Santa Claus and Other Make Believe

We all looked to the sky and spotted the faint streams of red light as the chilled air blushed our cheeks.  “It’s Santa flying away in his sleigh,” one of the girls declared and the others chimed in with their own declaration they saw it too.  The excitement was contagious even with the suspicions the jolly fellow may have been an uncle dressed in the traditional fluffy suit.

My childhood best friend’s birthday fell in December, naturally there seemed to always be a Christmas theme.  After the holiday ornament making and cake tasting, Santa Claus arrived to deliver candy canes and listen to each girl’s present requests.  Once Santa left the house there became an urgency to determine his authenticity and spy on him, five and six-year-old girls in party dresses and ribbons, raced down the steps and out the front door to the driveway.  Half expecting to see a middle-aged man ripping off a beard getting into a beat-up old Chevy, I was utterly confused by the lights in the sky and reaction from the spectators.

In my home there was no truth to Santa Claus, he was as fictional as The Cat In The Hat.  Don’t get me wrong, we still had Christmas.  The “magic” of Christmas came in the form of everything else; cookies, cocoa, lights, snowman making, present wrapping, singing carols, holiday crafts, tree decorating, holiday greetings in the mail and being together with family.  We all loved the Christmas season without the belief of a mystical man breaking in through the chimney to fill our stockings and snack on our cookies.  It wasn’t because Mom and Dad felt a burning desire to secure our safety and avoid stranger danger, for fear we would habitually approach old men in white beards.  And it wasn’t with the mentality to make sure we knew they worked hard to provide instead of giving credit to this imaginary creature.  My parents, especially my dad, made the decision not to fuel the story of Saint Nicholas in the spirit of honesty.  They simply didn’t want to lie to us.

Their intentions were in a good place, except every other pupil in my early elementary school class did have parents who made them believe in Santa Claus.  Kids behaved because parents had warned not to get on the naughty list.  The man, the myth was reality for my classmates and I my naïve mind could not comprehend how it was true for them and not for me.  I began thinking Santa must be visiting everyone else’s house but mine.  It didn’t make any sense when my reality didn’t match those around me.  When my curiosity about this discrepancy reached a bursting point I took my concerns to my parents.  My dad, the always logical man, attempted to reason the explanation beyond what I could comprehend at the time.  He asked me to question how it could even be possible for a single person to travel to every home around the world in one day.  Still trying to conform my thoughts to the popular opinion of my classmates, I tried to justify it and sometimes tried to believe in Santa Claus even if just to fit in.

At varying points of age, all children learn the truth of Santa Claus and only then do they notice the signs were everywhere all along.  My disorientation from reality was relieved when fellow students and friends gained their own insight.  Truth isn’t always an easy adjustment to make, I know for many kids it was nights of crying themselves to sleep to know their beliefs were a lie.  I suspect too, each of those kids assimilated to finding a new happiness in the Christmas season.

When looking back on my early childhood conflict between what I knew to be true and what my peers saw as real, I now know the word for it.  Cognitive dissonance is the term to label the feeling of stress when two contradictory beliefs are co-occuring.  It is a theory which has long been studied in psychology to recognize the emotional discomfort humans experience when facts counter beliefs.  The parallel to my Santa experience and today’s American culture is tragically obvious.  While Santa Claus is no longer part of the belief, many Americans do hold true to a context of society which is not reality based and does not align with the facts.  Except it’s not parents telling us how to think, and it’s not Santa Claus we are told to believe in.  Citizens respect and accept the framework created by mass media, many place full trust in getting an accurate story about the most relevant news stories.  Dedicated viewers, intending to be well-informed, are guided how to think based on what is shown and more importantly what is omitted.  Most American’s don’t question their disillusion since it correlates with the popular opinion (much like I did with my classmates), even when confronted with details not supported in the “official” story.  The believers see America as being free and equal, they believe the American Dream is real and everyone has the same fair opportunity to achieve it.  I’d like to share this as a reality, except unlike my confusion about Santa, I can see through the present fiction.

In the last few weeks I have been absorbed with the turmoil in our country; viewing news programs, livestreams, monitoring social media and reading articles.  It’s been thrilling to watch the response of countless people demonstrating their frustration with the justice system, with racial disparity and with police militarization.  The variety of people aware and being active ranges to include all ages, religions, ethnicities and socio-economic status.  People who know and recognize the devastating effects felt from inequality and invasion of rights.  Across the country people have taken to social media to express their frustration, walked out of work and school in unison across the nation, held their hands up to political figures, boycotted Black Friday and taken to the streets.  Highways, bridges, train stations, malls and major intersections have been shut down by marches, attempting to bring attention to those distracted by the illusion of justice being served.

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The activists across the country have overall been peaceful, despite the attention being placed on rioting and fires, coincidently a great focal point for the news to reinforce fear.  Watching these demonstrations happenings in every major city, some erupting spontaneously, typically with few arrests and no violence inspires my hope for progress.  My optimism rapidly deflates when I hear the media influenced comments like “He deserved it,” or “They’re just burning up their own neighborhoods with those riots,” the ignorant statements like “There’s not really racial disparity,” or “I haven’t heard about what’s happening,” and the actively avoiding “I have better things to worry about,” or “I’m sick of hearing about…”

Now the number of believers inconvenienced by protests are growing rapidly, their cognitive dissonance escalating too.  It is impossible to ignore the passion and effort people have for a cause when they take to the streets facing ridicule and risking arrest to voice the societal emergency being ignored.  Believers have to confront the idea of some truth to this if so many people are screaming to pay attention.  Believers begin feeling more and more uncomfortable when faced with facts opposed to their American truth.

Slave LaborThey defend their belief’s against statistics spelling out the value of profit over people in the prison system, the undeniable fact America has 5% of the world’s population and incarcerated 25% of the world’s prison population.  They find ways to justify how black men are arrested at least 2 to 5 times more frequently than white men for drug charges despite similar rates of use.  Believers ignore the fact 1 in 15 black men are behind bars, equating to more locked up and on parole in our country today than were slaves in 1850.  Believers have never had to experience trying to get a job after jail or had their rights to vote removed.  And they fail to connect poor education, fatherless children, and minimum wage positions which don’t support the cost of living with being ways to prevent criminal activity.  Instead believers blame the oppressed class and label them as lazy leaches of the system, denying the truth the system was created to do exactly this.  Americans are left squabbling about who is to blame while corporate America runs off with the profits and stay protected by the government.  For believer’s maintaining their comfortable life, they are aware of bailouts and corporate tax exceptions, yet they hang onto the idea if you work hard you are rewarded.

Believers find ways to excuse criminal acts by police officers often blasting the inherent worth of the victim as a person, forgetting we all make mistakes and ignoring accountability for the murder completely.  Even in the case of Eric Garner where the technique used was banned, it was determined a homicide and the whole incident was caught on video.  “Every time you see me, you want to mess with me.  I’m tired of it.  It stops today,” Garner said before being choked to death.  He was unarmed and committed no crime when he was accosted by the police.  He resisted, like Rosa Parks, tired of being black in America.

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Comply with the police – IT’S THE LAW!!

Believers say comply with police, it’s the law, except they don’t live the reality of being harassed.  They don’t know the experience of being targeted simply based on appearance.  #crimingwhilewhite and #alivewhileblack were two trends on Twitter this month.  Hilariously tragic when confronted by thousands of tweets illustrating how white Americans have literally gotten away with crimes or had minimal consequences, while black Americans are targeted by police on a regular basis doing nothing wrong.  One might say “You can’t believe everything on the internet, people can just make up things on Twitter.”  True yes, and still of the thousands of messages to consider this trend just imagined is complete denial of the problem.  Judgements on each side of the argument are defeating, not all police officers are bad, not all black people are criminals and not all white people are racist.

The marches happening in cities across the country are both inspiring and worrisome to me.  Thousands of brave individuals have banded together to draw more attention to the average American believer, and they are met with armies of officers intending to absorb any positive effect created.  The police force is frightening with tanks, riot gear, rubber bullets, tear gas and other military crowd control weapons like LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device/sound canon.)  Believers see the militarized police force as crucial for safety, since they have been conditioned to fear people and want to maintain their comfortable routines.  They cannot imagine the dedication to a cause it takes to gather peacefully and have to face this

Boston Police State April 19, 2013

Boston Police State April 19, 2013

violent army.  Isn’t it astonishing how there are budget cuts in every government service to help people, yet there always seems to be money for war or to spend on police equipment when anticipating a protest?  Believers would prefer tanks down their streets and swat teams surrounding their homes to provide the illusion of safety.  I wonder how residents of Boston felt, in April 2013, when they were removed from their homes at gunpoint in the hunt for a teenager?

Trying to communicate rationally and educate about facts is often met with justifying the need to fear people, the need to place blame and the need to continue the militarized police strength.  Americans blindly give faith in their government officials to fix it.  They are convinced their values have to fit in either red or blue, conservative or liberal and stand by their identity.  Separation tolerated more blame and ignites arguments.  Being a non-believer, I cannot comprehend how 2 opinions fairly encompasses the views and needs of over 300,000,000 people.  Especially when those in power on both sides, are serving corporations and promoting the rich to get richer.  Americans feel the cognitive dissonance, wanting to pretend everything is fine, we are free and our democracy works; also recognizing the status quo cannot sustain us.  Constitutional rights and human rights are being violated in an effort to support a broken system.  The problem with admitting the belief is over and it’s time for a change evokes fear.  How do we give up how things are without knowing what is to come?

I know there is happiness in Christmas after Santa Claus.  I also know the believer’s reality where the police are given the power to use against people is a scary future for everyone.  The people don’t have to agree on how America will look in the years to come, there just has to be a united agreement this has to change.

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Victims, Criminals and Floaters

Who would volunteer to go visit a prison?  Hardened criminals, manipulative and egotistical minded individuals locked away from society for good reason.  Those people behaved badly and did things they knew were wrong, they knew better and should be punished.  Why would anyone volunteer to go visit a prison?

I would, and I did go.  For me, I don’t carry the typical view of Americans incarcerated like the description above.  From years of working with youth, I have watched children learn from violence, addictions and unstable environments.  I have seen them removed from their homes and placed in worse conditions in some foster-homes and group homes.  I have noticed the pattern of getting in trouble with the law starting early in life when kids don’t have proper role models.  I have observed the discrepancies which take place in how youth are dealt with based on race and socioeconomic backgrounds.  I have been disappointed by the influence mental health has on effecting behaviors which get ignored in the judicial system.  I don’t judge youth as being bad seeds, I can see the good in them and understand who they have become is a reflection of what they have been through.  They way kids think, speak and behave couldn’t be any different.  They honestly don’t know ‘better’ it’s the only way they know how to be.

It’s easy for us to have pity on children and have sympathy for the situations they have been through.  Why does this stop with children?  We accept kids don’t know better, and somehow by the age of 18 magically people should now know right from wrong, how to handle anger or cope with stress, how to create a substantial income legally or who to trust not to lead you down the wrong path?  It’s hard for me to buy this, if their circumstances were different I know their actions would be different too.

In America we have established a system of ridiculing, harshly judging and locking up victims of unfair circumstances.  Victims of abuse, addiction, trauma, poverty, learning disabled and mentally ill.  Justifying the incarceration of hundreds of thousand non-violent offenders.  Encouraging wealthy investors to build prisons and profit off the contracts to incarcerate some of America’s most oppressed population.  This is occurring at such alarming rates we are leading the world in locking up our citizens.

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From a class I recently took, volunteers were invited to attend a prison and visit with the inmates as a celebration of Vesak, a Buddhist holiday celebrating the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha.  (For my first story on this click here.)  On the day of the prison visit I felt nervous, not in fear it would be dangerous, it was more related to how I would manage my own frustration with the prison system and maintain equanimity through the experience.  It wasn’t until I showed up for the ride to Leavenworth when I found out we would be going to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, the Department of Defense’s maximum security military prison.  According to Wikipedia: Only enlisted prisoners with sentences over ten years, commissioned officers and prisoners convicted of offenses related to national security are confined to USDB.  As I would later hear from the inmates, this is the most dangerous prison in the United States since all of the inmates are trained to kill.

To me, this visit suddenly took on another level of social justice problems.  These inmates were more likely to be incarcerated for violent crimes, yet I still hang on to the notion they are also victims of their circumstances.  Being in the military trains them to be violent, asks them to go to war and causes them to witness unimaginable trauma.  It is impossible not to be effected by these circumstances, and many individuals are mentally unprepared to cope.  The military has seen a substantial increase in the rates of domestic violence, assault, murder and suicide in the last ten years – directly related to tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Countless enlisted men and women joining the services to serve and protect their country end up with their lives ruined by war.

On the drive to Leavenworth I road with a fellow classmate and talked about gardening, TV shows and travel.  We shared our anxiety about what we were going to see and I confided I desperately wanted to know the circumstances of each of their crimes and what lead to them, even though I knew I wouldn’t ask.  We presented our id’s at the gates to Ft. USDB2002Leavenworth and caravaned with other vehicles through the base up to the prison.  It seemed to be the furthest possible location on the grounds passing officer’s homes, army barracks, a cemetary lined with identical and symmetrical tombstones, down long winding roads, dead-ends and finally approaching ‘The Castle.”

We entered into a quiet building about 7:15pm and climbed a staircase to a front desk manned by two guards in combat uniform.  The lobby felt like a high school with lockers, restrooms and a seating nook overlooking the dense wooded area beyond the parking lot.  We each had to be cleared with a background check ahead of time and present our identification to get a visitors badge.  Our group of 15 people were escorted by another guard, entering only a few at a time.  One giant glass door slamming locked behind us so the next giant locked door could open.  After the breeze way another guard with a baby pimpled face asked if the first guard would need assistance escorting us to our meeting room.  I was sure these two finished their varsity sports, attended senior prom and put in resignation at McDonald’s about 12 months ago before heading off to boot camp, completely unaware of the commitment they had made and how deeply it would impact their life.

We walked down a long corridor, passing metal doors with small glass windows to other wings of USDB, it reminded me of entrances to different sections of the state mental hospital where I used to work.  There were some inmates passing us in the hallway, none were handcuffed or escorted, and I got the impression I wasn’t in danger being there.  We entered a room, about the size of a classroom with two long tables set up for us to eat and visit.  The prisoners we would be visiting were already in the room and waiting spread out amongst the folding chairs.  I shuffled in shyly with the other guests, waiting for instructions which never came.  Eventually assuming the responsibility to find a spot to sit down and introduce myself to those around me.  My classmate and I sat down next to each other for some security and comfort.  We overly smiled and shook hands with the prisoners across and next to us and then felt the awkwardness sink in unsure of what to talk about.  I bit my tongue to prevent the question of “What did you do to get here?” from blurting out.

At the start I was painfully conscious of my body positioning and every word I uttered into conversation.  We shared how each of us started taking the Basics of Buddhism class, both those from the outside and those from within the prison. We related on why we started a meditation practice and how the practice was going.  The prisoners shared the need for meditation to help calm their minds down, cope with emotions and come to terms with being at USDB.  During dinner I felt by apprehension fading and my body relaxing.  Two of the prisoners I had met were born in other countries, one joining the Navy from his home in California and was last stationed in Hawaii, never imagining he would end up incarcerated in Kansas.

Another prisoner I spoke with told me about being from the East coast, stating he quit college half way through to join the Marines.  He had been enlisted for almost a decade, traveling the world and completing three tours to war.  We discussed the paths of life, influences which shape us and how everyone makes mistakes.  “It would be boring to be perfect,” he remarked, “No one is perfect.”

“Everything is perfect,”  I challenged his view.  I explained my perception, nothing could be the way it is now without everything else which fell before it.  Perfection is neither good nor bad, it is just as it should be.  We couldn’t have been at the table meeting each other in USDB had any circumstance in his or my life been different leading up to that day, not good or bad, just perfect.  The veteran agreed and said he has become keenly aware of situations in his life, choices he has made and what has lead him to where he is at right now.  He feels it is exactly what was supposed to happen and put him in touch with life again.  We talked about people who are aware of their past, intention and purpose.

“And then there are the floaters,” he said.  “Don’t get me wrong, I was a floater for a long time too.”  From the discussion I took that a floater refers to a person who is existing with indifference to themselves and the world around them.  Someone who is oblivious to their impact or lack of impact on others.  Individuals who don’t carry attachment to relationships and situations, rather busying themselves with getting by in life without thinking or place value too highly on material things.

There are victims of crimes and then there are the criminal victims of circumstance.  Their actions are not legal and are not to be condoned, yet our judicial system is not creating a healthier society.  The problem will continue to perpetuate as long as there are floaters unaffected by what is happening and stay disengaged from these conditions in society.  We need to help each other wake up to stop judging criminals, change the criminal system and correct the errors which lead individuals to do bad things.

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If this post peeked your interest and you want to learn more, here is some recommended reading:

The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?      From Global Research

Locked Away, Army Struggles with Wounded Soldiers     From The Gazzette

I’d also recommend checking out The House I Live In a documentary regarding the war on drugs:

Finally, out of curiosity: Have you ever been a floater and what helped to wake you up?

March Against Monsanto: Kansas City

In Kansas City a crowd gathered at J.C. Nichols fountain to share their concern about our food industry with fellow residents and to join in with millions of others marching today in protest against the GMO giant Monsanto.  Here are some pictures from the days event.  To learn more about Monsanto and the dangers of GMOs click here or begin your own internet search for the truth, you won’t catch it on any television broadcast.

Urgent: Food Matters.

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“Saturday is going to be a busy day,” I acknowledged to my husband. We had just put my daughter to sleep and shared a moment to reconnect about the day and the weekend plans to get together with friends. “First the march and then the barbecue.” I finished.

“The march?” He frowned looking at me unsure of the reference.

“The March Against Monsanto,” I replied with equal questioning, wondering how he could have missed these plans.

“What’s Monsanto?” He asked, growing the frustration inside of me. First he was unaware of the March and now claimed no recollection of the company either?

“Monsanto? Really, you haven’t heard of it?” I said shaking my head in disappointment. “They are the largest distributer of GMOs.”

“Uh, what’s GMO?”

Exacerbated by the conflict in his love of cooking and his complete lack of food knowledge, “Genetically Modified Organisms.” I said just waiting to hear the next ignorant statement.

“Oh, that’s a good thing. I’m for GMOs.” And there is was, the uninformed opinion of a typical American food consumer. And so the purging of education on the food industry, Monsanto and GMOs began.

We all have to eat and we have the right to know where it comes from and how it gets to our table. Our health and lives depend on it and we need to be able to trust it is safe. However, as so many industries in the United States and the world are, this is a business of making a profit even if it means sacrificing the quality of the product. When it comes to consuming food, we need quality products.

Here are the quick facts you need to know about Monsanto and GMOs to be informed.

  • Monsanto is a company created in 1901 and began working with chemicals in the 1920’s. They are best known for their production and sale of Roundup for killing weeds. Their science in the last two decades has focused on genetically modifying seeds to make them resistant to Roundup. Essentially making the food crops able to be sprayed with toxic chemicals to prevent growth of weeds. Monsanto is the largest conventional seed company in the world and has control of over 90% of the produce grown in the United States, contributing to many of the products you consume on a daily basis.
  • Monsanto was the company responsible for providing Agent Orange to the U.S. Department of agent_orangeDefense during the Vietnam War. Monsanto claimed it a safe means to defoliate the dense forest and prevent guerrillas from using it as their cover. The direct result was over 500,000 children born with birth defects and the Vietnam Red Cross estimates up to one million individuals are disabled or have health problems related to Agent Orange. A clear example of putting profits before ethics.
  • Rat TumorA recent study published in The Food & Chemical Toxicology Journal used trace levels of Roundup in the water supply of lab animals, deemed safe and appropriate by the FDA and USDA. Rats developed large tumors, suffered premature deaths and organ damage. Other animals demonstrated reproductive failure including smaller/fewer offspring, great rates of infant mortality and even hair growing in mouths. For more on this click here.
  • GMOs have been linked to cancer, birth defects, endocrine disruption, Parkinson’s and other diseases. Click here for an article published by the International Journal of Biological Sciences comparison study.
  • If it’s really all true and it’s so bad, why aren’t we being protected from it? A rational consumer might ask. Well Monsanto has their hands in this too, dozens of Monsanto employees have been making their way back and forth from leading positions with the company to leading positions in congress, FDA, EPA, senate and more, establishing a substantial conflict of interest with the business of profit over the health of consumers. For a list click here.
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  • On March 26th, with pressure on the government to pass a new spending bill the Farmer’s Assurance Provision was carefully slid into pass as law too. It has become better known at the Monsanto Protection Act, preventing federal courts the ability to halt the sale or production of controversial GMOs.
  • While our government passes a bill of protection for Monsanto, 27 other countries have bans in place prohibiting GMO products while another 61 countries require products to be labeled GMOs.

Now that you have the information, here is what you can do about it:

  • Join the March Against Monsanto, Saturday, May 25th (TOMORROW). Drop everything and makemonsanto plans to be at a March, there are 372 taking place around the world and in a city near you. If you are in Kansas City the March Against Monsanto will be starting from JC Nichols Fountain at 1:00pm at the Plaza. For a list of cities click here. Tell your friends they must be there too.
  • Sign a petition. There are already over 2 million signatures of people who care about their food and want to protect the health of America. Click here to add your signature now.
  • Send a letter to your representative letting them know you don’t support what is happening with your food. Click here for a draft of a letter you can use and send immediately online.
  • Avoid Genetically Modified Foods. There are already hundreds brands and thousands of products in the grocery stores which can be hazardous to your health. Click here to find out how to shop and avoid GM products.

What we eat matters to our health. Spread the word and make sure everyone knows about Monsanto.