Posts Tagged ‘fireflies’’

The Case for Optimism: Episode Three

April 26, 2017

THE UU PATH: Fireflies in the dark

by Hallas Midgette

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Hallas Midgette

In the first two episodes of this four-part series on a talk to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Coumbus, Georgia on April 23, 2017, Hal told us why he believes the UU path is an optimistic way of navigating through life and explained how four books helped shaping his optimistic worldview. In this episode he tells us how the Seven Principles affirmed by UUs “virtually scream optimism.”

Hal is a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. and retired science instructor at Brookstone High School.

 Unitarian Universalist Seven Principles and Optimism

Okay, now you know that I’m an optimist and most probably why.  I look at our seven UU principles, and to me, they virtually scream optimism….that we can and will make a positive difference in the world around us, and that our endeavors will be successful.  Let’s take a look at our seven principles and see why this is so.

 

  1. Number one:  The inherent worth and dignity of every person.   We have no apostates….no “unbelievers,” or sinners not worthy of our illumination.  Everybody is somebody and we believe this message can change the world in a positive way.  And, most importantly, it doesn’t matter if they are part of our tribe or not.  All people are of value, and we are equals in that we all are alive, feel pain, love, and want to be happy and safe.  By embracing this principle, we demonstrate our optimism that we can reach out to all, and do not have to segregate others into infidels, sinners, or apostates.  We welcome humanity to our smorgasbord of ideas and love.

 

  1. Number two:  Justice, equality and compassion in human relations.   Justice is the pillar of stability that ensures that society doesn’t slip back into barbarism and to accept it as the arbitrator of events is supremely optimistic.   Nothing is more positive, in action and belief, than to grasp the concept that others, regardless of creed, sexual orientation, or cultural practices are equal as individuals.  While I might not appreciate someone’s cultural views as much as mine, I do appreciate that that person, as an individual feels the same pain and awe of the world around them.   Compassion is the engine that drives the Unitarian optimistic train.  Compassion is feeling and doing for those in pain or need, making the world a better place.  It provides the underpinnings for optimism, it is the tool for reaching out to others, sharing, and loving.  Compassion, coupled with equality forges the empathy that is necessary to care for and about others, including for those different than ourselves, those outside our tribe.

 

  1. Number three:  Accepting of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.  Tolerance is not fearing others, but embracing them with the belief in a positive outcome.  We embody the Nike cliche’ “No Fear.”  We accept that others have a vision of a different spiritual development or path than our own, but we find that okay.  We encourage and assist them on their path and journey.   One has to be optimistic about the end results of embracing our own belief and fostering the well being of others in the pursuit of their own, but different belief.

 

  1. Number four:  A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.  This is our vehicle for carrying us into the future.  It is the sword to fight the tyranny of ignorance, intolerance and religious bigotry.  This principle makes a break with previous notions that the search for knowledge is fundamentally wrong…..think about Eve and the apple incident at the Tree of Knowledge.  We generally do not believe that all the Truths and Meanings to life have been previously revealed and encoded in unchangeable form to be forced onto others.  We question rigid thinking and eschew dogma.  We understand that the world is constantly changing and we see the Unitarian role as a positive force in that change.  Will there be turmoil and times of gloominess?  Of course, but we see ourselves as transcending those bumps in the continuum…..as a good optimist should.

 

  1. Number five:  Right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.  This is possibly the most optimistic of all our principles because it has a large trust component that independent, individual action will be thoughtful and produce  an acceptable outcome, and even if we are not in the winning faction of a democratic process, will accept it and  carry on, striving for a positive outcome.   Our conscience is meant to be thoughtful, not coerced, or bounded.  How does the carrot and the stick, namely concepts of heaven and hell, and the role of sin play into this?  It doesn’t, at least for the Unitarian Universalist organization, although it might on the individual level.  I find this extremely optimistic.

 

  1. Number six:  The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.  When looking around without our optimist glasses, the world looks a little like Billy Joel’s song “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”  “We didn’t start the fire, It was always burning since the world’s been turning.” Another light metaphor.  It has gotten better over time, but so many just don’t look at the time scale of things and how we, as a species, have improved.   Or, we get too distracted when there are episodes of regional setbacks, like the situation in Syria.  Let’s start at Homo sapiens’ beginning.  Small wandering tribes.  If you weren’t in a tribe or were out wandering away from home when another tribe found you, it wasn’t  “guess who’s coming to dinner,” because you knew the game….protein was protein, and it was you that was going to be dinner.  As tribes evolved into more complex social groupings, congeniality towards strangers became more the norm, especially with the advent of agriculture and the formation of settlements, which eventually became towns and cities.  Human’s greatest discovery after tool making, fire, and language was possibly religion, which helped order society even more and provided the seeds to formalize law.  Then came city states and commerce, then nations.   Now we have international law, a world court, rules for war, though not always followed, the world wide web, and are now on the cusp of full globalization.  I believe there is greater tolerance now than at any other time in the world’s history.  While large pockets of radicals or extreme conservatives exist, they are being more and more marginalized by increased education, and access to tools, like the world wide web, that work to remove the veil of ignorance and localism.  We Unitarians show tolerance for other religions, fight for equality among the sexes, and embrace diversity in its many forms.   I’m not saying that sometimes it’s not crazy out there, that there is still friction to our forward progress, but life and human interactions are unquestionably better than at human’s beginning.  Mankind has come a long way, and the journey isn’t done.  As Billy Joel said in his song:  “We didn’t light it, but tried to fight it.”  We are optimists, we just haven’t tried to fight the fire, we are daily fighting the fire, through words, thoughts and deeds.

 

  1. Number sever:  Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.  Some people believe the Earth was given to mankind to subjugate, to be masters over all the animals…that the Earth was Man’s to exploit…that there would be continuous bounty.  The foundation of most of this belief was formulated four thousand years ago when the human population, spread over the whole globe, was only 27 million people, much less than that of Tokyo’s 38 million today.   The population is currently estimated to be 7.4 billion, about 250 times greater than four thousand years ago.  Because of our value in reason, Unitarians in general accept the scientific method and the scientific wisdom that the Earth is a complex organism of which we are but a part.  As mankind has gradually learned, human cells are called eukaryotic cells and generally are a mixture of a nucleus and organelles or structures, in which, one, the powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondria, is the vestige of a bacteria that took up residence in a larger cell.  Without this combination, there would be no thought or movement.  The approximate 39 trillion eukaryotic cells in the average human, is matched by an equal number of bacterial cells….of over 10,000 different species.  We literally are a zoo.  We are a microcosm of the Earth’s web of existence.  We don’t do well if some of the bacteria living on or in us aren’t healthy.  Case in point is what sometimes happens after we take antibiotics….an intention to kill harmful bacteria, but sometimes includes necessary bacteria as collateral, and consequently causing a disruption in the digestive tract.  Earth doesn’t do well when some of its species aren’t doing well, or become extinct.  While we promote saving the environment, we acknowledge that the world is in flux and always has been.  I am optimistic that we can help those that are blind to see that this current flux, to include climate change, has human handprints and footprints all over it.   Everyday it is estimated dozens of species of animals are becoming extinct because of habitat loss or changes in their ecosystem.  Am I still optimistic?  Absolutely.  Knowing that the Earth has been through at least five extreme extinction events in the past, only to bound back, not just to the level it was before, but with greater abundance of life, I think Mother Earth will survive this 6th major extinction event that is wrought by man.  But, with reason and knowledge and reaching out to educate others, we Unitarians can help in the effort to lessen the effect of this time period scientifically called the anthropocene…..or in layman’s terms…the age of man.

 
Hal uses a quote by  Howard Zinn to sum up his talk.  Episode Four is next.
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The Case for Optimism: Episode Two

April 25, 2017

THE UU PATH: Fireflies in the dark

by Hallas Midgette

Hallas Midgette

This is the second episode of the four-part series featuring the thought-provoking talk on optimism delivered by Hallas Midgette, a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. and retired science instructor at Brookstone High School. The talk was presented to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, Georgia on April 23, 2017. You can read the first episode by scrolling down on this blog.

In the first episode, Hal explains why he believes the UU path is an optimistic way of navigating through life. Just as millions of fireflies he once saw lighting up a field in Kansas one Summer, “In a world of many religions’ UUs stand out as a light in the darkness. That light is optimism. Unitarians are optimistic.” Hal went on to say that four books perhaps shaped his optimistic worldview. This episode features his explanation of why.

Episode Two

The Books

There are four books that have influenced my optimistic views, besides all those science fiction novels.  The first was Voltaire’s “Candide,” where, with all the terrible events in his life, Candide kept proclaiming that this “is the best of all possible worlds.”  I read this in college and it stuck with me.  Once, in the middle of the movie “The 25th Hour” …as close a parallel of the story of Candide as I have ever seen, but in a World War II setting…..I stood up to leave because it was Voltaire’s “Candide” all over again and I just couldn’t take watching a human being suffer so much, especially when he accepted the suffering without protest or fight.  Michelle urged me to sit back down, possibly because we were on a double date and the other couple were the drivers.  I reject that this is the best of all possible worlds because that is not realistic.  We can’t resign ourselves to tolerating violence, cruelty and suffering.  I have confidence that the world continues improving, not necessarily  linearly, but in fits and starts.  This feeling that the world is getting better all of the time is one of the reasons I joined this fellowship, because it is engaged in what I view as the battle of good and evil and is on the side of improving the human condition.

The second book that had a major impact on my optimistic view is David. M. Raup’s “Extinction:  Bad luck or bad genes.”  His book was my first forray into looking at extinctions on a geological timescale.  I never before had realized how many localized and worldwide extinctions there have been in the Earth’s history.  There are all types of mechanisms that can cause extinctions besides the one we are probably most familiar with…..fast moving, big rock from the sky.  Or, for some, coming in contact with Europeans.  There have been five major extinctions in Earth’s history, some causing as much as 95% of all life to go away.  The amazing thing is that life just didn’t slowly creep back to its former level, but it virtually exploded back and became more extensive and varied.  Raup was the first author to alert me to the fact that we humans not only might be in Earth’s sixth major extinction event, but most probably are causing it.  But, being a glass half full person, I have faith that humans can and will discover ways to avoid an end to our species.

The third book that influenced my positive world view was Edward O. Wilson’s “On Human Nature.”  Initially he studied social insects, then turned his brilliance to analyzing how humans interact and why we evolved to be so social.  As a social species, our fate is interconnected with one another.   In the past, as we evolved on the savannah of Africa, alone, we were food, but as a tribe, we were the dominant specie to be reckoned with.   We, according to Dr. Wilson, have evolved to live in tribes, and are fairly predictable in what we do, how we behave, and what our limitations are.  Human’s have done well, even in the face of severe adversity.  The world, with its extremes, highs and lows, continues slowly getting better…..like a high tide slowly coming in.  Waves come in and recede, but gradually get higher and higher.  I contend that we haven’t seen, or perhaps can’t even grasp what the high water mark of human achievement might be.  Former President Barack Obama said, “Progress isn’t always a straight line or a smooth path.”

Finally, the fourth book, and the most positive book I’ve ever read is “Nonzero:  The logic for human destiny,” by Robert Wright.  Looking through the lens of gaming theory, the author sets out to prove why humans are where we are today, and that we are now in the storm before the calm.  Yes, I did say storm before the calm.  Through meticulous logic the author detailed how our universe, at least the portion we live in, is primed to move from entropy to organized systems.  While, according to his analysis, life, while not guaranteed, was certainly favored.  He contends that the evolution of life was for more complex systems, that life can’t be a zero sum game, where the winner takes all, like tennis or football.  Life has to be a nonzero sum game, and this is what propels us forward.  A nonzero sum game is like trade, where both sides of the bargain gain….maybe not equally, but they gain from the interaction.  His analysis of history and culture accomplish the same….showing that evolution of civilization was positive, that while there were setbacks, the general progression has been greater complexity and forward, with Mankind having greater control over his own fate.

Episode Three will explain how the Seven Principles affirmed by UUs “virtually scream optimism.”

The Case for Optimism

April 23, 2017

THE UU PATH: Fireflies in the dark

 

by Hallas Midgette

 

With all of the mess going on in the world, it is hard to be an optimist. However, my friend Hallas Midgette has a made good case for being one. He made it in a talk he delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, Georgia on April 23, 2017.  Because I found it quite thought provoking I decided to share it with you. I know you have a lot to read, so I’m going to publish it in four episodes. 

Hal, who is one of the most intelligent persons I know, is a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. and retired science instructor at Brookstone High School.   

Hallas Midgette

Episode One

Optimists are hopeful and confident about the future or the successful outcome of something.  Optimism is thought to have a heritable factor, as well as being influenced by environment.  I believe the UU path is an optimistic way of navigating through life, and in my talk today, I will try to explain that opinion, but first, I’ll share my personal journey into optimism, starting with the title:  “The UU Path:   Fireflies in the Dark.

Some of you might be thinking that if fireflies were illuminating the UU path, it must be pretty dimly lit.  As a child, here in the South, Summer evenings were filled with the sounds of frogs, the buzzing of mosquitoes, the sweet smell of honeysuckle, and the delight of fireflies flickering in the yard and trees.  I knew from an early age that the light in fireflies wasn’t really fire, but bioluminescence.  Only later would I learn that the females were in the trees flickering in specie specific frequencies to lure the males from the yards below, and that sometimes carnivorous beetles would imitate the female fireflies in order to lure the unsuspecting males up to dinner, but not one of their choosing.  I had so much to learn….and still do.  This is how I viewed Summers for decades until one warm Summer evening in Kansas.  It was night and I was returning home from Kansas City, driving through the countryside…and that is when I noticed the fireflies.  I pulled over and for the next ten minutes witnessed the most amazing sight I’ve ever seen.  Untold millions, perhaps billions, of fireflies were lighting up, filling the whole field with light in a way that was and is still hard for me to comprehend.  In a world of many religions, UUs stand out as a light in the darkness. That light is optimism.  Unitarians are optimistic.  We are not Pollyannas, but realists, and I contend, are fundamentally optimists who see the possibility of a positive outcome for the human condition.  It is not there for the taking, but has to be fought for, and we are engaged in that fight.

I’ve always been a glass half full person, rejecting the half empty view.  While not always being happy, I’m optimistic about humans and our future.  Part of this might be explained by what I read as a child, starting with science fiction.  In science fiction, humans usually are pushing out from Earth, voyaging into the unknown and often finding strange worlds, and even stranger sentient beings.  Sometimes the stories are bleak as the aliens had ambitions to destroy us, but eventually we either overpower them with human ingenuity or befriend them, and ultimately humankind lives happily ever after….walking hand in tentacle into the sunset.   Perhaps these books shaped my views, or maybe I chose them because they fit my worldview…or those of my optimist genes.  Only psychoanalysis can tell, but I’m afraid of couches.

Those four books are “Candide,” by Voltaire, “Extinction: Bad Luck or Bad Genes,” by David M. Raup, “”On Human Nature,” by Edward O. Wilson, and “Nonzero: the Logic for Human Destiny”, by Robert Wright.  In our next episode, Hal will explain why those books shaped his worldview.