Trying to get by...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

LESSONS LEARNED (by Mazin Qumsiyeh)



RANDOM LESSONS LEARNED FROM 15 Years of activism by Mazin Qumsiyeh Everything that happens in life is exactly as it is supposed to happen. Our free will gives us the ability to react to it in different ways. That is freedom which no one can take away from us. Further, watch carefully these things that happen in your presence for it is sometimes the prepared mind that captures the opportunities that are presented to us. I cannot count the times (in the thousands) where I found success by paying attention and following the clues left for us (by God or fate or mere chance) You can sometimes learn far more from someone who never finished high school (e.g. Bill Hill who drives the Wheels of Justice bust tour) than from a president of a university or a governor. Change is good. Life is good. The two are inseparable. Some people can take away our jobs, our family members, our friends, our homes, our lands, our belongings and much more but as long as we do not get infected with their hate and fear, we will continue to love and be content and hopeful. In this lies the fact told by many philosophers that secrets of our happiness is within us not in those ephemeral things that happen to us. You can think those who do evil things are guided by evil forces (Satan) or you can think they are guided by their own upbringing and circumstances. In either case if you reflect rationally on the causes of their actions and cannot convince them of the errors of their ways then what can justify hating them or fearing them. Isn't that the only real way they can harm you and rattle your tranquility. Corollary: things and events and people cannot make me lose tranquility or happiness.. only I can do that! No person is worth more than any other. Some people are more fun and far more worth hanging around with (to me) but this is due to my own circumstances and life. Just like if you have food and do not share with those who need it, it is also with having "wisdom". But it is always wise to remember to be humble and that the old teachers taught us well only when we wanted to learn. There are really very few people who know how to live with love. Love makes them act in courage and speak truth to power. These are the teachers we should learn from. Some people can eat a tortured lamb while treating their cats and dogs better than children are treated. Others go pray in a church to the prince of peace (Jesus who asked us to love our enemies) and then drop a 1000 pound bomb on a city obliterating hundreds of lives. We could cite hundreds of other such things that make good material for stand-up comedy (or drama). But my responsibility is to reflect on my own behavior. Strive to live life free from hypocricy, envy, self-indulgence, jeolousy, vanity, and frivolty. When given a chance to eat good food- do it When given a chance to drink good drinks- do it When given a chance to dance- do it When given a chance to have fun- do it When given a chance to help others- do it when given a chance to do all the other things that life gives us to do (love, share, laugh, etc), do it! As the sages wrote "eveyone dies but not everyone lives" so live life to the fullest. Activism is the best antidote to despair. A good friend is great to have. A good spouse and a good child also. Having a spouse and a child who are also best friends and confidants are gifts beyond words. A million dollars can make some men feel poor while a few essential belongings or a good meal can make another feel rich. Thus it is not what I have but how I feel about what I have. No one and no comfort or pain can make me feel as happy or as unhappy as I can make yourself. It is all under my ultimate control. Correct your errors, repent (and if harmed others provide correct recompense and apology) and then forgive yourself. If you are able to do that and understand your circumstances then why would you ever think ill of anyone else. To quote Howard Zinn "To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places - and there are so many - where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory." Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A personal history of our times, p. 208) Don't take yourself too seriously :-) Having many good friends that you can trust with your life (and vice versa) means you have learned to be a true friend and that you have learned to let go of your ego. There is evil and goodness in all human traditions and strains of thought (e.g. Judaism, Christianity, Western Civilization, socialism, capitalism). If we learn to look honestly at each thing on it own and not on the box it was contained in at one time, we will not be in the least bit harmed but be enriched by the knowledge. An old saying in the fight against segregation in the South was "free your mind and your ass will follow". Shakespeare wrote: "assay the power within you, our fears make traistors of us all" Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: “Cowardice asks the question - is it safe? Expediency asks the question - is it politic? Vanity asks the question - is it popular? But conscience asks the question - is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.” The highest purposes in life is doing our duty as human beings, part of this social network of human beings. That is why doing something good for another should n=be its own reward. Looking for and receiving thanks and recognition actually diminishes the goodness of the act. When tempted by our petty egos to do that, it is best to remember that these things do not add one thing to what you gave. When death comes and afterwards, all these things will be forgotten only the ripple effect of the actual action might persist. First do no harm, second, third.. and last do no harm. In between do some good. A touch or a tear is far more powerful than any statement in expressing the emotion behind it. Do not thus be afraid to let your emotion express itself in the best way it can. Most of us are more scared of our abilities than disabilities. We are scared of success more than of possible failure. Failure is used an excuse but it is only a lesson. We can do far more than what we even imagine if have courage (in its true decent sense). Many of these lessons were available to me as child if I chose to see how for example my grandfather lived. It is the nature of things that we absorb things with age and only fully understand them when the ripeness of time and with other experiences they come to to the forth and become clearer (just like a binoclar focuses on an a fuzzy objects in the distance). Making many mistakes is the price of learning. It is for a good reason that many religions and traditions hold patience and hope as the highest virtues (ofcourse when accompanied with doing what you are able to do). For the alternative vices of impatience and dispair only lead to destruction. Further, patience and hope are virtues associated with freedom because the outside world can enslave us only if we internalize our external difficulties and exude the negative. Negative waves can only be countered with positive ones. Those who support racism (though think of themselves as not racist) and those who support war crimes (though they justify it in their mind) need to be challenged with facts and figures but if they chose to remain where they are then we should neither assign blame to them or to us for failing to convince them. They are like patients who refuse to recognize their illness or its treatment, they are only to be looked it with compassion. This is true even when those people try all sorts of techniques to cause us harm. For again, they can only alter the circumstances external to us and if we are well grounded, they cannot cause us any harm (a real harm is one that I can only inflict on myself by accepting that which I claim to reject). Others may hate me, despise me, be jeolous of me but these things should only concern me if they are based on a real defect in my behavior. In that case, that should not distress me since I could/should correct such defects. If they are not based on real defects, then that also should not cause me distress. Similarly, some may love me and admire me. If that is based on real good characters in me then why should that please me. Isn't having good character a reward in itself. And if they are mistaken then also why should that please me? Do not seek the convoluted explanations. Sometimes the simple ones and the first ones are more correct. That is Occam's razor. It applies also to your thinking about others and their behavior. Make sure to increase your love and diminish your hate. Increase your kindness and diminish your selfishness. Increase your hope and decrease your scepticism. This will make you live better. Real change and the one that is most significant is what happens within us. Change in our circumstanced is of far less importance. Because of this it is also true that people can change circumstances of other people but only people themselves can affect the more important change within ourselves. For those who were there along our path and whose actions helped us reach the correct internal change, our debt is great. As the Buddhists say: let us work to "have joyful participation in the Sorrows of this world". Doing our duties and expecting nothing in return other than the privilege of participation IS our path to joy. Make sure you make your life a good journey; the destination is dust! Let us contemplate our lives and always strive for maximum humility. What I do not like about others, they may not like about me. As a scientist, I believe there is no certainty in anything. In fact, the defintion of scientific hypothesis (e.g. that there is gravity, that the earth is spherical, that speciation by evolution occurs) is that it is FALSIFIABLE. So if someone asks me if I have considered that what I think of this or that matter maybe entirely wrong, the answer is: yes! Maximum objectivity is not equivalent to maximum certainty. The only people absolutely certain of their positions are actually those who lead us to wars, oppression and destruction.

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