
* Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
* Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
* Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
* Decreased appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and/or weight gain
* Fatigue, decreased energy, being “slowed down”
* Crying spells
* Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
* Restlessness, irritability
* Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
* Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and/or chronic pain

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Politics, the Religious Right and Books

Interesting discussions have come up of late about “Left Behind” books. I hadn’t even heard of these before but it seems they’re tales written by and for the Christian extreme right, the fundamentalists, and portray apocalyptic views. Mostly the earth opens and people are tossed down to Hell, usually by Jesus. Errr…excuse me? Jesus? Wasn’t he the guy that said love thy neighbor and if you are without sin, you can throw the first stone? Wasn’t it Jesus who preached compassion and love and all that stuff?

I’m just amazed at fundamental right-wing Christians who follow these views portrayed in such fantastical books and then try to say they’re loving and compassionate. To me it doesn’t seem that you should be separating good works and compassion by race, gender or religion. Love thy neighbor stands even if he is a Muslim or she a Buddhist, or gay. You don’t pick and choose who to love equally.

Now, over in some of the Middle Eastern countries we have views just as extreme about wiping out unbelievers, smiting them and therefore, even if you blow yourself up, you’ll get to Heaven. Their way is the only way and everyone else is a heathen.

So let me get this straight. Christians believe that Jesus is the messiah and God the supreme being. Muslims believe that Mohamed is the prophet and God the supreme being. Jews believe in no prophet (I hope I have this right) but that God is the supreme being. And um…isn’t this the same God for all three of these branches of the same monotheistic religion?

So, when you die, whether you blow yourself up in holy righteousness taking down “those sinners,” or whether you’re blown up by some right-wing fundamentalist, you’re still going to end up in the same Heaven? The Heaven that will have black and white and brown people, men and women, gay and straight, Jews, Muslims and Christians?

Oh and isn’t converting by the sword or the gun kind of pointless, because someone will say what they must to survive but don’t you want the belief to be in their heart and soul, not just on their lips? It seems to me (who is not Jewish, Christian nor Muslim) that a little compassion and loving thy fellow being might just make conversion a bit more sincere.

Fundamentalists, no matter which religious paint brush you color them with, are scary creatures. Why? Because they’re so afraid of views that don’t agree with their own, that there might possibly be more than one right path, that they will do anything to tamp that down. Anything, like shoot doctors who perform abortions, bomb those who aren’t following their view, trashing religious buildings that they see as offensive. They believe that everyone who isn’t of their religious viewpoint are godless heathens and therefore evil, ready for Hell. The same fundamentalists who think invading Afghanistan was the correct thing to save people from the right-wing Taliban, are often the same, that if they had their ways would be pushing their religious views onto everyone else. (Not that the religious subjugation of so many people didn’t need to be addressed.) Take Sarah Palin, who believes she is on the right path because God is paving it for her. Well, then, her God-given right will mean that she’ll be less likely to listen to other evildoers if she ever holds more power than she already does.

Recent discussion on one writer’s list has ranged from disbelief that these Left Behind books would be listed under SF and fantasy, to others saying where else would you put them; they’re completely fantastical. Whichever it is, I can say one thing. If it is one God for Jews, Muslims and Christians and therefore one Heaven, I think I’d rather stay down here and be Left Behind then end up with all the Evangelicals and Jihadists. Heaven must be a pretty scary place.

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