Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dear Stephen Colbert

Dear Stephen Colbert,

I wonder, sometimes, what it must be like to be you. I envy your amazing skill, shake my head in awe that you pull it off, night after night. I imagine the behind-the-scenes scampering that must go into producing a high-calibre show in 24 hours, and hit those bang-on lines fast enough for prime time. I wonder how much of that daily stress you own yourself, how much is done for you. I’m intensely curious.

But even more, I wonder what it’s like to live a double life. To be a husband and father, not-quite-normal but wealthy-normal, and to be Stephen Colbert, cult icon, voice of reason and showman for millions of people each day. It makes my paltry contributions to consciousness-raising seem small, I’ll tell you. But at what cost? And is it worth it?

I hear you, lately, putting those questions out there. You’ve got the payment, you don’t owe anyone anything. It’s hard work, being a voice, changing the world one day at a time. What if it is killing your spirit? What if you’re caught up in a tornado of your own making, trapped in a Jeckyll/Hyde nightmare that reality twists from your dreams? If I were you, I might be wondering if it isn’t time to shut that whole thing down.

From those to whom much is given, more is expected. If you grew up Catholic, as did I, you understand that the balance of the universe depends on your choices, every day, to keep your soul clean. Even if, like me, you eschewed religion and even god, you would know this is true like gravity is true, regardless of belief. We are responsible by simple virtue of being alive, awake and privileged. We owe.

You may wonder what it’s like to stay in stealth mode, and I can tell you it has its own frustrations and challenges, ones I daily imagine the easy bulldozer of celebrity would clear away tout de suite. But it’s calm here, as long as I don’t worry about missed opportunities and impending bankruptcy. I do my work every day, surprising anyone who meets my eyes, throwing little pebbles to crack the armor on the stubbornly restricted. I resist judgment and encourage care. I rail against injustice and simple, selfish viewpoints.

I write my little stories, dream my giant dreams, and love my family and myself with all the energy I save up from denying the world more of my time. I take pictures and paint pictures, listen to people and make their stories real by mixing them together. It’s a good life. But my count is low. I won’t settle all my soul debt in this lifetime with one-at-a-time piecemeal approach like this. Your debt may be bigger, but your count is stellar, your influence great. I envy that.

All this to say, what you do next can change everything. You can take this cusp we’re on and help us ride the rim. Thank you for putting out in the world each day. What you share, create, question and push matters.

Best wishes,

Thursday, November 8, 2012


It's about time Humanity stopped acting like a whiney teenager, clinging to the easy ways of childhood and resisting the growing demands of responsibility with angst.

Here's the tough talk someone, somewhere along the way gives to most of us: living with other people carries certain responsibilities.

Enough with haggling about how much responsibility you should have. Reality is reality. If life were fair, a whole lot of things would be different. Some people have to do more, pay more, be more than others, and that's just the way it is. Some people get a free ride, one way or another. Who cares? Suck it up, buttercup. It's not about what's "fair" or "right" from our miniscule perspectives, what we "should" be doing. It's about something very basic - a life. Each one.

Not a life without pain. Not a life without suffering or loss or difficulty - there is no such thing. But, there is no reason on Earth, with all humankind has accomplished, why every single human could not inherit, as birthright, at least basic safe shelter, hygiene, and access to the necessities of life.

There is not one reason on Earth that this is impossible. Wait, there is. One reason. People suck.

That's the only reason. We don't want to do it. We don't want to announce, with one large, Human voice, that we are going to set the minimum at basic safe shelter, hygiene, and access to the necessities of life.

The cynics say, why SHOULD I be responsible for other people's failure to thrive? Fools. We are responsible. We are just not taking responsibility. Should has nothing to do with it. Quit worrying about whether we should have to, and accept that the human community owes itself at least this much.

The bleeding hearts say, survival is not good enough, what about DIGNITY? Fools. All over the Earth, Dignity is so far away you can't even see the bus station to get there from here. Quite wasting time and insist on the minimum floor, instead of rejecting it. Don't stop there, by all means - fight for your beliefs. But accept the minimum as a first step.

We don't want to stand up for the minimum, for all sorts of interweaving reasons that have nothing to do with whether Kara dies of thirst today. We don't want to, so we don't.

If we wanted to, we would say it loud and clear. We would engage a ten-year study into the ways to make it happen. We would establish short and long-range plans. We would guess what it would cost, and insist that our economic system provide that through a combination of pricing for resources, fair wages, human life-cycle benefits (pensions and family requirements included) and public infrastructure. We would embark on a fifty-year planetary goal of making it happen. Or a hundred year. Or a thousand year.

And we would do it.

But we won't. And that is why people suck.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why humans don't trust each other

We can’t trust each other because we suck.

I don’t mean as a species, although that also holds. I mean you. Personally. You suck.

And me. And my grandma and Mother Teresa and everyone ever. Somewhere, somehow, hidden or visible, despised or embraced, each one of us sucks in our own special way.

But it gets better.

Not only do we suck, but we also judge.

I don’t mean as a species. You. Judge. You judge. Yes you do. Me, too. Even the judgment that you are not judgmental is a judgement. Even my judgment that you are, and your judgment of my judgment.

We are a judging species. It’s one of our keys to survival.

We judge every single input our brain receives, the first and largely unconscious judgement being to notice or not notice something, someone or somesense. Every time someone tells us, shows us or accidentally lets us see a little of how they suck, we judge them. Yes, you do. Yes, I do. Our judgement happens like a reflex. We can decide to ignore that unfair judgment, act on that wise judgment, pretend we never judged and move on. We do that all the time. But that doesn’t mean there was no judge. Somewhere, somehow, every single day each of us judges other people.

Judging is our fundamental process of living – taking in data, categorizing and prioritizing it, and responding to it to ensure our continued survival. We judge that data against an every-growing, ever-blending, ever-foggy memory database of experiences, trying to determine whether whatever we’ve noticed will harm us, help us, or leave us unchanged. Driving too fast, too slow, at the limit. Coffee too strong, too mild, just right. Clothes too skanky, too fancy, too worn, not matching, ill-fitting, out-of-style, plain. Liar. Bitch. Classy. Friendly. Trustworthy. Hot. Fat. Gay. Religious. Teacher. Vetran. Dangerous. Safe. Stupid. Right. Wrong. Judge judge judge judge judge.

Even if we notice, dismiss and get beyond our unhelpful judgments in relation to other people, most of us will live this whole lifetime maintaining a constant, running tally of how much we suck in relation to the rest of the people in our vicinity. We use myriad unconscious and conscious rating scales. Prettier than me or not. Fatter than me or not. Smarter than me or not. More accomplished? Less learned? Taller? Richer? No matter how we try to turn it off, no matter how low we get that volume, there’s always at least a little squeak of knowing that I suck and hoping I don’t suck more than other people, since that would threaten my very acceptance in the tribe if I ever let my guard down and let anyone see how I suck. Which I won't do.

We all want to believe maybe it’s okay that we suck, since everyone sucks, but we know it’s only okay with judgey humans if we don’t suck a lot more or less than them.

So anyway, you just KNOW that SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE is going to judge you, since not everyone is enlightened. Thus, we can’t trust anyone until we know how they suck, and we can’t let them see how we suck until we trust them. You can see why we go so slowly, most of the time. You can see why relationships are hard. We so often let each other down, because we suck and we judge.

Combine judgement with sucking and we get insecurity. Insecurity is a root cause for many of society's ills.

Combine insecurity with power and we grow cruelty.
Combine insecurity with loss and we grow despair.
Combine insecurity with winning and we grow egotism.
Combine insecurity with fear and we grow desperation.
Combine insecurity with outrage and we grow radicalism.
Combine insecurity with spirituality and we grow religion.
Combine insecurity with love and we grow trust.

Trust. We can’t trust each other. We test each other constantly because deeply we long to trust and be trusted, though we know (you know, I know, she knows, they know) that we don’t deserve trust since we SUCK, and we can’t trust even the best person because they will JUDGE US and plus, being untrustworthy may actually be the way they SUCK.

But we can try to love each other in spite of the judgement, in spite of not quite trusting them or ourselves. Maybe someday even instead of. We will fail, because we suck, but we can try, because we don't JUST suck. We also shine with the beauty that is humanity encompassed in our singular, unrepeatable, utterly unique experience and perspective. So we can try, every day, to love each other and to shine, and maybe to suck a bit less. That's what we can do.

Because friends, the alternative sucks. Trust me.