Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Holding to beliefs is so self-serving. Strangely, however, it is also self-defeating, so over the long haul, perhaps there is something good to be said for greed. But in the medium haul, a lot of anguish rises up... personally, politically, spiritually....

In the news this morning, for example:

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) - An Ecuadorean judge ruled Monday in an epic environmental case that Chevron Corp. was responsible for oil drilling contamination in a wide swath of Ecuador's northern jungle and ordered the oil giant to pay $9.5 billion in damages and cleanup costs.
The amount - $8.6 billion plus a legally mandated 10 percent reparations fee - was far below the $27.3 billion award recommended by a court-appointed expert but appeared to be the highest damage award ever issued in an environmental lawsuit.
But whether the plaintiffs - including indigenous groups who say their hunting and fishing grounds in Amazon River headwaters were decimated by toxic wastewater that also raised the cancer rate - can collect remains to be seen. Complete story.

 Perhaps I am too pessimistic, but I doubt that those whose land was demolished will ever see more than baubles by way of reparation for those decimated lands. The big corporation is unlikely to say simply, "Yes, we screwed up and hope to correct the errors we made." The money and power amassed, and, worst of all, the belief that such things confer a social decency ... well, no point in holding your breath on that one. Facts are not the best tool for revising beliefs and desires. Mirrors are better, but even then, there is no guarantee.

A good friend wrote to me saying he was going through a painful break-up with his girlfriend. He has a background in Zen and she is hip-deep in yoga practice. One of the points of annoyance and dissent was what my friend calls "her religiosity." He is older and she is younger so the enveloping throes of virtue may be, from her point of view, compelling and insistent, and from his point of view, exhausting and immature.

My mother once told me about growing apart from a woman friend who was wildly intelligent. When visiting each other over some weekend, the woman was prone to arriving at the breakfast table and launching into a discussion of Dostoevsky before the first cup of coffee was drained. It was just too much. People deserve to drink their coffee in peace.

There is no talking people out of their beliefs. Facts don't count and "I gotta be me." Greed accomplishes sometimes fruitful stuff ... but the subsequent defense mechanisms, the explanations and the excuses ... well, only the mirror can set things straight, assuming anyone is willing to use it for something other than laying on makeup. 

I too have ruined what was not mine to ruin. I too have been egregiously virtuous. I too have probably discussed Dostoevsky while the coffee went cold. I too, to borrow from the Christians, have "done those things which should not be done and left undone those things that should be done." I too have found excuses and explanations and failed miserably at looking in the mirror. And I too have indulged in a self-flagellation that feels so good because it hurts so bad. These are my responsibilities.

But what is interesting about a mirror is that mirrors don't care. They are unconcerned with virtue or explanations or meaning. Mirrors only reflect and in this, they encourage anyone willing to look to gather their courage and do likewise ....

Reflect and do not be afraid. When has belief or explanation or meaning ever settled things? When has this self ever assured peace ... or even really enjoyed a good cup of coffee?

Reflect ... it is a good exercise.