Issue of the Week: Personal Growth

Framing shot, PSA campaign (c) 1993-2018 Lisa Blume & Keith Blume

 

It would be a long piece indeed, a book or more in fact, that would be needed to describe all the elements which made the numerous public service campaigns for TV, radio, print and internet, films, and media presentations of various kinds for Planet Earth Foundation and World Campaign have the impact they have for decades.

But nothing was or is more important than creating a personal connection evoking caring for others and for a higher good over self, or as a true definition of self.

At the end of last week, World Campaign began its 20thyear.

The first welcoming message of World Campaign on November 15, 1999 invited all people of good will around the world to participate.

As then, we are now, on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, itself when deconstructed and examined in its full origin story, representing the best and worst of the American story and of humanity.

We refer you again to the American Experience series, the segment which first aired on November 24, 2015, The Pilgrims, for a necessary education. Its being rebroadcast this Thanksgiving and can be streamed now.

Thanksgiving in the US is the official start of the holiday season—a season adhered to in one way or another in most of the world.

We spent that season five years ago commenting on the nature of the season in origins and in current cultural manifestation, of human nature itself, and what is at stake in the choices we make. The core of this post will be to revisit the first post of that holiday season.

First, a few brief comments related to the creation of World Campaign twenty years ago, its halfway point ten years ago, and our post one year ago today.

On Thanksgiving, twenty years ago, a convergence of personal and professional values occurred for the co-founders of World Campaign that impacted their lives and work immeasurably—as such convergences had before, have since, and always must, if values hold any actual value at all. The point is not the particulars, which are not something to be elucidated at this time or in this place—but that we are all called on in ways we can never predict, can never imagine the cost of, or ever know the outcome of, short run or long.

Our lives, all of our lives, are holistic, whether we see it or act on it or not. Hopefully, we do our best, are willing to lose everything to do the right thing, embrace the seemingly impossible heartbreak of how we are hurt in seemingly impossible ways (which can include asserting needed boundaries and seeking remedy), embrace the even more searing pain of facing our own shortcomings (if we are adults with a conscience, even if the hurt caused to us is objectively horrifically worse), do better and keep going. And accept the endlessness of this reality with never-ending love and resolve to keep doing better.

World Campaign recognized from the start that these values are inter-linked with the world surviving and thriving, or not. Therefore the future of life on earth depends in no small part on the concluding bookend of World Campaign’s inter-related issues—personal growth.

Here’s an excerpt from our post a year ago today:

Half the children in the world sexually abused or physically abused or neglected–perpetrated by men and women. Millions killed by hunger and disease, hundreds of millions more maimed or stunted or hurt in their development in various degrees. Then throw in the deaths and torture of children by war. What percent of the children on earth are hard-wired to create the ongoing hell–not inevitably, not without the possibility of change–but shot out of a cannon in that direction by five years old?

You do the scientific and moral math. 

We give thanks in the midst of this human-created hell, for each other, for the two billion innocent, vulnerable children who need us, for the many good and courageous women and men who keep fighting through their traumas and their flaws to become the better angles of their nature, for life itself in all its forms in the universe, still existing, still giving us a chance–at least as of the completion of this sentence.

Longer, how much longer, depends on all of us sharing equally in sacrifice and in sustenance, to create the only life with a scientific or moral chance to go on. Egalitarian sustainability for us all.

For many years the Issue of the Week had a voting question at the end about the issue covered. We haven’t done that for some time now. We may or may not again. The reasons why require a longer explanation, but in short, we reached a point where we determined that impressions from voting results could create a distraction from focus on the issues.

However, on the tenth anniversary of World Campaign, voting was still a regular feature. Here’s the question and the result:

“Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the launching of World Campaign. The focus of World Campaign has been on raising awareness on the interrelated issues of the environment, population, hunger, war, disease, human rights, economic opportunity to end poverty, and personal growth–and to frame these issues as they are in reality, interconnected to the point of, in effect, being different aspects of the same question–how and whether a sustainable future for life on the planet will occur. Over the past decade many have noted the success of World Campaign in raising awareness and framing these issues in a new and needed manner. However, although World Campaign noted at the outset that both significant progress had been made on the great issues facing humanity and serious crises still threatened the future of life on earth, the past two years have in a number of ways appeared to show more regression than progress on such major issues as the global economy (in the worst crisis in many decades), hunger (over a billion people seriously malnourished, and growing), the environment (the world’s leaders essentially abandoning a binding treaty being signed at the Copenhagen climate change summit as had been expected), human rights (sexual slavery and abuse of children, ongoing genocide), the threat of regional and global conflict, nuclear proliferation and other issues (Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the middle east and so on). At the same time, change and progress always encounter resistance, and there are also signs that the gravity of the global situation may be increasing focus on the need for positive pragmatic solutions.

Do you believe that the world is in some ways in a measurably greater state of crisis and danger than it has been for some time in terms of issues such as the global economy, hunger, the environment, the threat of regional and global conflict, nuclear proliferation and other issues, whether you think a sustainable future of life on earth will ultimately be achieved or not?

Results: Yes 80%, No 20%

Not a hopeful result. But a measure of the reality that had been leading to what we’ve been reflecting on as the end of civilization as we knew it for some time, unmasked in the crisis year of 2008, with hope restored for a while, but a hope that turned out to be, or turned into, a veneer.

Five years ago, as things got somewhat better on the surface (importantly in some ways), the underlying problems continued to get worse.

What follows are excerpts from the initial post referenced above of a series of posts during the holiday season in 2013 on the meaning of the season, what constitutes a meaningful life, and the introduction here from a repost on 12.1.15:

The historically Christian-based (and before with seasonal and various metaphysical bases) holiday season in the US and much of the world, being observed from very similar to very different ways, is well underway.

The impact of the US alone on the rest of the world remains outsized, even as this is changing in an increasingly multipolar and simultaneously one-world environment. The impact of the Christian aspect is of importance to the degree it has, for better or worse, been a force in all things on the planet directly or indirectly for some time, in no small part because it has been the majority religion in the major powers having the greatest impact on the planet for centuries.

This force has been diminished greatly because of both the all too often horrid human rights record of institutional Christianity and the increasing narcissism and consumerism resisting the better angles and universal aspects of its message, applicable from all great religions and philosophies when adhering to principles of requiring equality in rights and needs for all.

Millennials are in the main leaving or not joining churches as never before–the huge majority have left the building, literally and figuratively (most don’t see religion as important in their lives). A recent Pew poll (and others) show the largest Christian church, Catholicism, losing membership at the highest rate of any denomination, and unless something changes radically, it is on the generational path to dying because of sexual abuse of children, and doctrine on sexist inequality, homophobic inequality, contraception, divorce and so on. With a common theme of clerical authoritarianism, manipulation and contradiction in dispensing the drug of spiritual and other forms of security, while insistently claiming otherwise with elegant misdirection (until contradictions finally explode in their inevitable collisions or Strangelovian impulses intended to traumatize agents of change make transparent the systemic rot.)

The illusion of growth or significance in religious affiliation among the have-nots in the world is also just that—the biases often underpinning this, in many ways imposed by colonialism in the past (a word misappropriated by current power-structures all the time), and reinforced by divide and conquer strategies of the haves and the extremists they have created the fertile ground for today—are going to vanish as fast as the world is changing and communicating globally, while the demands of rights and needs for all wash away everything else.

The irony is that the universal values that many religions and philosophies at their best share—values of equality of rights and needs for all—have never been so needed. And especially in the face of the consumer narcissistic impulse side of our human nature that has reached new unimaginable lows in a kind of humanity-wide disorder, promulgated in the main by the haves of the world, which has also been at the root of all the horrors on earth.

During the past two holiday seasons, we have repeated a commentary on the meaning of the season.

Fortunately, and unfortunately, the commentary has only become more applicable.

Here is an excerpt from the first installment, originally posted in late October just before Halloween, All Saints and All Souls Day, the Day of the Dead, and other such days observed around the world, which have been the start of the holiday season, or the Christmas season, culminating in Christmas and the New Year’s holiday in modern times:

As we begin the grotesquely early descent into the desecrations of the holidays, we also begin a commentary on the related issues.

The season is supposed to be about peace on earth, which can only be achieved through social justice, which means everyone has basic rights and needs guaranteed. All history has been an evolutionary struggle toward this end. It’s not idealistically unrealistic to expect this. it’s irrational not to, as we’ve pointed out in various ways, at-length and in-depth, throughout the many years of our work. Everything has been moving in this direction for eons. Usually, non-violent action, protest, civil disobedience and other such approaches are the best means. Sometimes, protecting the innocent and a just cause has required meeting force with force. But whatever one’s views on such matters, the cost of social injustice has been enormous, has almost cost us the end of life on earth and still could.

Yet basic rights and basic needs issues that seemed impossible to achieve or overcome have been achieved and overcome again and again. Still, greed and power and self-gratification run amuck. The idea that billions still live in misery deprived of basic needs and rights, that many more do not have basic security or full rights, and that we still don’t even properly protect our children and make sure they survive, is the greatest disgrace imaginable. There is more than enough to sustain everyone with plenty while sustaining the planet itself, there is every capacity to provide basic rights for all. Every second that goes by with unnecessary suffering occurring is intolerable. The reasons why we haven’t finished the job—not changing the facts that we are imperfect beings and that bad acts will still happen, but treating the world as the one neighborhood it is and changing the great evils on the mass scale they still occur—we’ve addressed before and will again.

In the end, it’s about each of us taking responsibility and making choices, and reality forcing us, through the “awful grace of God” as Bobby Kennedy quoted Aeschylus the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, to lead meaningful lives for the greater good. To create “deeds not words”, as Alice Paul reminded, and showed us.

At the start of the year, Emily Esfahani Smith wrote as important an article as one could read about the life and work of Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist and author Viktor Frankl.

Frankl’s observations, research and modeling through his own life boiled down to simple bottom-line truths–live for your feelings, and achieve a shallow definition of happiness at best (even while you rationalize that you care about something greater, but don’t in the end live that way)—an empty vessel of avoidance of anything that defines meaningful life. On the other hand, live for a higher purpose, to serve others, a life of self-sacrifice, to achieve a greater good, while stress and suffering will be your companions often—so will fulfillment and the only path to liberation. There is no higher calling than to lay down everything for others—we’ve all heard that one. And particularly for those who have laid down everything for others and are the most vulnerable. In the end, there is no other measure of us that matters.

This is the Issue of the Week for reflection this week.

Christmas—now begun before Halloween as the marketing gimmick of the worst greed mongers in history—is a metaphor for everything in some ways. Cheap emotions (even while in part being echoes from a nearly buried unrecognized cry for a deeper need) that are enmeshed with every other feel good aspect of the consumer orgy season, are the cultural hallmark of the holidays, bearing no resemblance to their origins. (Even the ancient seasonal rituals of change and death and rebirth and harvest and the religions around female deity [Mary fills the spot for Christianity, although any rational and holistic concept of God is clearly genderless]—even this ancient sense of meaning is visible only in the most superficial ways). The great Christian holy day at the time of the winter solstice—although it could represent the best of any religion, is about the birth of Jesus, who told us “love one another as I have loved you.” Love is not a feeling, but an action—as a thorough reading of the gospels and related material will quickly remind. St. Paul’s injunction to charity and love—to action, as the single most important calling—has often lost its meaning in perfunctory use.

As we’ve noted often, we like to forget that Martin Luther King, Jr., who we dedicate a holiday to, spent the last years of his life always nearly losing all things material except for the help of others—and taking his progressive Christianity seriously.

We are all one family. We all must have the same rights and same basic needs met. And everyone standing in the way, especially Americans who consume the great majority of resources on earth (by a mile at the time of his assassination forty-five years ago)—are blood-soaked. King said this to us.

He wasn’t talking about just our leaders and the most rich and powerful. He was talking about all of us to any extent we were not acting to change injustice. Screaming at us to wake up while millions of babies were starved and raped and destroyed by our denial.

And, yes, as King exemplified, Americans have also at critical historic moments been at the forefront of change or opposing evil. And the world is shrinking faster and faster with more impact players, and all humans everywhere are responsible to varying degrees, and always for their choices, with the exception of children and other innocents truly deprived of choice.

All for one and one for all. No other way.

King was right of course–though not so popular as in his kinder gentler days, just as Jesus kicked over the tables at the Temple as he got closer to the cross. Then sweating blood in the garden, abandoned, alone, stuck in the end with only his own choice—to look for a way out and for “happiness” (depicted unforgettably in the dream sequence toward the end of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel, “The Last Temptation of Christ”)—or to give it all up, go for the whole thing, complete meaning, complete liberation.

Now do we all have to die prematurely to be good? No, just be willing if needed—that wasn’t even a big deal not long ago, just a given of basic decency. Just as it was a given of basic decency that your neighbors would never stand by and watch it happen. For most of us (in the developed world) a life of meaning doesn’t come to this, but to living a life of self-sacrifice for the good of others, for the common good, and finding soul-freedom—not the shallow narcissistic “happiness” of things and feelings and myriad destructive and addictive behaviors and using others as objects, but real freedom through responsibility—a life worth living.

This was once a cultural norm (even while other destructive cultural norms needed to change, and many have). Now it is virtually the counter-culture. If you’ve been around a while you’ve watched things flip back and forth more than once, evolving, regressing—but with an ultimately unstoppable force moving to a new future. Our job is to be on the side of bringing human rights and basic needs to all and limiting the body count along the way.

The world is changing at light speed and while the “same ole, same ole” may appear to have sway as it hits new lows in the world of the Vomitorium, fear not. Just sing yourself our favorite old refrain from the bard, “The Times They Are A Changin'”—and be part of the change. By the way—its changin’ anyway—so you might just want to start by getting on the right side of the line.

A newer article by Emily Esfahani Smith points out that new studies show what common sense instructs. Live for feeling good and it’s bad for your health too. Live for doing good and it’s good for you. (This has its limits of course—there’s a point where one may well trade off health and even life, for doing good: As the saying goes, we’re all going to die, the question is what do we live and die for?)

An instructive quote from the end of Smith’s newest article:

“The terms hedonism and eudaimonism bring to mind the great philosophical debate, which has shaped Western civilization for over 2,000 years, about the nature of the good life. Does happiness lie in feeling good, as hedonists think, or in doing and being good, as Aristotle and his intellectual descendants, the virtue ethicists, think? From the evidence of this study, it seems that feeling good is not enough. People need meaning to thrive. In the words of Carl Jung, ‘The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.’ Jung’s wisdom certainly seems to apply to our bodies, if not also to our hearts and our minds.”

Here’s a revisit to the post from January 9 this year:

In today’s Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith has written an extraordinarily important article, titled, “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy.” She takes us through the life and work of psychiatrist and author Viktor Frankl. As a young Jewish man, he had the opportunity to get out of Nazi-annexed Austria and leave for a life of freedom and success, or to stay and go to the death camps with his wife and parents. He chose to stay, and his story became his calling—to make the obvious, obvious—that the famous phrase, “the pursuit of happiness”, is fully shallow at best if not ultimately understood in the context that a life of meaning is all that matters. That happiness as a feeling is fleeting, that those who pursue the feeling are “takers”, and that willingness to suffer for higher values, self-sacrifice and giving constitute the only meaningful way of living. Frankl has become world-renowned for his life, research, and brilliant exposition of his values in his books. “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness,” Frankl tells us.

Emily Esfahani Smith takes us on his journey:

“In September 1942, Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was arrested and transported to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents. Three years later, when his camp was liberated, most of his family, including his pregnant wife, had perished — but he, prisoner number 119104, had lived. In his bestselling 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning, an insight he came to early in life. When he was a high school student, one of his science teachers declared to the class, ‘Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation.’ Frankl jumped out of his chair and responded, ‘Sir, if this is so, then what can be the meaning of life?'”

The article continues: “In 1991, the Library of Congress and Book-of-the-Month Club listed Man’s Search for Meaning as one of the 10 most influential books in the United States. It has sold millions of copies worldwide. Now, over twenty years later, the book’s ethos — its emphasis on meaning, the value of suffering, and responsibility to something greater than the self — seems to be at odds with our culture, which is more interested in the pursuit of individual happiness than in the search for meaning. ‘To the European,’ Frankl wrote, ‘it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.'”

The article observes: “This is why some researchers are cautioning against the pursuit of mere happiness. In a new study, which will be published this year in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Positive Psychology, psychological scientists asked nearly 400 Americans aged 18 to 78 whether they thought their lives were meaningful and/or happy. Examining their self- reported attitudes toward meaning, happiness, and many other variables — like stress levels, spending patterns, and having children — over a month-long period, the researchers found that a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different. Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a ‘taker’ while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a ‘giver.’

…’Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others,’ explained Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of the study, in a recent presentation at the University of Pennsylvania. In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants. People who have high meaning in their lives are more likely to help others in need. ‘If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need,’ the researchers write. What sets human beings apart from animals is not the pursuit of happiness, which occurs all across the natural world, but the pursuit of meaning, which is unique to humans, according to Roy Baumeister, the lead researcher of the study and author, with John Tierney, of the recent book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, was named an ISI highly cited scientific researcher in 2003. The study participants reported deriving meaning from giving a part of themselves away to others and making a sacrifice on behalf of the overall group. In the words of Martin E.P. Seligman, one of the leading psychological scientists alive today, in the meaningful life ‘you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self.’ For instance, having more meaning in one’s life was associated with doing activities like buying presents for others, taking care of kids, and arguing. People whose lives have high levels of meaning often actively seek meaning out even when they know it will come at the expense of happiness. Because they have invested themselves in something bigger than themselves, they also worry more and have higher levels of stress and anxiety in their lives than happy people.

…Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment — which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers.

While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.”

Before Viktor Frankl decided to go to the Nazi death camps with his wife and parents, he had already decided to lead a life of meaning. “By 1941, his theories had received international attention and he was working as the chief of neurology at Vienna’s Rothschild Hospital, where he risked his life and career by making false diagnoses of mentally ill patients so that they would not, per Nazi orders, be euthanized.” Then he went to the camps–for the sake of others.

The article concludes: “The wisdom that Frankl derived from his experiences there, in the middle of unimaginable human suffering, is just as relevant now as it was then: ‘Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself — be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is.'”

As he and all great beings have shown us, the cause of serving others and loving each other are inseparable.

Start the holiday season off with that thought and start to transform it–and the world.