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Derek Best has contributed to several publications, including Macleans Magazine Canada, and Omni Magazine, USA. He is has also produced many documentary films for Television. For many years, he has been interested in A Course in Miracles, a metaphysical thought system, and maintains the official website for that organization. "ACIM", he says "is central to my personal way of seeing the world." This site is strictly personal however. Derek has an eclectic range of interests, and writes about them here as the mood strikes him.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How do we know when to say no?

This opinion was kindly written and contributed by "Marian," and is very timely and appropriate to the present discussion. Marian and I have known each other via mutual internet blogs for a couple of years (and yet she still talks to me!!) We are both students of ACIM, so I asked her to guest-write for me. You can visit her blog here. Feel free to leave comments here for her if you like.

There's a Simpsons episode in which Old Gil, the sublime, hapless, unemployed victim, insinuates himself into living with the Simpsons, mainly because empathic, soft-hearted Marge can't say no. Days, weeks, months fly by and he's still there. Marge swears every day that she's going to throw the bum out (he's not a good house guest, obviously) but chickens out. Finally at the end of nearly a year, she reaches her last straw, storms into the house ready to throw him out, and discovers that he's already gone.

"But I have a big 'NO' inside of me waiting to get out!" she says. At this moment, Homer walks into the room dangling a thousand-dollar bill from his fingers and says, "Hey Marge, want a thousand dollars?" And of course, she yells, "NOOOOOOO!" And he takes his lighter out and incinerates it before she can say, "Wait! I mean YES!"

Why are we so confused as to how to respond to people whom we believe are less fortunate than we are? Is it possible to see someone as a victim if we ourselves don't feel like victims? And if we can clearly see the ways in which the pained person has chosen his or her fateÑthen what constitutes help? What is kindness?

Let's start here, from A Course in Miracles:
"The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself. No matter what the form of the attack, this is still true. Whoever takes the role of enemy and of attacker, still is this the truth. Whatever seems to be the cause of any pain and suffering you feel, this is still true. For you would not react at all to figures in a dream you knew that you were dreaming. Let them be as hateful and as vicious as they may, they could have no effect on you unless you failed to recognize it is your dream." T.27.VII.10.1-6

And here, from Jane Roberts/Seth, The Nature of Personal Reality:
"Again, if you are ill you may say, "I did not want to be sick," or if you are poor, "I did not want to be poor," or if you are unloved, "I did not want to be lonely." Yet for your own reasons you began to believe in illness more than health, in poverty more than abundance, in loneliness rather than affection."

Even if we accept these messages as true, which I do, we must still admit that telling someone who is in pain, or who has just lost everything, or who is grieving, that he is doing this to himself, is not kind. Nor would it be kind to say that this is all just a bad dream. Using the movie analogy, if there is a fire in the projector, we will see the fire on the screen. In this life, when we are burning with guilt and confusion in our minds (the projector) we experience the fire on the screen of life -- the projection.

Is it ever correct to throw water on the projected fire? Can using magic to alter the illusion ever quench the fire in the projector? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends upon how willing the person is to change their mind. But the real question is, how do we access that knowing? How do we know if we are actually helping, or just being a nuisance and making the overall situation worse in the long run? When are we acting just to appease our own delusional guilt, and when are we actually helping?

We can only help someone at the level at which they are willing and able to accept help in this very moment. In future moments, they may receive something deeper from the gesture we make today, but right now, we can only pour our help into the shape of their receptacle. Knowing whether it is our business to do the pouring is a matter of the heart, not the mind. Within the framework of this dream we call life, we run into trouble when we begin to make intellectual decisions about whom we should or should not help. Thought, which is both the existence and the vehicle of the ego, is not the place to look for advice on this matter.

If the suffering person's help-receptacle has a leak, then we will be pouring that same form of help into it until we are exhausted, or until they are willing and able to patch the leak. Sometimes, as in the case of Mark, the leak is an addiction to a certain type of ego sensation. Sometimes, as in the case of aid money to Africa, the leak is corruption on the part of the distribution officials -- an addiction on the part of many people to a certain type of ego sensation.

As is the case with all decisions, because we are so messed up in the judgment department, it is imperative to get quiet, go silent in the mind if only for a moment (in the case of a panhandler) or for a longer period (in the case of a longer involvement) and ask for help in seeing clearly. Are we helping because we ourselves are suffering, and so we have an increased projection of suffering upon the people in our lives? Are we hoping that by helping someone else we will alleviate our own inner guilt and purchase our own salvation? Are we simply afraid to say no? Do we have a belief that it is wrong to say no, and a fear of repercussions if we do?

As any parent will tell you, there is tremendous relief to be had in throwing money and material goods at a nagging problem to make it go away. But in many cases, the resistance to saying no to someone else's demands is exactly the same as our inner resistance to saying no to our own ego. We are terrified of that feeling of emptiness when a demand is made. We aren't hungry, yet the ego demands food. We have things to do, yet the ego demands the oblivion of television or the internet. We know we should remain silent, yet the ego demands that we speak. We know we shouldn't give our child what she is asking for in the store, but the ego is terrified of the disapproval of our fellow shoppers when the child throws a tantrum. If we are afraid to stop our habitual responses and say no to the ego, we will be afraid to say no to another person. We will not truly understand the constructive and loving importance of sometimes saying no.

The ego IS fear. And if we are tempted to say no to someone when they are asking for something, we will always experience a flash of fear. So how do we tell the difference between this type of situation and plain old selfishness? Doesn't the Course tell us that if our brothers ask us for something "outrageous" we should do it because it does not matter? That we should do it because otherwise our opposition establishes the dream as real?

The answer is probably this: if we would feel fine about saying 'no,' then we'll be able to say 'yes' appropriately. In order to make a correct decision about anything in life, we have to have access to a complete palette of responses. If some of the responses are cordoned off by fear, or its handmaidens of political or religious dogma or intellectual philosophy, then we cannot act correctly. So in this case, if we are afraid to say no, (or yes), we are prejudging the situation and throwing the election -- no matter what it seems the Holy Spirit may be saying. We are deciding on the answer before we even ask the question.

So where is forgiveness in all of this? Forgiveness means we overlook our opinions about the nature of reality. We release ourselves from any concepts and beliefs we have about what is happening in front of our eyes. We accept it and respect it, without demanding that if be other than what it is -- without demanding that it be different. So when someone is impoverished, our first thought is not a knee-jerk reaction that says "this should not be happening." Our first thought is not "how can I change this?". We should not automatically assume that anything needs to change.

I'm not saying, of course, that if you see a child running into the street in front of a car you should not do the automatic and loving thing. But what I am saying is that even if a person seems to be experiencing a life of great hardship, we need to have ultimate respect for their choice of lessons, before we decide that we should intervene. It's not a decision, again, that should be made from a religion, a philosophy, or a dogma. It's a decision that is made in the present moment, from a position of silent receptivity to the part of ourselves that can see what we cannot.

There are people in this world who have a hotline to their Source, and who can help without becoming a nuisance. For the rest of us, I think it's important to learn to get our preconceptions out of the way first, before we try to help someone -- preconceptions not only about what help would look like, but about whether or not help is appropriate in the first place.

Here's one last quote. This is from Eva Pierrakos, channeling "The Guide," Lesson 175, Consciousness
"Since the possibilities are endless, infinite, and limitless, the consciousness can explore itself also by confining itself, by fragmenting itself off -- to "see what happens," as it were. It experiences itself: instead of expanding more, it contracts, instead of unfolding, it tries out how it feels to draw in; instead of exploring further lights, it wants to see how it is to feel and experience darkness. Creating is fascination per se. This fascination is not eliminated simply because what is created is -- first perhaps only by slight degrees -- less pleasurable or blissful or brilliant. Even in that may lie a special fascination and adventure -- just to tentatively try, if I may use these very limited words.
Then it begins to take on a power of its own. For everything that is created has energy invested in it and this energy is self-perpetuating. It takes on its own momentum. The consciousness who has created these channels and pathways may experiment longer and more than it is "safe" because it no longer leaves itself enough power at the moment to reverse the course. It may get lost in its own momentum, unwilling to stop, and later it no longer sees how to stop on this course. Creation then takes place entirely, or primarily, on a negative scale, until the results are so unpleasant that it seeks to get a hold of itself and counteract the momentum by "recalling" its real knowledge of what could be.
At any rate, it knows there is no real danger, for whatever suffering you human beings feel, it truly is illusory in the ultimate sense. Once you find your true identity within, you will know it. It is all a play, a fascination, an experiment, from which your real state of being can be recaptured, if only you will truly try."


Blogger Simon said...

Hi Derek!

Marian, like your voice on your own site, it is your stellar use of analogy that really helps drive your points home and communicate what you are trying to express through the poor medium of words. I really do think you do a fabulous job of that.

I know that one of my own short-comings is making intellectual decisions where the mind has no place to interfere. Whether you choose to call it gut instinct, or an inner voice, or a matter of the heart, I often ignore or suppress that impetus in favour of the more familiar mind that makes all the rest of my decisions for me. Always relying on the old fall-back, you know? No matter how right it may feel to do something different, or how wrong to continue in one's old ways, the thought of change induces fear, which is then ego, which tries its damnedest to steer where it wants.

As in your own post of today, a wee bit of inner silence (or a great glop of it, depending) is really called for to suss out the correct action. Or inaction.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Jack B. said...

I have been reading this column a while & something seems a bit self-justifying. Maybe thats the wrong word but there's a lot of complicated talk here about a response that any New-Yorker would think is second-nature ; "Don't get involved." I feel like there's only 2 clear possibiities ; 1. Every man for himself, or 2. All for one and one for all. When we start dissecting the great gray middle ground we are really in the field of ethics, which is an area of endless and futile debate. These types of opinion seem to just find "spiritual" ways to gussy up the old trolley question that drove us all nuts in first year ethics. I'll put a link here but I don't know if this blogsite can show links Trolley Question
Jack B. Boston U.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Sandra said...

In response to Jack I don't think the Course tries to "gussy up" ethics. Ethics is about behavior and the Course avoids all issues of behavior and operates at a much more profound level. Ethics is not the solution to the problem, it IS the problem. According to the Course there is no satisfactory solution to our "problems" because we don't really have any problems. We just think we do: and THATs the problem. Sandra.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous marian said...

hi jack, I can see where you are coming from, but I think if you reread what I wrote you may see that it's not so much that I'm saying "don't get involved." I'm saying that there are times when what we do in the name of helping someone is questionable, not only in terms of our hidden motives, but in terms of whether we are actually doing anything that is truly of help.

So I'm just saying that it's important to be more mindful, and not react with a knee-jerk philosophical or emotional formula, and instead to take the time to get quiet and see, because it IS one for all, whether what we are doing is correct.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

I think I do see where you are coming from but I just accuse you and others who rationalize standing back and not helping others of being inconsistent. For all the high spiritual psychobabble I hear about "teaching people to fish" instead of giving them fish I've yet to see it applied consistently. That means if it was your son or daughter who was in that desperate position you would have the same attitude and say - wait a minute my love - let me pause here and get in touch with my inner self and see if it is really the best thing I can do for you in the long run. Heck no, you'd drop everything, call 911, whatever it took to get the kid home and warm and dry safe... even if the "kid" was 20 years old. I don't say there's anything wrong with that but I do say there are obviously other stronger more "human" mechanisms that affect our actions. There's no ethical or spiritual standard that seems to matter when the stuff hits the fan. This is what causes all the neuroses and the angst in people who believe in holding back from helping those in need. We know we can only do it selectively so at heart we know it's bullshit. Jack B.

10:48 PM  
Blogger will said...

This discussion has really made me think. Great stuff. What makes the Course so difficult to get your mind around is there is only Forgiveness. The rest is ego. There is no gradient of who to help or who not to. When I read about Jesus I think if he saw his mother or a leper on the street it was all the same to him. No more weight with one than the other. He was doing Forgiveness. This is the first time I've ever thought about it in those terms. I wonder if he even thought about 'helping others' in the way we are talking about it.

12:47 AM  
Anonymous marian said...

Hey, jack. I still think we're agreeing more than disagreeing. As the mother of a 20-year-old son, of course I would drop everything, etc. And I do, often, in other circumstances as well. I'm talking more about "helping" that is the result of some kind of guilt, or fear, or desire for something in return, be it salvation, or relief of one's own guilt, or recognition of some sort. I would never hold back if I have a heartfelt desire to help. I'm talking about the times when the desire to help has nothing to do with the heart, and more to do with the ego. Anyway, thanks for commenting...

7:34 AM  
Anonymous marian said...

will -- thanks, good point. Of course, we would not be here, were we only able to "do forgiveness." We're here because we are still choosing to do otherwise.

Sandra -- right. But I think the concept of "having no problems" is one that we come to only after some pretty deep study, and it's a difficult one to grasp for someone who isn't familiar with the Course or its language. Rather than a deep and abiding truth, it just sounds like a rationalization.

7:49 AM  
Blogger will said...

Marian, When I had this 'Aha' experience last night I was thinking of Jesus on his human level, doing (being)Forgiveness; like you and I, here and now. Trying to get inside his head so to speak. If you do that using ACIM as his reference, how he lived his principles, it's pretty intense. He probably never thought about helping others in the sense we are so concerned with. Probably not much of a humanitarian either. When he saw the sick and dying it may have held little or no interest to him whatsoever. You can see why the bar is set so high. It has nothing to do with what we see as appropriate behavior or thinking. If you see him as asking us to do that you can see why it is so frightening.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Sandra said...

Thats right Marian, its a deep and abiding truth. Just how much "study" is needed to reach it is debatable. Do you see it as your calling to always talk to a beginners level? Theres nothing wrong with that but one reason I like Dereks blog is; he doesn't pander. Sandra.

12:04 PM  
Blogger will said...

I have to laugh. I feel like Marge Simpson with a big YES inside.

Jesus isn't asking us to love one another in the way we are talking about here, He is asking us not to.

Just have to write this stuff down while it's rolling around inside my head.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Derek said...

Sounds like you are definitely on the right track.

12:29 PM  
Blogger TOR Hershman said...

You should watch moi's YouTube film/research
"The Origin of Jesus Chirst."
[Spoiler - Ovid did it]

12:40 PM  
Blogger will said...

I'm still ruminating...

Think of a Jesus finding it almost intolerable to be around the sick, the dying, the lame and blind, the poor and homeless, seeing it all as a manifestation of the hated ego.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous marian said...

will, I think it's likely that Jesus probably didn't indulge in hatred or intolerance of the ego or its manifestations. He wouldn't really see it as threatening to his own peace in any way, would he?

2:54 PM  
Blogger will said...


Help me out here, help me walk through this. What adjectives would you use instead of intolerable and hated?

4:43 PM  
Blogger will said...


I have to say as I sit here thinking about it, that the way Jesus describes the ego in ACIM, hated and intolerable seem right on the mark. I am reluctant to back down.

Good coffee at my house today. Strong!

4:52 PM  
Anonymous marian said...

Will, I can tell you're drinking good coffee!

Here's the thing. When we attack the ego, we become the ego, because only the ego attacks.

So although he wants us to understand that listening to the ego is not in our best interests, if we wish to awaken, and although he uses strong language to get us to realize this, he also wants us to simply SEE this fact, without having an emotional reaction that ropes us back into attack mode. He simply wants us to be mindful enough make a different choice.

Does that help? It's like you can take your hand off a hot stove without cursing the stove, because really, you are the one who chose to put your hand on there in the first place.

So when we attack or indulge in hatred or blame, we make the dream real. We project our own delusional guilt outside ourselves, so we don't have to experience it internally. This applies to the body, to the ego, to anything that is perceived as "not self."

6:17 PM  
Blogger will said...

I think your missing a great opportunity to stretch and grow here but it has been fun and I've enjoyed reading your piece and visiting. Thank you. Maybe Derek will call in some others to write and we can roast them too!


8:10 PM  
Blogger Aileen said...

WOW! I feel as if I'm late for a party......Like you say on the post, Marian, I think the key in deciding whether to help or not, is to get the ego out of the way. Once we’ve identified what’s in it for the ego, and we let it go, (this could only take a second) it’s automatic that the most appropriate and loving response will surface out of our right mind. This response will take into consideration all the history and particular details of the situation, without our even being aware of them. As the Song of Prayer Pamphlet says on p2: “God answers only for eternity. But still all little answers are contained in this.”

8:00 PM  


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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tied Up ... conclusion

There must be fanatics out there who troll the Internet daily looking for any mention of their sacred cows so they can immediately send angry comments. One small mention of Ayn Rand, a relatively insignificant literary figure with a hard-core cult following, seemed to attract a storm of protest. The comments from "Richard", an Ayn Rand groupie up in Toronto were pretty typical of the ilk. Either you completely submit to the dogma, or you are "refusing to be rational." There is no question of disagreement. That does not compute. Some people are just plain old control freaks, masquerading as philosophers. The Internet is a rich hunting ground for them.

About a month has gone by. Mark still does not have a job. I have fixed up a couple of interviews for him with business colleagues. Both seemed keen to meet him but neither hired him. They both gave me different excuses - along the lines of - "we really don't have any vacancies," which is not what they said when they asked to meet him. It could have something to do with his appearance, which is getting very shabby. Whenever I give him a ride somewhere these days I need to deodorize my car afterwards. The other day I gave him money for a haircut, but he didn't get a haircut and he didn't give back the money.

He's living in a homeless shelter now. I don't know exactly where it is; as an "inmate" he's not allowed to say. The shelter is in a church building and consists of about 30 mattresses on the floor, with a shared bathroom. Sometimes there is hot water. No phones, radios, computers, etc., are allowed. The church does not want anyone knowing it is a shelter so no-one goes in or out directly. Instead, all the residents have to congregate at some church "office" about 10 miles away, every evening at 7.00. Then they are given a breathalyser test and placed in a small inconspicuous unmarked bus, and ferried down to the shelter where they must enter quickly through a back door. They are not allowed out again till 7 am, when they are taken 10 miles by bus back to the office and released for the day. I think they are given sandwiches. He can stay there a maximum of 30 days. That's usually about the time of day Mark calls me to ask me if I can take him here or take him there. If it's job-related I will often agree, but it's surprising how few actual job interviews he goes to, and how many coffee bars all over town he wants to go to, for no good reason.

He is now getting some kind of counselling through the Easter-Seals organization. I'm not sure to what extent this is psychological, and to what extent vocational. I do know he berates them as "idiots" who just want to "control" him. Nonetheless I've noticed some adjustment in his attitude since he started going there. He now occasionally makes a point of thanking me for my help, and talks a lot about how he is responsible for his own situation and has to be constructive and make the best of it. This is all good I suppose, but I can't help thinking it is just lip-service. I think perhaps these topics come up in counselling and he is just echoing this new lexicon (with his oratorical flair) to show me and show the world how adjusted, humble and contrite he is.

I know, I know: now I am the cynic. But I have my reasons for my suspicions. First, these concessions to humility are usually only made at the start of a meeting. By the time an hour or two has elapsed he is back to his old negative self. Second there is the strange matter of Mark and the Internet. Why are his long empty days spent in one coffee-bar after another, where he nurses one small cup of the cheapest brew for hours. Every time I pick him up or drop him somewhere it has to be at a Starbucks or a Caribou or Panera ... all places that have wireless Internet. He is never without his laptop. As time went by I began to wonder what on earth was so important about the Internet. We all send and get a little email and need to look up a few things here and there ... but there is no need to live day and night in cyberspace, any more than one needs to live in the Post Office, or in the library. I would ask him; "Mark --- why the hell do I need to take you all the way to ______?" He would answer "Because they have free Internet there." I would ask: "What on earth is so important about the Internet? You need a job, not an Internet connection." He would say mysteriously: "Well I need to dig up some stuff online." Well fair enough. Sometimes we all need to "dig up" some stuff online, but all day? Every day? Month after month? When you're out of work and homeless? What is that all about?

A few days ago he hung out at my house for a few hours. I gave him a chair and a little table for his laptop and left him alone. Later I needed him to look at something so I said "can you come here for a moment?" He said "Hang on -- I just need to finish something ---" and he was typing busily. Then he was sitting back looking at his screen for a minute, then typing again, then waiting, and so on. He had a kind of half-smile on his face. I realised he was chatting online. I know it was none of my business but a little alarm bell was ringing in my head. I asked him outright "What are you doing?" He said he was talking in a "support group." "What kind of group?" "Oh," he said nonchalantly, "It's Al-Anon. Some of those people are pretty messed up."

How many of "those people" did he know? How did he know they were "messed up"? It occurred to me that this was what he did all day long, and had been doing since I met him. He lived online in some kind of support group, and was for all intents and purposes addicted to it. Not an hour could go by when he did not have to find some way to log on and participate. Everything else, including finding a home, finding a job, making and keeping friends in the "real world", was secondary. He could tolerate and rationalize being penniless and rootless, he could tolerate living in a world of "idiots" that constantly tried to victimize him, but he couldn't tolerate being without wi-fi and a laptop. Were these cyber-people his real "family"? Did he really have deep, lasting, meaningful relationships with "Anxious in Alaska", or "DayByDay in Denver" while his exterior life crumbled?

I would guess probably not. Calling them "messed up" is a fairly strong clue. He obviously doesn't see himself as "messed up." With his natural dominant traits and his flair for dogmatizing I wouldn't be surprised if he were dishing out advice and rhetoric to gullible minds. He had an Internet following... a little kingdom where he could be king, unlike the cold unfriendly wastelands of the world in which his body lived. It was that half smile that said as much. There was something so out of place about it on a face so habitually careworn and creased. it was not a benign smile of affection or forbearance. It was a crocodile's smile; all salivation and anticipation of a forthcoming kill. It was the smile of Richard III: "I can smile, and murder while I smile..."

He is probably very good at it. People who become "sponsors" in 12-step groups are sometimes covertly very controlling types, who want to dominate the lives of others. The naive new 12-stepper is an easy mark. But to do this it is necessary for the sponsor himself/herself to ignore his own plight. Perhaps not ignore it, but certainly use it as a tool to gain credibility and an advantage. If the sponsor ever recovers and moves on, they no longer qualify to sponsor others. Fortunately in the world of 12-stepping no one ever recovers from anything. To do so would be to stop being a victim, which would be too radical. Instead you just move up the seniority list.

So the day arrived recently when my phone rang at 8 am. I knew who it was of course. Mark knows perfectly well I tend to work until very late at night, and don't get up before 9. He knows this but he seems to think he has a free pass because of the "urgency" of his situation. On that day he wanted me to pick him up at some Starbucks and take him to fill out an application for a driving job in a town an hour away. Something inside me clicked. I said - "I'm sorry, I'm tied up today." There was a long terrible pause. Then he said "OK, what about tomorrow?" I said "I'm pretty busy tomorrow too. In fact I'm tied up all week." There was an even longer pause which smelled of "deeply wounded" then a few faltering remarks about "well -- ok --- I guess I'll work something out --- " etc. Then: "See you." and he hung up. He never bothered to ask how I was, but then, he never did. I tried to go back to sleep but I couldn't. I was afraid I'd just sent him to jump off a bridge.

I know I've painted him as a selfish irresponsible pig, but that was this week. Last week I painted him as a hapless victim of circumstance who slipped through the net. The week before he was a fallen God who could find no comfortable home on earth. Yes, all the same person. Which is the real Mark? Is he the hopeless hapless victim, or is he a predatory irresponsible bum? Which is the real Derek? Am I the Samaritan who tries to dress the stranger's wounds or am I the one who passes by on the other side of the street? Am I healing myself by trying to heal the life of another, or am I taking on too much responsibility for the plight of others. Can we/should we/must we try to change the world into a kinder gentler place, given that the world was designed to be a place of insoluble problems and endless suffering, laced with just the occasional promise of happiness for bait? What would Jesus do? What would you do?

I know what I did. I uttered those prescient words -- "I'm tied up." It doesn't matter how you say them -- to someone who is totally dependent on you they are a death sentence. To someone who is just using you they are a notification that the game is over. Either way they are three words that mark the end of an era. What did I achieve with them?

Time and my fridge door will tell.


Anonymous Wixom said...

Entertaining but I don't knowhow close to the truth. Seems like Marks passion for his internet friends is the only passion in a bleak life. Maybe a lot like those guys who attack you with Ayn Rand dogma. If its the only thing they have in their bleak little life, no wonder they're so adamant about it :-)

12:31 PM  
Anonymous K said...


Guilt over hurting another, and guilt over failing to help another are very much the same thing in the ego's bag of tricks. They are part of a ceaseless campaign to keep us "mindless" or focused on illusory problems in an illusory world. As long as we agonize over such issues we never get in touch with the real source of guilt, which is the guilt in the mind that is projecting all this unreal chaos.

All evidence to the contrary it is actually foolish, even arrogant, to think we can truly cause pain or harm to another. It is possible to act in such a way as to verify (to him) any beliefs he already holds about pain and victimisation, but you can't be the real first cause of his pain. That is far deeper and more ontological than any issues of employment or abode. Like you, your friend has the power to change his mind and get back to the truth (though it is not easy.) Can you really believe your mind is powerful enough to take away what God has given? He will reclaim it when he is ready. The exact timing of that is not your concern, and you should not punish yourself.

Please remember no-one can feel attacked unless they choose it. That billions of people worldwide feel attacked is evidence that billions of people do make that choice. We can choose again. K.

8:31 PM  
Blogger will said...


I have to agree with what k said. I don't think I can actually do it, but I agree! Guilt over how I act or how I treat others has been of life long fascination (grin). After three years of ACIM I am just beginning to climb out of the ditch.

7:19 PM  
Anonymous jean said...

i have the feeling there"s a theme here but i don't know what it is. sounds like you are talking about some religious or philosopical system but what kind of system justifies not helping people in serious need? i'm willing to give you benefit of the doubt, you're not cruel, you're following some belief. what is that belief? it isnt christian. i never heard of anything like that. how would you feel if you were the guy who is down and out.?

7:25 PM  
Blogger will said...

Over the past week I tried to post a comment but my computer skills were just not up to the task. I was so surprised by my recent success that I forgot to mention what a great piece of writing the last three weeks has been. I really looked forward to each blog.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Derek said...

I usually don't respond to comments but it would be rude not to say thank you for your nice compliment. Hope you will contribute more in the future. D.

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Derek

Thanks for the Ayn Rand comment. Ayn Rand saved my life, no doubt about it. Back in the summer of '87, when the Oliver North hearings were going on and I was a lost college kid, I picked up a battered copy of Atlas Shrugged and devoured it in 3 days. Finally a person saying there was Life in the world and that human ability wasn't something to be ashamed of.

Years later, as an ACIM student (something Rand would have vehemently disapproved of), I knew in my heart that Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead were the only things I could have accepted at the time. ACIM was too theoretical. So perhaps these novels were ways in which the HS was calling me home.....

I like your blog because it shows that an ACIM students can still question the world and have doubts. I love ACIM but have real doubts sometimes because it is so darned vague!!! Like this situation with Mark....I too have a situation that is so difficult to deal with. ACIM sometimes feels like a stone around my neck to be honest, especially when trying to handle real-life problems. I think that a lot of it comes down with common sense really...

Thank you for your honesty. Hope you continue with the blogging.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Manu said...

This is a perfect ego trap to reinforce the underlying sense of guilt and maintain the illusion. Christian as well as other belief systems that believe in the attraction of guilt will want to do something in the world. When one achieves salvation through forgiving the self-created illusion, the illusion and everyone in the illusion disappears, and that's how one help one's brothers.

10:46 AM  


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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tied Up ... continued

Things seemed to go from bad to worse for Mark. He had some kind of a fight with the owner of the limo company and parted company. His car bit the dust and he was without transportation. He was doing some kind of telemarketing work for a while ... Did you ever get those calls at home from police charity organizations where the caller is firm, deep-voiced and authoritative, and you are suppose to think this is a cop calling you and you'd better cough up a donation, or next time you call 911 you'll be put on indefinite hold? Chances are that was Mark calling you, or someone like him. These companies advertise for deep-voice sales reps, and give them a sales script that implies they are police personnel.

When you have child-support payments it often doesn't pay to work low-wage jobs. As soon as you earn any money they garnish your wages and you are left with nothing. If the child is living in a reasonably wealthy situation, and won't be seriously affected, it's almost better to let the back-payments accrue until you can earn a decent salary.

Anyway I next ran into him when he was unemployed and staying at a friend's house. He was trying to get work but was at the end of his rope because he had no transportation, his "friend" wanted to kick him out, and they were about to cut off his cell-phone for non-payment. The extent of his accommodation was apparently a mattress on the floor. Not a joyous situation.
I wished I had a big house with a spare room. I would have given him a roof over his head for a couple of months so he could get back on his feet. You might think people like that just use people like me, and he had no real desire to work. You might be right. But one thing I know from 25 years of chronic illness is -- it gets the better of you sometimes. You can see doctors and fight with insurance companies till you're blue in the face but there comes a time when you're just too worn down and weak and depressed to go on. At times like this you don't need someone telling you to "smarten up." You need help to get back above that threshold of dysfunction, so you can continue the battle. Mark's life seemed a bit like that to me. I saw him as below that critical point and I didn't want to judge him for it.

But all this is hypothetical. I didn't have a big house. I lived in a small apartment and there was just room for my wife and I. A third body just would not fit.

I needed some instruction manuals written for some software. Mark had a laptop and was pretty software-savvy, so I "hired" him to write for me in his "spare-time" and gave him a $200 "advance". I didn't really think I'd see those manuals any time soon. After an emotional session when he almost broke down and cried, I also paid his phone bill for him, so he could continue trying to find work. Finally I offered to drive him to any job interviews he might arrange.

I think I took him to about four interviews altogether -- all limo or cab companies. Nothing came of it. Finally he told me in desperation he had to check into a (psychiatric) facility because he just could not carry on this way, living in such stress and uncertainty. He admitted he was depressed and acting self-destructively, and said he needed some kind of medication and some breathing space. "If not," he said, "it is not a matter of if, but when."

Perhaps in Europe or Canada such a public-health facility would be easy to locate, but in the US, the first question every place asked was - "What type of insurance does he have?" When I told them he had none, they weren't interested. We finally found a public-health psychiatric clinic that accepted uninsured walk-ins. It was a long drive on a cold gray December weekend afternoon. I dropped him off there after filling out a few forms, and waiting in a grimy waiting-room till a counsellor agreed to see him.

But they just put him out on the street with a name and phone no. to contact during the week for regular counselling. The fact that he had no funds, no food, no job, no car, no resources, and soon -- no place to live -- was not really their department. The question is - was it my department? It was two days before Christmas now, and this man was about to be sleeping on the street or in a homeless shelter. I began a frantic internet search for charities, churches, shelters, government agencies, benefits, welfare, any resource he could fall back on to help him through this time. This man had worked and paid taxes for 35 years of his life. Where was the State when he needed it? What I found out was basically this: if you're not a pregnant woman, or a victim of abuse, or a child, you might as well forget it. You are on your own.

I remember Christmas Eve I had a conversation with him on my cell-phone. I was basically trying to talk him out of suicide. I have a friend in England who works for Samaritans and I thought maybe there would be a Samaritans agency listed in our city ... There was one: however it was a church counselling agency with "reduced fees" for those who are "eligible" and it operated Monday-Friday. Hardly 911. I was in a restaurant grabbing a sandwich and my conversation must have been loud, because when I hung up a woman near me said "It's always hard trying to help friends, isn't it?" I started talking with her a bit and told her the problem. The conversation went like this:

"Well - McDonald's is hiring. He can go work there."
"But after child-support is taken out there's nothing left for him to live on."
"Oh well -- in that case he deserves his situation. The child deserves to live a good life."
"The child has a great life. Both parents are wealthy attorneys, and she lives in a big house."
"And she deserves to. If he has to pay support he must have been a bad father."
"Perhaps he was. I'm sure he did the best he could. But doesn't he deserve a good life too?"
"Not if he abandoned his wife and child."
"Why do you think he did that?"
"It happens all the time."
"Aren't you punishing him without a trial?"
"Well I certainly don't believe in welfare!"

I don't want to change the subject but there's a lot of male-bashing in charity. Sweet children and poor delicate or pregnant women are automatically innocent and deserving of help, while males are automatically guilty and responsible for their own misfortunes. One more interesting point came to light. It turned out this woman had MS and was getting care under medicare and medicaid. If medicaid isn't welfare, what is it? Of all the people for me to meet on Christmas Eve, I had to meet Ayn fucking Rand!

So why didn't I invite Mark over for Christmas? It would have been the thing to do. The answer is because frankly I couldn't stand him. Nor can my wife. Despite all I've said, he remains a negative, domineering know-it-all. I made a commitment to ferry him to job interviews and I did. I told myself I had answered the call of duty and beyond. I didn't have to adopt him. I didn't have to drive across town, pick him up, bring him home, sit around all day watching TV and eating and listening to him sound-off about his situation, then drive him all the way home again late at night. I find Christmas pagan enough as it is, without inviting Eeyore the donkey over to sit it out with me.

Should I have taken his suicide threats more seriously? "Not a matter of if, but when," he said. That is a clear enough indicator. But I reported that to all the hospitals and facilities I called, and I told it to the public-health clinic. They just let him out on the street. Surely if they did not consider him a threat to himself, then he wasn't. Still I worried about him. Friendless and cold on a mattress on a floor on bleak Christmas day, with nothing to look forward to. Am I my brother's keeper? Yes; but how literally and personally should I take that. Should I try to be like Mother Theresa, a foot-soldier engaing in one-on-one hand-to-hand combat with poverty and disease? I don't have that in me. I pay taxes, give to the occasional charity, help out the occasional friend, and try to live with myself. I suppose I think because of my taxes and my charity contributions help is always available to those who really need it. "He sees the meanest sparrow fall."

Well just try getting it! The plain truth is, in this land of the free, there is really little or no safety net for people like Mark. He just slipped through all the cracks. He could not even get a few d0llars in unemployment benefits because all his jobs for the last few years had been some kind of "self-employed" or "contractual" work, and for whatever reason - he didn't qualify. Now maybe if he spent six weeks standing in line at various government agencies, filling out forms, making endless calls, and jumping through hoops, he might be eligible for some kind of help. But all that requires time and effort, a car and a phone, a place to stay, and mostly - enough energy to face the grind. When you're at the end of a rope like he was, it was an impossible obstacle.

I say again. There is no safety net. No safety cushion. If you are not physically ill, or disabled, or a veteran, or a mother with child, or a Native American -- no one will catch you if you fall. If you cannot function in society, but have no visible reason for your failure, society seems not to care. Mark told me one day that he was thinking of holding up a liquor store, not because he needed the money, but so he could become a ward of the state prison and get three meals a day.

In London I have a friend who was diagnosed schizophrenic when he was about twenty. He's fifty now and has spent the last thirty years living on a government allowance, in a government paid high-rise apartment, with a free bus-pass. In many ways his life is much better than mine. The State looks after the less fortunate there. There are agencies everywhere willing to help. They just don't expect everyone to be an able-bodied Horatio Alger, pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Starting with the Clinton administration, the US has been on a rapid withdrawal from the Welfare-State mentality. "Welfare-to-Work" was the buzz of the era, and I think that's a good thing insofar as a lot of able-bodied people took unfair advantage of government benefits. But have we gone too far the other way? My Ayn Rand friend would say no, but who -- other than family -- is there to catch and heal those who just cannot cope with society's demands? Where is the kindness and compassion that should be the hallmark of civilization?

In Virginia I rented an apartment from a friend who was a fairly successful small-businessman. He was a kind and a gentle man but he fell into some kind of dispute with his business partner, and it looked like he would lose control of his business. No one was worried: he had money, he had a nice house, he was well known and well-liked in the community, he was engaged to be married. But he fretted and worried and drove himself into a solitary frenzy over what he would do for the rest of his life. No one took him seriously. I didn't. I just told him everything would work out. So he had nowhere to go. He was in some kind of private hell and no one would listen.

I have his obituary on my fridge-door. "Passed away unexpectedly" it says, which is the standard obit-euphemism for suicide. He put a gun in his mouth.

In Georgia I installed a computer system in a store one Sunday afternoon. The manager let me in. We chatted during the day and he told me about his divorce years ago, and how he lived alone now. He said if he hadn't divorced he could have retired, but now he was obliged to keep working. But now he had a good job, and a new girlfriend who came over on weekends. He seemed worldly but not world-weary. He did not seem like a man at the end of his rope. After that weekend I talked to him on the phone a few times about computer questions... nothing out of the ordinary. Then one day about 6 weeks later his boss called me and told me his manager had not shown up for work and had not answered his phone, so he went over to his house to see if he was OK. It was another gun-in-the-mouth. No note.

There but for the grace of God go I. I find life on Earth hard enough to tolerate sometimes. A long meaningless scramble down a treacherous slope to inevitable pain and death. Not exactly a "club Med" scenario. I can no longer glibly look the other way when friends start to tumble uncontrollably down that slope. ... but even though I can't do it glibly, I still do it.

I'll finish this next time.


Blogger Richard said...

Maybe if you understood Rand a bit better you would discover real humanity, rather than the creeping injustices, driven by our culture's ubiquitous irrationalities, that led to your acquaintances deaths, and that contribute to your own angst.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Aileen said...

Derek, this is a sad story; one that calls for action. While the government won't help, I trust that people who read your blog can. I would love to help your friend. Is there a way you could set up a Paypal account for him? Or an account at a bank? Thank you for your caring and concern!

1:58 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Aileen typifies the *real* solution —and you don't have stoop to using gov't force to rob others.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Tom Rowland said...

In a free country, you can help anyone you want to. But you can't force others to do what you won't.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous marian said...

Well, Derek, I don't know Mark, don't know how to help him or what would truly be the solution for him, or even if he is still alive.

And I don't know you, either, except through this strange medium, in which we have the luxury of being bodyless and revealing only what we wish to reveal.

Be that as it may, the pain in your next-to-last
paragraph broke my heart a bit. For whatever it may be worth, I'm glad you are still here. xoxo

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Wixom said...

Re. Richard. Ah! I see you have an objectivist among your readers. How quaint.


9:50 AM  
Blogger Richard said...


There are now 26 University professors who are explicit Objectivists, whereas twenty years ago there were only two. This is because Objectivism, done right, has more validity than any body of philosophical thought since Aristotle (with due acknowledgment to the politics of men such as Locke and Jefferson)

That is not "quaint' unless, by some bizarre twist, you intend its more archaic meaning: skillfully or cleverly made; wise; skilled. Calling Objectivism "quaint" is a smears not an argument. It is merely childish ad hominem.

Pls. note that, contrary to other smears made towards Objectivism, Objectivists DO sympathize with people in trouble, such as Derek describes. Indeed charitable acts are inversely proportional to taxation and the cultural impact of welfare legislation. The socialism of a mixed economy drives people to feel short of money, that the gov't has their money so why should they contribute more. If the expression "dog eat dog" ever applied anywhere it is to this latter situation. why be charitable when the gov't is already 'eating' you(r money)?

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Wixom said...

In response to Richard, I think I should point out that argumentum ad hominem means to imply that an idea or action has a certain quality because the person involved has that quality. Example, "that statement has no merit because the man who said it is an ex-convict." I think Derek touched on it in a recent blog when he said there's no reason to doubt the validity of Al Gore's global warming ideas just because Al Gore himself leaves all the lights on and flies a private jet. But a lot of people level that criticism at his ideas. Now regarding objectivism, I did say it was quaint, but I didn't say you were quaint, Richard. how could I? I don't know you. Since my adjective was not aimed at any human being, it could not be argumentum ad hominem. It is a simple direct comment about objectivism. But I will say, Richard, your argument that objectivism has merit because it has been adopted by 26 university professors is a clear example of argumentum ad populum. If sheer numbers actually meant something then what about the other 1.1 million college teachers in the US who have not adopted objectivism? Isn't that at least as significant by your own criterion?
Anyway in my opinion you are missing the main point of Derek's blog and the body of his writings. I feel he is struggling with the application of Course metaphysics in everyday life, and is beyond sociopolitical "isms". I have read the Course a little and I think Jesus would have decreed all such isms a "waste of time." The world was created to be a place of insoluble problems to keep us distracted. Am I correct, Derek?

5:39 PM  
Blogger Richard said...


Where did I say you were accusing me of being quaint? The fact that I did not, and you have defended yourself on that basis, suggests to me that your remark actually was directed at me! Now that you have split that hair, it remains that your remark was a childish smear.

You are only marginally correct about my use of ad populum. My use of it was a quick way to show that "quaint" hardly applies to the growing support and legitimacy of a body of ideas. Of course, you knew that, but had to respond with a cheap dodge to avoid dealing with the point.

Objectivism is a growing force whereas the main body of ideas the other 1.1 million college teachers (generally) echo inbred irrationalities that contribute to the very problems Derek rightfully bemoans. Supporting that tedious status quo, whether by further ad populum or by actually trying to defend its ideas, will do Derek and the deeply depressed people he bemoans no good.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Wixom said...

All my life it has been my experience that objectivists, like scientologists and marxists are fanatical argumentitive zealots, obsessed with proving themselves right and everyone else wrong. Theirs is an unproven archaic unworkable anachronistic scheme that is dead before it ever lived. (Like Marxism.) Disagreement is not permitted. If you disagree you obviously don't understand, and need to be shipped off to re-education camp somewhere.
But it's a lot of fun, a bit like cow-tipping, knowing they are so reactive, volatile and predictable, to throw lighted matches at them and watch them blow up :-)
Sorry Richard, you are right, Ms. Rand is the author of the greatest phiosophical system since Aristotle. I think she said that herself.
I am retiring from this discussion now because it doesn't belong here. Richard if you want to post your email I'll goad you privately.

4:59 PM  


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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Sorry, I'm tied up.

Sometimes you just don't know how to think about something. Half of you wants to see it one way, the other half tugs in another direction. After a while you distance yourself from the internal conflict and start giving your thoughts glib labels like "the right-minded thought" and "the wrong-minded thought". Then you are alarmed to find you really don't know which is which, and the whole thing is a great gray area.

I have a friend Mark (not his real name). I met him a few years ago in a coffee shop somewhere. He's about 55. I remember we chatted a bit about China because I overheard him say he'd been there. It seems he and his wife went to Guangzhou to adopt a small girl. Since then they have divorced, and he now pays child-support. I could only imagine how acrimonious the divorce must have been; he had no reservations about telling me he didn't even have visitation rights. He was struggling in a dead end sales job trying to raise money to buy a house, so he could gain "credibility and respectability" and win back some role in the life of his daughter. All this on a first meeting! The striking thing about Mark was his voice. It was an effortless deep resonant baritone, like a radio announcer on steroids. It had that enviable Richard Burton/James Earl Jones quality that could simply read the city phone book out loud and make you listen in enchantment. He combined it with a slow, deliberate, oratorical speaking style, and the result was - I felt I was speaking with the Oracle. Nothing he told me sounded ordinary or commonplace, even though bitter divorces and child-support are not exactly rare.

Time went by and I ran into him quite often - always in that coffee shop. I guess I go there a lot, but so did he. In fact he used it as a kind of headquarters where he held court with anyone who would listen, about marriage, divorce, world affairs, politics, economics, education -- whatever you wanted to discuss, he had a strong opinion. Talking with Mark I always felt slightly puny and inferior, like a tiny dog yapping to be heard. It was the pure authority of his voice. I don't think he deliberately tried to drown people out: he just spoke normally and it happened. He made me doubt my rightness.

If you analyzed Mark's opinions about the world, they always distilled down to one thing: he was a victim. All politicians were corrupt and we are the victims. The economy is in a mess and we are the victims. The Church is corrupt and we suffer. His ex-wife was a heartless bitch and he was the victim. His job was thankless, his employer was unappreciative, and he was exploited. His car was broken down and unreliable because the car-dealer is a crook and he was cheated. His credit history was a mess because he was a victim of the divorce and the court-system which had forced him to borrow beyond his means. He had no decent home-life because the place he was living was "a dump." The city in which we lived was for "losers." It had no culture and no social life. The people were all provincialites with no real clue. The local economy was dreadful and it was impossible to make a good living here. "I've got to get out of here!" he would say regularly. "I want to get back to Baltimore. It's a different world there." As you read all this you might be forgiven for thinking this guy sounds like a real loser. You would be right. Stripped of all color and tone, the facts point to the classic victim syndrome. But -- oh my -- the color and the tone were so significant. A story that would have said: "I'm a bum" on other lips, seemed to say "I'm a wounded god" coming from him.

Mark was a regular churchgoer even though he had nothing positive to say about his church-friends. Once he asked me if he could go to an ACIM meeting with me. It was amusing to watch the faces of the others at the meeting when it was Mark's turn to read. I think they took him for the new messiah, such was the richness of his voice. In fact he had no acquaintance with the material at all. It was just another city phone-book to him. After the meeting we went for a meal (I paid of course: he never had money) and he engaged me in a fierce debate about the metaphysics of the Course, calling it "sophistry." It makes perfect sense for someone with a victim mindset to be angry about a book that teaches us we made-up all our own problems.

He began a new job, driving for a limousine company. He could work his own hours, and if he applied himself he could earn good money. From then on whenever I saw him in the coffee house he was sleeping. He would stop by there after a 16 hour driving shift and fall asleep in the chair. I would tap him to wake him up and say "Hi," but there was never any joy on his face, just weariness and disgust at the great weight he perceived he had to bear. Usually he would mutter "I need to get home and get some sleep" for about an hour, before finally getting up and lurching off like a defeated heavyweight.

More about Mark. He'd obviously had a "good" education. he could hold forth on most issues. How many people do you know who could accuse the Course of "sophistry?" I wish I knew a few more. He was quite overweight and becoming more so. You get to a stage of weight gain where none of your clothes fit you, and you either can't afford new ones, or you don't want to buy them because it would be admitting defeat. So you look shabby. So you feel shabby. You don't look after yourself. You don't shave. You don't trim your hair. You don't eat well. You gain more weight. You don't exercise. Movement becomes more of an effort. Slowly your breathing becomes labored. Slowly your arteries are clogging. He smoked. Every ten minutes, no matter what the weather, he had to go outside and light up. He drank far too much coffee. It seems his whole life was broken into alternating ten-minute cycles of caffeine and nicotine. Yet somehow he always managed to convey an air of exiled nobility; not really a loser on a slow decline, but a great man with a great past and a future, taking temporary respite in the land of ordinary people.

How do you feel about Mark so far? Have you judged him yet? Something in me made me keep a flame of hope alight for him. I wanted to see him through these difficult times...
But I see now that was predicated on the assumption these times would end someday...

I will post more of this story in a few days.


Anonymous marian said...

One person's exiled nobility is another person's insufferable blowhard.

I don't know if this is a set-up or not (no offense, but I've come to expect that from you, dear Derek), but I do understand what it means to take a liking to someone who is not an obvious choice for a friend.

Anyway, good to have you back. And to give you the cliche you are after: Are we not all exiled nobility?

11:06 AM  


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