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On Divorce, Relationships, Society, and Human Progress

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

Iris & Jarome Bali wedding photo
My blog has been quite vacant for many years.
How to write about the challenges of moving to a culture completely opposite to your own, and the process of your life falling apart, your failure after a decade of trying, in denial, to fix problems that were unfixable and loss of the chance to be with your son you had waited so long for and to suffer the same fate as my divorced parents?

In 2013 I finally accepted defeat, I had waited over 10 years to have a family, and spent 6 gruelling years and every penny I had trying to adopt a child only to have him taken away by my ex when she decided to move back to Canada in response to my ‘year of patience’. I won’t go into the complicated and confusing details. The most painful and difficult time in my life, yes, but I don’t blame her for what happened, or myself, this was a failure of society.

Shoghi Effendi said, “A tempest, unprecedented in its violence, unpredictable in its course, catastrophic in its immediate effects is at present sweeping the face of the earth. Its driving power is remorselessly gaining in range and momentum. Its cleansing force, however much undetected, is increasing with every passing day. Humanity, gripped in the clutches of its devastating power, is smitten by the evidences of its resistless fury. It can neither perceive its origin, nor probe its significance, nor discern its outcome…”

There are dark forces at work in our society, suffering is far too common as a result of ambitions for profit and this has become a distraction to solving common health problems that are destroying families and taking lives.
We are witnessing the collapse of its social structure and the functional, healthy family. Proof of this is in the fact that even amongst the Baha’i community, one that is the utmost authority on unity and healthy community building, over 50% of marriages are failing, This is by no means because the Baha’i system doesn’t work, it is working to unite vastly different cultures in over 200 countries, but it is not immune to the deeply rooted problems in our society that eat away like a cancer at our communities, families, relationships, our lives, our human progress. Their source is al the things our culture prides itself on most: individualism, materialism, self glorification, apathy, and mediocrity. These poisons are alone enough to destroy any marriage and relationship never mind hope for a healthy society that is progressing forward. That is not to say progress is not being made, it is just being greatly hindered.

There is a major and essential component of our education missing that is required to heal this cancer, that is the ability to have healthy and effective relationships with other human beings. Simple right? Absolutely essential for our lives, correct? And yet, where did you have a chance to learn this properly? Did your parents teach you this essential skill? Were they successful in exemplifying this? It should have been taught in middle school, but did you even have a chance to learn it in university? We are not taught the most essential skills required for a healthy and effective life. The only place my ex and I probably ever had a chance to learn this was in a Baha’i study that was a few paragraphs long, the topic of effective consultation that is free of ego. A longer course on the topic is coming, but this is not a task for the Baha’i community alone, it is something that should be taught as early and as often as possible. ‘Effective Relationships’ is an essential skill every human needs to be a master at to have a healthy life and be a community building member of society! But most of us never have a chance to learn this.

I could go on, but a similar disturbing example of our delusions about education in essential skills is the fact that we think that as human beings, because we have the ability to procreate, that we know how to parent a child. Parenting is not something we innately know how to do effectively it is something we need to learn through research and insight from those parents who have raised children that are well balanced, successful, helpful members of society.

These two points about being educated to relate well with others are interlinked, how can we effectively raise children if we cannot relate to each other and pursue healthy relationships? We cannot be naive and think that because we live on a planet with millions of other humans we are innately great at having healthy relationships with each other! We’ve well proven that not to be true. Without these dark forces influencing every aspect of our lives, and a spiritual education at a young age, maybe, but right now that is not the case for most of us.
Without a daily spiritual practice that reminds us that we are created by something greater, spirits in a material world, a world designed to help us grow and develop, our egos WILL take control of our lives, which means we will NOT be in control any longer. Human society cannot progress in this animal state. As long as our egos are in control, there is no hope for happy marriage, well raised children, and healthy society! When our ego is in control, it’s hard to learn or even accept we need to educate ourselves or improve.

Abdu’l-Baha said…“we must be willing to clear away all that we have previously learned, all that would clog our steps on the way to truth…The principal reason for the decline and fall of peoples is ignorance. Today the mass of the people are uninformed even as to ordinary affairs, how much less do they grasp the core of the important problems and complex needs of the time”

Now don’t get me wrong, hope is not lost. My life itself has been rejuvenated, I have a wonderful Chinese wife and we have started a new family together. Every day in the world, there are undeniable signs of human progress and advancement the likes of which we have not seen in a thousand years.

The Baha’i Universal House of Justice said:

“Yet there is reassurance in the knowledge that, amidst the disintegration, a new kind of collective life is taking shape which gives practical expression to all that is heavenly in human beings. Have hope. It will not always be so.”

Maybe your reading this and thinking, “What’s he going on about? My life is pretty good and everything is great!” Well I’m not talking about how to keep things going the way they are, this is about advancing civilization, probably a few hundred years process in my opinion.
I could go on, but I think I’ve said more than enough to get the thoughts that have burdened my mind for years out in the open to hopefully benefit someone like myself.
So in conclusion, If your reading this and have children and don’t want them to end up in unhappy, broken, divorce affected lives, you have an obligation to educate them to relate effectively with others of all races, classes and personalities. This may mean transforming yourself as a parent first. This starts but should not end with virtues:

“Give them (the children) the advantage of every useful kind of knowledge. Let them share in every new and rare and wondrous craft and art. Bring them up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship. Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great import, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind.” – Abdu’l-Baha

(accustoming children to hardship is so key, my spoiled western upbringing has given me unrealistic expectations that are way too high, a problem most pre 2000 Chinese don’t have)

This is one of the most important principles of the Baha’i faith that attracted me: The principle of universal and compulsory education.
Bahá’u’lláh compared the world of humanity to the human body. Within this organism, millions of cells, diverse in form and function, play their part in maintaining a healthy system. Similarly, harmonious relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions serve to sustain society and allow for the advancement of civilization.

As long as 2 people are willing, There are more and more resources out there to help us reduce the number of relationship casualties. I assisted Baha’i artist Elika Mahony who has been married over 20 years  put together a page dedicated to relationships and marriage here.
http://www.elikamahony.com/home/love-marriage/
John Gottman has also done amazing research to help people with all types of relationships
https://www.gottman.com/about/the-gottman-method/
He says, to make a relationship last, we need to learn how to manage conflict and ‘keep it calm’, generate greater understanding. Baha’is are often too idealistic, thinking they can accomplish today what may take many years to master in eliminating conflict’. Sometimes we need the practical, scientific approach of research to make realistic progress.

I only wish I new as a child or even 20 years ago what I know now. Everyone should have that chance before they embark on their life journey!

Americans take action against injustice… finally

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Last month I blogged about the current collapse of civilization. Today I was excited to see that Americans seem to finally be waking from their slumber and taking action, moving the process forward. Understandably now that approximately one in every six Americans live in poverty. This week over 700 have been arrested in mostly peaceful protests on wall street called ‘occupy wall street’. Here is the website that started it. What’s interesting about this is you will find little in the media who are afraid, despite the growing thousands taking action not only in New York, but across the country. And major celebrities have started to back the effort. Protestors on wall street What’s amazing and unique about this protest is although it is modelled after Arab Spring, it has no leaders and is not affiliated with any other organizations. It is connected via open source technology and relies on the united efforts of all those involved who collectively are working together to initiate change and make their grievances known. Here is the Official Statement from Occupy Wall Street – this statement was voted on and approved by the general assembly of protesters at Liberty Square: Declaration of the Occupation of New York City: “As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies. As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known. They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage. They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses. They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization. They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices. They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions. They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right. They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay. They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility. They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance. They have sold our privacy as a commodity. They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit. They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce. They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them. They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil. They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit. They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit. They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media. They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt. They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas. They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.* To the people of the world, We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power. Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone. To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal. Join us and make your voices heard!” *These grievances are not all-inclusive. To hear from many of the individuals involved directly, there is a blog: we are the 99% Maybe it’s time to start sharing the news and taking action if you aren’t already. It’s your world, your country and your life, take ownership!

The Collapse of Our Civilization

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

The Collapse of Civilization

It’s been some time now, and the verdict is clear… things are getting worse in the world not better:

  • Disparity between rich and poor
  • Too few jobs
  • Games and spectacles “to keep idle citizens entertained”
  • Rule by decree
  • Irresponsible behaviour of public officials

What does this remind you of? Sounds a lot like our civilization, right?

Actually, it is a description of Ancient Rome before it’s collapse!

Many argue, ” things will improve and this is just a temporary situation”, other extremists claim “the end of the world is near”
I don’t buy it. Historian Arnold Toynbee researched the rise and fall of civilization more than anyone, and according to his findings, right now is pretty much exactly when our civilization is due for collapse.

Of course, civilizations don’t just come and go, retired member of the Baha’i Universal House of Justice, the late Dr. Peter Khan describes how they exhibit cracks over time, often hundreds of years in the making, until eventually they crumble and collapse. Much has been written by various authors in an attempt to identify the fissures in the Roman Empire, some of which are very prevalent in much of world society now…

So how do we deal with this? Pure capitalism, like socialism and other man-made systems preceding it, is a flawed system based on certain false assumptions about human nature and well-being (nevermind total disregard of the environment based on an antiquated assumption of inexhaustible natural resources), and it is slowly unravelling before our eyes.
Individuals too, while affected by the system in place, are certainly culpable for the unwise and harmful actions carried out under the pretext of personal rights and “getting ahead of the pack”.
Ultimately, the relationship between society and the individual is so intertwined and mutually affective that ignoring one at the expense of the other has to be viewed as simplistic.
The effect of individualistic, materialistic attitudes so prevalent worldwide have never been so clear – They not only lead to unhappiness, they’re totally destructive.

I’ve been pondering for a long time on how our society is far beyond any kind of band aid solutions, well proven not to be effective. Even more so, I’ve been thinking about how our educational institutions are giving degrees and releasing supposed ‘experts’ into the world with ‘solutions’ for social development that are based in failed approaches. (I posted a great video about this recently that explains why & how the whole foundation of the education system is broken)

So, I’ve been looking into how we create a new civilization, how is it going to happen?

According to Dr. Peter Khan, a healthy civilization involves a foundation of behavioral change through spiritual transformation. A civilization depends upon certain moral and ethical, spiritual characteristics.

Assuming we need to start from scratch to see real improvements to the worlds major problems, we would want to have certain things to create a framework and guideline for a new civilization:

– We would want individuals comprising that civilization to engage in an exploration and application of divine teachings to daily life, so that we can build up a civilization in a reasonable and productive manner

– We would want civilized society to be imbued with a sense of altruism to the service of humanity. We don’t want selfish greedy people, but people who are altruistic, who think of the larger good.

– And essentially we would want them to transmit civilized values to the new generation of children and youth.

There are many who claim to be implementing these practices but the one organization that has really seemed to have grasped these principles and put them into action are the Baha’is.

They are implementing growth of a new type of civilization slowly but surely, in over 220 countries and territories in one collective, unified effort through their devotional meetings, the institute process, and study of the Ruhi Books, a focus on service to humanity, children’s classes, youth classes, and junior youth activities.
But most importantly, they are assisting in a transformation of the human heart and priorities of the individual, the only way true change and lasting solutions have ever occurred in the world.

Don’t want to waste your time contributing to humanity with failed solutions that band aid serious problems? Get involved in one of these activities!

Logic, reason, and common sense dictate that if what we’re doing isn’t working, doing the opposite may be a good place to start.

Information rich, attention poor

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

An interesting article in the Globe And Mail recently discussed how technology and the digital revolution has created a corresponding scarcity of attention. In becoming information-rich, we have become attention-poor.

Quite extraordinary how fast the technology has accelerated actually as this amazing video I posted illustrates… It is as if a house that cost half a million dollars in 1964 could be bought today for a nickel, or if life expectancy had been reduced from 75 years to four minutes.

And with almost all of the world’s codified knowledge at your fingertips, why should you spend increasingly scarce attention loading up your own mind just in case you may some day need this particular fact or concept? Far better, one might argue, to access efficiently what you need, when you need it.

The concern is that for now, the just-in-time approach seems to be narrowing peripheral intellectual vision and thus reducing the serendipity that has been the source of most radical innovation of the past, when brilliant minds studied concepts for hours before gaining their important insights.

The article suggest that our challenge is to adapt, and then to evolve, in a world where there continues to be an exponential increase in the supply of information relative to the supply of human attention.

I have certainly found this to be a challenge as an instructor for material that is ever changing.
More in depth discussion regarding this can be found after the article:

www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/information-rich-and-attention-poor/article1285001

Facing discrimination because I’m a Baha’i

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Recently, after 4 years of trying internationally, we were ecstatic to receive a proposal to adopt a baby boy from Korea in April.
We were shocked to hear yesterday that the government adoption agency in Korea, Social Welfare Society, has suddenly refused our adoption based on our membership to the Baha’i faith. The adoption would have completed sometime in August.

I never thought we would have to deal with discrimination based on our beliefs, which is unacceptable for many reasons, one being that in the long list of requirements to adopt from Korea, there was no mention of any religious restrictions. In addition, if there were concerns, these could have been brought up early in the process after Korea received our initial information rather than now, near the completion, after we have received detailed information on the baby and made significant time, financial, and emotional investment.
Add to this the fact that Baha’is are not only one of the most gentle and agreeable and nonthreatening people on the planet, but also have a deep respect and high regard for children and their education and upbringing.

Our agency says this is the most shocking thing they’ve encountered in their many years pioneering international adoption.

We are already in touch with the highest Baha’i administration in Korea. Rest assured, we will be taking steps to see justice is done.

Great quote regarding evolution of humanity

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

“If long cherished ideals and time honoured institutions, if certain social assumptions and religious formulae have ceased to promote the welfare of the generality of mankind, if they no longer minister to the needs of a continually evolving humanity, let them be swept away and relegated to the limbo of obsolecent and forgotten doctrines.”

– from www.bahai.org

great quote that reflects my beleifs

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

“It is not enough to criticize society without offering a workable alternative.”

– Jacque Fresco


The Importance Of Music In Society

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

This is my 100th blog post, so I wanted it to be a good one! I’ve been saving this Welcome address to freshman class at Boston Conservatory given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory for just such an occasion. In an age of free downloading when many question the value of music, It is long, but a must read for everyone:

“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not
properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very
good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they
imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be
more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s
remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said,
“You’re WASTING your SAT scores.” On some level, I think, my parents were
not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And
they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just
weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little
bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and
entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your
kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with
entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a
little bit about music, and how it works.

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient
Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and
astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study
of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music
was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden
objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside
our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside
us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for
the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940.
Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany.
He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a
cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a
place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a
violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these
specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand
prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous
masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why
would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing
music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water,
to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture-why would anyone bother
with music? And yet-from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have
visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people
created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on
survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must
be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope,
without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were
not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit,
an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we
say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”

On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached
a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down
at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I
did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on
the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my
hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter?
Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what
happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless.
Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a
piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of
getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I
contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And
then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We
didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we
most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I
saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around
fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome”. Lots of people sang America
the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the
Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York
Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first
communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the
beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the
airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that
very night.

>From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part
of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe.
It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our
budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic
need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives,
one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way
for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heartwrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio
for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it
as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a
film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you
know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make
you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our
conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good
therapist does.

I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no
music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some
really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very
predictable happens at weddings-people get all pent up with all kinds of
emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the
wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if
the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40
percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of
moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move
around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so
that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you
imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue
but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right
moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly
the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music
stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the
understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of
my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand
concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were
important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it
made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played
for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers,
foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took
place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began,
as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World
War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was
shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the
pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program
notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we
decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out
and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the
front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was
clearly a soldier-even in his 70’s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair,
square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in
the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to
tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t
the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the
concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk
about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances
in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed
pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had
to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again,
but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: “During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in
an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched
my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes
which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords
so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop
away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about
this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this
memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I
didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came
out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost
pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that?
How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between
internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have
ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect,
somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost
friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is
why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class
when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge
your sons and daughters with is this:

“If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing
appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would
imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your
emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my
friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and
bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that
is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you
do your craft.

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell
yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician
isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I’m not an
entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue
worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a
spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works
with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come
into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I
expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this
planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of
equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a
military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the
religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war
as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is
to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit
together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do.
As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the
ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”

– Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at the Boston Conservatory

A time for giving & what that means to me

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

The year end holiday festivities are upon us, and you always hear that ‘Christmas is a time for giving’, and of course because you have to exchange gifts, lots of giving goes on… But I always think it’s a little sad that the idea of St. Nick giving to those who had nothing to cheer their hearts (not because they got stuff, but because someone showed caring and compassion) has become something that is more materialistic.
Don’t get me wrong, I think gift giving is fantastic, I just usually prefer to do it when I feel like it or find the right thing for a person…

But I feel to truly be giving in the sense of the word that inspired the first Christmas, a lot of change has to happen, not only in society but in the heart of individuals. It seems this is very difficult for most of us, especially in the west as we live in a selfish society. We’re absorbed with ourselves, and taught from an early age that we need to not only do things that will benefit ourselves, but that everything we need in life comes from us (A rapidly growing and dangerous new age idea that seems to be causing a generation of confused ego obsessed individuals).
This has caused a lot of unhappiness, as it has been scientifically proven that giving makes one happier than being selfish (Youngsteadt). Luckily people are starting to learn about these ideas, and how dangerous ego is to happiness, and I hope it creates a shift from the unhealthy attitude that has spread the world in recent generations.

China and other countries in Asia seem to think differently about this. That is because they are more of a culture of service. They’re used to serving, giving and and working hard, and it is just a way of life that has been learned from a young age.

Indian Women Service project
So then if we want to define giving, we need to establish the true meaning of giving, because just giving money to help those who are in need is a temporary band-aid fix, and that has been proven for over 30 years with the results of the persistent problems in Africa as well as North America that have been fed large amounts of money. Giving in this way doesn’t solve the root of the problem of need. I believe the root of the problem of need is due to greed that creates an imbalance. I believe that this tendency towards greed is eliminated by becoming an individual of service to humanity in ones daily life.

In defining giving then, the solution to the root of the problem comes back to the attitudes of individuals. In order to truly be giving people, and not just at a certain time of the year, at a young age, people need to get used to the idea of being of service to others, to society, to humanity, by accepting that it is a normal part of their life.

One of the few organization I know that seems to be truly helping to do this through effective methods that will have long term results worldwide is the Baha’i communities around the world, especially in the last 10 years. Since the 1970’s, when they proved such programs effective in Columbia, Baha’i’s have committed to this idea of giving by becoming of service, starting with the needs of their local community. Because the numbers are still small, the results are subtle, but still effective.
There are countless examples of the effect of giving through service in this way, here are a few:

Systematic service training showing results worldwide

Ugandand project doesn’t stop at literacy

Baha’i Youth program in Italy gives hope

Poverty Eradication

So this year, if you really, truly want to give, become an individual of service, and give the ultimate gift of all! Join one of the many Baha’i programs that are training individuals to do this in your local neighborhood.
It is likely to make you feel happier, and make your life feel more meaningful!

I decided to 9 years ago, and it is been a very fulfilling and enlightening experience for me.

I hope this post hasn’t come across as overly idealistic or preachy, but when you’ve seen real solutions to the problems of the world first hand, it’s hard not to share them.

Thanks for reading, and have a great holiday season!

How low the importance of children is in our society

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

It never ceases to amaze me exactly how low the importance of children is in our society in terms of the priorities of things in our culture, country, political system etc.

Lately, this painful reminder came during a meeting with our local government adoption agency, who handle children with possible developmental issues that we are considering as we expand our family.
Apparently, due to ‘privacy of information’ the government cannot obtain any medical information about the mother, and therefore know little to be able to help with a child’s health and future development. Considering the lack of care, and often self abuse that goes on in many cases with biological parents of these children, this means very serious consequences for the future of any child that is without a family (in the area I live in alone, there are thousands – all with developmental disorders that can’t be identified until the children are old enough for this to have caused major problems)

You could argue that I am ignorant of how the system works, but I like to think I know injustice when I see it.
Approaching this from a purely materialistic and non-spiritual perspective, as a politician, what could possibly be the incentive for not passing an amendment for the freedom of information act allowing personal privacy to a mother who is a drug addict, on welfare, alcoholic etc. that demands full medical records of that person for the sake of being able to provide the best care to that baby possible? (a mother who uses during pregnancy often causes irreparable damage)
How do special interest groups, corporate incentives, and all the other groups that politicians actually serve besides themselves, actually benefit from protecting the medical records of a mother who cannot take care of her child? Shouldn’t the rights of that child outweigh the rights of it’s mother? What is the incentive for that not to be the case?

I understand the low priority of children in a corrupt, un-spiritual system, but what I cannot fathom is as a politician, focusing on the materialistic and business perspective of this issue, a child is a future taxpayer! If we are going to ignore all good and virtuous motivations, for the sake of future income through the total taxes each of us pay in our lifetime, one would think the government would protect a child like a golden asset, growing to provide future millions of dollars to the government! But even THAT is not enough of an incentive for politicians to put priority on the care and education of our children.

If that doesn’t show absolute and irrepreperable corruption of the ‘modern democracy’ and political system, I don’t know what does. It’s hard to believe anyone is naive enough to have any faith left in this current system. It’s way beyond band aids and solutions, the only thing that can save it now is a total collapse. USA, lead the way!