Monday, September 26, 2011

On a Scale of 1-10, How Good are You?

Are you a good person?  Yes, for the most part, you believe you are.  You try.  In the balance of things, weighing your good deeds over the bad, you are sure that your good deeds outweigh the bad.  At least you hope so.

Is there evil in the world?  Yes, anyone who follows the news on a daily basis—be it local, national, or international—is sure of it.  There are not only bad people in the world there are downright evil people that do terribly evil things.  Just consider the international human/child slave trafficking problem we have in the world, for one.

But here’s a question, how many bad deeds does a person have to do before he or she becomes truly “evil”?  Or, out of a hundred let’s say, exactly how many good deeds over bad deeds must a person do in order to qualify as a truly good person, 60/40, 70/30, 90/20, 95/5?  We already know that no one does 100/100.

When we are caught doing wrong, the first thing we say in self-defense is, “Well, nobody’s perfect” coupled with “I made a mistake,” or “I didn’t mean to do it.”  We seldom fess-up, admitting full guilt: “Yes, I did it, I knew it was wrong—lying, stealing, cheating, immoral, false, bad, corrupt—but I chose to do it anyway.  I was just hoping that I’d actually get away with it and not get caught.”

One day, a rich man came up to Jesus and asked a direct question of him: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  But before responding to the point of the question, Jesus took him to task respecting his assumptions about goodness, “Why do you call me good?” Jesus said, “no one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:17-22).  Do you even know what real “goodness” is, is what Jesus was driving at.

Everyone, all of us are guilty of doing wrong.  We’ve lied and we’ve stolen.  We’ve mistreated and offended others, and have hurt others badly.  We’ve been selfish, arrogant, rude, and have been inconsiderate and disrespectful toward others.  Thus, we not only are not perfect, we are also not innocent and are most certainly guilty.  How then should we define “good”?

The Bible tells us that even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).  So what is a good person really like?  And if evil can disguise itself as good how do we tell the difference?  And are such questions even important in today’s modern world?

Indeed they are!  In the ebb and flow of history, nations and peoples go to war in the name of justice with righteous indignation, good versus evil, right over wrong, and so on and so forth.  In a way it is what the Arab Spring is all about; consider the motive within Libya's battle against Gadhafi’s oppressive regime.

But the trajectory of human goodness and badness begins with the little things, the little white lies that we justify telling, the small things that we justify taking, the little offenses we commit against others due to our own arrogance or greed or personal insecurities or self-righteousness.

Is it possible that what is missing both in the public arena as well as in the personal private arena, and what is fading quickly from the political arena is what used to be called good ole-fashioned integrity?  Whatever happened to the golden rule: “treat others as you would have others treat you”?  What happened to such proverbial values to live by, such as “an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay,” or “be trustworthy, true to your word,” or “mean what you say and say what you mean,” or “judge not lest you be judged,” or “be gracious, compassionate, and merciful”?

These principles, values, and truths will never expire or become outdated and irrelevant.  We should expect such of our politicians as well as our employers, employees, teachers, students, and well, everyone—and that, despite the fact that “no one is perfect,” for it is keeping and holding up the standard that counts.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Taxes are necessary and therefore should be Just

Warren Buffett, a billionaire, admits outright that our tax code is not fair.  Apparently our luxuriantly wealthy Mr. Buffett pays a lower tax rate on his money than his secretary or house cleaner does and, to his own admittance, that’s just not right.  I would agree.

Our American value of “justice and liberty for all” should also mean fair and equitable taxation to all as well.  As we all know, death and taxes will always be with us.  But we need not casually accept unnecessary deaths nor should we tolerate unfair, unjust, or unequal taxation.  If the tax code is not fair, we need to make it so.

To avoid correcting and adjusting the tax code because it may mean that someone’s taxes may go up (while others’ may go down), in the name of a political battle cry that says “we will not raise taxes,” is just not right and runs contrary to a core purpose of our elected officials, which is to manage our country’s fiscal affairs wisely, honestly, and justly.

Instead, what is happening, regarding the management of our national economy, is that Wisdom is being thrown out for the sake of political maneuvering, Honesty is being cast down for the sake of political posturing, and Justice is being trampled upon for the sake of special interest benefits.

I’m neither an economist nor am I an entrepreneur, but from a “man on the street” layman’s perspective, it seems to me that big business and big money get all the breaks—Wall Street, National Banks, and International Corporations—while the little guy pays the price.  It’s the history of humanity, the history of the haves over the have-nots in every empire throughout the ages.

However, this nation was founded on the premise that all are equal.  We are supposedly a classless society; that is, we believe that all should have an equal and fair shake and be given an equal opportunity to “make it.”  There is to be no privileged few who are to receive huge social benefits from our tax system without also paying its fair share for those benefits.  In short, the rich are not to be given more social, economic, or political rights and privileges than the middle or lower classes, just because they’re rich.  This should especially be true with regard to the nation’s tax code.

Among other things, our economy needs a fair and balanced tax code, healthy and wise regulation, checks and balances with transparent accountability, and politicians who are not in the pocket of special powerful interest groups who have the money and means to buy their votes.  Nevertheless, I realize that we do not live in a perfect world.  Politicians need money to get elected and re-elected.  Money and political power go hand and hand.

Meanwhile the average person on the street is the one that needs real representation and consideration.  Most of us are too busy trying to make a living (if we can) to follow every twist and turn of a representative’s vote.  Worse, we are so often too gullible.  We are too easily persuaded by catchy sound-bites and patriotic ditties that our politicians throw at us (in that sense we are partially to blame).  That is, we vote with our emotions rather than our heads, and politicians know this.  Yet we are supposed to be a government “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”  “We the people…,” I think not.  In reality I think “we the people” are being left behind to fend for ourselves while the “haves” got it and intend to keep it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Putting America Back to Work or Critiquing Obama’s Speech

Since no one is perfect, a little constructive criticism/feedback is always good.  It adds value, improves performance, and grows a person, especially if the person is receptive, teachable, and appreciative; and especially if the criticism is fair, honest, and with good intent.  This is why highly successful businesses and institutions have evaluation feedback systems in place—they monitor how they’re doing and invite constructive feedback so as to tweak their performance and do better.

It’s too bad that positive, constructive feedback, fair and honest criticism with good intent, does not happen in the world of politics.  What happens instead is a total castigating of one’s opponent—it would seem that everything that one’s opponent does, says, plans, promotes, encourages, or supports is not only wrong, but deplorable, even dangerous for the nation, if not downright evil.

Is President Obama the perfect president?  No.  But neither is he the devil in disguise.  He is neither absolute good nor absolute bad.  But as the nation gears up for another presidential election for 2012, starting with the Republican primaries, watch and listen.  We are going to constantly hear how absolutely bad, deplorably wrong, even almost how evil Obama has been for our country.  We are going to hear how he ruined this nation, how he misguided it, how he went too far and yet not far enough, how he did too little too late and yet took on too much too soon, and so-on and so-forth.  It’s as if we are dealing with absolute good verses absolute evil.  One’s opponent is always the evil one while the campaigner is the knight in shining armor, all angelic like, representing all that is good and pure.

It would be nice to hear some honest, fair, and wholesome criticism for a change?  Spell out the differences, be specific and exact in terms of various viewpoints and opinions regarding economic choices, social policy, and national and international issues, but quit trying to paint your opponent as the devil incarnate—all bad, all evil, all wrong.

Obama made a speech last Thursday (September 8, 2011).  Effectively he said, let’s put America back to work, create jobs and pass this bill now, sooner rather than later, and he had some specifics ways and means to make the proposal work for the nation.  Sure, not all agree with the specifics.  But, here’s the thing, a stubborn and recalcitrant opponent will oppose everything he said just for the sake of making him look bad, appear weak, seem foolish, and insure he loses.  But such a response is not looking after the nation’s interests.  It’s looking at one’s own political advantage, seeking only to gain the upper hand in political marks and influence.  And that is what is deplorable.

America, let’s tell our politicians that we want real bi-partisan solutions and not one-upmanship grandstanding or brinkmanship politics.  We have a two party system for good reason.  It keeps a party from going too far, check and in balance, at least to some degree.  Both sides have their good points and both have their bad.  It is up to us to demand the best of both sides.  It is also up to us to recognize that extremism is always bad.  Too hot, too cold, too short, too long, too hard, too soft, just doesn’t cut it.  We need a proper balance. 

For example, we are not necessarily asking for absolutely “no tax increases,” but we do want fair and equitable taxation.  We do not want total none regulation in the world of business and finance, we want wise and just regulation that appropriately protects the powerless and vulnerable.  We want a balanced budget, but we don’t want to put half the nation out of work in order to get it.  We accept the fact that we’ll have to borrow for awhile in order to make the budget work for us.  We want to be a strong nation but we don’t want wasteful and unaccountable spending on defense, just because it’s the military.  We want and need a solid and stable infrastructure—good roads and bridges, highways and waterways, effective sewage plants and dependable energy, and so we must find a way to pay for it.  (And here, we really have no choice; if a house needs plumbing or electrical repair the homeowner must find a way to pay for it or the house becomes unlivable.  So be it.)

These things are really not that hard to figure out.  If our politicians would stop politicking and start doing their jobs, maybe we could all get back to work.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

9/11, Our 10 Year Anniversary

Shock, sadness, grief, anger, hatred, revenge, surprise, astonishment, vengeance, fear, horror, relief, pride, battle cry!  These are the many thoughts and feelings that went through minds and hearts when our New York Twin Towers were struck on 9/11/2001.

We are now coming to the tenth year anniversary of 9/11 and we remember.  Memorial services, TV and radio specials, site visitations, and moments of silence are all part of it.  We pay our respects, remember our lost, and honor the many who gave their lives in service to land and country.

Ten years!  A full decade has now gone by.  We’re all ten years older.  2001 wedding couples are now celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary.  2001 newborns are now ten-year-olds.  Five to nine-year-olds back then are now well into their teens.  And those who were teens back then are now twenty something year olds, some have married and may even have their own set of children by now.  Time has passed.  A lot happens within a decade.

So, in terms of 9/11 we probably should ask: what have we learned, what have we done since then, and how are we doing, ten years later?

How do we answer that last question, ‘how are we doing’?  I suppose it depends on what we mean by the question.  For example, financially speaking (jobs and the economy) we’re not doing so well.  What about militarily and defense wise?  Are we more secure, do we feel more secure?  We’re certainly paying a hefty price for it.

But given the loss that we suffered back in 9/11 are we a better nation for the experience?  That is, have we grown in maturity, have we become wiser perhaps even more spiritual, for example?  Are we stronger – emotionally – as a people?  Are we more at peace within ourselves?  Are we more balanced, do we have more internal equanimity, have we become a more fair and just society as a result of 9/11?  Or, are we more frustrated than ever, bitter, angry, unsettled, distraught, lacking peace and stability?  My sense is that, as a people, it’s the latter, especially respecting the effects of 9/11.

As a direct result of 9/11 we have started two wars for which we did not fully count the cost, and there is still no sign of closure within sight.  Many more American lives have since been lost, crippled, or maimed, and the financial cost of these wars (in the trillions of dollars) will be with us for decades to come—and for what exactly?  What are we after?  Is it justice, revenge, security, payback that we are after?  Have our wars brought the closure that we needed and wanted, given our 9/11 loss?

I submit that we are not doing well internally as a people, as a nation, because of the way we chose to respond to the attacks in the first place.  We responded with a hot-blooded knee-jerk reaction wanting immediate vengeance.  Was it worth it, starting these two wars?  Sure, almost ten years after the fact, we finally got Osama Bin Laden, but by then it was an anti-climax, a small ripple in this huge war wave we started. 

And so now we are angry at the loss of jobs and the continuing downturn of our economy.  And doesn’t the cost of these two wars that we’re in, have something to do with our huge deficit?  Of course it does.  And now, instead of fixing problems, our politicians would rather use every issue as a platform for making ideological statements rather than stepping-up-to-the-plate to make smart and effective social economic policy.  Frustrated and distrustful of our government, we are divisive, defensive, accusatory, mean spirited, and non-cooperative.

In short, we are NOT doing well, internally.  We are not at peace within ourselves.  We do not seem to have grown wiser.  It seems that we now lack that old fashion depth of spiritual character that we describe as being a people of peace, patience, kindness, goodness, respect, gentleness, faith, hope, and love.  Why?  Perhaps it’s because we chose to take revenge and trust in military might rather than trust in the mercy and grace of God to do what is right and good.

In this tenth Anniversary of 9/11 might we not do well by reflecting on God’s admonishment to His people as told through his prophets and apostles?

Psalms 33:12-19
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he has chosen for his own inheritance.  The Lord looks from heaven; he beholds all the sons of men.  From the place of his habitation he looks upon all the inhabitants of the earth.  He fashions their hearts alike; he considers all their works.  There is no king saved by the multitude of a host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength.  A horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength.  Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine.  Our soul waits for the Lord: he is our help and our shield.  For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name.  Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.”

Romans 12: 17-21
“Recompense to no man evil for evil.  Provide things honest in the sight of all men.  If it be possible, as much as lies within you, live peaceably with all men.  Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay says the Lord.  Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.  Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Zechariah 4:6
“This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”