Gratitude for Jobs Well Done

I am overwhelmed time and again by the sight of people doing a good job.

You might ask “Well isn’t it only right that they would do a good job? Are they not being paid?” Yes, of course, that is the case, but the skill and efficiency of people at their work is a constant source of amazement to me.

I am someone who finds it trouble to put a nail into a wall, who requires all kinds of gadgetry to enable me to horizontally attach a shelf to a wall. I would need excavation equipment just to lay down a simple path, and I have succeeded in putting together a TV stand from Ikea and finding myself with an alarming number of screws and bolts left over. I caution against sitting on the edge of this gravity defying construction.

So, when I look out my window these days and see workmen arriving before 7.30am at a house across the road to carry out extensive renovations as efficiently as they appear to do, it is a source of wonder. And in our own house, we have been blessed with plumbers who make plumbing seem like child’s play, tilers who make tiling a dawdle, carpenters who make the re-alignment of locks and doors not just a game of chance.

Quite a few of the people who are the objects of my praise and admiration are from abroad, sometimes referred to as “non-nationals” or, more disparagingly, “foreigners”. Without myself falling into the racism trap, I have to add that the work ethic I have seen demonstrated by people who have come to Ireland from abroad to seek a living, is an example to any of us born here on our green island. Then again, people who tear themselves way from home so as to build a new and better life abroad have a motivation that the easy-going and less ambitious among us can often lack. Fair play to them for packing their lives into their suitcases and setting out in search of better prospects. We are all the inhabitants of one world, and every one of us is, thankfully, very different from every other.

So today I give thanks for all good work and for all good workers who amaze me by their skill.

Tony – Dublin 20 September 2016

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Thank Your Lucky Stars

If you have the technology to listen to or read meditations such this you are among the most privileged people ever to have walked on the face of the earth and among the most privileged people alive today.  T

”Life is not a problem. It is a miracle, a gift, a teaching, a celebration. Thanksgiving acknowledges the miracle of life –  It says that we live in a world of beautifully interacting thankfulness” – Daphne Rose Kingma

So what have we to be thankful for today?

If we take a moment to think back on countless thousands of years of human history, it is hard to find what might be accurately called “the good old days” for the average woman or man in the street.   Life might have been bearable for the few people at the top. But even kings, queens, emperors and persons whose every wish was obeyed would stand in awe at the opportunities with which anyone reading this is blessed today.

Cynthia Ozick tells us ”We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”

So let’s take a little time out for reflection on all the good things with which we are surrounded and which, in the hurry of our busy lives, we may have failed to notice.

Think of people, talents, good fortune, reasonable health, sufficient belongings.  Just look around, pause, think.

So here we are, surrounded by so many reasons for contentment in a world which is still so unequally divided.  This thought will and should unsettle us.   Meditation is not a comfortable sit on a cushion for a lucky minority living in a world which, for them, is a world of plenty.  Meditation helps us to see things as they really are and sometimes what we see is a need for action to put things right.   In Buddhism, the term you find is “engaged Buddhism”.  Engaged Buddhism calls us to look at how we spend our lives and how our lives have an effect on others.  You don’t need to be a Buddhist in order to see this idea arising as the consequence of reflection.

Let’s think about the ways in which we might help to make this world a better place. How can we live so that our lives will have made some little difference? Can we live a life that might leave the world a little better than we found it?

This does not mean running for political office (perhaps it does for some!) but it does mean all of us looking at our daily choices. How can we share what we have in talents or in material goods with the less well off?   Can we offer people an opportunity to get on their feet?  Can we think about what we buy, how far has it travelled and what about the working condition of those who toil, in sometimes awful circumstances, so that we can have what we want when we go out to buy?

The call is not that you or I should change the world but that you and I can each change our own world.

We each just have to make a difference to the life of even one person.

It is like that vary familiar story about the boy on the shore rescuing a starfish. There are multiple versions of this story floating around but the original idea comes from “The Star Thrower” published in 1969 by Loren Eiseley.

This is one of the variations:

Early one morning, a man was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and he found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that the boy was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  As the boy came closer the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves.” The young man continued  “When the sun gets high, they will die unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said to the old man “It made a difference to that one!”

So we should never doubt our ability to make a difference.

And never forget that our good fortune and the gratitude that follows from it urges us to make that difference.

Never doubt  that every ordinary person, people just like you and me, can make that difference.

A closing thought, like our opening reflection, is also from Daphne Rose Kingma.

“Saying “you’re welcome” affirms that we live in a world awash with treasures, with miracles and blessings, that we are blessed with an endless array of people, moments, experiences, surprises, magic, curiosities, and beautiful coincidences to which our only delighted, ecstatic, and unchanging response should be thanksgiving.”

May each of our lives be filled with endless reasons for gratitude and may gratitude inspire us to make a difference to the people around us.

Tony – Dublin 8th September 2016

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The Chilling Chilcot Report

And we ask why extremists hijack planes and fly them into our western towers, why suicide bombers blow themselves, and us, to kingdom come as we travel in our buses and on our metro systems.

Seven and a half years in the making, six and a half million words, a damning indictment of UK military action against Iraq

Apologies to the distraught relatives of 200 UK military killed in the operation and rightly so. But for every UK death you see a hundred or more Iraqis dead, many, most of them,  civilians. And for every Iraqi casualty of this misguided intervention another terrorist sympathiser born.

We see the imperial power temporarily glow in the recall of its former glory and unquestioningly tie itself to the shoestrings of a world policeman intent on a “war on terror” but never asking the question “Why do these people hate us so much?”

Imperialism breeds resentment and hatred and produces a response which we call terror.  Every bomb dropped leaves people remembering and many of them determined to seek revenge.

And remembrance can be long, so very long.  You only have to look at the inscriptions our western war graves “From the rising of the sun to its setting we will remember them” to realise how long it will take before people forget and forgive.

And it is not as if the public did not try to call a halt before this disastrous war was unleashed.  Recall the marches, worldwide, the millions of people who cried “halt” and who were ignored.

And what now?  A heartfelt apology, to say the least, unconditional compensation in terms of rebuilding lost lives.  But how long and how much will it take before a devastated people forgive?

When will we in the West learn to allow other people to select their own leaders and political systems and to sort out their own issues about “regime change”?  For too long we have attempted to rule and exploit the world for our own purposes.

Above all, we need a determination “Never again” and written large the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding”

Tony – 7 July 2016

 

 

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Place names and other controversies

 

Unionists in Northern Ireland have expressed understandable annoyance following the decision by Derry City and Strabane District Council to vote in favour of changing the official name of the city of Londonderry to Derry.

 

The vote on Thursday last at the Guildhall on the controversial name change was passed with support from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and independent councillors. Understandably the proposal was opposed by the minority unionist group on the nationalist-controlled council.

 

Why, in the name of all that is good and reasonable, cause needless tension and dispute by tinkering with the city name? The name Derry/Londonderry has been in common use for some time and that seems, to an outsider like me ay least, to be an acceptable solution in a place where opinions are still strongly divided along nationalist/unionist lines. Derry/Londonderry seems to be a peace-bridge type of name which accommodates two traditions living side by side in one recently very troubled place.

 

Raising sectarian disputes by proposing what was clearly going to be a controversial vote on a name change is just as de-stabilising to peaceful relations as the wearisome regular call by Sinn Fein for a plebiscite on the question of whether Northern Ireland wishes to be united with the Republic of Ireland.   Do Sinn Fein really believe that if a day dawns when (a) nationalists in the north slightly outnumber unionists and (b) vote en masse for unification, that the new slender minority of unionists will be happy to unquestioningly throw in their lot with the people south of the border?  Is this simple majority rule the Sinn Fein idea of democracy?

 

The Good Friday agreement has been a wonderful, and rather amazing, resting point along the road to better relations, north and south, east and west between the diverse traditions on these islands. If, as a follow up to that agreement, friendship and co-operation can be fostered in the very many areas where it make sense to work together, that will be good job, a wonderful job and, for now, a sufficient job. Marriage proposals can be left until both parties are truly in love. The pain of recent events on all sides requires time and careful attention in order to heal. The flower of co-operation requires time and careful attention in order to bloom.

 

We have to learn to celebrate diversity and not to fear it.  The two main traditions on this island have much to offer each other.   It is painful to see sectarian views expressed in relation to flags and symbols, parades and celebrations, the wearing and non wearing of poppies, the use of words in church.   I happen, by good fortune, to belong to a church, the Unitarian Church in Dublin, where diversity is celebrated.   If a survey was to be taken in our church I expect that no two of us would hold the same views and yet week by week we worship together to seek meaning and celebrate the wonder of existence. I pray that unionists and nationalists, inspired by progressive, patient and far seeing leaders will one day be happy to celebrate their differences and live together in that peace which is the entitlement and hope of all people.

 

Tony  10 November 2015

 

 

 

 

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The barbarity of the death penalty

Early on Wednesday 30th September 2015, Kelly Gissendaner, convicted of orchestrating her husband’s 1997 murder, was put to death at a state prison in Jackson, southeast of Atlanta.   Pleas for clemency including an appeal by Pope Francis were of no avail in Kelly’s case.  The state execution machine grinds painfully on.

In Oklahoma, Richard Glossip, who has always protested his innocence of a 1997 murder, and who was due to be executed on the same day, Wednesday 30th September, has been granted a 37 day stay of execution.

It is beyond belief that in this 21st century, an advanced country such as the US continues to permit capital punishment.   How can a society hope to discourage violence and claim to place a value on human life if its judicial system has recourse to violence, subjecting convicted persons to the torture that is the death penalty?   If a society truly values human life then it must not follow the example of those of its members who have been convicted of ending the life of another.   Our degree of civilisation can be measured by the restraint which we execrcise in the face of extreme provocation.   Violence in attitude and deed only breeds more violence dragging more and more people down in an unending spiral of pain.

And there is the question of erroneous convictions.   A postumous pardon is of no benefit to a person wrongly accused and wrongly convicted of a capital offence.

In the US the execution process itself has descended into a state of near anarchy with too frequent reports of drawn out botched executions carried out painfully with a mish mash of drugs when (rightfully) the EU prohibit the export to the US of drugs required for the purpose of facilitating capital punishment.

In making use of this primitive form of punishment the US finds itself in the company of the most unlightened and regressive of regimes.  We really do expect more from the US than to see that country grouped with states where unhappy victims find themselves flung from buildings, subjected to judicial rape and torture, or stoned to death in public displays of barbarity that belong in the darkest pages of human history.

What can we do?

One idea: Befriend someone on death row – join www.humanwrites.org

Another: Most important – keep yourself advised of these forthcoming punishments. Write to the governor of the state or the president of the country, as the case may be, let your voice be heard in social media.  People pay attention (eventually) to the persuasive power of overwhelming public and world opinion.  Your opinion counts, express it. Don’t leave it to others.

Tony – 1 October 2015

 

 

 

 

 

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The Scandal of Food Waste

While 870 million people go hungry in the world a third of all food produced in the world is never eaten. According to the Guardian this wasted food is valued at more than £259bn per year. It is estimated that the amount of food discarded by retailers and consumers could more than feed all the hungry people in the world.

 

In America it is estimated that about 60 million metric tonnes of food, with a value of $162 million, is wasted every year. 32 million metric tonnes of this food ends up in municipal landfills at a cost $1.5 million to local governments.

 

In Europe it is estimated there are 47 million tonnes of avoidable food waste. A study in Europe, carried out by Joint Research Centre, found that Europeans waste an average of 123 kilograms of food per capita annually. That equates to 16% of all food reaching consumers. Almost 80% of that waste is avoidable as the food is edible.

 

Perfectly good food is often thrown out based on the expiry date printed on the lid.  The ‘smell/sniff’ test, used by our parents and grandparents can usually supplement the current expiry date system. For the consumer there is an array of dates to be deciphered including best by, use by and sell by http://voiceireland.org/waste/food-waste-waste/is-food-safe/.

 

From an environmental point of view alone we know that food production requires large quantities of water and land. The fuel needed to produce, process, refrigerate and transport food contributes greatly to the environmental cost. Food thrown thoughtlessly in landfills decomposes and emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

 

Food waste is a global issue. It is a serious economic, environmental and humanitarian issue.

See more at: New York Times 26 February 2015

 

We can each play our part in bringing this scandal to an end.  It begins with our own choices when we shop and select our food.  We can also draw attention to this in social media and in direct communication with supermarkets who supply a great deal of the food we consume.

 

This issue from Fran Brady – 19 August 2015

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ISIS executions of gay men

I read with horror and disgust details of the latest ISIS killing, the hurling of a gay man from the top of a seven story building. This does not appear to have ended the physical and mental torture of the unfortunate individual whose life was finally ended by stoning on the ground below.  All this is reported as conducted in the presence of a watching crowd, children among them.

This is just the latest in a series of ISIS atrocities involving not only the killing of gay men but the public execution of so many others, aid workers, journalists, military personnel and civilians alike, men women and children.

How can we get inside the minds of people who are capable of this type of barbarity, something which we imagine is long lost in the mists of history?

Looking to the latest killing I believe that people who show such hatred of gay people must themselves carry a deep seated fear of their own sexual orientation.  We abhor in others the tendencies that we most abhor in ourselves.

This fear comes from a number of sources.  In the first place it must be based on a primitive instinct that our only purpose in this world must be to procreate the species.  This idea must surely yield to the findings of modern psychology which form the basis of our present day understanding of the human mind.   It is secondly supported by ancient religious texts such as the book of Leviticus. But those who follow blindly the precepts of that writer conveniently put to one side his other admonitions.  Here are a few of them:

You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. (Lev. 19:27)

You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material. (Lev. 19:19)

But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. (Lev. 11-10)

Both your male and female slaves, whom you shall have, shall be of the nations that are round about you; of them shall you buy male and female slaves. (Lev. 25-45)

It has to be admitted that colonial and western interference in the Middle East and elsewhere has given rise to resentment and hatred.  The so called “war on terror” has unleashed far more and more widespread terror than existed previously.

Thich Nhat Hanh the Buddhist monk who has worked tirelessly for peace all his life wisely asked this question following the 9/11 attack: If I were given the opportunity to be face to face with Osama bin Laden, the first thing I would do is listen. I would try to understand why he had acted in that cruel way. I would try to understand all of the suffering that had led him to violence. It might not be easy to listen in that way, so I would have to remain calm and lucid. I would need several friends with me, who are strong in the practice of deep listening, listening without reacting, without judging and blaming. In this way, an atmosphere of support would be created for this person and those connected so that they could share completely and trust that they are really being heard.

So what to do about ISIS?

It is hard to imagine that a violent response can ever eliminate a violent group and those who will be added to their supporters in response to violence.  So there must somehow be dialogue.   It was hard to believe that dialogue might end the tragedy that was Northern Ireland and which claimed over 3,000 victims, not to mention the physically and psychologically wounded, in the last decades of the 20th Century, but dialogue did succeed there and it can and must succeed elsewhere.

Somehow, sometime, someone must initiate a dialogue which will bring understanding and compassion into the hearts of people who continue to cause pain and suffering to others.  If they could walk in our shoes and we in theirs we would see that all of us are seekers of love and happiness.  But love and happiness elude us all in world of violence

There are seeds of inspiring goodness and unspeakable evil lying dormant deep within each one of us. Spiritual writers urge us to water the weeds of goodness in one another and the let the other seeds die for want of support.  Every day gives us the opportunity to do one or the other. So in respect of both these terrifying executioners and their hapless victims we can truly say There but for the grace of God go I.

 

Tony – 1 August 2015

 

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A minimum wage

Discussions in New York concerning the proposal to increase the minimum wage are very important in terms of human dignity and fairness.

There is a certain reluctance to interfere with the “free market”. But there is a need to intervene in a world where the free market has brought about a situation where a tiny minority have vast accumulations of wealth out of proportion to a whole segment of the population of the planet.

A low minimum wage hardly provides for basic subsistence. In exchanging the time of one’s life in order to earn a living a worker is entitled in human dignity to earn a wage that will provide a decent standard of living.

“But this will interfere with competitiveness” some might say.  But let us not destroy lives by a race to the miserable bottom which is where the competitiveness spiral ends.

The idea of an honest days work for an honest days pay may be old fashioned but it is still valid.

Buddhism refers to the virtue of honesty. It advocates the idea of not taking what is not freely given.

When people are paid less than their labour is worth then there is something being taken from them which has not been freely given.  Taking advantage of a low minimum wage is stealing on the part of the employer.

In the same way when people are being fairly paid there is a moral obligation on them to perform their work honestly and to the best of their ability.

Any breakdown of the working of this moral relationship between employer and employee works contrary to the interest of both.

Well done to those in New York who raise for discussion the question of an increase in the minimum wage. Its implementation would offer the prospect of an improved standard of living for many people who are currently living on the margins of survival.  This has to be good for society.

Tony – 28 July 2015

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The Death Penalty

The death penalty is an anachronism in the 21st Century.  I cannot be persuaded that is serves any useful purpose.

As a means of punishment it is simply barbaric.

How can the killing of one person be used as a demonstration of the principle that it is wrong to kill another person?

Happily the European  Union has long since decreed that the death penalty cannot be used as a means of punishment in its jurisdiction.  Indeed some 140 countries across the world have abandoned capital punishment in law or in practice.

There are regrettably still countries in the world using the death penalty. Amazingly the United States of America among the countries where this primitive means of dealing with injustice by way of injustice applies. In the U.S. there have been harrowing accounts of botched executions. These have caused unnecessarily painful deaths for people convicted of crimes for which the penalty is capital punishment.   This is apart altogether from the question of miscarriages of justice coming to light in situations where the execution of the accused has already taken place.

Let us hope that public opinion will soon bring about the end to this practice in all jurisdictions.

Tony – 27 July 2015

 

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