Morality Doesn’t Come from Religion

I get so frustrated when people imply that those without a religion-centered life are therefore devoid of a moral compass. Stuff and nonsense. I’m not a Christian, and my upbringing wasn’t particularly religious. Yet I believe in the golden rule. I think it’s wrong to kill and steal and lie and behave violently. I’m a law-abiding person, and do my best to do no harm.

Studies have shown (and this article in Scientific American describes) that even babies have compassion, empathy, and the beginnings of a sense of what’s fair. These things are within them long before any religious instruction is instilled. There’s even evidence that empathy has a genetic component.

Another article, in Psychology Today, posits the theory that we have a rigid moral code because that signals to the world that we are trustworthy. Trustworthiness, in kind, gets others to cooperate with us. Cooperation is how we’re able to survive. So those with a moral code are more likely to survive and pass on their genes than those who do not. That makes perfect sense to me.

What does not make sense to me is the belief that if I don’t hold your exact spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof for that matter), there’s something wrong or evil about me. The sense of right and wrong is a universal trait. And yes, there are people out there who are horrible and selfish and commit atrocities. It’s been my experience that some of these claim to be religious and others do not.

Horrible things have happened in the name of religion. Horrible things have also happened simply because that person was fundamentally a douchebag. It is what it is.

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Maturity

There are certain things that one is supposed to leave behind in childhood. Cruelty. Humiliating others. Petty revenge. Foolish pranks. Bullying. Laughing at others’ misfortune. Selfishness. Name calling.

I have a hard time relating to adults who engage in such behavior. I don’t find it funny. In truth, I find it horrifying. Such blatant lack of compassion kind of scares me, because you never know when it will be aimed in your direction. Be very careful who you consider to be friends.

I am particularly worried about those of us who are just entering adulthood right now, at a time when the leader of our country demonstrates most of this conduct on a daily basis and may very well be reelected. What kind of signal are we sending to our young adults when this is countenanced?

Now, more than ever, we need to model kindness and love and generosity. We need to be the lessons that our leaders are not. And we need to ask ourselves why we have such leaders in the first place.

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That Moment When You Realize You Have Horrible Taste

Hi, my name is Barb, and my curtains don’t match. My pillowcases don’t match my sheets, either. And some of the pants I wear to work are patched because I refuse to spend money on something that’s just going to get greasy. I’ve had pretty much the same hairdo since high school, and no one else seems to dress the way I do. I can’t be bothered to be trendy. I’d rather spend my money on travel.

I don’t wear makeup, I’ve never had a manicure, and I watch a lot of reality TV and true crime crap off of Youtube. I collect rocks. I also collect misfits.

I really ought to vacuum my car, but since I don’t even bother to wash it, what are the odds of that? And I’m sure my neighbors would say that my yard is in desperate need of attention.

The reason I appreciate my friends and loved ones so much is that they are willing to look beyond that surface stuff and see who I am. Underneath all that tacky sloppy stuff is a warm heart, a loyal friend, an intelligent woman with a killer sense of humor. I’m kind and compassionate and creative. And my dog loves me.

I admit I probably don’t make the best first impression. But I’ve always appreciated those people who are willing to delve deeper. Thank you all for that.

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Who Was That Person?

Have you ever looked back at your past and not recognized yourself? As in, “Why the hell did I do that?” “What was I thinking?” “Why did I make that choice?” “How stupid was I?”

That’s perfectly natural. Because, here’s a concept: You are the best version of yourself right this very minute. I guarantee it.

How do I know? Do the math. At no point in your life have you had more life experience than you have right now. With every minute that passes, you are learning and growing as a person. Even the idiotic stuff, even the mistakes, the good, the bad, and the ugly, all combined, have turned you into the person you are right this second.

So of course you’re able to look back at your past with a critical eye. Not only do you have more maturity and knowledge now, but you also have the benefit of hindsight. When you think about it, it’s really rather unfair that you pick on the past you in such a heartless fashion.

Here’s a thought. Maybe give the old you a break. Look back at her or him with some compassion, and maybe thank her (or him) for getting you this far. Because life is cumulative. It’s a process. You’re getting there. Never stop trying. Onward!

Look Back
Only look back if you can do so with compassion.

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Inherited Wealth

Recently, on my online newsfeed, I saw an article that asked the readers if it is ethical to pass your wealth on to your children. I confess, I didn’t read it. Why would I? It’s not a problem that I’ll ever have. My parents didn’t have much money to pass on to me, and I don’t have any children. Problem solved.

But I did think about the issue from a philosophical standpoint during my next long commute. Naturally, Donald Trump sprang to mind. I’m convinced that the only reason he has money today is because daddy gave him obscene amounts of money to begin with. Donald Trump is barely literate and has no people skills whatsoever, and how many times has he declared bankruptcy? There’s no way he’d have been a self-made millionaire. The world would be a much safer and healthier place if his father hadn’t given him that leg up.

But on the other hand, it’s the average parent’s instinct to try to make his or her children’s lives better than the preceding generation’s. Who are we to deny them that? It’s their wealth. (Well… it is and it isn’t. I’ll save that particular rant for another day.) They can do with it whatever they choose.

Having said that, though, I feel the need to point out that with wealth comes power. If you’re giving your child power that that child hasn’t earned, then you bear a responsibility to make sure your kid is worthy of that power. (Trump’s father never did that, and now we are all paying the price. Lucky us.)

It’s every parent’s duty to instill a strong moral compass in children. They need to grasp laws and ethics and morals. They should understand the need for, and frequently practice, philanthropy. They must possess a certain level of compassion and kindness. Above all, they should have respect for others. With such an unequal balance of power being presented to them on a silver platter, they must be taught to avoid the impulse to grab things (or people) that don’t belong to them.

If little rich kids don’t have these qualities (and unfortunately many do not), then giving them an enormous nest egg on which to lounge is a disservice to the human race. Sheltering them from the real world, and coddling them from life, only produces cruel, dangerous, psychopathic individuals. The last thing these warped individuals need is for you to throw power, in the form of big sweaty wads of cash, into the mix. It creates a toxic stew.

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The Giving Gift

A dear friend of mine gave me the best Christmas gift ever this year. It was a card. A simple card. But inside, it said, “In the spirit of the season, a night of housing, hot meals, and hope at the Sulzbacher Center were given, in your honor, to a homeless man, woman or child.”

I love the Sulzbacher Center. It’s a shelter in Jacksonville, Florida, the city I once lived in. They do amazing work. So I got to imagine that for one night, at least, someone was safe and warm and not hungry. Someone could sleep without fear. That gift was really for them, but thinking about it made me feel really good, in the way that getting something to wear or to be forced to dust for the rest of my life would not have. My dear friend knows me well.

If I had children, I would make it a tradition each Christmas to give them a “giving gift”. But I’d take it even one step further. I’d let them choose what charity to give to. I’d make a card that said something like, “You now get to spend x amount of dollars on a charity of your choice.” I’d help them research charities, if they liked. Or they could pick a problem, and then choose a charity that’s trying to help solve that problem, such as homelessness or abused animals or disease in third world countries, or natural disaster recovery.

The giving gift would be an annual lesson in compassion for others and problem solving, and it would demonstrate that happiness doesn’t come from getting stuff, it comes from doing good. There’s no better gift than that. And it doesn’t have to be restricted to just one holiday. It’s great for birthdays or Valentine’s day or any other gift giving occasion.

Feel free to start using this idea. It’s my gift to you. And to help get you started, here are links to two of my favorite organizations, Heifer International and Kiva.org.

Happy Holidays, dear readers! And thank you for making this blog such a delight for me! You are truly a gift.

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Allow Me to Simplify

Here lately, humanity seems to be struggling with concepts that should be pretty straightforward. It doesn’t make any sense at all. It is causing conflict and anxiety that seems completely unnecessary. Given that so many people these days don’t seem to want to think, let me lay down some basic concepts for you:

  • Nazis? Bad.

  • Texting while driving? Deadly.

  • Waiting your turn? You freakin’ better!

  • Violence? Bad.

  • Compassion? Karma, baby.

  • Net neutrality? Crucial.

  • Racism and/or sexism? Idiotic.

  • Flossing? Necessary.

  • A fur coat for your schnauzer when people are starving? Unconscionable.

  • A right to health care? Obviously.

  • Voting? The most important thing you can do.

  • Helping yourself to my french fries? Get your own.

  • Not pulling right up to the car in front of you in a traffic jam, thus preventing the people behind you from getting through intersections sometime this century? MORONIC.

  • Abuse of power? May your chickens come home to roost, and soon.

  • Courtesy and Respect? The bedrock of civilization.

  • Education? Critically important.

  • Science? Real.

  • Smoking? Bad for you. Even worse for those who love you.

  • Human rights and basic freedom for everyone? Duh.

  • Paying your fair share? Of course.

  • Vaccinations? Not important, as long as you’re okay with having the life expectancy we had in the freakin’ 1600’s.

  • Global warming? HERE. NOW.

  • Abuse of children or animals? Sick. Demented. One of the few things worthy of torture.

  • Taking care of the planet? A good idea if you want to live.

  • Blocking the grocery aisle because you’ve run into a friend? STUPID.

None of these concepts seem particularly controversial to me. And yet here we are, a world divided on these issues. I don’t get it. I really don’t. Please make me understand.

common sense

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Vicarious Trauma

You know shit is getting real when your doctor actually prescribes that you don’t watch the news for a week. Between North Korea and Puerto Rico, my blood pressure is higher than it ought to be. So let the news blackout begin.

For those of you in the helping professions in particular, vicarious trauma is a problem that should be taken very seriously. Counselors, health professionals, firemen, police officers, social workers, soldiers, even journalists get exposed to other people’s trauma on a daily basis, and unless they have hearts of stone, these experiences, albeit secondhand, impact them as well. More and more, as all of us have greater access to disasters on a global scale, I’m beginning to believe that every single one of us is exposed to vicarious trauma.

Do you ever feel like you just can’t listen to one more news item without losing your mind? Are you convinced that one more presidential tweet just might send you over the edge? Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, forest fires… the overwhelming number of Youtube videos showing animal abuse and neglect… it is just too much to take in.

Think of trauma like a pebble thrown into a pond. The ripples that flow outward from that pebble effect all of us. It feels like we can never do enough. It’s exhausting. It makes you feel guilty, or afraid, or angry, or cynical. Sometimes it makes you feel numb, or helpless, or hopeless.

All of these are natural responses to vicarious trauma, but they’re not particularly helpful. It’s important that you learn to practice compassion for yourself as well as for other people. Give yourself a break. Be kind to you. Be sure to give yourself opportunities to engage in things outside your work, or outside the news. Set the burden down every now and then. Center yourself with family and friends. Get local. Allow yourself to have limits.

Most of all, talk to people. You are not alone. We are all getting a bit burned out. We need each other to weather the storms.

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Travel as a Form of Love

In a recent post, I said that love is all that matters. My friend Art replied that travel is the most important thing that there is. That got me thinking.

Travel is actually love in action. It shows that you care about other cultures and other people. It demonstrates a desire to learn about history and geography and customs and religion and the environment, and most of all, other points of view.

A few times in my life I’ve met people who haven’t traveled more than 50 miles from the place of their birth. They seemed quite content, but I kind of felt sorry for them. I can’t imagine having such a narrow worldview.

Travel teaches you compassion for others. It makes you realize that your way of doing things isn’t the only way. It may not even be the best way. Travel broadens your mind at the same time it broadens your horizons.

I have long been of the belief that every student should go to at least one foreign country before they can graduate. If that were the case, I don’t think we’d be experiencing this rampant xenophobia. We also wouldn’t be so willing to drop bombs on innocent people. If you sit at someone’s table and break bread with them, you find it much harder to think of them as the bad guys.

Travel is truly one of the most loving things you can do for yourself and for the wider world. So get out there. Be an ambassador. Be a humble student. Explore!

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Compassion

Compassion, defined as the “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others,” is something you either have or you don’t. At this moment in history, perhaps more than any other, it is obvious that no fence-sitting on this issue is acceptable. Pick a side. Own it.

One shouldn’t have to have experienced tragedy to feel compassion for others who are experiencing it. The human brain has evolved enough to allow us all to imagine situations that we have not gone through ourselves. Compassion can be learned. It should have been modeled for us by our parents if we were raised in a functional household. Religions spend a lot of time focusing on this subject as well. “Do unto others…” is all about compassion.

But part of it is also instinctual. If you see someone smash his or her thumb with a hammer, it should be natural to wince and think, “That’s got to hurt.” It would be normal to have that thought even if you’ve never held a hammer in your life.

So when I hear that the White House’s budget proposal would defund Meals on Wheels because “it’s not showing results”, I am horrified. I immediately think of one 75 year old invalid who wouldn’t otherwise eat a healthy meal. I think of the fact that she has so little human contact, and looks forward to this visit each day. I think of how she’s been able to stay out of a nursing home at taxpayer’s expense because she’s still independent enough to manage as long as someone checks on her daily.

When I hear that the White House wants to take money away from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Parks Service, I am appalled. I think of the future generations who will not know the beauty and health that is provided by a sustainable planet.

When I read that guns can once again be placed in the hands of the mentally unstable, I am horrorstruck. I cannot imagine what possible good this will do for society, but I certainly can anticipate the tragedies it will create. I also ache for the families of past victims, who must be devastated by this outrage.

When I hear that people want to pour even more money into our already over-bloated military budget, I am revolted. I think of the death and destruction and domination and pain and anguish that is the end result of every single war, no matter how justified we think that war may be.

When I read about immigrants, illegal or otherwise, who are ripped away from their families, and/or prevented from trying to break the chains of poverty, I am ashamed. I think of my own family history and wonder what would have become of me if my ancestors were beaten down by this same heartless stick.

I really don’t understand people who don’t have compassion. I didn’t realize until recently that there are so many of them out there. And many of them claim to be religious. What am I missing? It sickens me.

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