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?


Lynilu said...

Thank you for the post. A very good, post, BTW. However, this afternoon, I have some other "challenges" facing me, and I will have to come back tomorrow. I want to have time to process it well, before I try to respond.

Glad to read you!

Jenn said...

While I'd like to think the American public could think and reason about which candidate offers our country and our children a safe and productive future - I don't believe, as a whole, that's what will happen.

I think that's what people think they are doing. When they believe what they're told is what they already believe.

But it's not.

I believe it's what I'm doing. But I'm not your average voter. I am near obsessive about digging for information - plans - policies - beliefs...when someone changes their mind - I need to understand why...and if it makes sense...good for them. I need to understand all that.

But I've talked to many people who don't know why they're voting how they are. And when asked, they can sometimes quote the stump speeches - but nothing deeper.

That's when I think to myself 'you're the voter I am afraid of'.

And I've thought that too much this year. Not because they don't agree with my choice - we're a huge nation and fairly split down the middle. They scare me because they don't know why.

Lynilu said...

“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?”

In a word, yes. But as you say, it is never really that easy.

I wish we were informed, really informed, about the issues during elections. I’m weary to the bone of hearing candidates blaming rivals, pointing out the weaknesses, ridiculing one another. I would love to hear each of them talk about their own strengths, their plans, their own histories. That being said ...........

If one practices what Ruiz suggests, I think it would help us to understand our own paths, then to form opinions about others in a more intelligent way. Change isn’t necessarily bad, because as we learn more about our world, I think it is natural to find our thinking processes changed. A change in thinking leads to a change in behavior, hence, a flip-flop.Or an agreement adjustment, in the words of Ruiz.

Most of us flip-flop. We, however, can flip-flop without every major network and newspaper emblazoning it for all the world to see. A political candidate does not have that freedom. Their changes of path are immediately newsworthy. And every little detail is then a flip-flop, more than that, a FLIP-FLOP. It’s OK to change one’s mine as one learns new information; however, when one is a candidate and flip-flops, then flop-flips, then once again flip-flops, one becomes suspect.

We voters can make changes, I suppose, but until candidates begin to reflect their own truths, can our agreements with them be real? Can we make agreements without information? It’s like shaking hands with the wind, IMO. We can and should push for change, but *our* change means little until we are being treated as thinking, responsible voters by the political machines and their candidates. They are our leaders (??) and as such, should campaign responsibly. Only then can we vote informed, only then can we make agreements, because only then can we know to what we are agreeing.

I read and research and listen and ask and talk about issues. Most people don’t do that. Well, they do listen, at least to some degree, to what the media reports (and theses days, the media doesn’t really report as much as they opine), or what the guys at work say, or what the husband says. I’m afraid most people don’t make opinions about candidates; the accept what is fed them .... or what is slopped into the trough. And I have to tell you, although I work hard to be as informed as possible, I know I’m still not getting a lot of the information I need to make truly informed decisions. I’m making agreements with the wind.

Seven said...

Yes, the idea that so many have no clue why they will vote the way they choose,is alarming. More alarming still is the idea that they vote for a stump speech lie no matter which party. I'm pleased you are one of the 'diggers of truth'.
Smart return. I very much like the illusion of 'shaking hands or making agreements with the wind'. It an apt and brilliant phrase!

My friends are smart!

Enemy of the Republic said...

Well expressed. I have the book--it was a gift, but I haven't read it. As you can figure, I am voting Obama, and I do resent when people see me as godless. Stereotyping will bring us down.

Seven said...

So nice to see you and hear from you. The art of stereotyping is widely practiced, unfortunately with a high level of craft, by too many.
But, as I said it is one of the most difficult things we have to overcome.
As far as Obama, there are two thing that bother me a great deal. He characterizes himself as an 'agent of change' yet has consistently voted 'present' in his career as an Illinois and US senator. The practice is generally politically motivated and at its most flattering indicates indecision.
Two, the charge that he is too inexperienced is rarely addressed by the media in a serious way. Research of his history too easily proves the point to be valid. I think he is a charismatic, smart and talented individual but I find his history reflects an overly ambitious and untested candidate.
With McCain I see experience, obvious love of service and country and yet I also see age and inflexibility. I think Palin offers us a narrow philosophical prism similar to the Bush narrow prism, so I'm still watching waiting, reading and thinking. Specifically I am interested in coming interviews with Palin to determine if my initial assessment of a narrow philosophical prism is supportable. As far as Joe Biden? Definitely a long way from illustrating a 'change' position.

Meanwhile I am considering writing in Thomas Friedman.

Anonymous said...

7, sorry I missed you at Clermont. I was a one day in and out. As for the political race, I think Rove was watching the DNC and thought 'we need to do something desparate.' I don't think there's much statemanship in this populist, celebrity painted move during a time when this country, indeed the free world, is desparate for serious solutions. I'm shaking my head...sadly.

Seven said...

Hey Rob,
I was hobbled in Clermont, running on a rehabbed broken ankle, but it was good just to be there, despite the whining on Stone's blog.
I hear you on the wildness of the pick, and I see that today the attacks on Palin have focused on religion which is truly sad and predictable. It's beyond me why the need for constant partitioning and attacking. I think she is fairly exposed from an experience standpoint without touching her religion, but nope, gotta attack her religion and her family. Geeez! Maybe we could write-in Lieberman and piss all of them off. I truly love that guy, I think he is truly decent.

Seven said...

Addenda to my comment.
Thomas Friedman is giving a lecture here at the University of Texas-Arlington (my alma mater) this Thursday evening. I have two tickets. He is going to discuss his new book re: "Flat World, etc"
In the book he suggests the possibility of a spiraling/building effort of progress much like happened in the IT economic revolution. I first heard that idea from you, in a comment here.

Lynilu said...

Seven, I would like to see the attention on Palin to defocus from family and religion, yet I must admit I have a problem when she asked people to pray for a pipeline (?) and especially when she referred to the war in Iraq as God's task. C'mon, it's not a holy war!

I don't know why we mix personal/private, spiritual/religious, and political issues in this country. I don't know of many presidents who were free of some sort of issues in those areas (Truman and Carter?), yet were good at their jobs. Until fairly recent history, we didn't focus on their religious lives. Can't we let politicians be politicians, not religious leaders or The Cleavers of Washington?

Seven said...

Yes it raises the issue of separation of state and church. The problem is obvious here in that the conceptual intent of the nations founders was philosophical in nature and the reality is that religious freedom was the focus of their intent from the beginning. Its easy to understand the genesis for our confusion and disagreements. But, a pluralistic religious society exists today in the USA that was non-existent in our founding period. Its a new problem in that way.
Maybe its time to interpret the Constitution specifically. That would make libs happy to go totally secular, but it will make them sad that activist judges can't interpret, and on we go........

Lynilu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynilu said...

have to disagree, respectfully, about the "pluralistic religious society" statement. It was something that they and/or their fathers had experienced in “the old country, and they wished to avoid it happening again. That *was* the issue then. People were tired of being told how they would worship (Spain = Catholic, England = Church of England, etc.) and wanted the right to make choices. It was one of the many reasons people migrated or were sent to this continent. We had that in this colony and the founding fathers wanted to be sure it was sustained in the foundling nation.

Today, no one is overtly telling me how to worship, but it is getting too close for my comfort. You know my spiritual path from our past discussions, and I'm certainly not without guidance from my creator; but my fundamentalist brother subtly expressed concerns for my soul and has expressed the idea that "a Christian in the White House" makes for a better nation. I disagree. A good person with conscience and the overall needs of the citizenry of our nation with good political knowledge and leadership is more fitting for that position. Leave our spiritual paths to our spiritual leaders!

Unknown said...

Emerson, I believe, wrote, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Yet many of us don't want to be confused with different information, because we have our little minds made up. Meanwhile, our current President "has all but destroyed the market in stubborn consistency." So what should we expect and offer those with whom we make life's agreements, when what we take to be facts are known to change dramatically and rapidly?

I would like us to state our principles and expectations clearly and openly, then stick to them as we deal with changing "facts." Sometimes we must hold each other accountable, and confess openly, when our actions don't conform to our stated principles and expectations. That has deservedly happened to Republicans in Congress, and they have paid a price in lost elections and public confidence.

So change your mind, no harm no foul. Be unwilling to specifically state your principles and agreed upon expectations, or act inconsistently with them, and we should all expect hard consequences to follow.

PBS said...

Most people seem to be really resistance to change, set in their ways. Reading your piece makes me want to reread that book, thanks!

Deb said...

"We rarely construct our agreements without the approval of others."

I think that's the most common behavior or type of pattern of thinking that we all have. We do things so he or she will approve. It's just natural. When I was younger, I sought out approval by my parents. You try to please and appease.

How would life be if we all didn't seek approval from others? That would be quite a funny world. :)

I admit, I still do it, subconsciously or whatever, it's "in us".

This was really interesting...

Seven said...

Yes, but the ability to discharge the approval component is integral to our development of true self.

kathi said...

Thought there'd been a new post because the old one that had been staring me in the face every time I came to check in was gone. Tease. Still, even though it's an old one, it's a good read.

Miss you.