Author Archive

Social media is changing so much about the human condition. Because it allows us to interact with people all over the world almost instantaneously, it almost seems as if space and time really don’t exist! It allows us to share our success and our “blunders”, our joy and our sorrow, our passions and our peeves, our humor and our outrage. It allows for the amazing occurrence of a child’s wish to be a superhero to come true and warm hearts all over the world. It helps lost pets and lost people come home safely. It provides words of encouragement to those who are injured or ill from places we may never get a chance to visit. As with all new technologies, however,  that same lack of space and time can also be abused.

I’m going to highlight tw0 recent incidents. One was recently addressed in this column by Therese Wilson. It involved a graphic that went viral around Facebook concerning stores that were going to be open on Thanksgiving.  Those displaying the graphic pledged not to shop on Thanksgiving. The not-so-subtle message of the graphic was that these stores were “anti-American” and “anti-family” and were holiday grinches for forcing people to be away from their families on Thanksgiving Day. Some of the comments suggested that these stores be boycotted throughout the holiday season to “teach them a lesson”.

As Therese pointed out, many people need to work on holidays because of the need for money. She also noted that many families don’t want to be together on Thanksgiving for many different reasons. I personally question the appropriateness of celebrating an event that was the start of the biggest genocide in the history of humanity: the slaughter of the Native American tribes that were living here when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. I also work in EMS and, for us (as well as many other essential services providers), there are no holidays or weekends. I worked on Thanksgiving and I’ll probably be working on Christmas and New Year’s Eve as well. But in reading the comments that many posted to this graphic, I was taken aback by the intense anger and sometimes hatred that was oozing out of the words on my computer screen.

As soon as the graphic appeared, people began jumping on the bandwagon and sharing it, reposting it and leaving comments about it. Hardly anyone stopped to think about the other side of the story: the people who wanted/needed to work, the people who had no family to spend the holiday with, the people for whom the holiday had a less than pleasant association (which in addition to those who feel as I do about the holiday included those who had lost a loved one near Thanksgiving or who had experienced some other traumatic or life-altering news around the holiday). I, for one, was thankful that there was a gas station open that day because we needed fuel for the ambulance and food for the crew.

Believe me, I am under no illusion that the corporate bigwigs did this for the benefit of the workers. Big business, for the most part, doesn’t seem to care about the workers. But their motivation for staying open on Thanksgiving is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that there are already many businesses that are open 24/7/365, either out of necessity or policy. There have always been people who have had to work on Thanksgiving (or any other holiday) and many people enjoy or want the extra pay. It is not for us to judge another’s actions! Quite frankly, if my only choices were to go shopping on Thanksgiving or sit around and watch football, I’d go shopping. (Thankfully, those were not my only choices!)

The next incident involved a gay waitress, a former Marine,  who posted a photo of the receipt allegedly given to her by a family that had a note written on it expressing their inability to tip her due to her “lifestyle”. Within 24 hours, the picture had been reposted thousands of times and people from all over the world began sending money to this waitress to make up for the tip she was allegedly denied. Comments slamming the family and Christianity for their views on homosexuality were rampant and many of them were very ugly. The waitress promised to give a portion of the money she received to the Wounded Warrior Project and she was hailed by many as a real heroine.

Apparently, however, the whole thing is a hoax. Reports now say that the charity has no record of receiving any donation from the waitress. The military says the woman was dishonorably discharged for not showing up for drills. Former co-workers are saying the woman has a history of lying. To the best of my knowledge, the woman hasn’t made any comment about the allegations of a hoax.

Once again, people jumped on the bandwagon and began saying some very ugly and hateful things about a family they didn’t know. A family who was able to prove that they had, in fact, tipped the woman by providing a copy of their credit card bill and a photo of the check without the written note on it.  But there were still people who suggested that the family had forged the credit card bill and photo. Yet the family was never named in the story! So no one knew who they were. Why would they risk exposing themselves to the hatred that was being aimed at them to provide a forged copy of a credit card statement or photo? They chose to remain anonymous but they said they came forward to set the record straight. The woman has been suspended from her job pending an investigation and may even face criminal charges if it was, in fact, a hoax.

These are just a few examples in a rising phenomenon. Sometimes the stories are warnings to motorists not to stop if you get eggs thrown on your windshield because it’s the latest way robbers are getting people to stop their cars. Almost every one of these is a hoax but they get reposted over and over. (I’d say every one but I’m sure I haven’t seen every one, but of all the ones I’ve seen, they have all been hoaxes.) Sometimes it’s a story about a parent whose child is found wondering in the streets and the parent is lambasted online as being a horrible human being for not noticing their child was not in the house. (Having fallen asleep while nursing my youngest son and wakening to find my oldest son (who was still only 3 1/2 apparently missing from the house (he was actually under a pile of blankets in the middle of the bed, but I didn’t know it at the time I went running around outside looking for him), I know that it’s possible even among caring and conscientious parents!) Sometimes it’s a story about an apparent crime and the alleged perpetrator is tried, convicted and sentenced by the jury of social media users. So much for innocent until proven guilty!

The anonymity of the internet aids in this phenomenon of jumping on the bandwagon. We’re usually not held responsible for our words that are printed on a computer screen because many times, the “person” is just someone that’s been made up to give voice to those things we’re unwilling to allow others to know we feel or think or believe. We allow our “alter-ego” to post all the hateful and angry things that our family and friends would be shocked to hear coming out of our mouths. It’s also much easier to post a comment that gets lost among the thousands of comments on a page of someone you  don’t know, have never met and probably will never meet.  It can almost seem therapeutic to allow yourself to vent in this apparently harmless manner.

But is it really harmless? The incidences of cyber-bullying are on the rise. There have already been high profile cases of mostly teens who have committed suicide after being bullied online.

Our thoughts, expressed as words on the screen, are still energy that is being put out into the universe. And what we put out comes back to us. We are still judging the actions of others. Still judging their beliefs. Still judging their thoughts. And as you treat another, so shall you be treated because we are all One! When you berate another, you berate yourself. When you condemn another, you condemn yourself. When you belittle another, you belittle yourself.

Oneness is more than just a new thought concept: it is an ultimate reality. And when we experience our words coming home to roost in our own lives, we will finally understand.

Mercy Over Justice

Recently someone made a comment to me about being grateful that she had learned to strive for mercy over justice. My first reaction was to wish that more people felt the same way that she did, until I realized that the difference between mercy and justice is that you don’t seek revenge when you are striving for mercy. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a wonderful difference! And if it were up to me, everyone would strive for mercy over justice. The problem is that both mercy and justice imply that there is an absolute right and wrong.

In the CwG material, God makes is perfectly clear that there is no right and wrong and that no one acts inappropriately given their view of the world. All the same, sometimes it’s very difficult not to jump on the justice bandwagon.

  • When a young girl is shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to ask for the opportunity to be educated, it’s hard to remember that no one did anything inappropriate given their view of the world.
  • When tens of thousands of people who are dying from AIDS can’t afford the medication that pharmaceutical companies charge tens of thousands of dollars for a year’s supply, drugs that would allow them to live a relatively normal life, it’s hard to remember there is no right or wrong.
  • When innocent children are blown up by bombs fired from miles away or dropped from planes miles in the air or fired from drones, it’s hard not to want justice for the fact that their life was cut short by callous war-mongers.
  • When millions of people are struggling simply to survive and 1% of the world controls over 95% of its wealth, it’s hard to remember that no one is acting inappropriately given their view of the world.

But in Ultimate Reality, there is no need for justice or mercy because every thought, every word, every deed is always working towards our highest good! Does that mean we stand by when young girls are denied an education simply for being female? Does this mean we do nothing when people die because they can’t afford their medicine? Does this mean we don’t care when innocents are killed in wars (of all sorts!)? Does this mean we remain silent as the uber-rich get even richer exploiting the desperate poor?

Absolutely not! Unless standing by, doing nothing, not caring or remaining silent speaks to your soul as your truth.

It is often difficult for us to believe that the soul of another would choose extreme poverty to help us be able to express compassion or generosity. However, we can point to the firefighter who runs into a burning building to rescue a complete stranger to show that we humans have the capacity to sacrifice ourselves— sometimes our very lives— for others.

But for most— I know it was (and still is at times!) for me— it is even more difficult to wrap our heads around the idea that some would choose to act so selfishly greedy or so callously hurtful to help us to express compassion or generosity. It is hard for us to see this as a sacrifice on the part of the rich or war-mongering. And yet, because it goes against the very nature of our soul (such behavior is NOT in keeping with the self-sustaining nature of life!), it is a form of self- sacrifice to subject your soul to such behaviors and to live your entire life promoting such unsustainable endeavors.

Selfishness, greed, war-mongering, hatred: none of these are “right” or “wrong”. But neither are they self-sustaining and, as such, are probably not the best choices for something we should all strive to emulate. However, all these unsustainable behaviors and actions are necessary at this point in our evolutionary process in order for the rest of us to be able to demonstrate, express and experience compassion and empathy and generosity, which are self-sustainable.

So the next time you have the urge to curse the uber-rich, the war-mongers, the greedy and anyone else whose behavior upsets you or goes against what you deeply believe, stop yourself! Instead, bless them. Thank them for their sacrifice and then demonstrate and express your compassion, empathy and generosity to your fellow inhabitants of planet Earth.

Crimes and Godliness

This idea has been swimming in my head for a very long time. At one point in time, I was corresponding with more than 30 inmates in various correctional institutions around the country. The charges ranged from simple burglary to murder. One was even on death row.

I got to know them as men and women, not as criminals. They wrote about their families and about their dreams and their hopes for the future. They were poets, songwriters and artists. Several times a week, my mailbox would be graced with an envelope that was beautifully decorated by an inmate. I used to have a collage of many of these works of art, but sadly, I lost it in a house fire.

I was inspired by these men and women to rethink my ideas about those who commit crimes. To see them not as someone who got what they deserved, as “low life” who don’t deserve any of the “good things” in life, but as a human being who had made some ineffective choices.

I am aware that most people see the justice system as a means of making sure the criminal “gets what s/he deserves”, but I have long seen the justice system as a means of “rehabilitating” those incarcerated within its prison walls. It long ago ceased to make any sense to me to throw these people into cages, treat them like animals, deny them access to any means of bettering themselves and then, when we release them, to be surprised that they return to a life of crime!

A recent insight that came to me is that most crime is about trying to feel in control in a world that feels out of control on so many levels. Those who work in rape crisis centers have long been aware that rape is not a sex crime: it is a crime about power and control. Those who work in women’s shelters have long been aware that domestic violence is not about uncontrollable anger but about power and control over another. (The other crimes are where people just don’t think—they have a momentarily lapse of judgment and make a “stupid” decision. Like someone who shoplifts a cigarette lighter when they have the money in their pocket to pay for it.)

In the CwG material, God tells us that no one does anything inappropriate given his/her view of the world. And then recently, in What God Said, I read:

  • [T]he Conversations with God theology suggests that the only motivation that makes sense to our Soul is the goal of experiencing, expressing, and demonstrating Divinity. So we will, as enlightened beings, seek to do “what works” to produce that experience from moment to moment.

It was a sort of “Aha!” moment for me. How “enlightened” we are will determine “what works” for us to produce that experience of Divinity. And what, at its base, is the experience of Divinity? That of creating the life that we choose. And for those who are “less enlightened”, this is experienced as being the one who calls the shots. Being “in control.”

This logically leads to one conclusion: a criminal is seeking to express and demonstrate their view and understanding of Divinity! The creative energy that is part of that divinity manifests as taking control of others to create the world they want when they want it! It is “what works” for them to fulfill that drive to experience Divinity. Until they get caught.

It’s already evident that “getting tough on crime” doesn’t work. Rather than seeking harsher penalties and more jail time for those who have violated the social mores of their culture, perhaps it would be more effective to help them find further enlightenment so the next time they choose to express their Divinity, no one else is adversely affected.

In Their Shoes

I believe that one of the secrets to a more loving world is empathy. Being able, even for just a second, to put yourself in another’s shoes in even the smallest way will enhance our feeling of Oneness while decreasing the amount of judgment we all encounter in our daily lives. It will increase our level of acceptance and tolerance and diminish the sense of superiority that allows us to justify the harmful way that we treat others at times.

Some kinds of empathy are easier to get in touch with than others. When someone’s family member or beloved pet transitions to the “spirit world”, most of us can empathize with the sense of lose that is felt. We have no problem empathizing with those who experience great joy and happiness at the birth of a child or the promotion they’ve been waiting for or the pride that swells in their heart seeing their child perform in the kindergarten play as the third hippopotamus or score that first goal in a football or soccer game.

But there are other kinds of empathy we seek to avoid, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. Empathy for things we have deemed “evil” or “wrong” or “bad” is often not something we are consciously willing to allow ourselves to feel. We seem to think that if we can empathize with a murderer or a rapist or an abuser or a thief that part of us becomes a murderer, rapist, abuser or thief. This is not a comfortable feeling for us: we want to think of ourselves as “better” than that, as more spiritually aware, as more “saintly” or more “pure” or simply as a decent human being. We don’t want to admit that we are the same as, that we are One with, those whose faces are plastered on the evening news or are put into jail or even executed for their actions.

Throughout the Conversations with God material, God says that man, in relationship to God, is just as a drop of ocean water is to the ocean: the drop of water is the same as the ocean, differing only in degree. And the same is true of empathy: we have all felt the same feelings that motivate murderers, rapists, abusers and thieves: we just have not felt them to the same degree, therefore the resulting behaviors are different. I realize there are other factors governing behavior, including beliefs, past experiences (whether remembered or not), level of maturity (emotional and spiritual), etc.  This is not an attempt to make a direct and exclusive cause and effect connection between feelings and actions. It’s an attempt to demonstrate that we are all more alike than most of us want to admit.

Have you ever gotten so frustrated with your child that you said something like “You are so stupid sometimes!” or “Stop being a spoiled brat!” or reached out and slapped their hand or their backside? Then you’ve done and felt, in a small way, the same thing a child abuser does and feels.

Have you ever gotten into an argument with your spouse/partner and started scream at them “I hate you! You are such as idiot!” or thrown something across the room, not even in their direction or simply not spoken to them for days at a time because you were so angry? You’ve behaved, to a lesser degree, just like an abusive partner in a domestic violence situation.

Have you ever been driving down the street and flipped off a driver who cut you off or laid on your horn at someone who didn’t go as soon as the light was green or got as close to someone’s back bumper as you could without hitting them because they did something to anger you? You’ve acted, in a small way, like someone with road rage.

Have you ever found a $10 bill lying on the ground in the grocery store and just picked it up and put it in your pocket? Or, knowing you were out of bandaids at home, and you’re sitting in an exam room waiting to be seen by a doctor, you open a cabinet and pocket a dozen bandaids? Or you’re walking though a grocery store and you’re so hungry your stomach is growling so you pop a few grapes in your mouth or a piece of candy from the bulk foods bins? Have you ever called in sick when you weren’t and gotten paid for it? Ever called a friend to punch you in on time cause you were running late or, if you still fill in time sheets, ever pad your time sheet with 15 minutes here and there? Have you ever surfed the internet while at work even though your company policy doesn’t allow it? You have, in a small way, acted just like a thief.

Have you ever bought a mouse trap, knowing it was going to kill the mouse it caught? Or have you ever killed a whole lot of mosquitoes or house flies or spiders that were infesting your house? Have you ever struck someone in anger or frustration or even pain? Have you ever driven home when you had had too much to drink? Then you have, in a small way, behaved just like a murderer.

Have you ever intentionally scared someone you knew hated being scared just to laugh at their reaction? Have you ever held someone down and tickled them even if they were yelling, “No! Please stop!” Have you ever given your partner the silent treatment because they didn’t want to be physically intimate and you did? Then you have, in a small way, behaved just like a rapist.

Have you ever forgotten, even once, to provide food or water to a pet? Have you ever forgotten, even once, to pick up your child from a friend’s house or from an after school activity? Have you ever, even once, had to backtrack because you forgot to drop your child off at the sitter or at daycare on your way to work? Then you have behaved, in a small way, like child or animal abusers.

When you’re watching shows like  the “American Idol” audition episodes where they make fun of some of the contestants for their abilities or the way they dress or their behaviors, do you laugh and join in from home? Have you ever made fun of someone because of their weight or what they look like? Do you use the word “gay” to mean the same thing as “stupid” or “ridiculous”? Do you ever call someone a “retard” or a “bitch” or any other derogatory term in anger? Then you have behaved, in a small way, just like a bully.

But, I can hear you saying, those are not the same thing as being a murderer or a rapist or an abuser or a thief or a bully!

And you are correct! It’s not the same…anymore than a drop ocean water is the same thing as the ocean….

Unwritten Messages

Social media is the rage the world over. Everyone of us has that friend on social media who does almost nothing but post graphics with “inspirational” sayings. But it would behoove us to really LOOK at those inspirational messages before we share them with our friends and family because many times, there is a subtle, unwritten message that is also being shared. I’ve collected just a few examples over the last two weeks.

Never push a loyal person to the point
where they no longer give a damn.

The intent of the message, I believe, is to warn people not to push someone too far or too often because even the most loyal person will say “If that’s what you want…” and stop coming around. The unwritten message here is that others have control of your thoughts, emotions and actions. Someone can “push” you and make you not care anymore is what this message is saying. It reinforces the idea that others can “make us” feel things or not feel things.

Treat people the way you want to be treated.
Talk to people the way you want to be talked to.
Respect is earned, not given.

I can wholeheartedly support the first two lines of this one, but once you get to the third line, you’re essentially unsaying everything you just said! How can I “earn” your respect if I have never met you? This meme seems to suggests that you should only treat people the way you want to be treated if you respect them, which means that you have to get to know them first so they have a chance to “earn” your respect. Which is the complete utter opposite of what the actual Golden Rule implies!

 Don’t waste words on people who deserve your silence.  Sometimes the most powerful think you can say is nothing at all.
(Mandy Hole)

Now we have the reverse situation. I can agree with the last line, but not the first line. Why? Because NO ONE deserves your silence.  We are all one. Not talking to someone because they “deserve” your silence is like saying “I’m not going to feed my right foot tonight.” Maybe your words, spoken in and motivated by Love, to someone who is “deserving” of silence is what it will take to heal the situation.

Sometimes you give up on people not because you don’t care but because they don’t.

I may have actually shared this one before I really thought about it. But giving up on someone is NOT a loving thing to do. How do you know that they don’t care? Even if they have said so, that may just be them trying to “look strong” or hide their real feelings out of fear of being hurt again. And if they really don’t care, then they really don’t care about themselves and they need unconditional Love even more! Love will always support everyone!

Spend your time to [sic] those who love you unconditionally…not with those who love you only when the condition is right for them.

This meme is advising you to only love those who love you unconditionally and avoid those who love conditionally. In other words, become someone you wouldn’t spend time with because you’re loving someone conditionally! (ie, on the condition they love you unconditionally!)

 Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do ‘cause hate in your heart will consume you.

The intent of this one, I believe, is to not let yourself be consumed with hate! I can agree with the part about hate in your heart, but no one can make you mad or make you feel disrespected unless you allow them to. And the implication is that God will punish them later for it so you don’t have to worry about it, which reinforces the idea of a vengeful, angry God who must be appeased.

I believe we are who we choose to be.
Nobody is going to come and save you.
You’ve got to save yourself.
Nobody is gonna give you anything.
You’ve got to go out and fight for it.
Nobody knows what you want except you and
Nobody will be as sorry as you if you don’t get it.
So don’t give up on your dreams.

This one sandwiches good advice around a foul meaty middle. The bit about saving yourself is a bit sketchy because there’s really nothing to save yourself from other than the illusions you may be buying into. And in that sense, you DO have to save yourself because you are the only thinker in your mind. It’s your beliefs that need to change and you’re the only one who can change them. But you don’t have to “fight” for anything. There is no lack in the world. That is one of the five fallacies about life.

When you have a good heart
You help too much
You trust too much
You give too much
You love too much
And it always seems you hurt the most.

The unwritten message here is that having a good heart means you’re going to have a life full of pain. Yes, you can help too much. It’s called enabling. Yes, you can give too much. It too is called enabling. But you cannot trust or Love too much. And nothing can hurt you unless you allow it to! Your soul is indestructible. Your soul is immune to harm of any sort. In fact, you can really do nothing BUT Love because Love is all there is.

When people walk away, let them.
Your future is not about people who walk away.
It’s about people who stay in it for the ride.

Yes, you let people walk away if they choose to. That’s respecting their free will. But someone who is an abuser will not walk away and will stay “for the ride”. Someone who enjoys taking advantage of others or feels entitled to take what they want from others will “stay for the ride”. You must Love yourself AND them enough to say “This is enough!” [Note: I fully understand there are no victims and there are no villains. The use of the term “abuser” is for the sake of ease in understanding.]

And finally, la pièce de resistance:

Share this within 2 minutes if you believe in God
and he’ll do you a huge favor!

This has got to be one of my all-time favorites for memes with unwritten messages. I had no idea that God was out there with a stop-watch checking to see if you’ve shared a graphic before he’d do anything for you! How many of the fallacies about God does this embrace? I’m thinking at least the first three! God needs you to share this message so he can help you! And you MIGHT not do it so he may fail to be able to help you. And if you don’t give him what he needs, he’s not going to help you (separate himself from you)!

Words are an enigma in many ways. The power of words to hurt you is inversely proportional to your understanding that the only power words have is the power you give them. If you believe that being called fat and lazy is hurtful, then you will be hurt when you are called fat and lazy. If you believe that being called fat and lazy are simply words that another person is using to express their anger and frustration because they don’t understand why their life is the way it is, then being called fat and lazy won’t bother you. It may, in fact (hopefully), cause you to feel empathy and compassion for the person who is calling you fat and lazy because they don’t understand something that would allow their life to be so easy for them.

I have often been told that I am too wordy. And I cannot disagree. I often say the same thing in an article half a dozen times in half a dozen ways so that I do everything in my power to make sure that what I am saying is clear. That there is minimal room for misunderstanding. Unfortunately, the craze of graphic memes that fills the pages of social media has exactly the opposite goal: use as few words as possible to get their message across. And that means the message is often self-contradictory and open to misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

It’s so very easy to simply click the “share” link and spread the messages of these memes to all your Facebook friends. But before you do, take a few minutes to make sure that the message you are sending is one of Love.

(Shelly Strauss is a civil rights activist and speaker.  In addition to becoming an ordained minister, she has written 20-plus novels and is the “resident visionary” at One Spirit Project.  Shelly is also a spiritual helper on the ChangingChange website, offering support and guidance to people faced with unexpected and unwelcome change .)

February 7 is the opening day of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Traditionally, nations have put aside their differences, toned down their mutual antagonistic rhetoric and come together to celebrate the accomplishment of some of the world’s best athletes. For their part, the athletes have trained, some for years and years, to win a spot on the coveted Olympic team and take their shot at getting a gold medal.

 The Olympics, however, are no stranger to controversy and political agendas.

– Athletes have been stripped of their medals when it is discovered, even if years later, that they violated Olympic rules. American runner Marion Jones was stripped of all of the medals she won in the 2000 Summer Olympics after she admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.

– Athletes have found ingenious ways to cheat. In 1972, a member of the Soviet modern pentathlete competition used an epee with a modified handle that would register a hit, even a false one, when a button in the pommel was pushed.

– Nations have boycotted the Olympics in protest of the host country’s policies or actions (In 1976, 22 African nations boycotted the games after New Zealand’s soccer tour of South Africa. In 1980, the US led a boycott of the Moscow games to protest the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and in 1984, Russia “retaliated” by leading a boycott of the Los Angeles games, although the official reason given was lack of security for their athletes.)

– A nation’s athletes have been banned for policies of their government. In 1964, South Africa was suspended from competing due to their nation’s policy of apartheid. The suspension wasn’t lifted until 1992.

– Individual athletes have used the Olympics as a platform to bring awareness to social issues such as the racial discrimination. Two American runners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gave the “Black power” salute during the 1968 medal award ceremony.

– Terrorists have struck at the Olympics, most recently in 1972 when 11 athletes, coaches and judges from Israel were murdered by Palestinian terrorists.

– Judges have been known to play favorites. In the 1988 games held in Seoul, South Korean boxer Park Si-Hun was declared the winner despite being pummeled by his American opponent, who landed 86 punches to Park’s 32.

– Judges have also been known to “trade votes.” The French judge in the 2002 figure skating competition supposedly admitted to voting for the Russian pair to win so that the Russian judge would vote for the French pair in ice dancing.

– Athlete’s personal views, opinions and comments, when expressed on social media, have been known to get them into trouble. In 2012, Greek suspended their female triple jumper after she made what many consider a racial post on Twitter and Switzerland expelled one of their soccer players for a racist and threatening post on Twitter.

Now a new controversy has arisen. Earlier this year, the Russian government enacted a very strict, discriminatory and dangerous law against any sort of “propaganda” that condones or encourages minors to view nontraditional sexual relations as equal to traditional sexual relations. The law is vaguely worded and does not define either “propaganda” or “nontraditional sexual relations,” so there is very real potential that both athletes, their family members, support staff and coaches, commentators and camera crews as well as foreign attendees to the Sochi Olympics may find themselves locked up in a Russian prison for violation of the law and face fines, imprisonment and/or deportation.

It is clear that the law is having a very negative and dangerous, even deadly, effect on gay Russian citizens. Transgendered and gay Russians have been severely beaten, tortured and raped and many of the attacks have been filmed, some even finding their way onto YouTube. (Why anyone would want to watch such a video is beyond me. I do not need to witness the terrorizing of another human being to know that it occurs.) At least one gay man has died from the injuries he sustained during one of these attacks.

Human rights groups the world over are outraged at this development so near to the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Many are calling for a boycott of the Sochi games. Others are calling for the banning of Russian athletes from the games, much as South Africa was banned from participation for endorsing apartheid.

The problem is that if Russian athletes are banned because of the Russian government’s attitude towards gays, American and Ugandan athletes (among others) would also have to be banned since both those governments also have discriminatory laws against gays on their books. (Given the recent changes in laws in the US, it may come down to banning athletes from specific states that still have DOMA laws on the books.)

For its part, the IOC said it has received assurances from Russia that foreign athletes, coaches, commentators, crews and tourists will not be targeted and will be safe. The IOC has no plans to change the games’ location or ban Russian athletes.

How should we as individuals concerned with the spiritual evolution of humanity respond to this situation? When I mentioned the call to boycott to a co-worker, s/he replied that the Olympics should not be politicized. That the focus should be on the athletic competition. I countered that to do nothing would be tacitly endorsing the discrimination. In response, I was asked, “If someone punches you in the face and you turn the other cheek, are you tacitly endorsing violence?” Isn’t turning the other cheek what you do if you profess to support nonviolence?

Initially, I didn’t know how to respond because I do believe in non-violence. I also agree that the Olympics should not be used as a political platform and that athletes shouldn’t have to pay for the actions of their governments. I also believe in turning the other cheek, which I take to mean not retaliating in kind. If someone acts out of fear or loathing or even hatred towards me, I do not respond with anger or return the hatred or fear. (That doesn’t mean I allow myself to be “used” as a doormat either!) So I pondered the “pros” and “cons” of the major proposed responses: boycott the games, ban Russian athletes or allow the games to go on as scheduled.

The Russian government stands to make millions of dollars from hosting the Olympics. A boycott of the Olympics would most certainly be felt in all sectors of Russian society. The money has already been spent to build the venues and the accommodations for the athletes and coaches. This is money that, one way or another, came straight from Russian citizens. But can the Russian citizens be held accountable for the policies of their government when there is no way to accurately gauge if the citizens support the policy? (The actions of a violent-prone minority most certainly do not represent the opinions of the entire citizenry any more than the actions of a few Islamic terrorists on 9/11 represent all Muslims.) On the other hand, doing nothing could be viewed as tacitly supporting the oppressive laws.

And then there’s the athletes. For some, this may be their only chance at competing in the Olympics. Is it fair to ask them to give up a life-long dream when it’s not yet clear how this law is going to impact gays in the long run? (Remember, sometimes all it takes is a spark to ignite a raging inferno and this may be the spark that ignites the Russian citizenry to stand up for human rights!) Furthermore, similar national laws have, in the past, been voided because of the very vagueness that makes them so dangerous and threatening. By banning certain athletes, are we not also politicizing the Olympics? Retaliating in kind? NOT turning the other cheek?

I was getting nowhere. Thinking myself in circles (as I often do!) So I took a couple deep breaths, looked inside and decided to take a look at this through the lens of Love.

Right and wrong/good and bad are all relative to the contextual field in which they’re found and according to the beliefs and perceptions of each individual. No one acts inappropriately given their view of the world. No one is a victim. There are no villains. Everyone is a co-creator of their reality: distorted, observed or actual.

It cannot be denied that the Russian anti-gay laws have brought the issue of equality for gays to the forefront in a way that has allowed people all over the world to witness the injurious effects of discrimination and the damage caused by the belief in superiority and separateness. The horrific videos have made the abstract idea of “torture” something very real and, to many, unacceptable. The faces of the young teens being harassed by Russian skin heads personalize this hatred and fear and many adults looking at this are thinking “That could be my child!” They begin to see themselves in others.

This provides an opening for a new conversation on what it means to be a human being and why we believe what we believe about being separate from each other and from Life/Love/God. The Olympic platform provides a stage in front of a world-wide audience in which that new conversation can be carried on. A way in which the message of Love/Life/Freedom/Goddess can be seen and heard by billions! Let us honor the sacrifice of our Russian brothers and sisters by having that conversation, even if it’s just with the guy sitting next to us at the bar while we watch the giant slalom or the woman next to us on the bus whose reading about the figure skating results or just with our own children. Let us help them remember the 25th core message given to us by God/dess: We are all One! Ours is not a better way. Ours is merely a different way.

(Shelly Strauss is a civil rights activist and speaker.  In addition to becoming an ordained minister, she has written 20-plus novels and is the “resident visionary” at One Spirit Project.  Shelly is also a spiritual helper on the ChangingChange website, offering support and guidance to people faced with unexpected and unwelcome change .)

Holy humor

I’m going to date myself here, but I grew up watching Laugh In and the Carol Burnett Show. I still laugh hysterically if I see a clip of Arte Johnson in his yellow raincoat riding a tricycle and simply tipping over or Ruth Buzzi as Gladys Ormphby. I can’t help but smile if I hear “Sock it to me!” or “Here comes the judge!” or “My name is Edith Ann and I’m six years old.” I get a bit teary eyed hearing “I’m so glad we had this time together” and I can’t think of Tim Conway without thinking of Harvey Korman. I remember sitting around the big colored TV in the living room with my entire family and not a minute went by without us at least chuckling.

The humor in those shows seemed innocent to me. Yes, some of it was stereotyped (like Goldie Hawn as the “dumb blond”) but as I remember it, it poked fun at humanity in general: at our foibles and quirks, at our idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. Individuals were not targeted for ridicule due to race, religion, orientation, nationality, political views or situations in which they may have found themselves embroiled. The shows (at least the comedy sketches on the Carol Burnett Show) were, for the most part, entirely staged just to make you laugh.

Several years after Laugh In and the Carol Burnett Show had been on the air, All in the Family first aired. This was, I believe, one of the first shows that intentionally used humor to illustrate the dangers and illuminate the hypocrisy of bigotry and intolerance. It was one of the first shows to use humor to increase the consciousness of the nation. M*A*S*H followed a year later and also used humor not only to raise our consciousness but also to make us aware of the horrors of war and show us how to use humor to cope with life’s daily ups and downs.

But M*A*S*H, along with two other shows that began that same year, Sanford and Son and Maude, also began to use humor to make fun of, embarrass, denigrate or mock individual characters in the show’s cast. Hawkeye’s relentless persecution of Frank Burns, Fred Sanford’s obvious dislike of his sister-in-law, Esther, and Maude’s disdain for anyone who was not a democratic women’s libber helped make laughing at someone one didn’t like or agree with acceptable. (I realize these shows were not the first: Don Rickles began his career in the 1950s and almost his entire act is centered around making fun of people. Not people in general but very specific people.)

Many years later, shows like Roseanne, while addressing social issues in much the same way as All in the Family, brought biting sarcasm and wilting diatribes against individuals, both real and fictional, into homes all around the world by the new technologies of cable and satellite TV broadcasts. Now, jokes or graphics making fun of celebrities, political parties, certain faiths, ethnicities, orientations, genders, weights— the list is literally endless— make their way around the world overnight via viral videos or graphics posted on the internet.

I don’t remember when I first began to question humanity’s use of humor. I do remember writing an article in the early 90s entitled “Prescription for Poison” in which I addressed the issue of humor and children. To a child who hears an “off-color” joke and sees Mom or Dad laugh at that joke, a seed is planted. After all, Mom and Dad don’t like lies, which make them angry, so if what they’re hearing is making them laugh, it must be the truth. And so stereotypes and prejudices and ignorance and hatred and intolerance are all planted in the minds of children without much thought by the adults around them.

I eventually decided that the only jokes I would tell would be those that involved any group to which I could claim membership. My reasoning was that I knew the pains and struggles of being a member of that group (overweight, gay, female, single mom, black sheep of the family, brainy, etc.) and I had no qualms poking fun of myself in good humor. I no longer find jokes about other groups funny if told by someone who does not belong to that group. (The only exception I make to this rule is that I will tell one very specific “dumb blonde” joke, but then the “dumb blonde” is not really a real group, although it is a stereotype.)

I hear people making fun of others while I’m standing in line at the grocery story or in the lounge at work or sitting in a waiting room at the doctor’s office or any place where strangers gather momentarily. And I hear people laugh not for the joy of laughing but at the expense of others. I have come to believe that many (most?) people nowadays use humor as a way in which to demonstrate to themselves that they are indeed not only different from but better than those they make fun of or laugh at.

Laughter really is one of the best medicines out there, but when laughing at others as opposed to laughing at oneself, I believe that laughter becomes more like a medication overdose, toxic to the human psyche. The level of toxicity in our humor is steadily increasing and has even reached lethal doses in some instances. Remember the international incident, involving violent protests in cities all around the world, after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad?

Being able to laugh at ourselves, at the situations we humans create for ourselves, at how things that seem so “right” at the time can go so “wrong”— that kind of laughter can be a very healing experience. In “When Everything Changes, Change Everything”, Neale Donald Walsch writes, “The opportunity that we have every day is to look straight at what’s going on right now and smile and have a good laugh on ourselves and say, ‘It’s all good.’” (p. 226)

But note something. He says to “have a good laugh on ourselves.” Not on others. Laughing at our own “mistakes” and our own “failings” can be very healing. It demonstrates that we recognize that, A, we survived our “mistake,” B, that our “failing” taught us something valuable and increased our understanding of Who We Really Are and, C, that we can still be happy even when things appear to be “going wrong.” In other words, being able to laugh at ourselves demonstrates that we have reached a state of acceptance and that we’re still okay with ourselves despite making a “mistake” or “failing” at our latest endeavor. This is when humor becomes holy. When it is healing and healthy and brings happiness to everyone who hears it.

And now I have a confession to make. I laughed when I wrote the title of this article because I can’t help but hear it in Burt Ward’s voice, although he adds the word “Batman” at the end.

(Shelly Strauss is a civil rights activist and speaker.  In addition to becoming an ordained minister, she has written 20-plus novels and is the “resident visionary” at One Spirit Project.  Shelly is also a spiritual helper on the ChangingChange website, offering support and guidance to people faced with unexpected and unwelcome change .)