Friday, December 31, 2010

The Perfect Christmas Gift

Receiving a Soul-Gift

A few days ago a dear friend gave me a gift. It was an old print of the original Metropolitan Opera House that stood in New York City from 1883 to 1966. My friend, honest to a fault, informed me that she had bought it at a rummage sale for a few bucks. I was very moved by this gift in spite of knowing how much she'd paid for it and I began to think about why receiving it had touched me so deeply. Naturally the subject of the gift had something to do with my reaction. Of my many interests, few have been as long-standing and passionately pursued as my love of "classical music" and history. Clearly the print encompassed both. But why did this representation of my interests have such a potent effect on me? After lengthy reflection I think I have the answer: this inexpensive, framed print was a "soul-gift".

I believe in reincarnation. I believe each of us is inhabited by an eternal soul that has freely chosen to be there. I believe that our souls are part of soul groups that choose lives that are interrelated. I believe our souls become corporeal in order to evolve with the goal of attaining powers which will then be used in the service of all souls. As part of this perfect process of creative development, all of us need to discover this process as well as our part in it and, thereby, the real purpose of human existence. We are all about the nurturing of the precious souls which are our true essence and a principal method we use to become enlightened is to recognize, acknowledge and validate the divine nature, i.e.: the soul, of those we love. The giving of gifts as a tradition of Christmas is a powerful way to accomplish this.

Soul-Gift Criteria

How many times have we heard it said: "Christmas is about giving"? We give presents at Christmas as a celebration of the ultimate meaning of this holiday. But I also believe that what we give is as important as the act of giving. Although this seems to fly in the face of that old saw of "it's the thought that counts", please hear me out. When I say that what is given is important I am not referring to the cost of the gift, nor the effort required to make or acquire the gift, nor even what object the gift consists of. It is completely besides the point whether the gift is a Bentley or a stick of gum. What matters is whether the gift validates the existence of the person who receives it.

Any gift, no matter what it is, will validate another person to some extent. But some gifts accomplish this to a far greater degree than others. Those are the gifts that reflect the needs, interests and desires of the recipient; these are the presents that unmistakably say "I know you" to the one who opens the gift wrap. This implied statement is important because it is, in effect, a communication directly from one soul to another. It is not simply the person who gives who is acknowledging his or her friend or loved one; it is the eternal soul of the giver recognizing the eternal soul of the recipient.

The characteristics of a friend or family member which endears him or her to us are signs of the soul within that person. These qualities are those which the soul has carried into this life from the other side and will take with it when it departs this world. The connection we feel to another human being, which we consciously believe was entirely forged in this lifetime, is much more likely to be one that existed between our soul and the ones we love through many lifetimes and many intervals between lifetimes. When we come to care for another, we are rediscovering a soul we have known for a very long time. That love, platonic or otherwise, is the recognition of one of our eternal soul-mates.

An Example

I really enjoy giving gifts that memorialize a special event or experience I shared with someone else. Last January I was in a gift shop on the beach near my Florida home with another friend of mine. She was on the first of many trips to the Sunshine State in which she, her husband and I planned and executed the purchase and remodeling of a new apartment that I would eventually move into last September. While browsing inside I spotted a display of Christmas tree ornaments made out of sea shells. We ogled them together for awhile and I eventually bought one with the secret intention of giving it to her and hubby when they had put up their tree eleven months hence.

The remodel consumed most of our time for the next nine months. We faced many hurdles and many difficult moments, but we were successful beyond my wildest expectations when the project was completed. My friendship with these two wonder-workers also deepened considerably as I have developed a deep respect for their skills and their perseverance. Thus when I gave them the ornament a few weeks ago, which she had long forgotten I'd purchased, I hoped that it would become a keepsake invoking that time we three struggled and triumphed in the sweltering summer of the Gold Coast and were bound together thereby. I hoped that this insignificant and inexpensive little gift would remind them of the connection between our three souls that was forged in the heat of Florida.

Validation

The most meaningful, joy-inducing gift we can give is one that reflects what we value in the recipient and, because of its impact, becomes a powerful soul communication. Through this sort of gift we are saying that we acknowledge a bond that transcends lifetimes. This validates the truth that we are souls first and foremost. Such a gift is more precious than platinum because it is a gift that will uplift the spirit of the recipient in a profound and lasting way. That uplift, which is the primary duty all human beings have to each other, is the greatest Christmas gift of all.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Second Republican Lesson: Beliefs Are Stronger Than Facts

Politics is Belief

Politics is not about facts, it is about opinions. We hold specific political beliefs because we believe they are correct, not because they actually are. Most importantly, our political ideas are not true because we believe in them, however fervently we may embrace those beliefs.

There is nothing new about these statements. I'm sure every one of us have said these very things when criticizing someone else's political views. (Much rarer are those who remind themselves of these truths.)

This is also not to say that all political opinions are equal. Political beliefs can be objectively measured by observing the changes in social conditions after they have been implemented and then determining whether those changes were advantageous to a majority within that society.

Still, the reasons why people cling to certain political doctrines has very little to do with whether those things are, in fact, helpful or hurtful to a majority of a society's population. In spite of this, there are many who continue to believe that "getting the facts out there" is effective in bolstering or undermining a political belief.

Many of these "political rationalists" are leaders and trendsetters within the Democratic Party. Very few of them seem to be Republicans. This disparity is to the great disadvantage of the Democrats because, in terms of how people behave in political situations, the Republicans have got it right.

Why "Death Panels" Won't Die

We all recall the accusation that the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" (better known as "Health Care Reform") would create "Death Panels". In spite of countless denials by Reform supporters, that particular rumor "still has legs" to this day. The problem for the deniers is that the complete absence of any reference to "Death Panels" in the law's voluminous pages is irrelevant to their power as a political "code word". That phrase is a potent symbol encapsulating and crystallizing the basic fears we all share of any health care system in which the welfare of the patient is not its first and only priority.

The largely Republican critics of the new law don't care that "Death Panels" are not the literal truth as long as the term invokes the negative emotions associated with the rationing of health care in the name of cost-containment (or other social goals). If there is any potential for this outcome in the statute, however remote, the Republicans will argue that its use is justified. Republican strategists understand that a fear of losing one's autonomy and independence is a very real one for many Americans since they have been experiencing exactly that for decades. The fact that the health care law was not designed to do that, nor can it be reasonably expected to have that impact in practice, is insufficient reassurance to a skeptical public.

Many Democrats view this Republican strategy negatively because it appears to be exploiting people's fears; in effect indulging those fears instead of dispelling them. Rather than seeing this fear as a defect that should not be exploited for political reasons, Democrats should be wondering why the fear exists in spite of the facts and how to ease those fears without acting as if the fear is purely the result of ignorance. How can we expect to persuade people if it appears to them as if we are questioning their intelligence?

Acknowledge Fear to Fight Fear

Fear cannot be fought only with facts. Appeals to reason often seem to the fearful to belittle their fears and thus are generally ignored. Factually baseless fears must be directly acknowledged and ratified as a legitimate (though incorrect) reaction to change if they are to be successfully overcome.

Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership doesn't seem to understand this. Rather than endlessly repeating the mantra that "Death Panels" are a figment of the imagination, they should be pointing out that "Death Panels" really do exist and the health insurance companies are currently using them. In fact, the rationing of health care that the opponents of reform fear so much has existed for decades. The 50 million Americans currently without health insurance are a "market driven" method for such rationing. And most of those with health insurance are not immune from this scourge as the insurance companies make decisions on whether to pay for a medical procedure on the basis of their bottom line instead of the medical needs of the insured.

In fact, one of the principal purposes of the law is to stop health-care rationing by the insurance companies and by the market place. Rather than create "Death Panels" the new law aims to end them.

The appropriation of the potent symbol of "Death Panels" by supporters of health care reform would show empathy for a fear that many Americans have good reasons to have. It would also be an act of political "Jujutsu": turning a powerful weapon used by the opponents of reform against them. All it requires is giving up the completely irrational idea that politics is a rational activity. The Republicans figured this out a long time ago. When will the Democrats?