I don't pretend to be a poet, but I awoke not long ago with this on my mind.

   Sprigs of Hope

  Tom Gnagey 2016 ©

I dreamt I looked inside the book of words.
My favorites were all there.
It was what I did not find that sent my old heart soaring –
No hate, no war, no poverty or hurt.

I dreamt I looked outside the glass.
Tots at play, couples hand in hand, laughter, smiles.
It was what I did not find that sent my old heart soaring –
No tears, no deceit, no hunger or loneliness.

I dreamt I walked among the people 
The young, the old, the tall, the short, the quick of mind, those duller.
It was what I did not find that sent my old heart soaring –
No anger, no frowns, no put downs or profane assaults.

I dreamt I looked inside myself.
I had but memories of growth and hope.
It was what I did not find that sent my old heart soaring –
No fear or doubt, no need for more than what I had. 

I dreamt I wondered at it all – had good and right triumphed at last?
I felt the loss, the gain: the loss of animosity – the gain of grand inclusion. 
Could the power of my clear vision and the life that mostly modeled it
have worked these years to help change my world?

I dreamt of when I was a child; I understood this truth
that when we took good care of those we touched
the world would blossom as love and appreciation came to point our ways.
What happened? It was so clear to me back then.

I awoke to smile dimming. Moist eyes confronted my reality that day.
What I saw was greed and hate and ignorance – worst of all was ignorance.
But still, the seeds – even determined sprigs – of love struggled toward the light.
If seeds remain, hope remains, and the ugly prospect of eternal night is not inescapable. 

* * *

A Tale of Three Villages 

(An allegory designed to investigate beliefs many hold dear, 
so the reader is advised to proceed at his or her own risk.)

Tom Gnagey 2010, 2016 ©

    Once upon a time there were three villages occupying three adjacent valleys in a lush land of trees and streams, productive fields and plentiful game. In each lived a small group of well-meaning, sincere, and basically honest folks – and religious; that must not be overlooked since it was central to their lives, their politics, and their views of truth and the nature of the universe.

     Each small hamlet had devised a similar, simple, form of leadership – one man elected for life ran the show. He wore two hats – he was the head of both the government and the church since in actuality and practice there was no division between them. During that past century each village had been fortunate to have leaders who worked hard in their own ways to make life good for the citizens well into the future.

    Westville was in the westernmost valley. Eastville lay in the easternmost valley. Middleville – not surprisingly – was nestled in between. There were no problems among the villages because citizens were forbidden to travel beyond the limits of their own settlement. It prevented such things as territorial arguments and political and religious disagreements. It also, of course, prevented the kinds of growth – personal, political, and religious – that can only take place through the open-minded sharing and probing of dissimilar ideas. All the residents of those valleys were content since none of them wanted to risk challenge or change by contact with foreign beliefs – if in fact such things even existed.

    As a result there were three distinct versions of the truth in those valleys. There were three distinct versions of the perfect governmental form and religious practice. There were three distinct versions of proper family life, child rearing practices, justice, and concepts of what constituted an adequate education and proper and improper relationships between the sexes.  
No one was pressed to develop critical thinking skills or creative bents beyond tinkering with broken pumps and replacing worn wheel bearings and the like. To apply such skills to government or religion or other aspects of society seemed fully unnecessary and was, in fact, never contemplated. First of all, change was viewed as uncomfortable and just plain bad, and beyond that, heretical. Furthermore, to seriously investigate any belief system that differed from their own was considered reprehensible – useless since it had to be wrong. They were only allowed to read and hear views that agreed with those of their village. And so, the three closed villages continued to live in peace, treasuring and promoting to each subsequent generation their intentionally closed minds and state of general and philosophic ignorance.

    It led to conflict-free living within each village since everybody knew exactly what was expected of him or her because they all understood the basic rules – what was unquestionably the truth and, therefore, what was not – what was right and what was wrong, absolutely. Had any member of one village been transported to another, he would have been horrified by the decadent, perverted, ungodly, behaviors and beliefs he witnessed there.  

    If confronted with the proposition, You do understand that if you had been born in one of the other villages you would believe just as strongly in their ways and beliefs as you now believe in those with which you were raised, there could be but one response:
“I am so thankful that I was born and raised in the village that knows and understands the only true and correct beliefs.”  

    It is a fully illogical, obviously misguided, and self-limiting conclusion, clearly bypassing the remarkable potential of human intelligence. It suggests that other folks who are just as good, smart and savvy as they, who have perused the same data from life, but have come up with differing conclusions about truth and the universe, are all wrong. “I and my people are special and are the only ones who can possibly know the truth.” It represents the destructive pinnacle of egotism, which, along with greed and the revenge mentality, will surely destroy all of mankind.

    Human beings represent the grandest form of rational life in the known universe and yet we still harbor a basic irrationality. Most go through life believing, unquestionably, what they were taught by parents as children or learned shortly thereafter or at least learned from somebody else to whom for some reason they conceded their right to think for themselves. As a species we have the need for answers and become uneasy, anxious, and distraught even, when they are not obvious. Rather than just understanding that there are some concepts and problems with which this human mind of ours is incapable of dealing, we construct irrational explanations – assembling entire illogical realms, unfounded in basic human knowledge to provide our answers. (The very existence of those realms, of course, creates additional unexplainable questions, but the magic we impart to those realms are tightly designed – through the use of circular illogic – to explain it to our illogical satisfaction.)

    Such an approach – Blissfully Blunted Ignorance – although it provides a sense of security (even though it may well be based on everything that is illogical and unscientific and contradicts the well-established laws of the universe), allows mankind to playfully wallow in ignorance about the world and even about imaginary things that may transpire after ones time on Earth is over, forever surrendering its magnificent human potential to those who will promise indestructible security for eternity. Shame on us, Humanity!

    Should folks not have a set of beliefs with which to guide their lives and society? Of course they should, but there are fully appropriate and clearly successful sets of beliefs that are based on what we know about being human, living successful lives, and building and maintaining successful, productive, and compassionate social orders that are untainted by the beliefs demanded by most of the illogical belief systems – those which are founded outside of physical reality. Does it seem more reasonable to altruistically treat others well because that just makes the only, historically established, social sense (assuming humanity is precious enough to comfort, improve and preserve) or do so all quite selfishly to avoid eternal punishment?  

    Should folks not have the right to believe whatever they want to believe? They may if they have fully researched its underpinnings, honestly extrapolated its ultimate effects on mankind, and if it is positively constructive and proposes no harm to those with differing views, then it may serve a useful purpose. Without great care and fastidious intellectual inquiry, it will, however, very likely encourage folks to remain contentedly ignorant about the larger picture and that can never be a positive force in the ongoing development and understanding of mankind. So, my answer is, no; folks should not have the right to believe (or at least act on) whatever they want to believe if it is detrimental to the continued, positive existence of mankind. [Fascism, ISIS, white supremacy, science-denying, other hate-based – often ‘religious’ – beliefs come to mind.]

    It is through doubt, uncertainty, and bafflement that the human mind – and therefore human culture – grows and matures. Take those things away by offering and requiring universal belief in mystical or non-rational explanations, and the possibility of becoming all that mankind can possibly become is effectively and so sadly eliminated. Those who will move mankind on toward its ultimate positive, growth producing possibilities are those who meticulously study man and the universe with open minds, not those who comfortably encase themselves in what they already think they know and congratulate themselves and like-minded folks about their continuing state of ignorance.

    In 1889 Thomas Henry Huxley wrote in his masterful, Essays on Controversial Questions, “Skepticism is the highest duty and blind faith the one unpardonable sin.”   

(Attention: My public stoning is set for daybreak on the first of next month.
  If you choose not to attend, please send iodine and band aids.) 
 -- TDG

* * *

Efficiency: not all it's cracked up to be

(Just beginning the conversation. Those in power will hate this.)
Tom Gnagey © 2016

In our modern, western society, power and monetary profit are the bottom lines, plain and simple. In order to increase ones power or profit, becoming more efficient is typically flaunted as the major, necessary element. Efficiency is often touted as the ultimate goal toward which we should all strive. When society’s bottom line changes, however, so does the way we evaluate the role and importance of efficiency.

If, for lack of a better phrase, ‘lack of corruption’ (honesty, perhaps, though it is larger than that), were to become the bottom line, then those in positions of power must be changed frequently so corruption cannot take root (or at least will have a more difficult time coming to fruition and continuing). Replacing leaders clearly has the likely potential of reducing efficiency with new people continually having to learn the ropes. It may be a good trade off, however, in order to function with a low level of corruption - i.e. eliminating corruption and increasing fairness for the masses at the expense of efficiency.

If altruism, as opposed to greed, were to become the bottom line, efficiency would be drastically cut – we do good things for others even when there is little or no possibility we will be paid back for the effort. Whether it will take a minute or a lifetime, we begin the job and stick with it. We just pledge to take good care of people because all people are precious. (Some behaviors may be reprehensible, of course, but human worth and potential can be valued beyond that.)

If trust, becomes the bottom line, efficiency will clearly have to be devalued. Trust means that, using good judgment, we trust folks until they prove they can’t be trusted. That is quite inefficient compared with the, ‘trust nobody until they prove they can be trusted’, stance. Trust is more compassionate and growth producing, but far less efficient.

Competition is highly overrated and to succeed, competitively, efficiency is essential. I am talking here about some entity (person, organization, country) striving to be better than all other similar entities. It can legitimately be construed as a form of greed, can’t it – wanting all the accolades or to be known as the best among all comers. In many of the Native American tribes, to be overly competitive was as sin. One never won a race by twenty feet if he could win by just three, thereby not bringing humiliation to others. Competition is the opposite of cooperation – pure and simple. Good, compassionate, intellectually inquisitive, altruistic people make remarkable advances and accomplish good things just because they want to – invention, medical and scientific developments, social innovation, etc. Competition does not need to be the source of motivation – it has been the big lie with which we have all grown up. Competition has been offered as the basis of a democratic, capitalistic, ‘good’ way of life. Cooperation, too often, by contrast, has been offered as the basis of socialism and communism. Only an ignoramus would believe that. (Perhaps I can find an even more compelling word!) Competition may well be mankind’s most destructive source of motivation. Cooperation is clearly far less efficient, of course, than having everybody just do what a boss says to do or have ones worth measured primarily by his accomplishments.

So, I believe, worshiping at the altar of efficiency is too often the means to elevate and promote the worst in our human species. Making it one’s bottom line will surely circumvent if not prevent the best we have to offer. Just imagine a world in which the two, main driving forces are not ‘necessary efficiency’ and ’competition’ – the two that clearly, most frequently commandeer and tear at our lives. Clearly, fewer mental health professionals would be needed. (Just in case this piece garners a land swell of support, I’m selling my stock in, ‘Straight’!)

* * *

This Holiday Season
I Am Searching for a Place . . .
© 2016 Tom Gnagey

I am searching for a place of solitude. 
A place of quiet where thoughts may flow unhindered,
where my questions and ideas may roam and soar and swell unfettered,
and when, as equals, they chance to meet, they morph and grow in positive, purposeful fashion.

I am searching for a place of safety.
A place of strength where confidence may flourish,
where doubt and fear and hesitation are relegated to the shadows,
veiled and lost in the far, forgotten, darkest corners of my world.

I am searching for a place of peace.
A place that does not tolerate the imposition of suffering,
a place where anguish, sorrow and despair are no more than momentarily felt,
a place where hurt and hurting cannot linger, and comfort ultimately abides.

I am searching for a place where opinion is relegated
to those arenas in which opinion can be meaningful and valid,
clear and separate from the realms of necessary facts and 
prudently established discoveries and conclusions.

I am searching for a place free from deliberate ignorance. 
A place where facts are sought and honed and taught and cherished,
a place where such ‘truths’ abound within reach of the most limited,
never excluded, flowing freely, growing and contributing moment by moment.

I am searching for a place where divergent philosophies are not just tolerated
but are sought, welcomed, and examined without preconception,
where all those who grow up with, find, refine, or embrace humanity friendly beliefs
may/shall offer their unique voices, unrestricted by others.

I am searching for a place in which love, compassion, and altruism flourish
and form the foundation of human interaction,
a place in which hate, intolerance and indifference play no part
as the human species matures and becomes all that it can positively become.

I am searching for a place that encourages each person to explore his possibilities,
define his capacities, discover his areas of interest, and, with freely offered assistance, develop them to his potential, plying them for his  own satisfaction
and for the benefit of those whose lives he is privileged to touch.

I am searching for a place in which ‘what ifs’ abound,
where imagination strains and stretches with every sight and sound
and is celebrated as the essence of human growth and existence,
a place where change – positively productive change – is universally encouraged and revered.

I am searching for a place where people truly – actively – listen 
and honestly work to clarify and evaluate what they hear,
a place where discourse is never based in persuasion for one’s personal triumph,
but for enlightenment, essential growth, and the acquisition of accurate answers and collective understanding.

I am searching for a place where cooperation reigns and competition pales,
where the malevolent fingers of greed release their insidious grip on mankind, because in cooperation, the human essence matures, and social conscience may relax, focus and blossom
allowing hope and compassion to rush in to fill the vacuous cracks and crevices that thwart constructive, thoughtfully ordered, collective purpose.

I now see what I am searching for – the return of my first five years of being,
where the love and safety of my family formed the foundation for my life, 
the time, the place, the people, which cradled me in my necessarily protected days,
and prompted me to learn, and risk, and try, and bloom, and set myself on a path toward personal fulfillment.

I understand – with some reluctance – that I cannot return to that protective womb
in which I sheltered while learning about the World, myself, and others,
and about the remarkable potentials this being – this human being – possesses.
Those early days are gone, but because they once existed, the possibilities of their lessons and promise persist.

From all of that, let me find solace, hope, and renewed determination 
to grow, contribute, and never forget how it was – how it could be again.
What ‘was’, no longer is, but that does not preclude its essential guidance
as we thoughtfully, doggedly, toil to rescue mankind from its darker self. 

So, the places for which I’ve been searching were cozied deep within me all along.
How fortunate I am! I have rediscovered my essential, overriding purpose: 
To help mankind mend, recover, even move beyond its finest that has been before!  
It will come to pass one idea, one individual, one opportunity at a time. Persistent patience will be the key.

Beyond the Fog 
(A poem, more for those who haven’t yet been there than those of us who have.)
Tom Gnagey © 2016

When I arose this morning the pane was as if frosted – what lay beyond unclear, clouded. 
That which must be there was but faintly offered in hue and form,
as if replaced with a remarkable rendering of my reality by Degas, Monet, Van Gough. 
The fresh, sparkling, beauty was unmatched by what I had ever known – its allusion, though, unclear. 

The view of distant hills, which, from that spot, had been my early morning certainty for years, was blurred,
cast in gently rising ripples of white – randomly infused with pastel greens, reds, golds and blues.
The essence of my world came clear – pale, unnamed shades mingling with no fidelity to forms or borders,
blurred, vague shapes awash as if it were the unmolested raw material of life. 

As the World brightened, bit by bit, my focus flowed beyond the glass to somewhere in between. 
A fading soft blanket that swelled and waned, had distorted the here to there – dense, amorphous, undefined.  
Somewhere beyond, the grass and trees and hills and sky sought form – if fuzzy and indistinct – suggesting, though, the backdrop of my expectation.
While still unclear, I understood in part – my certainties had not abandoned me; they had in some way softened and merged into something beyond themselves. 

There lays an instructive, valuable vagueness outside the commonplace – the commonplace that often delimits, grips and clouds man’s view. 
It is separate from that which can be reached and touched and moved and altered – 
beyond the frost, or dappled ice, or gathering, dripping dew. To embrace it requires patience,
a mind freed from the certainties of ‘what is’, because to fathom what lays beyond, it must run unshackled by the constraints of lessons and experience, of hopes and fears. 

As this Being that we are, we have the remarkable capacity, when honed, to penetrate the fog and see beyond what’s near –
beyond the palpable, the walls, the boxes, the clouded views and coated glass.
With preparation and persistence, and allowing the bright warmth of day, fogs will rise and fade away
leaving visions, clear, for those who thoughtfully pursue the promises and possibilities of the ‘not yet’, the ‘why not’, and the ‘surely there’s a way’. 

I have grown to treasure the fogs of my life – promising, wonder-filled inkblots that but await my imagination and considered reconfiguration. 
Setting fear aside, they tease and allow the melding of what is known, my fleeting unconsidered present, and the promising mysteries of the future.
I have grown to treasure those necessary, inescapable unknowns, and feel safe and secure 
in the knowledge that, with confidence, I will meet and greet tomorrow’s tests and quests with a lifetime of well-practiced prowess, curiosity, and open arms. 
May we thoughtfully prepare ourselves to effectively look beyond the fog.

# 6
A Simpleminded Look Back.
© 2016, Tom Gnagey

Which would it be, if I could have one fantasy come true?
At five I prayed for Teeny Weenies, tiny folks who fit in my palm.
I promised to take good care of them – food, shelter, clothing, love.
That didn’t come to pass. I began to doubt the Big Guy’s powers.

Which would it be, if I could have one fantasy come true?
At ten to be the fastest swimmer in my class sat atop my list.
I practiced hard; I held my nose and ate my Brussels Sprouts.
Miranda, though, continued to leave me in her wake.

Which would it be, if I could have one fantasy come true?
At thirteen, Patsy was my dream – blue eyes, dark hair, a perfect nose.
After a dance one night she let me kiss her in the shadow of their front door,
The next year her family moved away.

Which would it be, if I could have one fantasy come true?
At sixteen, the whole show I hoped to run – the president of everything at school.
Power became my security. I won the class, but lost the school.
Life still went on, I found. My friends were there; my parents steady by my side.

Which would it be, if I could have one fantasy come true?
Away from parents view, I worked to master that degree – not pass, but ace it with a flourish.
I studied hard and moved beyond confining teacher demands – those restricting me like chains on theprisoner –
so I could find the answers to the pressing questions in my mind – truth, love, mortality, purpose.

I won the final race at water safety school – suppose it was those Brussels Sprouts?
I married Patsy – who could have known. We had a son – my Teenie Weeie, I suspect.
I spent my years with youngsters, helping them cope with themselves, their world, and life.
The four degrees provided but the bare essentials, upon which I would build the truths of family, workand purpose.

But still, which would it be, if I could have one fantasy come true?
Perhaps in retrospect, to have had more skill to carry out what I was required to do,
to have more clearly discerned the truly important from all the rest – the grain from the chaff,
to have made far better use of the time I’ve had along my way.

My tomorrow will, I have reason to expect, arrive and allow still more time in which
to ply the only fantasy that now appears worthy of my life – to smile at others meaningfully, 
to acknowledge their worth, to offer compassion, help and love. In other words,
to present, pamper and prolong those humanity-friendly fantasies – surprise, surprise – that have
  infused my being from my early days. 

(I wonder whatever happened to Miranda?)

RECENT STUFF!  (2016 +)
CLICK on the NAME link, below.