in favor of the braveheart chicken

In 1959, Allen Ginsberg said America was having a nervous breakdown…

Maybe he was exaggerating for effect.

However, it’s no exaggeration to say, that in 2017, we’re a very very nervous nation…

No breakdown yet, but our condition is indeed serious.  Nervous citizens and nervous nations can act erratically, impulsively—sometimes violently.

Though I don’t have a cure for our nervousness, I do have a helpful suggestion…

A suggestion based on my own experience as a nervous person:

I think it’s best if we finally admit how afraid we are.  And when I say “we” I mean everyone—yes, that includes all you pumped-up, testosterone-driven ninja-commando hyper-warriors.  Admit it–you’re just as scared as the rest of us.

Yes, I realize I’m asking you to go against an American ideal.  When dealing with a threat, we’re supposed to show cold-face composure based on a snake-like inner calm.  Think of Dirty Harry chewing a hot dog while preparing to blow some punk away.

But trying to maintain that facade can actually create what we’re trying to avoid.  If we deny our fear, we may erupt when the inner tension becomes much too much.  Would-be Dirty Harrys often end up running amok.

On the other hand…

…by being aware of our fear, we learn how to deal with the tension.  We’re able to control our fear, instead of being controlled by it.  We can act with courage when the situation requires—no matter how nervous we may be.

To help with this shift in attitude, I say we need different stories, different models.  Less Predator, and more The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.  We need nervous heroes who are painfully aware of how nervous they are.

This new-ideal hero will have learned to live with his high anxiety.  So, he’s able to keep his head as tension mounts—which means, he keeps his heart too.  He’ll “do the right thing”.

Yes, such braveheart chickens would be good models…but I’m realistic…

I don’t expect audiences to reject the cold-hell heroes any time soon…

We won’t, because that’s who we wish we could be.

Here’s the secret: that’s actually who we are—at least, in part.  I believe we all have that aspect—that archetype—within ourselves.  It may be deeply buried, but it’s there somewhere.

To me, the trick is: to find both the negative and positive sides of that aspect…

…then activate the positive.

But to stay on the positive side, I believe we must remain aware of our fear—our inner Mr. Chicken.

Unless we develop that awareness, I think our nation may indeed have a breakdown—a breakdown expressed in an eruption.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Common Courage: a poetry book

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the naked truth

We haven’t forgotten the wisdom of The Emperor’s New Clothes

I often hear that story referenced after a leader states a naked lie as fact.

Good—but let’s not lose this important detail…

No one dared to mention the emperor’s nakedness, because if he did, he’d be declared unfit for his job…

Yes—people kept quiet for financial reasons.

A cynic might say: the child who spoke the truth had nothing to lose.  Okay, point taken.  However, plenty of modern-day whistleblowers are willing to speak up, though they know they might lose their jobs, their careers, their houses.  Often, they end up filing for bankruptcy.  They receive death threats.  Whistleblowing is hazardous to your health and well-being.  And yet people still accept the risk.

Ironically, our whistleblowers often start out as “true believers”…

They believe in the integrity of their company, their organization, their governmental agency.  They believe in the righteousness of a cause.  They believe in their work…

So when they discover an ugly truth, they can’t just shrug and say, “that’s the way of the world—everyone does it”, as a cynic would.  No, they feel the wrong must be righted.  Integrity must be restored.  So they speak up…

And as a result, often get nailed to a cross—to borrow a symbol from another well-known story.  Another whistleblower story.  Like whistleblowers of other eras, Jesus spoke truth to power and paid the price.

I like to imagine, if faced with a choice, I’d speak out—no matter the risk.  Maybe I could surmount my fear by reminding myself: Jesus rose from the dead.

Which is to say: I could emerge from the ordeal a better man.

A cynic might claim: whistleblowers are foolishly naive.  But I say naiveté has its place—it can open our eyes or it can blind us.  Because she was naive, the little girl spoke the truth and thus, freed the townspeople from their pretense.

That’s what I call “good naive”.

Of course, not all who claim to speak the truth speak truthfully.  Unlike the child, they often have a secret agenda, or else, they’re driven by neurotic fear.  That’s bad naive.

Such folk are lost.  But they can find their way again—if they’ll allow a child to lead them.  That is: their own clear-eyed inner child.

Some may say that’s a fool’s hope…

But I’ve seen it happen.  I’ve seen people reverse course.  So I don’t think I’m being naive.  But if I am, it’s good naive.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
myth steps: a poetry book

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the SMOTH’s Bull

The concept of The Man on Horseback (see last post)…

…reminds me of a story from many years ago.  A story involving an actual man on horseback…

…as well as a rather arrogant bull, and two teenage farmhands—Bates and me.

This simple story speaks to a key human dilemma.

The story has me confronting this dilemma while standing in an open Arkansas farm field, ankle deep in soft powdery dirt….

Bates stood a few feet from me.

Above us, sat a short man on a tall horse (SMOTH).  He’d just purchased the arrogant bull from our employer.   The bull stood about forty yards away, staring at us

The SMOTH said he’d maneuver the bull our way.  We were to stand our ground and guide it sideways, towards the back of his truck.

The SMOTH then rode away, leaving Bates and me alone in the empty field.

We looked at each other.  We didn’t speak—we didn’t need to speak.  We both knew that SMOTH was delusional.  Two scrawny teenage boys against a bull?  No way.

I‘d seen the SMOTH before, on different occasions, and he’d seemed reasonable enough.  What’d happened to him?

Well on those occasions, he’d not been in the saddle.  He’d not been atop a big powerful horse.  Perhaps the change in altitude had affected his mental state.

Whatever the case, when the bull charged our way, Bates and I did not hesitate—we turned tail and sprinted toward a barb-wire fence a hundred feet away.

Though never much of an athlete, I sailed over that fence—as did Bates.  We didn’t get as much as a scratch.

As for the bull…

…the bull ran hard to the fence, then pulled up short.  It stood there scowling for a moment—at least, it seemed to be scowling—then wandered away.

As for the SMOTH…

…he rode up to us and yelled, “What’s a-matter with you boys!”

We held our tongues as that man challenged our courage, our manhood, our testicles.

The SMOTH was a big landholder.  So we didn’t tell him how crazy he was.  We didn’t say, “You’d see things differently, if you weren’t on that horse.”

But that was okay—we’d achieved our primary objective: we were still alive…and released from further bull ushering duty.

Since that time, I’ve witnessed many other SMOTHs in action, in many other areas of life…

…issuing commands from atop their mounts.

Often, they tell us to buck up, toughen up, and stop whining.

Of course, it can be argued that someone needs to be on the horse.

In the U.S., we’re told we should aspire to be that someone.  But of course, we can’t all be leaders.  Furthermore, I think “following” has been given a bad name in our culture.  Our survival depends just as much on following as it does on leadership.  Our survival, to some degree, depends on obedience.  On sacrificing for the common good.

As for where that sacrifice should begin and end…

…that’s often a tough question to answer.  Though Bates and I arrived at the right answer without any deliberation…

…I think our story might still be of help when the question arises.

The story presents the dilemma in basic real-life terms…and lets us all laugh at the pain of an unavoidable human dilemma.

I think it’s pertinent to add: both Bates and I worked hard from dawn to dusk—and sometimes even after dark.  For very low wages.  We did what we were told to do, 99% of the time.  We were good farmhands.

I think if you’re willing to make that kind of sacrifice, perhaps you’ve earned the right to say “no” once in awhile…

…especially when common sense sounds an alarm.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
dream steps: a blog

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we’ll throw him off our backs

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Disgust…

disillusion…

a desire for national stability.

According to historian Paul Johnson in Napoleon: A Life, a populace sinks down into such feelings after a time of revolutionary upheaval.

From the people there then arises “an overwhelming demand for a Man on Horseback to restore order, regularity, and prosperity”.

Thus, when The Man on Horseback rides up, they’ll overlook his “eccentricities”.  We look with only one eye; we listen with only one ear.  We’re willing to sacrifice certain values, in order to regain a sense of stability, a sense of balance.  As with any living creature, we instinctively sense: balance is health is survival…

So, we’ll accept a Napoleon.  We’ll accept a Hitler.

But in the U.S., our current situation isn’t that dire, is it?

Yes, we are experiencing much social upheaval.  We’re fighting on several fronts.  I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say: our many battles swirl together to create one wild rising storm.

But since we’re nowhere near the end of it, we wouldn’t be open to anyone who aspires to be The Man.

Or would we?

As I see it, one major change has indeed reached an end—what I call our “De-Industrial Revolution”…

At the beginning of the 1970s, we were still a manufacturing-based economy.  Now, four decades later, we’re a service-based economy.  This slow but steadily transformation has shaken us to the root.  Much of our current social upheaval relates directly or indirectly to this revolutionary change.

At its end, I hear many of our folk voicing disgust and disillusion.  Their communities don’t feel so stable to them—nor does their nation.

So yes, we may indeed be vulnerable to the will and wiles of The Man on Horseback…

However, I also believe we can knock him off his mount before he gains too much power…

But to win, we must do more than fight him—we must also fight ourselves.  We must control our strong desire for stability.

A tough order—we’ve defeated our better selves so often in the past.  Nonetheless, I think I have good reason to hope.  I think we may actually be stronger now.  Consider:

Yes, we have a general feeling of instability.  But we’re no strangers to that feeling.  Who among us has known a stable nation, a stable world?—no one from nine-years old to ninety.

Though human beings have always known an uncertain existence, now our worries go far beyond our own tiny corner…

What occurs in some other tiny corner of the world can jolt me in my tiny corner.  We have so many corners of concern!—they keep multiplying.

Where can we go to find refuge from our anxiety?

Like so many of my generation, I’ve never found a place for myself in any religious institution…or, for that matter, any social organization.

But as I see it, this sense of homelessness actually works in our favor…

Lacking outside help, we’ve learned to draw upon our own resources.  Born into a world of change, we’ve learned to deal with upheaval.

In the sixties, we saw our trusted leaders fail us—or else be taken from the scene.  As a result, we learned to look to our own selves for strength and guidance…

We’ve learned that peace must come from within.  I’ve learned that I’m the only one who can control my feelings—my reactions to this life, to this world.

We’ve learned to be aware of what’s happening in here, as well as what’s happening out there.

We’ve learned how to balance ourselves while working in this rocking boat.  We know the struggle to maintain balance never ends.  We know the boat still rocks, even when it seems to settle.  We know instability is an avoidable part of life.  Thus, we won’t be willing to trade our values for a false sense of security—a false stability.

So I say: we’re better prepared today to deal with any who would be The Man on Horseback.

Yes, many may swoon to his cowboy song…

But plenty will see the danger of him and fight.  We’ll fight for our freedom, we’ll fight for all lives.

Awareness is never flawless.  Awareness is always a work-in-progress.  Nonetheless, I think we’re now aware enough to defeat The Man on the Horseback before he defeats us.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
My War for Peace: a poetry book

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a mixed-up mix

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Politics and religion wouldn’t seem to be a good mix…

After all, don’t have they different objectives?

Politics is about winning and losing…about one side against the other…

…whereas religion (ideally) tries to get us to realize there really are no sides.

When we talk about politics, we talk about power—

—about getting and using power in order to further a particular agenda.  To further a vision of what your society should be.

When we talk about religion, we also talk about power…

…but it’s different type of power.

Some call this power, “The power of God.”  I won’t argue.  To me, it’s a spiritual power within and also, without.  A metaphysical power active in the physical world.

That type of power is never really lost: it’s here all the time.  It’s eternal.

Political power, on the other hand, can be won and lost.  It’s a possession; like all possessions, it’s temporal.

Politicians often try to use religious organizations and institutions to help them win that power.  And religious leaders often agree to the partnership, for various reasons…

Such groups may want to protect their position in society and politicians promise that sort of protection.  They may want to broaden its sphere of influence.  Politicians tell religious groups: we want what you want for our society. Help us realize those goals.

The politician may indeed believe in the group’s lofty goals.  Yet in such bargains, the religious institution inevitably loses its moral high ground.  When you choose one side over the other, how can you join together?  You actions no longer match your words.

We expect such hypocritical behavior from our politicians.  We know it’s a natural part of the political game.  Of the winning and losing game.  However…

…religious hypocrisy is harder for us to accept.

We may roll around in the political muck for awhile—and maybe even do some good in the process…

But eventually, we’ll feel like lifting ourselves up and washing off.  If our religion is down there in the muck with us, how can it help us lift and cleanse?

And so, I say again: politics and religion aren’t a good mix.

That’s not to say religious leaders and groups shouldn’t encourage politicians to act according to certain moral principles…

But when those politicians ask for their support and promise to support them in return…

…they would do well to climb out of that muck before they get stuck.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Survival: a poetry book

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the doubting believer

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“The world is in chaos.”
         — Henry Kissinger*

That quote caught my eye because it spoke to a goal of mine.  A deep ambition.  Perhaps an impossible dream…

That dream is to someday suddenly see some type of grand design within the apparent chaos of this world.

Though that vision might only last a moment…

…the wisdom gained would remain with me ’til the end of my time.

Thus, I’d be able to perceive the underlying forces within any situation.  I would see the deeper truth.  I would see the reason behind an event that seems to defy reason.  I’d know the best way to respond to any conflict scenario.  I’d see more effective ways to create peace.

Ironically, Kissinger also wants to create peace.  But he’s taking a different approach.  His way is to try to impose order on the chaos he sees—he wants to design a peace.  I would say: force a peace.

Considering past results, I can’t go his way.

Nonetheless, I’m willing to admit: that way might be our best bet.  I’m willing to admit: what appears to be chaos may just that—chaos. A chaos—a violence—we must try to contain.

Fight wars when things get out of hand—but ones of limited destruction.  Though many would still die, humankind would survive.

I choose to believe we’re capable of better behavior…

…but I know enough of our history to doubt.

Maybe one day, I’ll see the grand design and realize how we’re actually making progress—

—that we’re not only capable of living in peace, but headed in that direction.  That our history has actually gone according to plan.

But even if that vision never comes, I’ll be a better person for having tried to understand…

…because in this pursuit, I’ll be working to elevate my perspective.  I’ll be working to raise myself.  That means dealing with my own inner chaos.  My inner conflict…

So, if nothing else, I’ll achieve a greater degree of peace from having aimed so high.

(* This quote comes from an interview in the December 2016 issue of Atlantic Monthly.)

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
My War for Peace: a poetry book

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our man, our mirror

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As I see it, we’ve chosen a mirror…

…a big-mouthed mirror…

…to be our next president.

According to my theory…

…we elected this mirror because we’re trying to wake ourselves up.  Shock ourselves awake.

We’re saying to ourselves: consider that man, that mirror—is that what we want to be, what we want to become?  As individuals, as a nation?

When I look into that mirror, I see someone with a fragile ego.  Because he feels weak and insecure, he charges at any perceived threat like a bull.  And he perceives so many threats.

He gains a sense of power by putting others down.  But such put-downs only provide temporary relief.  The self-doubt is always there, lurking just beneath the surface.  And so, he continues to charge.  It’s an addiction.

He won’t change much, because he refuses to see the truth about himself.  Though the narcissist spends much time looking into the mirror, he sees only what he wishes to see.

The narcissist doesn’t dare explore his depths.  If he dives down, he’ll find many aspects of himself that challenge his cherished self-image.  He’s afraid of his own shadow.

Too often, we see such people as strong.  We see in them an ideal.  That’s the type of person we want to be—tough, bombastic, demanding.  The type that won’t take nothin’ from nobody.  That’s how we want our nation to be.

Or is it?

According to my theory…

…we elected that man, that mirror, because we want to challenge our ideas about strength.

We’re trying to learn the difference between dominance and real power.

The difference between bravado and true courage.

According to my theory…

…we’re trying to grow.  We’re so determined to grow, we’ll take extreme measures—such as electing that mirror.

Some will chaff at this belief.  But I think the test of any belief is where it leads us.  And as I see it, this belief leads us to a good place…

Yes, it’s fair to criticize our president’s behavior—and protest if we so choose…

…but at the same time, let’s take a long deep look into that mirror.  A deep look into our own psyche.  We may not be able to change the man, but we can change ourselves…and in so doing, change our nation.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Searching for My Best Beliefs: a poetry book

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