Friday, January 1, 2016


As I grew up I picked up naturally 'who I was' – In my childhood  I came to think of myself as male, white, Presbyterian, Republican, Czech American (Bohemian) from my father, and part of the Fuller lineage  (Swedish/English)  from my mother.  And each of these identities created for me a sense of who I was and who was the ‘other’.  It was as clear as if I built walls delineating ‘me’ from ‘them’… It was convenient because my group proscribed what I should believe and how I should behave… Me the Presbyterian v. those ‘wrong headed’ Catholics… The package of Republican beliefs didn't have to be too carefully examined because ‘that is what I was’…

This is my metaphor: I visualize a broad expanse of pastureland, divided by fences into smaller and smaller divisions until here I stand in my own little patch surrounded by fences and more fences that delineate who I am.
Over the course of my lifetime some 'fences' have been torn down and some new ones have been built…  Today my fences look like this:  I am physically a straight Caucasian male – (but my experiences of the world have taught me that I can be friends with others with identities quite different from mine), I identify myself as a liberal Democrat with a belief in social justice, laws that protect life, liberty, and justice for all.

Ethnically I am some-what a cultural chameleon interested in and comfortable with most any human cultural groups with which I find myself.  My main identity is American, with the flavor of  a Bay Area liberal outlook.  I identify myself as a Progressive Christian seeking to live an honest moral life, reaching out to those in need, seeking to follow the teachings of Jesus for our time and place, open to historical interpretation of the Bible.    I am committed to scientific problem solving and fascinated with teaching and finding how to make effective student learning happen.

I am not advocating that having beliefs are wrong – but only that we need to be mindful of the beliefs we choose to hold...  A key part of this, is what we do when we encounter others with different ideas – the typical human response is to try to convince – to win over – the other person with our 'obviously superior idea’ ( because we are 'right').  I can remember times in my life when I was with someone committed to very different ideas than mine… but we were both open to learning from the other… not to convince the other but to understand their position.  I have struggled with this concept - it seems so ‘right’ to do this – but my natural inclinations are to tell the other person how right I am.   

 This is so easy to do with Facebook – where we can advocate for a position without having to actually confront others face to face. I recall speaking to a Muslim friend and we were both ignorant of the other’s beliefs and to some extent carried with us false information learned from our own culture. We knew each other well enough that we respected the work and beliefs of the other – and it was a memorable learning time.  A harder example was talking to a friend about guns – He and I live in different worlds…he lives in a rural setting, with livestock to protect, where hunting is a way to augment the family food supply… And I live in an urban situation where guns are kept for protection but easily fall into the hands of angry people who use them impulsively – and disturbed people who may strike back at a society from which they feel alienated and engage in mass killings, or simply accidental shootings.    Because we know and like each other, our discussion was mostly about wanting the other to understand out position - not about winning them over.  Later, I think we both understand the position of the other but we both still feel committed to advocate for what we believe. I guess that is progress...

Another metaphor that describes the situation for me is choosing to see the world through filters.  In physics a blue filter will only allow blue light to pass – all other colors are absorbed. A ‘filter’ in the idea sense is to look for and respond to certain key words or stimuli and disregarding other parts of the reality around us.  We only ‘see’ what we are set to see through our filter.  We all frequently change our filters…When I am driving my car my ‘filter of attention’ is to be watchful of traffic conditions around me, speed, presence of police offices, red lights… I filter out side distractions beside the road.  This is my concentration…
But I also have filters for my belief positions – What I am watchful for and respond to.  I have encountered people whose primary filter through which they approach the world is to be on the lookout for information  that supports their political beliefs, their sports team, being Asian or Native American or African American or Czech, sex (within their own persuasion), Evolution, Global Warming, American History, mountain climbing, growing roses, their religious persuasion, electrical engineering, … the list goes on and on – So I ask you – what are your filters through which you choose to see the world?  Does your filter prevent you from seeing incredible wonderful things that you you are not open to seeing?  I'm sure we all are at times - Being aware is the first step.  I remember a time when newspapers posted both conservative and liberal articles - not we tend to talk to people that support our positions, read news sources that agree with us, watch Rachael Maddow or Fox news... Filters - Filters - filters!

When I hike in the high mountains I carry a lot of my civilized world with me – I play back snatches of conversations, news items, bits of music, problems to ponder… Each of these is like a fence or a filter that I have brought with me.  Slowly I open my eyes and shut down this noisy part of my brain – and I turn my attention to where I am – I talk to the Pika I see gathering hay, and I smile at the Ptarmigan with its brood of babies.  I am delighted to discover white heather in bloom or the red algae growing on a summer-time snow patch.   I feel my lungs adjust to reduced oxygen and my muscles complain about the steep rocky trail – and I feel the warm sun on my back.