Remembrance and Celebration

I wrote this tonight as I was thinking of those that have gone on to greener pastures…

We each have our own remembrances
and stories to share and to tell.
We have our reasons to weep
and those to laugh.
We have our reasons to mourn
and those to dance.
We have these because those we loved have gone away,
but through these memories, reasons, and times,
we have them with us every day.

Inspired by:

Ecclesiasties 3: 1, 3, 4

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and time to die…
a time to weep and time to laugh…
a time to mourn and a time to dance…

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The Things that Drive Us

Motive:
1 a reason for doing something, especially one that is hidden or not obvious: a motive for his murder.
2 (in art, literature, or music) a motif: the entire work grows organically from the opening horn motive.

Everyone has one. Good or bad. Hidden or plainly known. Everyone has a motive for every action. For some reason, however, “motive” is a word with profoundly negative connotations.

“Don’t trust that guy. He has an ulterior motive.”

“Don’t believe anything (insert the name of ANY politician) says. He has other motives other than what he says.”

Back to the beginning. Everyone, everyone of us, have motives. The reasons we do the things we do and think the things we speak are because of the motives behind them. We don’t want to believe people because they have ulterior motives? I’d bet that most motives are ulterior.

Hey, why did that lady give that guy sitting on the sidewalk half of her sandwich?

Yes, maybe she is a nice lady, but let’s say that she is also a Christian. Every Christian has a motive, and it is usually ulterior. Every Christian wants to get into heaven. Every single one. Getting into heaven is the motivation behind a Christian’s actions. Do Christians always proclaim such when they perform a particular deed or utter a particular statement? No, not all the time. So, the unspoken or hidden motive is ulterior. It isn’t bad. It’s just omitted because in the time and place the motive is not the important issue. The action is more important than the motive. Shedding light on the motive does not make the motive reprehensible. It just gives a better understanding as to why a particular action takes place.

Sometimes, well, a lot of the time, an action, like the one above, has more than one motive. The lady is a Christian and wants to go to heaven, so she helps her neighbor. The lady doesn’t want to see the guy starve, so she gives him something to eat. She wants to feel good about herself, so she does a good deed. These are all motives with good intentions, but they are unspoken, so, therefore, ulterior.

Then there are those that get surprised and/or insulted when it becomes known that one’s motivation to perform an action is self-serving. I’m not sure why this is a surprise, but it is, apparently. The self-serving motive is probably the purest motive there can be. We all want what is best for us and for those closest to us. The primary reason we want the best for those closest to us is because when the ones closest to us are doing well, we are doing well, too…usually. Yet, when someone points out a self-serving motive, you can count on offending someone or pissing someone off. It’s guaranteed.

Let’s take the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as examples. Certainly there were politicians that wanted to ensure that African-Americans received the full rights, privileges, and protections that white people experienced. Passage of these bills was the morally correct thing to do. Morality can be a powerful and effective motive. Lyndon Johnson and his allies in Congress wanted to pass these laws to ensure that all citizens, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity, were given equal standing under law. It is a good story and is more than likely true. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

However, is it possible that there were other motivations driving this issue? Of course it’s possible. Is it possible that one of the motives of the Democratic Party to pass these laws was to curry favor with the African-American community? Is it possible that the Democratic Party wanted a larger party base in order to perform well in elections and win? Just think back to political science 101. What is the primary mission of a political party? I’ll answer for you. It’s to win elections. The primary reason for the existence of a political party is to ensure that a group of people of like political persuasion get their candidates elected to office; once the party holds a particular office, it’s motivation becomes to hold on to that particular office. The party is made up of a group of people that are, well, self-serving. They want what they want and want to make sure their opponents do not win.

Does this make the people within that party bad people? No. It makes them human.

The move Selma released a couple of weeks ago demonstrates this idea of motive quite well, giving a glimpse at the pragmatic approach Lyndon Johnson took toward passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As the president and, ultimately, a politician that still had one more national campaign to run, he had to weigh the pros and cons of promoting and pushing such a bill. He had to weigh the political costs as well as the ramifications it could have among both white and black southerners. This point of view also brought considerable criticism to the film and the story it portrays.

Yes, his morality may have guided him to the need to force passage of the bill, but he had to consider the political motivations and consequences, not to mention, also, the possible social backlash that could arise as a result of the politics. To believe that he did not take into account his political future against his moral motivation is to be naïve. To believe there was not a self-serving motive behind his support of the bill is just as naïve, if not more so.

As much as we respect what we believe to be pure motivations behind political decisions such as whether or not to propose and promote a bill like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we must accept that there is usually more than one story, more than one motive, when it comes to the people in the story. If we don’t, we fail to see the whole story, and we fail to fully grasp the humanity within it.

Were Johnson’s motives, beyond those compelled by morality, in poor taste? Not necessarily. Were they self-serving? Probably. He was only human, and we humans have a strong tendency to look out for ourselves. Only human, this is what we fail to remember when the great figures of history are polished and glorified without consideration or knowledge of the whole story.

For those that refuse to believe such motivations existed in Johnson’s thought process, I ask these questions. When he and other Democrats pushed for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, why did they not include the laws put forth a year later in the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Why did they wait a year to add these laws to the books? And remember, 1964 was an election year, Johnson’s first, actually.

Getting Closer…

So, my statement of intent is done.  I got over the dreading of writing it and just went to it. Four drafts later, and even some tinkering on that draft, it is finished.  I’m not touching it anymore.  I’m not even going to look at it.

What I am going to look at is the first draft of my scholarship essay.  I’m going to be looking at this a lot over the coming days.  It’s garbage, but at least it’s a draft.  It is something resembling the thoughts I have on paper.  My wife is going to shred it after she inks it up, but I’ve got something down, and that is better than what I had yesterday.

I’ve got my final recommendation confirmed, so once I am done with this last essay, my application will be ready to send.

I complained about having to write that statement, but after having done so, I saw it for what it was…an introspection.  It allowed me the thought process to clearly consider why I want to go to graduate school.  Granted, I’d already considered and considered why, but, there’s always a but, after talking with the program director and a professor I’m hoping to work with, there is some reality mixed in with the hopeful considerations I’ve had over the past months, really years.

So, it’s a dose of reality mixed with a pinch of hope and a dash of dreams.  I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe.  Wouldn’t you?

The time is getting closer.  At the beginning of next month I will begin meeting with one of my professors and getting a reading list compiled.  Then the real work can begin, and I’m looking forward to it.

A Thought on Love, Empathy, and Faith

This started out as a post on Facebook, but I’m going to try to expand on it and see what happens…

If we spent more time seeing people as people rather than as the labels we put on them, then a path to real empathy and understanding shows itself. The problem with labels is that we all wear more than one. Yet, when we see a label on someone that we do not agree with, that is the label we give them. Never mind the other labels one might wear that we would approve of or wear ourselves. It is the label that promotes some kind of disagreement or conflict that we freely choose to accept as the one that most aptly describes or define the individual.

Surely we are smarter and more compassionate than that. Surely we all have the ability to see people for who they are rather that what they are. Why would we willingly take such an ability and simplify it? Does it make life easier? Does it help us sleep better at night? Does it bring us closer to our faith, regardless of what that faith may be?

I’m going to address the last question first and see if they will help answer the other three.

Does it bring us closer to our faith, regardless of what that faith may be?

I’m going to place a label on myself just to show how I view the answer I have for this question. I identify as a Christian, and the answer that follows is according to my understanding of Christian faith.

By simplifying an individual that we may not agree with to the label with which we disagree, faith eludes us. We are not told to love the neighbor with whom we most identify. We are told to love our neighbor. It does not matter who that neighbor is. It does not matter what that neighbor does. It does not matter what we think of that neighbor.

One of the most important aspects of love is empathy. In order to love someone, empathy, and the practice of empathy, within the relationship is absolutely paramount. With empathy, one must understand or want to understand the object of their love. With empathy, there may not always be agreement, but there is always an attempt to understand. Without empathy, one cannot find the commonalities one might have with another in order to build a meaningful relationship. Without empathy, it is easier to cast judgment on those with whom we disagree, paste a label on them, and toss their basic humanity aside. Without empathy, we fail to see the person behind the label. We fail to see the person’s wants. We fail to see their needs. We fail to understand them as people, and choose to see them as enemies, if even in the loosest sense of the word. Without empathy, there cannot be trust. Without trust, there cannot be love.

Empathy takes a lot of practice. It can be difficult, but isn’t that the point? Are we not supposed to practice our respective faiths? Are we not supposed to work in order to build a stronger character and make our faiths stronger?

We have an ability to understand. We have an ability to empathize. Some say it is God given. Some say it is an evolution of the mind. Some say it is a combination of the two.

We can also practice apathy. We can choose not to care. We can choose not to understand. In essence, we can choose not to love. Apathy takes no practice, builds no character, and is a weak foundation upon which to build faith.

Which brings us closer to our faith? Which makes life easier? Which helps us sleep better at night? For me, a better understanding makes me more comfortable and helps me trust that I will be okay. That trust helps me sleep at night. That understanding makes my life just a little bit easier.

There is a debate, has been for a long time. Does faith alone provide for salvation, or are good works necessary? Faith, in and of itself, requires work. Faith requires practice, because we, in and of ourselves, will never be perfect. Through practice, we can come closer to perfection, but cannot attain it but through the continued practice of love and of faith.

Getting Ready…

I’m sitting here and have been staring at my “To-Do List” for my graduate school application.  I have two recommendations down and one to go.  I have taken the GRE.  I have to write my statement of intent to submit with my writing sample, and I have to submit an essay of 500 words on the importance of a graduate school education as it relates to my career goals.  I have two months from tomorrow to get my application submitted for early review.

As far as the statement of intent goes, I don’t really understand the point.  I’d think the intention of most that are going to graduate school is pretty much the same…the desire for more education in a given field, taking a particular interest or focus in a given field, and gaining knowledge, tools, and skills that will make one more marketable, or, simply marketable,  as an employee in a given field.  Do they want to know if I’m a capable writer?  I’m submitting a 25 page senior thesis.  That should give them some idea of my capabilities to write, to make an argument, and support a thesis statement.

Yeah…so, I just don’t get it, but I’m going to do it.  I have to do it.  I’ve written two paragraphs coming to about 125-130 words.  I’m shooting for another 200 words or so, and it’ll be done.

The scholarship essay is optional, but who wants to pass up the opportunity for free money??  So, I’m going to write that, too.  It’ll probably end up being a flowery version of my statement of intent or something like it.  We will see.

I’ve sent an email to the professor under whom I wish to study, and am looking forward to hearing from him soon.  I’ve already begun reading and sifting through bibliographies.  Right now there are 10 books lying around my computer, on my desk, or on my printer that are either bookmarked or are open to pages I’ve been reading.  I’ve got a decent reading list put together already of 17 books, so I’ll just wait and see how it compares to the list he wants to give me when we begin meeting.  Oh, and those 10 books on my desk are not counting the stack of books by my bed that I have been picking through.

I may be crazy, but I’ve missed this.