Saturday, September 06, 2008

Lone Tree on a Barren Prairie

Don Miguel Ruiz published his book “The Four Agreements’ in 1997. It is an easy to read book that posits the idea that we all conduct our lives and make our decisions based on agreements we have made with life; agreements that are the result of our individual experiences and the positive and negative feedback received as we move along in time. The author states he is expressing a long held tenant of Toltec thinking handed down from his Mexican ancestors.

I am not a scholar of Toltec philosophy. To be so would require even more energy on my part than becoming a practitioner of Yoga, which still lies untouched on my list of things to conquer.

Nevertheless I remain fascinated by the concept presented and the challenge that lies inside this Toltec philosophy. Ruiz maintains that the ability to break these agreements, which are often founded in false reality, is the path of personal progress and self fulfillment.

It seems to me that he is on a track to understanding how to change destructive patterns of behavior and how to redefine our beliefs not by what we are taught, but rather by what we understand as a more natural truth. Like a lone tree on a barren prairie, we bend our lives in the direction the force of life takes us, just as the tree over time bends in the direction of the prevalent winds. We cope and adjust to life. We listen to parents and friends and teachers and we form agreements within our consciousness of what we believe and how we respond to circumstances of life. We rarely construct our agreements without the approval of others.

All this talk of Toltec philosophy and an eleven year old book brings me to the subject of politics. Specifically it enlivens the discussion of what we have come to know as ‘flip-flopping’. In the world of American politics it has become a negative term. Recall Bush supporters arriving at Kerry stump speeches waving flip flops in the air as he talked? The term is applied, as everyone knows, to the process of changing position or changing thinking on a political topic. It is assumed to be a political and personal character flaw in a candidate.

Is it a flaw? Maybe it’s merely the use of politically motivated language that paints such a heavy coat of negativity on a common life process. Can the practice of thinking through a position, then changing your opinion based on a re-analysis of fact be thought of as positive?

In my view this depends entirely on context. In matters of war it seems prudent to constantly weigh one’s position with respect to the facts available. Have the Iraqis let too many sunrises pass without taking possession of their governance responsibility? Would a very unpopular position to run Al-Qaeda from Iraq by sending more US soldiers work? Maybe, I don’t know the facts and I strongly suspect my readers don’t know unless you happen to be one of the privileged that receives top secret briefings. Isn’t it amazing how many of your friends and our celebrities around America know exactly what’s wrong and what to do without access to any of the facts available to the President? It is increasingly apparent that the hardest agreement many Americans have to break is the idea we are exceptionally wise while working with an absence of knowledge and fact about many world situations. A simpler way to express the point is to say, “We certainly have a lot of know it all blowhards in our midst, do we not?”

If we look at the context of abortion it seems less reasonable to own a shifting position. The biologic process has not changed and will not change between now and November 2008. Is the changing of one’s mind on abortion a negative when facts are stable?

I theorize that a majority of Americans will cast their vote for leadership based on agreements that remain unquestioned. Because of that fact, the candidates search for the so-called independent voter with their campaign dollars and their oration. Wouldn’t it be healthier for America if we all understood that our decision should be made on a rational analysis of available fact, with personal agreements questioned at every turn? Ruiz maintains in his book that this ability to reject agreements that limit us is our best hope for self awareness and the fulfillment of our potential.

Sadly I expect the populace and the networks to continue the vitriolic arguments that sustain and foster the strength of their personal agreements no matter the opportunity to base their opinions on objective assessment. We will argue our agreements instead of our natural truth, not comprehending the kernel of truth embedded in the Toltec philosophy. Vice Presidential candidate Spiro Agnew once referred to the press as “nattering nabobs of negativism” a well turned phrase pointed directly at this remarkable capacity of the media for finding fault rather than a positive, which returns me to the central point that ‘flip-flopping’ is not inherently evil or stupid.

Extending this argument about the breaking of agreements to the voting public is the logical extension of our expectation that our leaders be able to change position not only with grace but with intelligence. Can we, the voting American public, do more than vote our pre-existing agreements that Republicans are gun–toting mean racists or that Democrats are God hating socialists? Or, can we think and reason about which candidate offers our country and our children a safe and productive future?

Is our opportunity for continued success in America tied to our ability to no longer howl at the moon of our prejudices until we are hoarse? I think so, but it’s so hard isn’t it?