Standing Up To The Madness

Tiananmen Tank Man: This is the iconic photo of the Unknown Rebel, aka Tank Man, who stood up to a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Photo by Jeff Widener (Associated Press) So… this entry is half book review and half call to action. The book is “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times” by Amy Goodman and David Goodman. And the action… well, that’s for you to decide. But you’d better make it good if you want to end up in Amy’s next book!

First, a few words about the book. “Standing Up to the Madness” is a must-read for anyone and everyone who would rather not be a pawn of the powers that be. It explores several examples of situations in which “ordinary” citizens found themselves confronted by some extraordinary injustice and chose to take action against it. In most if not all cases, these were David versus Goliath type stories — a lone individual, or a small group of family members, facing off against heartless bureaucracies and corporations in spite of the personal risk.

At times, this book is as disheartening as the dynamic duo’s last book, and the vast majority of other books and other media that describe the situation in our nation and our world today. Many such reports only serve to raise our ire without giving us any sense of what if anything can be done about it. But with this book, they have chosen — quite wisely, I might add — to reframe the narrative by focusing on everyday citizens like you and I who have done what little they knew how to do in an effort to make a difference in the world.

And on a good day, the difference is made.

If we ever hope to live in a land of real democracy and real freedom, we need more books like this, and more people like the ones described in this book.

As I read this book, and consider the positive impact that this “ordinary hero” approach may have on our society, I’m reminded of the work of Joseph Campbell. If you’re not familiar with his work, I highly recommend that you check it out, starting with the interview series called “The Power of Myth” that he did with Bill Moyers shortly before his death.

You can debate all day whether it’s a matter of hardwiring, or social conditioning, or something else entirely. But at the end of the day, it seems quite clear that human beings understand the world in terms of mythological narratives. These narratives have similar themes and aspects that cross all cultural and ideological boundaries with their stories of archetypal heroes who go on a journey to right some wrong, learn some lesson, or become who they truly are within.

I would argue that the quality of life in any society — and the realization of true freedom and true democracy — is largely dependent on the quality of that society’s mythological narratives. Who is seen as having power in the society? What is seen as important? What is believed to be possible and desirable?

Our understanding of these questions can either keep us in bondage or set us free.

The narrative pushed by the mainstream media is carefully crafted to keep us in bondage. Heroes are rare, superhuman, unreal creatures bestowed with great power by some accident of birth, or some divine intervention, or some marvel of science and material might. We are taught to watch these unrealistic archetypal narratives as a form of catharsis so that we will feel more content with the narrative laid out for the majority of citizens: namely, a life of conformity and consumption. If you live by the rules, work hard at your 9-to-5, and don’t ask too many questions, you’ll earn a fair amount of toys to play with and a life of relative comfort and stability.

That’s the story, anyway.

But this story isn’t terribly empowering. It’s understood that most people will never do anything terribly heroic, and most things in our society will never change. This leaves a lot of people longing for something more… but they seldom know why, or where to find it.

Sadly, the narrative told (somewhat unintentionally) by radicals and revolutionaries is often equally disempowering. The world is ruled by supervillains; politicians like George Bush and corporations like Halliburton and Wal-Mart are at the center of the narrative, weaving a path of death, destruction, and global domination in their wake. Ordinary citizens fight against these titans, and sometimes they even win — but in the end, the Big Corps and Big Govts are the main characters of these stories, and the most heroic action that any citizen can take is to flail wildly in the paths of such behemoths and hope to foil their plans by swarming them.

This narrative is at times quite helpful in mobilizing mass numbers of people to flail in the paths of the behemoths. And sometimes, this strategy is effective at taking out a particularly nasty corporation or politician. But you know what? We can do better than that. We can live in a world where we, the people, are the main characters of the story. We can develop our own narratives, and become our own heroes, working individually and collectively in a proactive and creative manner to create the sort of society that we would like to live in.

That’s one minor shortcoming I do see in “Standing Up to the Madness.” In this narrative, the focus is still on the evils being done by people in power and how we as individuals and communities can stop them. But at least they’ve made the quantum leap in thinking that is essential to any real change — namely, the shift from seeing ourselves as helpless victims to seeing ourselves as the heroes of our own narratives.

So let’s do it, then. Let’s reframe the story of our lives so that we become main characters, perhaps even heroes in our own way. Let’s stand up to the madness. Let’s challenge the Big Corps and Big Govt at every turn. Let’s stop waiting for heroes to come along and rescue us, and start taking concrete actions in our lives wherever we feel the pinch of war, of racism, of classism, of sexism, of homophobia, of ecocide, and beyond.

We are the people we’ve been waiting for. We are the leaders we’ve been looking for. We are the heroes we’ve been dreaming of. And that doesn’t mean that life has to become a dry and bitter struggle against the forces of oppression and injustice. Let us take a step beyond any of the blueprints offered to us, and let us tell a tale of everyday heroes who celebrate life with equal measures of righteous rage and loving creativity. For in our hands, we hold the heroic power of both creation and destruction — the power to foil the plans of even the most epic supervillains, and the power to create communities of freedom and cooperation that outshine any mythological utopia that has come before us.

With that said, I’m off to enjoy the happier half of that equation by spending time with friends at the Sunset Concert tonight. If you like this idea of rewriting the narrative of your own life so that you are a main character, then I highly encourage you to explore it in as many ways as possible. If you desire the company of a fellow adventurer on this journey, you know where to find me.

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Health and Wellness

Vitruvian Man: I included this image of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man image in a blog entry called New Beginnings. Since my earlier Adrenal Burnout entry had used the Vitruvian Man with a frowny face, I used this as a way of establishing continuity with the previousNow that another year of my life has come and gone, I find myself thinking deep thoughts about life, death, the meaning of it all, and the direction that I”m headed in. The lessons that I’ve learned lately and the thoughts that I’m having lately will lead to some definite changes in the way that I approach social and ecological projects. I’ll have more news on that soon, once I’ve sorted out more of the details. In the meantime, I have a bit to say on the importance of health and wellness in any quest for personal empowerment and/or social transformation.

Good health is one of the most tangible, enduring, and foundational forms of personal empowerment available to us. With a healthy body, mind, and heart, each of us becomes a master of our own destiny, possessing the material and spiritual resources necessary to face any challenge and accomplish any goal. Of course, a person with no money, no political power, no companions, and so on will face many more challenges and delays than a person with wealth, power, and numerous allies. But even a pauper without a friend in the world can often accomplish great things if they have the energy, the vision, and the passion to do so. All of these qualities and more bubble forth from the wellspring of good physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

But how is such health achieved? This question has been on the minds of much of humanity for millennia. Really, there isn’t a simple and universal answer. Each human is a unique creature, and the health needs of our species in general have been complicated and mutated by millennia of toxic foods, toxic psycho-social dynamics, and other forms of “unnatural selection.” As such, there is no cure-all approach to health and wellness that can solve all of humanity’s health problems, or even necessarily the health problems of any individual.

The good news, though, is that there are specific and tangible things that each of us can do to improve our health and the health of our communities.

I think that for a lot of people, the first step is to change the way that we think of pursuing good health. Many of us, myself included, tend to see the pursuit of good health as some sort of burden or buzzkill, kinda like homework or chores. And if you’re rigid and uncreative about it, healthy living really can be seem like some sort of masochistic self-punishment. But really, even if you achieve some sort of diet or exercise goal that way, you’re still not achieving emotional health in the process, otherwise you’d be happier about what you’re doing.

On a personal level, I think it’s important to think of health as something empowering and exciting rather than a chore to be worked on. For a long time now, I’ve been depressed and pessimistic about my health challenges, so I allowed myself to start viewing physical health tasks such as diet and exercise as chores. For the sake of my emotional and mental health, I abandoned these chores in favor of more fun activities such as spending time with friends, spending time online, and eating comfort foods that weren’t contributing to good health.

But lately, I’ve been starting to bring the fun back into good health practices. I find that I actually have more fun and feel better about myself when I’m well-rested, well-fed, and participating in healthy forms of physical activity such as yoga and casual exercise/sports with friends (frisbee, whiffleball, walking, climbing trees, etc). Now, instead of seeing the pursuit of good health as a burden, I’m starting to see it as a foundation for all of the good experiences I have in life. I look for forms of exercise that are fun, healthy foods that are delicious, and social activities that are emotionally and intellectually stimulating. This more integrative approach to pursuing and maintaining good health releases me from all of the counterproductive guilt and rigidity of a more chore-oriented health program, while also releasing me from the aches, exhaustion, sickness, and anxiety that result for me when I completely abandon any thought of health or wellness.

This renewed pursuit of good health is still new for me, and the more integrative approach to healthy living is even newer for me. But I feel like I’m already seeing some of the benefits, and I’d really like to see other people I know talking and thinking and acting along similar lines.

This isn’t a purely individualistic issue, though. Good health can be immensely satisfying and personally empowering, but it’s also a crucial social issue. Individuals who are robustly healthy are able to participate more effectively, productively, and creatively in society and social change movements. And a society that neglects the health and wellness of its citizens is putting itself on the fast track to epidemic illness, social unrest, economic recession, and ultimately self-destruction.

Currently, we live in a culture of consumption, extraction, and destruction. Emphasis is placed on the quantity of economic growth, not the quality of human development. This logic of infinite growth and consumption is the logic of a cancer cell, tearing mercilessly through its host — in this case, Planet Earth — without considering the consequences for individual humans, human societies, the species as a whole, or the planet. This way of thinking and living permeates every aspect of our culture and every aspect of our personal, social, economic, and political lives. If we want to turn the tides on this trend and create human societies that embrace the cycle of life, death, and birth, then we have to draw the line somewhere.

As societies, we can draw that line in all sorts of complex and comprehensive ways. As individuals, though, the final point of no return is you — your body, your mind, your heart, and your spirit. If you really want to challenge this logic of global destruction, you must start by challenging it in the innermost recesses of yourself and your life. And the challenge starts with finding approaches to health and wellness that are both effective and enjoyable.

So far, my practice of this way of thinking is still in its infancy. But I hope to talk with other people about it too and see what we can come up with together. And especially since we live in a society where health insurance is a scarce resource, I think it’s essential for us to talk about health with each other and see what we can do to co-create health in our families, among our circles of friends, in our communities, and ultimately in our societies.

I’m excited about this. I want to spend more time on personal and social activities that make me feel healthy and happy and active and empowered. I want to start some sort of informal group that seeks out physical and social activities that strengthen our bodies and open our hearts. We can be urban and arboreal adventurers, seeking out games, hikes, and other forms of recreation that are fun, exciting, energizing, and supportive of our physical fitness and social togetherness.

In the meantime, I highly encourage you to do whatever it is that you feel will help you to become both healthier and happier. Maybe that will be yoga for you as it has been for me. Maybe it’ll be jogging, or sports, or getting enough rest, or improving your emotional or social health through time with friends or creative/inspiring activities that you don’t usually make time for. Whatever it is, though, take heart in the knowledge that no matter what else may be going on around you, there is something you can do to make yourself healthier, happier, and ultimately more prepared for whatever else the world may be sending your way.

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Poll: Short Stories

I’m thinking of publishing short stories individually: $1 for PDF with a print/PDF compilation for $10-ish, What do you think?

Vote in the Poll

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Spring Equinox 2008

I am pleased to wish you a happy Spring Equinox! At 12:48 AM CDT, the sun crossed directly over the equator. From this point forward, our days will be longer than our nights, and the flowers and buds of Spring will be flowering and budding all around us. This is a time for new life, new hope, deep healing, and reawakening passions and pleasures. HOORAY FOR SPRING!

On a sadder note, I am dramatically less pleased to announce that today is also the 5th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. About 4,000 U.S. troops — our family, friends, and neighbors — have died in this war, and many thousands more have been wounded, permanently disabled, or otherwise harmed. I would cite how many Iraqis have been killed or wounded, but as the illustrious General Tommy Franks said, “We don’t do body counts.” The number of Iraqis killed and wounded, though, is many times higher than our own losses.

So take a moment, if you will, to bear witness to the horrors of war that have been unleashed and sustained by certain heartless men in Washington DC and their accomplices across the nation. Take a moment to mourn for the fallen, and take a moment to act in some way to ensure that this occupation will end, the killing will stop, and our family, friends, and neighbors will come home.

But once you’ve taken your moment to bear witness, and to mourn, and to act, remember that today is the Spring Equinox — a day of new life, new hope, deep healing, and reawakening passions and pleasures. Remember to be joyful on this day, because after all that the war mongers have already done, we must not let them take the joyful celebration of Spring away from us. This is not their day; this is our day, and this is the Earth’s day. Go outside, enjoy the warmth and the sunshine, and celebrate the fact that even with all of the troubles in the world, the land is still teeming with the exuberance and excitement of Spring.

Seize the Day! Spend time with the ones you love, explore the great outdoors, and enjoy all that life has to offer! This is our moment in the sun, and we should enjoy it while it lasts…

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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