Good to Have the Capacity to be Depressed

And heartbroken because it shows Greatness of Desire; the frustration of desire is a sign we are able to imagine what it is that we want; the fear that we will never get what we want is the mother of Anxiety; but the same principle applies: the greatness of fear shows the potential greatness of courage that will someday vanquish this fear; and those who are greatly able to master their own great fear are courageous ones to whom much will be given, even more than that for which they hoped.


If It Looks Like a Choice Between Your Religion and No Religion, You Made a Mistake

Just reading about Hillel Zeitlin an orthodox Jewish writer who perished along with most of his family in the Warsaw Ghetto.  He was raised in a yeshiva, left and started reading Spinoza and Nietzsche, then decided these writers were wrong and returned to orthodoxy.  And was killed.

He made a mistake by thinking his only two options were orthodox Judaism and nothing.  Anytime the two options are: the religion you raised in and THE ABYSS a lot of people will return to the religion they were raised in.

Big Mistake!  There are so many other religions.  Every person has his own religion. Even no religion is a religion!

The idea that it’s — the OLD WAY or NO WAY — is a trick, in order to get poor people like Hillel Zeitel to fear the new and cling to the old.

Let us open our hearts to how God speaks to all of us, in our collective and individual incarnations.

That’s the true religion.

My religion or no religion is like “either my kid is the smartest or all kids are worthless”.

See the beauty in all of our children.


Fathers, Don’t Raise Your Sons to be Winners

Yes, yes it is very tempting.  If your life has been frustrating (and whose hasn’t?)its tempting, sure it is to decide to grow up the son as a weapon against those who have humiliated you.  He’s young and strong and courageous.  Teach him to do anything to win!   Don’t.  The world is complicated and faces real problems.   Brain tumors.  Globalism.  Climate change.  If you raise your son just to win he will not try to solve those problems — which require cooperation– and will resort to “Anything for a win” — lying, short-cuts, p.r., backstabbing, gas.  Not a good legacy for you!  Teach him to make everybody a winner!  Teach him to make the whole world a winner!  Otherwise he will contribute to the problems.  Otherwise he will be checker champion on the Titanic!  And be hollow inside.  And deep down hate you.


Was Political Correctness A Bad Thing?

My encounter with political correctness at an Ivy league university in the 1980s happened in a small seminar on the Hevajra Tantra in the Comparative Religion department.  The authors of the Hevajra Tantra believed that the right kind of yoga and meditation could give the practitioners supernatural powers.  For example they thought if you meditated for long enough in the right way, you could fly.  I told the teacher that whatever we think about why people said this, we know it wasn’t true.  She disagreed and said “That’s a very Western attitude.”  I said something along the lines of “Fine, I’m okay with that.”  This wasn’t the answer she wanted and she said “I should say that’s a very hostile attitude.”  She meant it was a bad attitude, and one I should not have had.  And she gave me a B, although that’s on me.

I will put this forward as an example of “political correctness”.  The professor criticized me for having a view that took the point of view of dead white European imperialist males, and discounting the point of view of the Indians and Tibetans we were studying.  She was using her position of academic prestige to tamp down a reasonable position on my part and was accusing me of a political or ethical lapse.

When I read conservative and even white supremacist people expressing themselves on the internet and on the radio, I get the impression they are responding to political correctness and enjoying the ability to say things they were forbidden to say in college.  They call racist views “crimethink” — which makes a comparison between non-racist professors and the thought police in 1984 — and they call universities “secular seminaries” which makes a comparison between racist views and religious dissent. Upon being told that certain views are forbidden they revel in the ability to state them and to cast themselves as victims.

This makes me think that something went wrong along the way — that educators gave students the impression not just that certain views were wrong but that it was forbidden and naughty to hold them.  And this gave the students an understandable impulse to rebel.

How then should educators deal with views that are morally abhorrent?  The view for example that slavery in the South was a good thing because Africans are genetically inferior?

Forbidding the expression of such views has unintended blowback, making some students think the view must be correct, or else why would the authorities forbid its discussion?  But allowing such views to be normalized is horrible too.

I can think of a couple of responses:

a)One would be for the educator to be upfront about his or her moral commitments.  The educator could say, speaking as a person, I find racism abhorrent.  My parents suffered from it or I have friends who still suffer from it.  The quest for tolerance informs my decision to be a teacher.  So I will not allow my classroom to be used to promulgate hate.  But that is me speaking as a human beings to human beings.  I am not claiming the same kind of authority that I claim when I tell you that your facts are wrong or your sentences are ungrammatical.

b)Another would be to allow students to express themselves but make sure they do so in an environment where they understand the human dimension of what they are saying.  Bring the holocaust denier together with the children of holocaust survivors, and the racism-apologist together with the victims of racism.  The educator could provide a safe space in which views could be exchanged and also allow students to explicitly discuss the pain and trauma caused by hearing their pain discounted.   This would be education as group psychotherapy, but maybe that’s not such a bad idea.

I really don’t know the answer to this question though: how do you teach students to respect the values of tolerance and respect without them feeling bullied or shamed if they don’t have the values yet?

What do you think?




Is it Okay to Want Paradoxical Things?

For example:

To want you to be forgiven but not because you know I want you to forgive me?


To be humble but not to know I’m humble?


To be loved for no reason, but also to be lovable?

I think the answer is: yes.

After all I can want to forget something although I know that if I keep remembering to forget it that will work against my forgetting it.

It is perfectly okay to want something even if wanting it and knowing that I want it fight against the getting of it.  It is okay to want to be famous for not caring about being famous.

You might say, I think, that the thing you want is not paradoxical.  What is paradoxical is that you want it.  That would require a distinction between things as they really are and things as they are when we actually care about them or strive for them.  If that distinction is clear to you, then by all means go for it.  Sometimes it is clear to me but right now it is as opaque as mud.


To Be Angry at Each Other for Not Being Afraid

People who care about things will sometimes be afraid those things will be destroyed.  After the attacks on the World Trade Center that killed over 3000 people I was afraid that the next attack was going to be a nuclear attack on a U.S. city.  I went to the local Unitarian Universalist church and heard a friend of mine argue “We need to think about the message those attacks were sending.”  I was furious — here people are getting murdered and this guy wants to talk about the message the murderers are sending!

I remember the bitter and sardonic quality to my contempt.  My friend seemed not just wrong, but a self-deluded, pompous fool.  I grimly sought out the darkest things I could on the internet about Islamic terrorists.  I enjoyed scaring and horrifying myself.  That way, I told myself, I am not like my friend the happy fool.  I am facing up to the grim facts.

In the current political environment I see this same dynamic working itself out.

Friend Frank: I am really afraid of the administration attacking civil liberties and creating a country in which open dissent and discussion is impossible and where under cover of patriotism rich people rip the rest of us off.

Friend Fran: I am really afraid of more Islamic terrorist attacks like September 11th.

Friend Frank: You are a reactionary fool for not being more afraid of fascism.  Your fear is being manipulated and you should be afraid of that!

Friend Fran: You are a politically correct fool for not being more afraid of Islamic terror.  Your fear of fascism is going to make you a sitting duck!

Friend Frank: You’re going to do nothing while I’m shipped off to a concentration camp!

Friend Fran: You’re going to do nothing while my family is blown up and my head is chopped off!

These two friends are getting in trouble because they are each afraid of different things and are angry at each other for not being afraid.

This, I submit, is no way to have a discussion, because it raises the level of fear, and raising the level of fear (as I’m sure cognitive psychologists have proven) lowers our ability to imagine new possibilities.  The more afraid we are the more fight-or-flight takes over.  The more we are in a blind panic the more we are blind to the possibilities that could alleviate our panic.


  1. Let’s be honest about what we’re afraid of
  2. Let’s not be angry at our friends for being afraid of different things
  3. Let’s frame our discussions in terms of things we love, desire, and want to have happen, rather than things we hate and fear.  Rather than say “I fear fascism” say “I want to have a society in which people can freely criticize the government”.  Rather than say “I fear being killed by the next Mohammed Atta” say “I want to have a country where people are less likely to be the victims of politically-motivated murder.”  Cognitively, there is no difference, but emotionally putting things in terms of what we want rather than what we fear makes the discussion friendlier and more imaginative.  And we are emotional beings.


A Little More on Irony and Pretense

You might imagine creatures incapable of pretentiousness, but I’m not sure they’d be human.  Such creatures would have sex, and eat, and breathe, and build houses, and fight, and raise children but they would never use language to promise more than they could deliver.  If they were chasing a lion they’d never say “Hey!  I know we can do this!”  They would say “Hey!  I don’t know if I can do this!”.

You might imagine such creatures, but I don’t know if they would be human, at least not like we are humans.  We humans are always aspiring.   “I’m going to get that lion — come on!”  “I’m going to be a good father — marry me!”  “I’m not afraid” “That plan seems good to me!” they all promise more than we can be strictly speaking certain of delivering.

When our friends are aspiring or we are aspiring we call that aspiring, but when our enemies doing it or people we don’t trust we call it pretention or bullshit.  He says he’s going to be a good father, but he’s a bullshitter.  How does he know?  The last lion got away.  How can he say he’s going to catch this one?

When you live in a community of the pretentious sometimes you will employ irony.  The ironist promises more than he can deliver but he’s actually making a coded point. “I’m going to catch ten lions!”.  What does it mean?  It means “Look I can say something just like Mr. Lion Hunter.  It doesn’t mean you should believe me.  So it doesn’t mean you should believe him either.”

Can you lie about being ironic?  Yes.  The so-called “alt-right” –actually Nazis — pretend they are kidding about being genocidal racists.  They aren’t.

Can you be pretentiously unpretentious?  Absolutely.  You can say “Far be it from me to chase a lion successfully — I’m just a humble bark-dye-refiner.  But I would be the best husband you’ve ever met!”   The unpretentiousness on topic A is a mask to cover the pretentiousness on topic B.

People sometimes say there is too much irony, and people almost often say there is too much pretentiousness.  Maybe yes, maybe no.  Anybody can decry pretentiousness and a lot of people can decry irony.  But to be pretentious (fine, aspirational) and ironic at the right time, in the right way, to the right degree, about the right thing — that is not so common!


Stuttering, Tics, Forgetting, Fluency

I used to stutter and have always sought to achieve greater fluency in speech, in my connection with other people, and in my connection with It All.  I want to thank teachers and friends who have been patient with my arhythmia because the more I practice talking in a situation in which I feel that my conversation partner actually wants to hear what I want to say the more fluent I become; now — right now — it occurs to me that there are things we do because we want to, like going to the store, and things we do involuntarily, like secreting stomach juice, but that the really interesting things that make us who we are, that provide the seafloor over which the currents of our thoughts and feelings and wishes flow are neither voluntary nor involuntary: they are like stuttering, or not stuttering, like having a Tourette’s tic or not having a Tourette’s tic, like paying attention and ignoring, like forgetting and remembering, because when stutterers sing we forget we are stutters and do not stutter.  May God and life and all of you reading and everyone who chooses to speak with me today or interact in any way grant me the ability to forget the nightmare that burdens me that I am cut-off from the world and other people and let me experience a fluent and rhythmic relationship to it all.