Thursday, July 05, 2007

Jogging, Buddhism, and Value…

Just bear with me.

Let’s start with the easiest.

Jogging.

I would really like to jog four miles each day. I think that would be a good limit to set. After I get comfortable with that, I can figure out what to do next. But, for now, four miles would be great. Can you imagine the kind of weight I’d lose if I could stick to four miles each day?

… problem. At 4.6 miles per hour (and hills), I’m not clearing three and a half miles. What to do? Oddly enough, yesterday was a day of breakthroughs (which is what this entry is about). I realized that while I can’t increase my speed, I can still do it. Obviously (to everyone but me, I guess), the equation is speed + time = distance. So, if my speed is a constant 4.6, I only need to increase the time to get to my goal. Duh!

I’ll let you know how tonight goes…

Buddhism.

While Vicky and I were at Borders, I took my active ears (sure, Ken, more like lazy eyes) over to the audio books. There were several books on Buddhism in stock and I considered, momentarily, buying one.

Then, I had another realization. I am never going to experience the Buddhist breakthrough; I will never find enlightenment and inner peace. I’m not that guy. I’ve spent over a decade trying to be that guy but with no luck. I can explain Buddhism; I can understand Buddhist thought. But I’m not wired for the religious experience.

I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. It wasn’t a waste of time trying to be that guy; it probably made me a better person. My ex still labors under the less than honest impression, in her greed-riddled mind, that she is a practicing Buddhist. At least, I know when to move on. I’m not “quitting” or “admitting defeat”. Buddhism taught me a lot of worthwhile things and I will still pursue that line of reasoning. I will, however, cut myself a little more slack in the spirituality department. We’re not all gurus, after all, and knowing you’re not is better than pretending you are.

Values.

This was the big one.

And I don’t even know how to explain it.

Let me start by saying that my writing has traditionally taken two forms. The first form is what I call “event stories”, stories that center on an event. Whatever Happened to Me was about the event of someone’s past self meeting his present self. The Rynia books were about a series of fantasy world events. Revelations was about the event of a common man meeting a religious prophet. The second is “idea stories”, stories that center on an idea. You’d think Revelations would have been an idea story; it probably would have been a better book had it been. Vampire Society was an idea book. Atheists was an idea play. Of course, Climbing Maya was an idea book. So, I’ve been switching back and forth in this way. As I get older, though, the ideas I have are more vital to me than events I can dream up to tell about. Ideas impact another’s life. Events are just stories. (Of course, the two sometimes intermingle but, normally, the work falls into one camp or another.)

My present book, Daughter of a One-Armed Man, is an idea book. It asks the question: Is humanity capable of real love, given our history? It is told against a backdrop of events in which a man searches for a woman who showed him how meaningless his life was without her.

When people have asked me how to write, I always tell them to pack their stories full and never leave any dull spots. Event stories are difficult to fill because you have to have one event after another. Idea stories, on the other hand, become filled with ideas and events. For some reason, a good idea is worth a thousand exciting events in my book. (You’d notice that if you ever saw my DVD collection…)

And that, dear friends, brings us to yesterday.

Vicky and I were talking over lunch about very concrete things, real people, but what it came down to was an inquiry into values (no, not like Zen). I wanted to discuss this inquiry because I think it has universal appeal and could translate very easily into an idea book.

Vicky made the point I’ve heard a lot that charity should only be given with the understanding that it won’t be repeated. In other words, there should be a commitment on the part of those accepting charity to keep off the charity roles in the future. This isn’t a new idea. The Democrats took their biggest step away from their Progressive history with the “Welfare to Workfare” or "Welfare Reform" program Bill Clinton signed (and it was also then that I left the Democratic party).

My argument to Vicky was twofold. First, and easiest I think to understand, is that the quality of mercy is not strained. What this means is that the minute you put conditions on charity, it ceases to be charity. I’m only talking about the giver, now. If you give from a position of pure charity, the results of your gift are meaningless. The giving is simply that. There’s nothing wrong with such giving because there will always be those, be they sick or crippled or whatnot, who will always need help. We express our greatest humanity when we give without expectation. It is unselfish and it is good to be unselfish.

My second point, with regards to those accepting charity may be a little more difficult to understand. Actually, that was one problem we had, that word “understand”. I was being very exacting with my words and did not explain that sufficiently, I don’t think. There is a great difference between “understanding” and “knowing”. (You may break out your dictionaries now.) Understanding includes an essential “grasping of significance”. You can know a million facts but, unless you grasp their significance, you can completely fail to understand them. So, I said to Vicky, “I think that, if someone really understood what charity meant, guarantees of good behavior and not sponging off the system wouldn’t be required.” Again, this is the difference between understanding and knowing. And I truly believe that this lack of understanding, which is a very small thing in itself, is the keystone to many of our difficulties in understanding (there’s that word again) our motivations in charity, incarceration, education, immigration, and so much of living.

If we understood why it is we do things, we would do them very differently.

Now, most of this could be seen as economic philosophy. In fact, I told Vicky that Marx and Engels (who, Vicky was sadly unfamiliar with) dealt with many of these same problems with regards to charity. They were essentially economic philosophers.

I am not an economic philosopher… that takes math… My specialty has been, and seems to continue being, ethical philosophy (which some people erroneously refer to as “moral philosophy”). Once I saw that this issue could be put on an ethical rather than an economic level, I realized that this would make very good fodder for a book.

… which I won’t write, of course, because I’m starting school soon.

… which is why I wrote it here so I’ll have it in mind later… maybe…

1 comment:

Adriane said...

Hmmm... interesting... the thing about humans is their complexity... when even their motivation for giving can be many-fold. I haven't read Marx or Engels... hmmm... perhaps my library must grow some more. I vaguely remember discussing the theories in my 8th grade economics class... which was a very... long... time... ago. :P I grew up in a household with a pair of Eastern European parents and was provided a first-hand impression of what living in that society was like... the problem with any social concept is that humanity gets in the way of itself (religion is the same, IMHO). Congrats on the school acceptance. :)