Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pete Seeger's legacy

My Facebook feed has been flooded with reactions to the recent passing of Pete Seeger.  Two things about it are annoying me:
  1. Everyone wants to brag that they were friends with Pete Seeger.  They feel they were his friend, and they feel that makes them a more important person.  However the way I see it is that it's a reflection on him, not on the people who claim to have been his friend.  He was the  kind of person who made people feel that they were his friend, and also made them feel more connected to each other.  
  2. People want to memorialize him as a hero.  They want to name bridges after him.  He would have found that very objectionable.  
When people are inspired by something -- a person, a book, a place, an object, a ritual, a way of living -- they try to set it in stone.  But when you set it in stone, you detract from it.  The sacred cannot be tied down.

When we sat in Pete Seeger's concerts, it was as if we were a row of candles getting lit.  Now our job is to carry that light to all corners of the earth.  The way to honor Pete Seeger is not to name a bridge after him.  The way to honor him is to sing songs, build community, work for peace and justice, and care for the environment.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tree and sky

I am tree. I am forest. I am grounded. I am serene. I am earth.  The name on my blog currently says "Terra Maple Forester" though I have been thinking of changing it to "Terra of the Maple Forest."

Trees are rooted in earth, while their branches reach for the sky.   Their branches dance in the wind.

But I dance more than a tree.  I do not stay in one place.

I am earth, but I am also sky.

I think I need to add another word to my name.  Like Skydancer.  I don't know. It hasn't settled yet.  These druid name things evolve over time.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ronald Hutton

I'm glad to be free of TV, movies, pop music, and commercial radio.  One thing that I haven't quit yet is Facebook.  I do value the way it has allowed me to connect with people who otherwise would not be in my life, and to get to know people who otherwise would just be acquaintances.  However, what I don't like is all the extreme opinions, and claims made that are not based on thorough research.  Today as I was reading Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton, I appreciated his thorough research.  Two books I've been reading for the AODA curriculum, The Book of Druidry and The Druid Revival Reader are not like that.  They are like Facebook -- people throwing around ideas that are not based in thorough research.  I try to view these two books as historical, as showing me how people thought in the past.  Unfortunately, Facebook shows me people still think that way, still twist things to fit their own beliefs.

I see that stuff on Facebook, and it seems to me it is too big.  There is so much that the government is doing, the corporations are doing, and we'll never understand it all.  We'll just keep throwing around ignorant opinions.

Then I read Ronald Hutton, and he is a beacon of light.  He is what I want to be -- someone who seeks and shares truth.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Information literacy and the search for truth

I have been concerned of late about information literacy.  On Facebook, I have been noting that:
  1. Stories go viral because they infuriate people, even though they are false.
  2. People latch on to things which fit with their beliefs.  
In December, the hot topic was Duck Dynasty.  My Facebook feed was filled with posts stating that
  1. Free speech means the government can't limit your speech.  However, others are free to speak out against your speech, and companies are free to fire you for things you've said during non-work time.
  2. Conservatives are hypocrites because they are outraged about this guy getting fired, but they have not been outraged when liberals got fired for similar reasons.
This really irked me, because liberals seemed blind to the fact that the double standard goes both ways: They don't proclaim that thing about how companies are free to fire you when it is liberals who are getting fired.

We latch on to stories that fit our beliefs.  Therefore, I have recently latched onto some stories which express some of these concerns.

My attention was captured recently listening to the January 3 edition of On the Media.  In one story,  The Best Piece of Radio You'll Hear in Your Life,  Bob Garfield and Luke O'Neil talk about how in the media, the financial incentive is to get people to click on stories.  The goal becomes not truth but to be funny, inspiring, cute, or infuriating.  False stories go viral, because they are designed to tap into people's emotions.  The truth is not so tidy, and does not make such an appealing story. These false stories can have real consquences.  In one example, an elementary school was flooded with threats because of a false story that a student had been suspended for saying "Merry Christmas" to an atheist teacher.

Another story from the January 3 edition of On the Media was  Regret the Error 2013.  In this story, Bob Garfield and Craig Silverman gave some examples of the false stories that journalists aired in 2013, such as that President Obama was using his personal finances to fund a Muslim museum.

I was also struck by what two NPR commentators had to say about Nathanael Johnson's recent research on GMOs.  Johnson set out to do objective research about GMOs for a liberal web site.  In A Green-Movement Web Site Shakes Up the Debate Over GMOs, Dan Charles says that Johnson was accused of being "an unreliable source" by an anti-GMO person.

It seems to me that we tend to think that those whose views are different from ours must lack intelligence, rationality, and compassion.  But when we find ourselves making such assumptions, that should be an alarm bell that our cognitive biases are at work.

The other NPR commentary about Johnson's work that caught my attention was GMO's and the Dilemma of Bias by Adam Frank. Frank asks, "How, then, do we maintain democratic practices when informed consent often requires absorbing new information at odds with pre-existing values and world views?"

 It is okay for fictional stories to inspire us, as long as we understand that they are indeed fiction.  Unfortunately, many of the stories circulating as fact are actually fiction.

Druids are the keepers of the stories of their tribe.  They are scholars and historians.  They provide information to guide the rulers of their tribe.

It is part of my responsibility as a druid to seek truth and to share that truth with my tribe.  I can resolve to start by refraining from clicking on sensationalist headlines, just as decades ago, my great-grandfather resolved not to buy any products he had seen advertised, because he was opposed to advertising as a way of making profit.

But that's just a starting point.  What else can I do?

Years ago, I studied social science research in school because I wanted social policy decisions and social programs to be designed so as to really help people, rather than to be designed on false assumptions about what would help people.   Since then I found that: 1) Though I applied for jobs in social science research, I didn't get any offers, and 2) I don't see research and statistics as holding the answers as much as I used to.    Now I believe that there are some things better understood qualitatively than quantitatively.  Now I believe that we also have values.  Research may tell us the consequences of certain paths, but values tell us which consequences we wish to seek.

So even though I'm not really pursuing social science research any more, I still have the thing that led me to pursue it: the belief that we should seek truth, rather than make decisions based on false assumptions.  I'm still searching for the way I can make a difference.  Do I belong in education? Should I be a librarian? Should I be teaching classes in information literacy?  Should I be doing data analysis?  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My druid path

Tonight I read the first 20 pages of Druidry and Meditation by Nimue Brown.  It got me thinking of my druid path.  I joined AODA.  AODA prescribes a certain path, with lots of leeway to make it your own.  The AODA path is a starting point.  You know, it's like they say you have to know the theoretical foundations of something (like music) really well before you can start inventing stuff that breaks away from the foundations.  Following a structure such as the AODA curriculum gives you a chance to try some stuff and learn some stuff.  Then after you've tried some stuff, you forge your own path.

I took two years to complete AODA's first degree curriculum.  When I completed it about a year and a half ago, I stopped.  It was feeling burdensome to me, and I wanted to take some time away.  I still identify as a druid, and I still read druid books, but I'm not really practicing.

So, I started reading Druidry and Meditation, and it struck me that meditation and time outdoors, both required by the AODA curriculum, really are essential to druidry.  So that got me thinking, if we forget about following AODA requirements, what do I think is essential?  Tonight's first thoughts on that question:
  • Meditation.
  • Time with nature.
  • Learning.  Continually seeking knowledge and wisdom.
  • Service.  Caring for my community and my land.
When I read Nimue's book Druidry and the Ancestors, I saw that studying my ancestry was essential to my druidry.  Studying my ancestry is not just about my actual genetic ancestors.  It's about seeing myself not as a disconnected individual, but as emerging from all who have gone before.

Just as I need to understand human history, I also need to understand the earth.  This earth provides shelter, food, clothing, and air to breathe.  It gives me life.  I could not be without it.  

AODA's Second Degree curriculum requires study of one specialized area that falls under Bard, Ovate, or Druid.  I have been doing Morris dancing and thinking that it counts as Bardic study.  But now as I think about defining my own path, not just fulfilling requirements, it seems to me that something is missing there. Druidry has to do with tapping into creativity.  That's not what I'm doing in Morris dancing.  I'm just trying to keep up with learning the dances.  But druidry does require discipline as well as creativity.

So, what is my druid path?
  1. Mind.  I  need to learn about the world from which I have sprung, which includes both human history and nature.  
  2. Spirit.  In addition to developing my knowledge, I need to develop the non-rational side of things. Activities may include meditation, time in nature, tai chi, free movement, and any sort of creativity.
  3. Craft.  We live in a society in which we are encouraged to have corporations meet our every need.  These days our skills are not how to do things for ourselves, but how to look up information and buy things.  As a druid, I need to learn to do some things for myself.  Druids know how to make things, grow things, and build things.
With the knowledge I gain from pursuits of the mind, the wisdom I gain from pursuits of the spirit, and the skills I can from my pursuits of craft, my hope is to grow in my ability to take care of myself, my people, and my land.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Another story about someone with focus

Another story that I read today was about a young woman who worked in management after college.  Her father had a talk with her and told her, "you have to work for a long time, so my suggestion would be to do something that you love."  She told him that she loved jewelry, and now she has her own jewelry business.

I don't know what I love, and even if I did, I wouldn't know how to earn a living at it.


This morning I read an article about Alex Carpenter.  For a school assignment when she was 10, she was told to write an essay called "My Secret Ambition."  She wrote about wanting to be an Olympic hockey player.  Now she has been chosen for the 2014 Olympics.

As I read about her life, I wanted to have that kind of focus and ambition.  I want to strive toward a goal, to pursue excellence.  My problem is that I have a hundred goals, and lack the physical strength to achieve any of them.

How about I choose just one thing to focus on?  Which one? There's my job and the three activities I'm involved in outside of my work.  There's taking care of myself -- financial management, grocery shopping, cooking, tai chi, exercise, meditation, cleaning house, getting to bed on time.  There's the project of finding a new job, but that seems insurmountable.  There are the other community groups I'd like to get involved with, and the other projects I want to complete, such as compiling my family history information.  I make lists of these things all the time.  I  make lists, and then I go read, because I'm too tired to do anything.  What if I pick something that's small enough to be manageable, and really make a commitment to it? I was able to stick with the AODA program for two years, so I can follow through on things.  I long for commitment.  My problem is that I'm trying to be committed to a hundred things, and I fall apart under the pressure to do the impossible.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Zeppo

In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Zeppo," Xander learns what it takes to be cool.  It's about knowing inside yourself that you are okay, rather than seeking validation from others.  At the beginning of the episode, Cordelia's put-downs bother him.  At the end of the episode, they don't bother him.  He can see that she is just being petty.  He can rise above her insults because he has self-assurance.

Several episodes earlier in "The Wish," Willow shows that same sort of seeking validation from others.  Oz has asked for some space in their relationship.  She keeps trying to talk to him, trying to make things better.  He says, "I told you what I need. So I can't help feeling like the reason you want to talk is so you can feel better about yourself. That's not my problem."

That might sound harsh if you're just reading it, but if you see the scene, you can see that he says it kindly, He's right.  It's not his job to make Willow feel better.

I've seen in romantic break-ups and other situations of rejections and broken relationships that sometimes people keep going to each other, to try to fix the hurt.  But they need to stop looking to each other to fix the hurt.  They need to find their own paths.

If someone who has rejected me feels bad about it and tries to heal my hurt over it, he is just stringing me along.  If I want to be with him and can't be with him the way I want to, then when he continues to dangle himself in front of me, he's just continuing the hurt.  And he's telling me that he does not have faith that I can take care of myself.  He should show me respect and kindess, but then he should step away.

When I get that feeling inside of me that I'm seeking someone's approval, that's an alarm bell that tells me that that person erodes my self-confidence, and that I should stay away from that person.

When you see another person seeking that approval, don't tell them they are trying too hard.  When you see another person seeking that approval, what you are seeing is a person who is hurting.  Be kind to that person.

When I'm hurting that way, it's best for me to look inward, to music, dance, trees, the ocean, and meditation for healing.  But if the hurt comes back, I shouldn't beat myself up about it.  The hurt will come back as long as people who erode me remain in my life, and as long as people who support me are absent from my life.