Peacemakers Who (Really) Keep the Peace

Dictionaries offer two definitions of “peacemaker”: someone who settles disputes and problems by negotiating and mediating, and a second kind of “Peacemaker”—a Colt single-action revolver popular during the late nineteenth century.


American voters keep bringin’ on the gunslinging version of peacemaker—belligerent, reactionary leaders who turn taxpayers’ pockets inside-out to fund their immense arsenals, endless wars, unwieldy spy bureaucracies, and sprawling armed forces, who make no one’s day–and untold enemies–with their cocky boy-cowboy approaches to diplomacy.


I want new leadership that will keep the peace, not disturb it.


Only visionary leaders can provide the understanding, acceptance, and appreciation necessary to unify the planet’s polarized cultures—Africans, South Americans, China, the Muslim world, and the West. Only idealistic leadership can inspire each of these cultures to achieve its own unique ideals, hopes, and dreams, while respecting and supporting the quality of human life everywhere. Only non-violent leadership can address the century’s most urgent problems—the ravages of disease, injustice, hopelessness, greed, hunger, environmental degradation, natural disasters, ignorance, addiction, prejudice, imprisonment, nuclear proliferation, crime, poverty, conflict, corruption, migration, war, terrorism, and violence.


Albert Einstein said, “”You can't solve a problem with the same mind-set that got you into the problem in the first place.”  Yet we keep trying to address 21st century problems with the same kind of 19th century peacekeeping that got us into trouble in the first place.


When our founders wrote the Constitution, they charged future leaders with serious peacemaking roles. And just exactly what does it mean to us, today, to “provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, establish justice, and insure domestic tranquility?”


American peacekeeping today is all about invading and conquering distant lands unlucky enough to have rich resources and strategic value; imposing international political and economic conditions advantageous to Americans; treating idealistic global cooperatives, movements, and legal bodies as convenient extensions of American hegemony; promoting justice primarily for white, wealthy, incorporated, and preferably male Americans; and insisting on America’s right to do whatever we want, to whomever, whenever, wherever.


We don’t need any more moral bankrobbers who stare down imagined enemies at the point of a gun. We need spiritual political leadership in the mould of Gandhi, Mandela, and King, peacemakers with faith in the power of love, and the moral courage necessary to bring the world together, who will establish a cabinet-level Department of Peace, work to keep our nation in harmony with all God’s children in every nation, and help secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves, our posterity, and all mankind.


Yippee-ki-yay, brother.



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Finding Time For What's Most Important

I have more time these days to…. I started to say, to do what I want to do, but everyone does what they want to do twenty-four hours a day, if you count wanting to go on living, wanting to eat, stay warm, take care of loved ones—in short, most everyday activities.


So, rephrasing…these days I have more time and money to choose activities beyond caring for the immediate needs of myself and loved ones—and I feel very lucky about that.


I’m surprised, though, to find that even people with “free time” can put themselves under a lot of self-inflicted pressure, feeling we should do more, better, or different with our new-found time. I’d hoped that all that rushing around would be behind me when I had more time.




Now that I think about it, the world’s most influential people stay pretty busy—although they don’t act rushed. I guess they’ve mastered the art of living in the present moment (think Bill Clinton?), focusing on their most important agenda items, and taking satisfaction in what they can do.


My husband tells me “involvement” is the key for him. Whether he’s fixing a drain or paying a bill or working on job-related projects, he’s contented, so long as he feels “involved.” I know he makes seemingly boring tasks more interesting for himself by holding to high standards of excellence, focusing, and paying attention to detail. And of course he never gets his long list done either. But he’s pretty good at attending to his “big rocks” first, accomplishing them as well as he can in the time he has. (The “big rocks” theory says you can squeeze more rocks and pebbles and gravel and sand into a jar only when you put the big rocks in first.)


I used to put all my little pebbles in first—hoping to address them quickly so I could get on to all my big rocks—but then I would run out of energy and motivation, and never get around to my most important, if less urgent, goals. Now I’m learning to take care of my big rocks earlier, and to fit all the others in where I may. To my surprise, even a few minutes a day on my big rocks elates and energizes me, and I’m more, not less, likely to get to—and enjoy—my little rocks.


And which are my big rocks? That’s hard to figure out, too. My big rocks are those activities and goals which give me the greatest sense of meaning, usefulness, happiness, and contentment. Each person’s set of big rocks is quite different from any other persons’. I’ve also learned to identify what it is I value most, compared with the values of others’, by looking back on what I’ve chosen to do with my time in the past. (I’ve noticed, for instance, that I camped, backpacked, and hiked whenever I could manage it, even when I didn’t have much time and money, so I’ve recognized that being active in nature is very important to me…. These days, I garden.)


Another way to identify big rocks is to think about what I would do if I had unlimited money. International spiritual and activist treks always drew me, though other goals won out; nevertheless, here I sit at last, traveling the world through the internet, and writing my spiritual/activist blog.


It also helps me to think about all the famous people I admire–athletes, leaders, stars, writers, artists; all the things they're so good at are quite different from each others'–so they had to choose, too, and make hard trade-offs during their own twenty-four hour days.


Finding time for what’s most important to me also requires listening attentively to my intuition. Of course, I still keep good old reason-and-logic handy in my big bag of decision-making tricks, but nowadays they share equal space with my gut-feelings. In any case, I’m aware that I often use “reason” just to build a case for established preferences—so why not just pay attention to them to begin with? I also sometimes intuitively pick up a long-neglected activity because, “If I don’t do this now, it won’t ever get done.”


I’m more courageous now about letting go and trusting God to guide me toward what’s most important on each day—having lived enough of my life to know that, while life often feels chaotic while I’m living it, staying close to my own unique self, my sense of integrity, has been richly rewarding.


What’s most important to us—our own personal set of “big rocks”—is unique to each of us. While having good relationships is always valuable, many feel equally drawn to money-making, career, public service, art, travel, education, health, adventure, politics—the list goes on. No one can choose everything, at least not all at the same time; so we have to pick and choose among many competing options every day, every season, every decade. Configuring one’s own personal—and changing—sets of big rocks, weighing and prioritizing, balancing and selecting from among the infinite range of options, is a difficult thing to do.


Sometimes, when my big-rock choices are frustrating me, backfiring on me, or offering little short-term satisfaction, it helps to remember that every single choice, no matter how worthy and legitimate, is fraught with its own unique set of challenges, heartaches, and trade-offs. The hardest thing for me at such times is to turn my back on all those other delectable, competing “want to’s,” “have to’s,” “oughts,” and “shoulds.” It helps, at such moments to focus on the present and future joys and rewards of the goals I’ve chosen. Each tempting new rock and pebble may be very legitimately appealing and persuasive, but first things first; lifetimes hold a lot of hours.


During my crazy early days, when I blindly and not-so-patiently began weaving the first few strands of my own life’s tapestry, I certainly couldn’t see any underlying unique patterns or themes, any beauty, grace, or inspiration in it. I did cling fiercely, however, to a mole-like faith, that as long as I tried my best, led with my heart, and moved toward my passions, I would be all right. (And, to everyone’s surprise, I’m not dead yet.)


I know, in retrospect, that considering who I was, and considering what I knew back then, my life’s tapestry couldn’t have been woven any other way.


I used to envy a dear friend in faraway Idaho who sent me letters filled with such fascinating activities—travel, adventure, hobbies, classes, friendships, causes, achievement, nature, exercise, creativity—so many things I longed to do. I admired her so much (and still do) but felt like such a boring creature in comparison. What I wasn’t honoring at the time, as I provided day-care to babies, was my own choice to dedicate my own particular twenty-four hours a day (the same number everyone gets) to giving those babies (and my own) a good start. Looking back, I wish I had valued my own very reasonable “big rock” of that time as much as I did my friend’s equally well-chosen, wonderful ones. I wish I had appreciated and enjoyed the good work I was choosing, instead of putting negative energy into yearning for the other things I wanted to be doing simultaneously. Many of my temptations later turned into my big rocks of other years, each in their own time. And I know I’ll never regret any of the time I spent being home with my little girl.


My sister Sally, a devout Mormon mother of nine, once wrote a skit about time pressures and priorities, for her church’s women’s group. I thought her creativity so wonderful (she was wonderful) that I saved it, to re-read whenever I feel overwhelmed, envious, or unsure about my present priorities:



Skit for Relief Society Birthday Dinner

April 4, 1986

By Sally Jean Cole Andreason



Doll #1: “Sister W. always looks so great. The women in the church just seem to do well at everything. I don’t think I can live up to that. It would be so much simpler to stay home and play my dear piano.”


Doll #2: “Whew! Doing my aerobic exercises makes me feel great—and doesn’t hurt my looks, either! I wish I felt as enthusiastic about genealogy.”


Doll #3: “What a joy getting those names into the temple brings me! Talking to people who can talk back, like my teenager, is a lot harder. I could use some good ideas.”


Doll #4: “I love being able to talk with and be a friend to my daughter. But I wish I had the nerve to be a better missionary to her friend’s family.”


Doll #5: “She said ‘yes’! My friend at work said ‘yes’ to talking with the missionaries! If I start today, I might have the house in shape enough for them to give the discussions next Saturday. There goes the week!”


Doll #6: “I love to make my home a beautiful place for my family. I do wonder, sometimes, though, if I could transfer my homemaking skills to the job market if I needed to.”


Doll #7: “It surely feels good when I’ve worked hard on the job and really contributed. My boss knows he can count on me. I’d like to do something to help at my children’s school too. I just haven’t the time to be a room mother or a PTA officer.”


Doll #8: “I can really make a difference in our town. The school, the Little League, are really worth my efforts. But sometimes I wish I would make the time to learn to play the piano as beautifully as Sister K. Her talent must greatly add to her and her family’s enjoyment of life.”


Doll #1: “Really?!”


Doll #9: “The church and our Relief Society lessons take us as we are, and help us to grow. We all excel in different ways. We learn to appreciate and share our own talents and knowledge, and learn from our sisters’ examples and abilities too. One step at a time, everything in its season, each individual is unique. I’ve heard that a good woman is one who is trying. In the sisterhood of the Relief Society, we can help each other. The Relief Society is for every woman.”


There’s a gentle joke among Latter Day Saint women, that they sometimes try to take on too much—waking up an hour early to exercise, and then staying up an extra hour to pray, and then setting the alarm just one more hour earlier for inspirational reading, and then staying up just one more hour later to quilt/write/draw/whatever—‘til eventually they’re going to bed when it’s time to get up. (That was our Sally.) Sound familiar to any of you ambitious types? Sally packed a lot of joy and love and good work into her life, which I’m sure was exactly just long enough for whatever she and God most wanted and needed to do together.


God is bounteous, and provides richly for each of his beloved creatures whatever we need to live the life he expects of us. If we offer him our wholehearted best in doing whatever he gives us the inspiration, strength, and wisdom to do now, if we focus on our tasks and activities positively and passionately, one-by-one, I’m sure our lives will suit him, and us, just fine.


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How We Can Help Each Other Let Go of Guilt, Anger, and Attack

I used to think of anger as something “caused” by someone or something outside of me—most often, another person’s bad behavior. I experienced anger as an uncontrollable emotion that just sort of washed over me unexpectedly (anger as a tsunami wave, destroying everything in its path….)


I was sure my anger and retaliatory attacks were completely rational and justified. Always, someone had earned my outrage by doing something that hurt me, whether consciously or cluelessly. And not only did my tormenter deserve to be jumped for his egregious error, but I also was sure that his abuse would escalate if I didn’t instantly and harshly avenge the injustice.


Now I see anger as deriving mostly from my own useless guilt feelings, since anger comes up for me mostly when someone or something touches a subject I already feel at least a little guilty about.


If I start to feel angry now, I can almost always put my finger on something I’m feeling guilty about; it’s always a deeply repressed guilt so heavy that I’m almost desperate to push it off onto someone else, to release my feelings of panic over my weakness. My consequent flashes of anger result from wanting to push my guilt off onto someone else, to somehow lighten my load.


But guilt isn’t a hot potato that can be passed on to someone else. It’s not a balloon about to burst, not a burning coal, not boiling water about to blow under pressure. All attempts to pass guilt off through angry attacks just increase the guilt, usually in both parties. These metaphors only serve to reveal how urgently we all want to find some way to release our loads of guilt, and why we so quickly turn to anger and attack.


Pop religion and pop psychology sometimes hint that harboring guilt feelings is useful, that somehow, holding on to guilt will makes people strive to be better. On the contrary, I’ve finally realized that guilt and anger—yours, mine, and everyone else’s—are always crazy, insane, mad, deranged, completely useless, and completely harmful. They never accomplish anything positive, ever. Guilt feelings only hold us back, paralyze us, depress us, and urge us to angrily attack others, and thus keep us from moving forward and doing our best, while anger always just makes everyone feel guiltier and angrier.


I used to believe that “repenting” for my mistakes at some painful length–suffering a long term of anguish and guilt after I “sinned” (or made mistakes, or failed to live up to my ideals or standards)—was the only way I would ever improve. If I didn’t feel guilty most of the time, I supposed I would somehow run amok, maybe burn down the world, become a serial killer or something (and I wasn’t even raised Catholic!)


When we’re willing to forgive ourselves and let our guilt feelings go without at first groveling and spiraling down into the unavoidable black depths of guilt's self-hatred, when we can accept the support and forgiveness of our loved ones without first guiltily and angrily pushing them away, kicking our pets, and feeling like scum, then we can begin to make progress toward a new life.


But we’re afraid to let go of our heavy loads of self-aggravated guilt. We’re afraid that without the benefit of abject guilt to torture and spur us on, we’ll never get anything right, never fix any bad situations. We’ll be leftk, finally, with nothing but the same tedious, incremental, arduous, step-by-step process of self-improvement that everyone else has to master—a terrifying prospect for those of us whose lives feel chaotic, yet who really want to be different, and who aren’t very good yet at changing our own behavior.


I thought that piling guilt on myself was sufficient evidence that I wanted to change, that I really really really was trying, especially as I kept failing to improve. At least, I thought, my guilt made it absolutely clear to God and everyone, and to myself, that at least I meant to do better. The more abject my guilt, and the deeper my depression, surely, the better the person I would become. Why else would anyone choose to keep on suffering like that?


But it doesn’t matter what you want. It only matters what you take action about.


I don’t know why I kept believing this myth so long, when it never once worked for me. The only times in my life I’ve ever gotten back on track were the times I managed to let go of my guilt feelings—usually with another person's help, or God's, reminding me that I was still lovable.


This first giant step, away from the blackness and self-condemnation of feeling guilty about the past, can make all the difference in success at making changes in life, and certainly in ending a frustrating cycle of anger and attack and depression. I finally had to learn to let my whole past go. And, consider: after all, it was gone. 


Our path to a better life begins with letting go of our guilt feelings, and it doesn’t matter how this happens. We may find a way to let go of our own guilt, or perhaps someone will remind us of our value as a person, or perhaps our higher power will help to release us.


The great teacher Jesus’ primary message was about letting go of guilt. Over and over he explained that we are not the guilty, miserable sinners we’ve been taught to see ourselves as, but rather, forgiven not-guilty creatures, now and for always. Jesus’ peaceful message was that, at least on earth, we were merely human, and humans make mistakes; so we should let go of our burdens of guilt, lighten up, know that we are forever and always forgiven, and then go forth and lead good, happy lives.


However it is that we manage to let go of our guilt, this release always feels wonderful, light, free, and very powerful. Only letting go of guilt feelings can give us the motivation, the lift, the transformation, and the necessary energy to move forward to achieve our goals.


Too often, though, instead of letting go of our guilt, instead of forgiving ourselves and affirming our own worth and lovability, we sidestep into angrily pushing away our guilt feelings, unloading big chunks of that guilt by angrily attacking others. Then, unfortunately, we're not only stuck back with our original guilt, but we feel the additional guilt about our angry attack, as well.


This cycle of guilt, anger, and attack is always completely pointless, because nothing and no one is ever helped by our guilt or anger or attack. Have you ever noticed that when you attack someone, they don’t like it? Have you ever noticed that dumping anger and guilt on someone else isn’t considered the best human relations trick out there?


Whenever you blame anyone for anything, whenever you attempt to shift your unwanted guilt feelings onto another, they’ll usually start feeling uncomfortable and guilty themselves, and of course then they’ll want to shift that guilt right back onto you. It’s called the blame game, and it accomplishes nothing, and always makes situations worse. Who cares who's to blame? Isn't it more important for us all just to get back on track?


Guilt can never motivate anyone, no matter how hard we kick ourselves. Letting go of guilt, on the other hand, can lighten up our load miraculously, freeing us to move forward again, motivated and eager to improve.


If we let go of our guilt, will we keep on making mistakes? Of course. Forever. And continuously. People can always think up new mistakes, because we’re human, and mistakes are what humans do. But through our efforts, we can also learn to make fewer mistakes, can keep on forgiving ourselves, can keep on learning and enjoying life.


The only way we can ever improve in any area of life is to chip away at carefully selected behaviors, goals, and problems. No one wakes up one day with their bad habits transformed. Even when our sins are washed clean in the blood of the lamb, as many Christians believe, even when we’ve managed to let go of our load of guilt, even when we feel whole and new and free, even then the path to human improvement is long and tedious and step-by-step. However, without guilt and anger weighing us down and making us miserable, we at least have the confidence in our own worth necessary to meet old and new challenges.


So when is anger justified?




Anger always only makes things worse, never better.


Another reason anger is never justified is that everyone else is just as fallible and as human as we are, and therefore just as prone to make mistakes. The only difference between ourselves and other people is that our own particular sets of mistakes are different from theirs. But all of us still make a lot of mistakes.


Sure, it’s so hard to accept the stupid mistakes other people make—things you and I would never do. Other people’s mistakes seem so deliberate, so unbelievably cruel and obtuse. But consider that people all tend to be blind to their own particular weirdly original sets of shortcomings and confusions. Really, we’re all in the same leaky little boat. All human beings struggle continually for betterment, doing our best and yet failing miserably, over and over again. Everyone is the same as you. No one is an exception. Everyone makes mistakes.


And when they do, what they need most from you is exactly what you need most from them–a little patience, a little understanding, a little help, a little forgiveness, a little love and consideration and kindness to help them over the tough spots in life, to where they can start chipping away at their goals again…. And there are a lot of tough spots in life!


The mistakes of others are those very choices and actions which seemed, at other moments, like the very best ideas they could come up with their little pea-brains. It’s tragic to realize this, isn’t it? That some people can be so confused, so unenlightened, so sad and clueless as to make such dumb decisions? Just as sad, in fact, as we are ourselves, sometimes, when we make grievous mistakes that we later regret. 


So give all of God’s fallible children (and yourself, too) a break whenever we need it the most, because we all need love, especially when we’re at our weakest and stupidest and saddest points.


Sometimes we’ll be out innocently gamboling about on a sunny day and wham! someone will angrily attempt to offload their guilt onto us with a seemingly senseless, vicious attack.


We can always choose to push our guilt right back at them, by angrily attacking them in return. But this strategy won’t work, except to make us both angrier.


Besides, what people really want, what they need most whenever they’re feeling guilty, when they’re attacking us—is help. Just a little helping hand from us, just because they, like us, get so sick and tired of feeling low, of feeling awful about themselves, so weary of carrying around all that guilt. They’re only hoping, deep in their unconscious, that they’ll get a little relief if only they dump all their guilt and anger on us. But what they really need and want most, even though they may not be aware of it, is for someone else to help them by reminding them that they’re still lovable.


An angry attack should signal to each of us that here is someone who desperately wants, deep down, to let go of his guilt and feel good about himself again. We can choose to help all angry and attacking sufferers release their guilt by reminding them, with our love, acceptance, and understanding, that they’re not alone in their struggle with the pain of being human. We can remind them with our kindness that everyone messes up, it's a disgustingly human trait, and that, regardless of this fact, that they are still so very lovable, valuable, and worthwhile. They need to know that, just as we need reminding of that, too.


It’s true that an angry attack is a rather peculiar way to ask for help, especially from the point of view of the one who’s being attacked, and especially when the attacker catches us in our most vulnerable places where we already feel most tender and guilty. Angry attacks always hit those places right on the money.


It helps a lot to remember that no one really wants to attack us. It's not about that. Just like us, at times when they feel most down and guilty, and are trying to pull themselves back up any way they can, they may crack, and try to shove off their heavy weights of guilt onto a handy innocent bystander at a difficult or weak moment.


When someone angrily attacks us, we don't need to pick up the guilt they’re trying to foist on us. Guilt isn’t something real that can be passed back and forth, anyway. Instead, we can help them let go of the guilt and anger they’re trying to push onto us. In doing so, we’ll enjoy experiencing the nice return miracle of receiving, for ourselves, freedom from guilt and anger; because when we forgive others for their mistakes, we’ll remember that we too, are forgiven, forgivable, lovable. And our lives will start to get a lot more peaceful.


We are what we are, we aree what God made us to be, what he meant us to be—which is, mistake-prone, fallible human beings, not little godlings. None of us is omniscient or omnipotent. Evidently, we were never meant to be. We’re just pitiable, glorious, amazing, feeble, growing, learning earthy creatures doing our lower-than-the-angels sporadic best to get some things right. And no human being ever gets anything right, not perfectly, not once-and-for-all, and certainly not for long.


That doesn’t mean it isn’t well worth our while to keep on chipping away at things, and to enjoy our life while we do. Because when we keep working and trying, we’ll stay out of trouble a little more often, we’ll learn a bit more here and there, come closer to the people we love, and gradually become the people we want to become.


God expects us and everyone else to screw up. He made us mistake-prone, not in order to torment us, but perhaps because he loves diversity (consider the snowflakes! and the beetles! Think how long and predictable eternity would be without the wide range of human choices….) Part of being unique is having our own particular sets of human weaknesses. Maybe God would be eternally bored with any other kind of creation…? Whatever the case, he made us as we are…fallible and mistake-prone.


What we need most from other people is help in letting our mistakes go. And we need to treat others with the same kindness we hope to receive from them, because we all need to be accepted just exactly as we are, so that we’ll be able to forgive ourselves and others, let all guilt and anger and attack go, and keep on getting better.


It’s sad, but the last thing any of us wants, is to be equal to the rest of God’s children—that is, just as stupid and fallible as everyone else. Surely not, we hope. Yuck. Surely we’re not like all the dreck, the hoi polloi, the huddled masses, those unenlightened, classless, hurtful, sinful, oblivious scum? Surely mortality is some sort of competition, which–well, look at us, hopefully we’re winning! Surely the deep black sins of others are far more grievous and dangerous and harmful than our tiny gray ones? Surely others deserve self-righteous wrath, while our little mistakes are only tiny oversights? Surely “they” have reason to feel guilty, while we don’t, not really….


I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work this way. We can’t see our own particular sets of mistakes as the only ones which aren’t important, as superficial, understandable, tiny momentary lapses based on misunderstandings and difficult, unusual circumstances, while everyone else’s mistakes are cold-hearted, obtuse, oblivious, calculated, deliberate, oft-repeated, defiant, shameful, and unforgivable mortal sins.


It’s only when we can forgive everyone's mistakes, all of them, (in biblical terms, only when we can “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things”) that we will be able to see clearly to forgive ourselves, to release ourselves from guilt and anger. We’re all human, and all our results will always be inadequate, insufficient, and disappointing. We all blow it, big time and small, over and over again. So when we can find it in our hearts to forgive all of humanity, to go easy on everyone, we’ll find we've finally let ourselves off the hook, too.


If we attempt to maintain our delusions about ourselves, that we’re different than others, and that our mistakes are unimportant, while others’ mistakes deserve immediate and harsh, angry attention, we’ll eventually crash hard. Because when we harbor the delusion that we’re better than others, we eventually swing to the polar opposite direction, and start believing that really, truly, we’re worse than everyone else. That's a hard, dark place to spend time in.


Neither delusion works. The only thing that works is humble acceptance that we’re all human, we’re all a mess, just like everyone else—if not exactly the same kind of mess as everyone else, rather, we're our own special kind of mess, one finely honed and refined, a unique, particular mess of our own creative making, quite different from everyone else’s mess. But still, a mess.


The most exhausting activity in the world is carrying around the pain and torment of constant judgment about guilt, both ours and others'. Loving and learning—what humans do best, and what we’re here for—is so much more peaceful a process when we can let all the negatives and guilt about the past—ours and others—go, and instead focus on and experience the joys and. yes, sorrows, of the present moment, free of guilt, anger, and attack.


Learning to change the present moment from a sad one to a wide-open one by letting our past guilt go and seeing only present good in any person or situation, is how we can create, for ourselves and others, a new, different, peaceful past, present, and future.


God, by definition, is infinitely good. Whatever plan he has for all his children (and there are many theories) must involve loving them all equally. Somehow, on whatever eternal scale, and by whatever process, all of his children will have ample opportunity to learn whatever we need to know to return to him.


It cannot matter to God that his children are presently at different points on the path to human improvement. Our current comparative levels of status and achievement couldn’t be less relevant, ultimately. If God believes each of us is deserving of his acceptance, love, and forgiveness, who are we to judge ourselves differently? We all need help from other people, and from God. Someday all of us will find our way back to our Source. Until then, our best opportunities for forgiveness and release from guilt lie in helping one another by looking for, and reflecting  back, only the good, and not the guilt, in each of us.


I know that nearly everyone has a more difficult life than I do, and many are daily cruelly challenged by guilt, anger, and attack . Still, I hope these insights will offer someone somewhere greater peace in her daily life, relationships, and in solving day-to-day problems.


Anger, attack, and other forms of judgment, resistance, and non-acceptance are completely useless emotions, whose basic foundation is needless guilt. They never improve any situation, and are always harmful. They hurt and kill many people every day, and their spread throughout the world has the power to destroy human life on this planet. I pray that we all work together to help each other let go of all guilt, anger, and attack, in all its forms, both personal and global.


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Left, Right, Left, Right…Wrong?

I received a letter from a reader of the conservative political persuasion who has kindly and thoughtfully taken the time to outline our political differences. In hopes of continuing our dialogue, I herein reprint his letter, followed by my response.


To E. P. Harmon:


I am amazed at your naiveté and willingness to lay down your arms in face of certain death.


You misinterpret religion in saying it does not advocate defending oneself against one’s enemies. I can’t quote scripture but it seems to me that there was a lot of smiting with swords and ass jaws when it was all said and done. Remember the bit where one guy lays his sword down to get a drink of water and gets whacked? Good lesson.


Based on your logic, if I broke into your house and started raping you, your husband’s proper reaction would be to sit on the couch and pray that I go away. I don’t think he would do that.


We are presently engaged in World War IV—WWIII being the Cold War, which we won, by the way, when Reagan called the communists’ bluff and built up our arsenal, and they couldn’t match the pot.


Whether you want to recognize it or not, we have a world-wide entrenched enemy who wants to turn the entire world back to the 8th century. They are using some 20th century tools to do it and I can appreciate the irony of that. Instead of embracing the freedom that you espouse, they would be happy to have every country on earth have women clad in burkas, not attend school, and be told when and whom to marry.


I think that if we tried to engage them in the 60’s hippie love-fest you seem so eager to try, they would exploit that weakness and set off the very bomb you are afraid of.


Despite your misgivings, security agencies are busy dismantling terrorist groups inside the U.S. every day.


In my opinion, Iraq and the entire world are in better places today with Saddam behind bars and on trial by his countrymen, than they were previously. There are no more rape rooms, no torture chambers, no knocks on the door in the middle of the night. The country is bouncing down the bumpy road to democracy. They have achieved within a year something that took our founding fathers sixteen years to accomplish—a constitution. Their country is not going to look like America, nor do we wish it to; it will be what they want, and what their citizens, for the first time in fifty years, actually get to vote on. Last time I looked, Saddam got 100% of the vote; now a popular candidate gets maybe 40%. That is progress. For the first time ever in that country, women voted. The U.S. armed forces, whom you despise, have restored power, brought power where none existed, brought water, hospitals, rebuilt schools. Their citizens are joining their army and police forces in droves to protect their fellow citizens, even knowing they may get blown up by some thug with a bomb while they’re standing in line at a recruiting station.


There are now newspapers that print what they want with no fear of reprisal, not just papers run by the state. The most popular things to own are a cell phone, a PC, a satellite TV dish, and a car, all of which were illegal before.


Too bad we can’t get North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam on the same footing as the Iraqis.


The world is safer. It’s kind of scary knowing we are in a shooting war, but we have their attention focused, and whenever they stick up their heads we take them off. We are dismantling their networks and making life more difficult. The jihadists are having trouble recruiting people. The Iraqis certainly aren’t. Why should they, with all the improvements in their lives? Why should they want to go back to the 8th century? The terrorists are coming in from outside countries—Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc., but not Iraq. If we were so bad for them, wouldn’t they be getting more Iraqis?


I didn’t see this in your articles, but I do have to admit I got a laugh out of the poor schmuck peace activists who got kidnapped by the terrorists. Talk about a group of people that can’t get no respect–it’s gotta be them. The first group goes to Iraq before the war, says we’re here to protest, gets told, “OK, that’s great, form a circle around the Ministry of Defense Building, we think that it might get bombed.” Then the war is over, we are in the square helping the Iraqis pull down Saddam’s statue, when some of the recently freed locals see some of the protesters coming out to chant at us, and tell us to go home, and the locals want to go kill them. Now our guys are having to protect them from the people that Saddam wanted to keep enslaved. Then to top it all off, they get captured by terrorists whom they wanted to support all along. You just have to wonder what was going through their heads. I wonder if it was, “Hey, Ahmed, I love you, I want your side to win, you’ve got the wrong guys.” LOL.


Seems to me you also have some issues to resolve with your father. You might want to seek some professional help. If I read that, and you were my kid, I’d be writing you out of the will. You equate people in the U.S. Armed Forces with your basic terrorist? Maybe your Dad didn’t take you to the base often enough, or teach you the code of the armed forces, or let you read the UCMJ or something. You apparently believe Kerry’s lies (which he has since denied, once he got caught) that there was widespread baby killing going on in Vietnam, or that all soldiers are like the losers in Abu Graib. You think someone who regrets the taking of innocent civilian lives, and who can get punished if he does, is morally equivalent to someone who straps on a bomb wrapped in nails and steps onto a school bus full of children. You simply amaze me.


But isn’t it nice, to be able to post this blog in a wonderful country like America, where you don’t have to walk two steps behind your husband wrapped head to toe and be kept illiterate, where if your blog were discovered you would be whisked off to the rape room where you would be gang-banged in front of your husband and children?


Your basic premise, that all we have to do is be nice enough and kind enough and that the rest of the world will turn away from evil simply because we wish it so is not real.


Sleep tight. Your American soldiers are protecting you, whether you want them to, whether you appreciate it, or understand it, or not.



From E. P. Harmon:


A lot of left/right political disagreements arise because people come to trust very different sources of information; the basic “facts” and assumptions we each accept as “true” are often quite different ones. Yet we all have to trust someone, sometime, and no one can arrive at a belief system entirely from firsthand experience. For instance, probably neither of us has ever been to Iraq; yet even people who have visited there, or who have lived there, or even grew up there, don’t agree about what’s going on there. It’s always hard to know whom to believe.


We can choose to listen to and trust generalists and popular authorities—public school texts, teachers, ministers, politicians, talk-show hosts…or we may choose to read and listen to experienced specialists with sterling credentials in various fields of expertise. But regardless of whom we read and hear and consider, all authorities are biased, because they, too, have arrived at their conclusions secondhand, and using incomplete information. No one ever knows everything.


Yet you and I and everyone else must nevertheless struggle to make a living, understand life, contribute, care for ourselves and our loved ones, and perhaps, realize some of our dreams—and most of the steps we take along the way are difficult ones—from childhood until the day we die. I think we would both agree that we live in a world full of people who are often angry, confused, and dangerous, and that to be human is often to be mistaken and harmful.


In the midst of all this struggle, pain, and confusion, we have to make a myriad of moment-to-moment decisions on every conceivable thing. With each decision, we can take only one of two courses of action, neither of which guarantees good results, safety, or prosperity, neither of which feels like an obvious best choice, neither of which is completely defensible, and both of which are risky, confusing, frightening, and difficult.


One course of action is to focus on our fears about the evil that mankind is capable of. This fear-based course of action can seem like common sense if we feel individually and collectively under constant attack from those who would hurt or compete with us. This course urges us to prepare to defend ourselves, to act aggressively, and to return fear with more fear, on both a personal and global scale.


A second course of action focuses on the good people are capable of, believing that love, in all its forms (respect, gentleness, openness, kindness, listening, patience, forbearance, acceptance, tolerance, forgiveness, cooperativeness, agreeableness, and so on) is stronger than fear in all its forms (hate, anger, violence, envy, suspicion, jealousy, greed, etc.), and also works better to improve human lives and relationships in the long run, whether personal or global.


A fear-based life assumes that, aside from minor human similarities, few people are really very much like you; most are less trustworthy, less virtuous, and less reliable, and most are more dangerous—so it makes sense to hold people at arms’ length, to hurt them before they hurt you, and to hurt them back, even more, when you are hurt.


A love-based life assumes that, despite superficial differences, most people are very much like you in most ways, having the same human sets of fears and needs and goals and loves and failings as you do—so it makes sense to offer compassion, respect, and forgiveness to all, including yourself (i.e., treat others as you would want to be treated—the “golden rule.”)


Both courses of action rely upon having in mind a particular attitude—“where you come from” mentally—rather than any differences in “what’s really out there.” Both courses of action are difficult paths to travel, confusing, and tenuous. Both require courage to live faithfully. Neither offers any guarantee of safety.


A life based on self-protection can offer comforting feelings of power, control, and safety—at times. But since most people like to be trusted, loved, and forgiven for their many mistakes, a defensive/aggressive attitude can become an increasingly lonely option, as relationships become more complicated and difficult to control, micromanage, or resolve—both personally and globally.


A life based on open giving also has many drawbacks and disappointments. No one likes getting kicked in the teeth, suffering injustice, or being walked on. A life based in love can be very frustrating, since love is an ideal impossible for humans to live up to—and no one ever gets it right. At most, you can chip away at such goals, and hope to keep on improving. Even then, since everyone is human and fallible, others will still hurt us and let us down, and we’ll still do the same to others. On the whole, though, people who care and trust and forgive draw other like-minded people to them, so lives based in love often move toward greater sharing, acceptance, support, and peace—both personally and globally.


Both general courses of action are logically indefensible. Laying down one’s defenses and allowing oneself to be vulnerable and open seems like asking for nothing but trouble—both personal and global. And just as surely, schoolyard bullies and warmongers seem to be asking for trouble, since they frighten and alienate others and accumulate dangerous, angry enemies, both personal and global.


Is either of these approaches right, and the other one wrong? Who can say? Everyone gets to choose the approach they think will work best for them.


In response to some specific comments in your letter: No, I don’t hate military forces, either ours or “theirs.” I believe that most soldiers everywhere, on all sides, are trying their best to live good lives and live up to their ideals. I have lived around soldiers all my life, and am drawn to their courage, idealism, and selflessness. It is true that I don’t distinguish between the actions of soldiers who drop expensive high-tech explosives on civilian populations, and the actions of suicide bombers who strap themselves with cheap nail-bombs and climb on school buses; both choose to further their political goals by indiscriminate, deliberate acts of violence that result, as you say, in dead babies, which I can’t agree with, no matter what the cause; there has to be a better way to achieve one’s political ends. Yet both sides believe their cause is just, and both are willing to sacrifice their lives, and others’, for their ideals and beliefs.


I am profoundly impressed by the vision and courage of the many senior officers currently in our Department of Defense, not to mention the line officers and foot soldiers, who are exploring and suggesting peaceful, effective, and far less costly alternative approaches to defending our country that don’t involve militancy and war, demonstrating the admirable and thoughtful tradition of leadership and high ideals historically associated with our military.


I’m not a pacifist, although I suspect I might be safer and happier if I were, just as the noncombatant Quaker farmers who welcomed all weary soldiers from both sides were safer during the Civil War. If someone were climbing in my window, though, I would defend myself and my family, although research tells us that reacting fearfully and aggressively (especially using weapons) during such situations usually produces worse results all around.


I don’t believe God co-authored any religious documents (including the Bible and the Koran), although we can all receive his inspiration if we ask for it,. I do, however, think that most collections of ancient religious writings (like the Bible and the Koran) offer a lot of wisdom, along with some clunkers; fortunately, God gave us brains so we could thoughtfully tell which passages are which. Anyone can find a rationale for anything if they look hard enough in religious texts, including both violent and non-violent action.


I’m wary of all explanations of what went on in the past—what we call “history”—because history is always written by the victors. The truth is, no one can ever know for sure the whole story about any event in the past, just as we can’t even be sure we have the whole story today when reading the newspaper—which is the first, and always controversial, rough draft of history. There are, for instance, a variety of versions of why the Cold War ended. I always like to ask myself, when reading someone’s theory: “Who is benefiting from people believing this particular version?” And although I approach all history cautiously, I was a college history major, and love reading history.


I don’t think either you or I are naïve about the depths of ignorance, depravity, despair, and cruelty to which people everywhere can fall. I do think it’s naïve, however, to imagine that one’s own familiar, particular culture has a lock on moral superiority. Every culture has much of value to learn from every other, so it’s naive to think that “we” (“our” culture, religion, nation, race, ethnicity, gender, kind, etc.) is “right,” “superior,” and “good,” while other, unfamiliar ones are “wrong,” “inferior,” and “bad.” We should be very suspicious of all the frightening things we hear about foreign nations, religions, and cultures, because well-paid demagogues whose last interest is truth create huge profits for those who pay them well to drum up fear. If America had as many crazed, bloodthirsty enemies as some demagogues now claim, all the kings horses and men couldn’t have prevented whole U.S. cities from being blown away long ago, our civic water supplies and food supplies being poisoned, and so on. It’s just too easy to wreak civic havoc cheaply and anonymously.


I also think it’s naïve to assume that our own local or national politicians are generally any more trustworthy than are politicians anywhere, or smarter, or any less greedy, or any less megalomaniacal. That’s why our framers built checks and balances into our constitution, and why we should strive to maintain them.


I also think it’s naïve to think that a non-violent democracy can arise courtesy of a violent foreign occupation, or that torture and rape are not natural outcomes of, and necessary to the maintenance of any violently-achieved power structure, or that freedom of the press is not repressed by unchecked power, or that the ranks of armies are not filled with desperate people willing to accept jobs and money from any well-heeled power.


It’s naïve to think that any war, ever, is initiated for unselfish, pure motives. It’s naïve to think that gentle, cooperative people living quietly in the lands of their ancestors are the bad guys, while the good guys are the armies from afar blowing everything up. It’s naïve to assume that partisan politicians are ever fully in control of any situation, or have much of a clue about taking care of people, or about international relations, or about running wars. It’s naïve to think that more killing ever results in less killing, and that hatred and violence don’t create more hatred and violence. It’s naïve to think that any nation with a growing number of enemies will be safe during the 21st century.


It’s naïve to think that the most-endangered and most-threatened nation in the world today, the one most urgently in need of taking pre-emptive military action to protect itself, is also the single, most-feared hegemonic empire best-armed with far more nuclear and conventional and high-tech weapons and money and soldiers and political and economic power than any other alliance of nations in the history of the world, the one nation with established military bases all over the world, the one nation currently waging wars in countries with prized economic resources, while ignoring (or supporting) dictatorships and tyrannies elsewhere.


It’s naïve to assume that any bureaucracy allowed to hide its activities behind a cloak of “national defense” is telling the truth about its results. It’s naïve to think that a small minority of citizens who perceive they have an interest in voting every four years for one of two unappealing candidates from two smarmy and very similar political parties running big-money campaigns in elections replete with fraud, have achieved much more than a degree of democracy. To be sure, I count my blessings and strive to strengthen the many great things this nation has achieved, because many countries are far less democratic. On the other hand, there are many far more democratic countries (including some without constitutions, by the way) from whom we could learn a lot.


On the subject of Islam: No one likes change, and Islamic migration has frightened those in the West who know only enough about Muslims to be terrified of what TV, radio, and pulpit demagogues tell them. Yet the highest and best practitioners of all major religions, including Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, are people anyone would respect, for their caring, their responsible lives, and for their great wisdom—if only we had the opportunity to know and understand them. On the other hand, there are practitioners in every religion, including Christians, Muslims, and Jews, who are ignorant, terrified, angry people who would bomb whole countries, who hate whole civilizations, races, and even genders, because they fear them too much to make an effort to understand them.


The West has much to learn from Islamic culture, as Islam has much to learn from us. Furthermore, both cultures are often wrong, mistaken, and cruel—in different ways. All cultures, ours included, grow accustomed and blind to their own particular sets of shortcomings. For instance, most Muslims are simply aghast that our culture allows so many young girls to grow up alienated from their families, schools, and churches, to become diseased, pregnant, promiscuous, alcoholic, addicted to drugs, divorced, abandoned, prostitutes, single mothers, etc. Just as we, in the West, are dismayed when we hear that Muslims cover their women and keep them hidden and schooled at home. The only thing we can know for sure, though, about what we hear, is that nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and to be wary of well-rewarded demagogues and their sponsors, who have a lot to gain financially from terrifying people with horrifying visions of the inhumanity and stupidity of our imagined enemy-of-the-day. The only road away from fear is understanding, which only comes with willingness to actively learn more about what it is we fear.


Non-violent activism, a form of love, is the most powerful force in the world, far more powerful than armies and weapons and bombs. Gandhi’s non-violent protests brought down the most powerful empire in the world in India, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s non-violent power brought civil rights to blacks in the American South. Both of these were long-standing, hard, hard problems, resolved, not by cowards and flakes, or by violence, but by courageous people of faith, who believed in the power of love, and who offered the tough, powerful solution of non-violent political activism.


The night before he died, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It’s nonviolence—or nonexistence.” The Dalai Lama has declared the 21st century, “the century of dialogue.” We can all learn more when we exchange views, listen to one another, ask questions, and keep an open mind.


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If You Love the Little Children of the World

Sing this song to the tune of “Jesus Loves the Little Children…” (or the Civil War song, “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys Are Marching,” which is the same tune.)


We’re so sick of all the fighting

Sick of wars around the world

Red and yellow black and white

Stop the fighting, it’s not right

If you love the little children of the world


Won’t you put away your weapons

They just hurt our moms and dads

All our friends and family too

'Til we don’t know what to do

If you love the little children of the world


Won’t you try to solve your problems

Please take turns and share your toys

You don’t have to fuss and fight

‘Cause it hurts us most, that’s right

If you love the little children of the world


Let us play with other children

Go to school and sing our songs

If you let us learn and play

You’ll be glad you did, some day

If you love the little children of the world


Please believe in one another

Trust that others are like you

Everybody needs a hand

All together we can stand

If you love the little children of the world


Please remember all are brothers

Doesn’t matter where we’re from

Different people can be one

Let’s be friends with everyone

If you love the little children of the world


Won’t you stay at home and raise us

Don’t go marching off to war

We need help and we need care

Need to know that you’ll be there

If you love the little children of the world


Won’t you try to keep your temper

Doesn’t matter, wrong or right

Please be gentle, please be mild

Then you’ll never hurt a child

If you love the little children of the world


Hating hurts the little children

Children all around the world

Suffer day and suffer night

Stop the hating, it’s not right

If you love the little children of the world


If they start a war tomorrow

Please just tell them you won’t go

Please stay home and care for me

Oh how happy we will be

If you love the little children of the world


Never hurt another person

Even though life seems unfair

Even when your heart is blue

We’ll hold hands and see it through

If you love the little children of the world


Please don’t be one of the bad guys

Never let that guy be you

All the guys who blow things up

How we wish they would grow up

If you love the little children of the world


Please don’t ever hurt another

Sad things happen when you do

Find a way to end the fight

Find a way to make things right

If you love the little children of the world


Won't you please just solve your problems

Talk them over till you do

Take your time and stay up late

There’s no hurry, we can wait

If you love the little children of the world


Fighting only makes it harder

Try to share and share alike

There’s enough for all, it’s true

When we do what we should do

If you love the little children of the world


Won’t you stop all of the hurting

All the crying and the pain

Help us keep our eyes and hands

Let us live in our own lands

If you love the little children of the world


It’s not really so confusing

You can do it if you try

Do as you would want them to

It’s not really hard to do

If you love the little children of the world


Hold your ears and never listen

To the mean things people say

You don’t have to be afraid

We’re a family God has made

If you love the little children of the world


Help us build a world for children

All the children of the world

Build a world of peace and joy

Safe for every girl and boy

If you love the little children of the world


Do you have a suggestion for another verse or two? Do you have a favorite? Thanks!


Please send comments to








Real Geisha, Real Women, Real Men, Real Relationships, Real Feminism

In Memoirs of a Geisha, director Rob Marshall missed out on a real opportunity to be a useful iconoclast showing the west what’s so special about geisha: why men admire and want them, what esoteric knowledge they have about pleasing men, how they work their spells….


Instead, Marshall played out only the same-old-same-old standard, politically-correct, puritanical view that geisha (and other sex workers) are pitiable at best and contemptible at worst, either evil manipulators or miserable powerless victims exploited heartlessly by the self-serving animals they generously called men….


Marshall also chose to heavily reinforce the popular delusion that no real feminist could ever, in good conscience, put herself in service to a man.


To be sure, Marshall provided us with beautiful, talented actresses dressed up in gorgeous geisha outfits, and acting out a poignant variety of human emotions on arresting, historically and culturally accurate sets. But none of this display showed any hint of the range of talents and social skills displayed by truly accomplished professional geisha.


Marshall’s vision suggests that geisha's primarily physical services emerge from a secretive, machiavellian world of women who dislike and disrespect men, and who plot together to exploit men’s weaknesses.


Nearly all religious and philosophical traditions, not to mention leaders in every field, teach that selfless, caring, compassionate service to others is a powerful, transformative act (the golden rule, even.) Rob Marshall could have chosen to offer a sympathetic alternative view of geisha—one less politically-correct—as a select, prosperous, accomplished group of women who like and enjoy men and feel comfortable with physical intimacy, who have mastered the arcane arts of pleasing men, and who accept the limitations and dangers of their work—women with skills, beauty, and talent who choose this line of work over other career options, among them, marriage.


The important, tragic and unfeminist thing about sex work is not that it provides a service, but that it usually exploits people economically, just as, say, child labor and child trafficking and porn does, or just as any other poorly paid, undervalued, and underappreciated work does. Feminists are rightly concerned about the grossly inhumane contexts in which workers with no economic options must sell their bodies into undervalued servitude—or die. Sex workers at the low end, like all other unskilled laborers, are victims of indifferent societies that first casually produce and then abandon them.


Feminists are legitimately concerned with women (and men) who have few or no choices because of gender discrimination, or whose particular and uniquely individually-selected gifts are rejected, devalued or unreciprocated because of gender discrimination.


Beyond such ravages of economic and gender exploitation, feminism has no legitimate interest in judging women’s specific choices of activities, such as, for instance, all the many possible forms of loving, or being loved by men and women. Loving men and women, including their bodies, does not necessarily imply gender exploitation or degradation or subservience, however distasteful or immoral some may judge it to be.


Nevertheless, even the world’s top geisha get no respect for their work from puritanical westerners, not because their work is sexist, but for the same reason that prostitution is everywhere disrespected:  prostitutes’ competitors–the many “honest women” happily ensconced within the powerful majority who believe they have a real stake in insuring that sex workers remain hidden and powerless.


Many modern women are completely confused about whether feminism is compatible with any kind of compassionate service (especially to men!) at all. Some women have come to wonder if service work of any kind–nursing, house cleaning, waiting tables–is unfeminist and demeaning. Many women feel constrained even within their marriages or romantic relationships, fearing that offering a life of lovingly exchanged service to a man must surely be anti-feminist—a form of caving to the enemy, of servility. 


When modern women do find it within themselves to offer men their friendliest services, many still wonder if there’s not something smarmy or beneath them about such offerings, even if their every hormone and natural givingness urges them ceaselessly to slather their beloved with wholehearted attention and kindness.


There is nothing sexist or anti-feminist about loving men (or women, for that matter)–about attracting them, pleasing them, or giving to them wholeheartedly. Loving, giving, and compassionate service of all kinds are never unworthy in themselves, although unworthy contexts involving extremes of compulsion, lack of appreciation and reciprocation truly are sexist and immoral.


Devoted service offered willingly and lovingly in an appreciative, reciprocal (if not tit-for-tat) context is absolutely necessary to optimal human functioning and happiness, and completely different from the kind of forced or half-hearted service in which someone’s gifts are disparaged, unreciprocated, and unappreciated.


Too many people nowadays overlook the fact that the very essence of a good relationship is standing in service to one another, regardless of whether that partnership is between husband and wife, mother and daughter, friends, siblings, in-laws, a CEO and her new mail clerk, young lovers…whoever.


Every conceivable positive relationship is based in reciprocal service. Relationships that are not about reciprocal service—however loosely defined—are not really relationships at all; they’re isolated billiard balls knocking about an empty lonely pool table universe, banging together sporadically and spectacularly in conflict and competition before resuming their separated lives.


The most universally prized life-enhancing romantic relationship, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, is one in which your dearly-beloved treats you like a king (or a princess), a goddess (or a god). Among the keys to such heavenly bliss are good-faith, wholeheartedness, appreciation, and reciprocation.


Because of confusion about the subtleties of feminism, modern romantic relationships evolved to become less concerned with caring, commitment, and helping one another in a challenging world, and more about cold, competitive calculations and sexual politics. Both sexes worry whether warm displays of affection will be perceived to be neediness. Both sexes fear that generous-spirited service iwill mply servitude. Both sexes exhaust themselves in endless, awkward, conflicted, back-and-forth rituals of worrying whether they’re giving more than they receive. Both sexes are all about, “you go first.” Yet both sexes are fully aware that their beloved wants a partner who is both powerful and slavishly devoted—because frankly, that’s what they want too. Many people deeply enjoy the lavish, tender, solicitous attention of an enchanting member of the opposite sex.


More young people of both sexes these days are giving up on what they see as the relationship game, foregoing the pain and uncertainty of modern committed relationships in great part because of their understandable confusion about the wisdom of putting themselves at service to another. I mean, if their long-dreamed-of personification of virtuous masculine/feminine perfections is ultimately unwilling to bow down, worship and serve them all their days, well really, why bother?


The age-old willingness of both sexes to offer their personal gifts to a single individual over a lifetime is in considerable decline, and considering the grave new shortage of available perfect partners for such paragons, may never recover.


Some women who would willingly offer loving service to women friends still feel historically (and often legitimately) constrained about giving to men, who thus are relegated to a very sad, under-served, second-class half of the world of often otherwise deserving, well-intentioned parents, bosses, employees, children, siblings, friends, and colleagues, which is too bad, too.


If feminists want more solidarity and sisterhood, they might consider offering compassionate service and empathy to exploited (or unexploited) sex workers. And while they’re doing that, they might benefit from listening to such workers’ hard-won geisha-type advice about how to please men, just as men could learn much from their gender's most supportive exemplars.


Most single young women today devote a large part of their earnings and their waking hours to pleasing men anyway, regardless of how feministically-conflicted they may feel about such efforts. Consider the successes of recent best-sellers offering love advice from former prostitutes….


It is certainly grossly sexist when women (and men) are constrained, unwilling givers to unappreciative, inequitable, unreciprocating receivers who have been deluded into thinking that such service is the rightful due of their gender.


Much of modern feminism is a reaction against unappreciative men who historically not only gobbled up all the good jobs and roles, but also most of the money, prestige and power that came along with them, and who later had the nerve to expect continued affectionate service from women, not as a freely-given, loving, and valued gift, but as their legitimate if unreciprocated due. Women, too, are finally seeing the sexism behind the long-standing assumption that men owe women a living….


To the often justifiably-aggrieved women who find little to like about men: please stop insisting that there’s something slavish, inappropriate, and/or sexist about freely choosing to be in a generous, mutually supportive relationship with a man (or a woman?) There isn’t.


Forewarned is forearmed: men like women who like them. If you don't much care for your man, or for men in general, for whatever reasons, don’t be surprised if he someday wanders off with someone completely unworthy of him but who likes him a lot and aims to please. The same goes for men who don't find much to like about women.


To all women: please try to see fit never again to disrespect a geisha or any other sex worker. Like the rest of us bumbling God-isn’t-finished-with-us-yet-either humans, sex workers need compassion, acceptance, and understanding, not contempt.


And finally, to women who love men, or who want to learn how to love them better, we can all reasonably choose, if we wish to, to learn a lot from geisha. Because geisha aren’t just about sex, you know. Sexuality, like spirituality, pervades all aspects of life. It's not just about genitals. The brain, they say, is the most important sex organ. Geisha know a lot about making men happier which is well worth knowing, if you’re one of the many who aspire to mutually enjoy and serve another.


Geisha lore offers a tempting (but not exclusive) window on relatively rare social arts: attentiveness, affection, tenderness, flirting, gentleness, refinement, courtesy, agreeableness, femininity, respect, presence, charm, humor, kindness, intellect, sensitivity, openness, loyalty, sensuality, giving, honoring, playfulness, intimacy, nurturing, acceptance, forgiveness, support, generosity, assistance, vulnerability, respect for tradition, and, in general, making a fuss over, and spoiling men rotten. Geisha are really good at making men feel truly wonderful about themselves. What’s not to like about that?


Whenever and however did this venerable list of praiseworthy social skills become politically incorrect? These subtly but important graces–along with physical beauty, gorgeous accoutrements, and skill in the arts of music, dance, serving food and the like–are a goodly part of what real geisha are all about, not to mention real women, real men, real relationships, and real feminism.


I don’t see much clarity about any of this in today’s society. I would love to see more thoughtful commentary and dialogue on these engaging contemporary issues, and regret not having found an in-depth treatment of them in Rob Marshall’s movie. I do think his film was beautiful made and visually and emotionally rich; he just missed this one important boat.


I hope someday to see highly-accomplished geisha finally receive from western audiences the recognition, support, and respect due them for their historic, centuries-old, artful, dedicated, cheerful, and very valuable example of freely-given, highly-valued compassionate service—not servitude or subjugation—to fortunate and highly appreciative men.


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Here is a conversation I had with a thoughtful reader….)





        A colleague forwarded your article to me, and I found it most interesting.   I agree with the vast majority of your assertions (although Marshall's set was not, in actuality, culturally accurate).    I wrote a doctoral dissertation on geisha (2002), and I propose geisha as feminists. I have an article in a book entitled Bad Girls of Japan; in a dialogue between me, a few geisha, and several customers, we discuss geisha as feminists.  I spent almost three years with geisha, and studied them as artists; I frame them as women in control of their own futures and outline just exactly how they exist within the arts world (the Ph.D. was completed in ethnomusicology).    I propose that the “bought and sold” model of geisha so treasured in America is a form of feminist Orientalism, and we need this false notion if we are to appear advanced in the gender department (another pipe dream).

    The film was ridiculous.   Even someone who's seen geisha for only a few minutes would never have tried to pass that off as accurate.   The Chinese actresses the country continues to rave about were pathetic actresses — we just have poor standards for this.   Real geisha couldn't be more different.

     The arts scenes were so far off as to be laughable — imagine casting the American basketball team as the Bolshoi, putting them in leotards, giving them a few lessons, and then allowing their “dance” to be passed off seriously as ballerinas.   These Chinese actresses couldn't even wear kimono properly because they hadn't done it for thirty odd years, couldn’t walk properly (an art learned from dance).

     Anyway, kudos to you for smelling a fraud even though you don't have the experience I've had, and for pointing out one of America's greatest blind spots.   Unfortunately, the rest of the nation is eagerly gobbling up the fantasy, and real geisha will suffer the consequences because young Japanese men don't want to be part of something that the world condemns.

      Feel free to email —



Kelly Foreman, Ph.D.


Dear Kelly,


Thank you so much for your thoughtful and interesting letter; it was very gratifying to hear from a scholar who is so experienced and knowledgeable about geisha, and I appreciated your support as well as your clarifications. What a fascinating experience you had in Japan!


My background in geisha and feminism is avocational. I was introduced to an exquisite geisha in Kyoto when I was a little girl, visiting the gardens surrounding a teahouse during the early 50's, and later that night saw more geisha singing and dancing on a kabuki stage, if my memory serves correctly. My father, a great Japanophile, was stationed in Tokyo in the U.S. occupation army–we lived there three years. My father described the “top” geisha to me as prized national treasures, personifications of the Japanese feminine ideal, carriers of a long oral cultural tradition, and the epitome of social refinement, courtesy, sensitivity, delicacy. My dad was my childhood hero, so his admiration piqued my interest greatly.


Perhaps I read a review of Bad Girls and picked up your idea of geisha as feminists–I don't remember, I'm sorry–we bloggers are pretty free to throw “our” stuff “out there” unhitched to anything, and just see what happens, unlike you more conscientious folk…. I really like your great thesis and agree with it, and I loved your NBA/Bolshoi image….


I've been blogging since Feb 05 and am enjoying it.  I forwarded the geisha article to your colleague (I only sent it to one person) since her name came up, when, as an afterthought, I googled “geisha” + “feminism.” I had started the piece as a review of Memoirs of a Geisha, and I guess it got away from me!


Thanks, too, for your comment on the set. The old town took me back a long ways into nostalgia-land, although to be sure, I shouldn't have pronounced it accurate, since I didn't know. I remember that I would take my 200-yen allowance weekly and wander the little shops in search of treasures. Everyone was always so kind to me–I'm still drawn to Asians. I didn't know there had been a war; I felt perfectly safe.


I will look for your book/article…. I hope to return to Japan some day. I remember spending a week at a lake resort called Kanizawa (I'm not sure of the spelling)–perhaps it has changed less than Tokyo? My favorite movie is Lost in Translation–I watch it over and over. I mean to review it–I'll send it when I do…. I've also been accused of having Japanese influences in my art–my compositions and technique too? I posted a couple of my portraits on my blog–do you see a Japanese influence? Interesting, as I left Japan when I was only 9.


What a fascinating field you are in–it's just exploding.


I really like/agree with your thesis on the American view of geisha; I'm guessing that the Japanese view is very mixed? I do hope some still cherish the geisha. Yes, the young everywhere are easily embarrassed by old ways, and hasten to throw them out; our Indian cultures come to mind. I remember how WEIRD I thought authentic (American) Indian music was when I first heard a recording (in elementary school)–anything different shocks the young–they are so rigid so early. I love it now, so it must have been a fruitful introduction–I stayed intrigued.


I was very interested by what you said about the actors' portrayal of the geisha in the movie, because I thought perhaps my memory might have been playing tricks on me. The movie geisha, to me, looked, in comparison to remembered geisha, very big, crude, and galumphing, sort of, although of course they are beautiful women. I loved Gong Li in To Live and earlier movies of Zhang Zhi (spelling?) better. My very different memory of geisha is of amazingly tiny, delicate, small birds. They also had beautiful cultivated voices, and were incredibly poised; every move seemed artless yet amazingly beautiful. My geisha was so gentle and warm to the little girl (me) shyly admiring her. And yes, no one in the movie reproduced their incredible walk….


I do recall seeing Sayonara many years ago, and the geisha/star in that movie seemed more authentic; I'll have to Netflix it and see what I think now, lo these many years later….


Thank you again, Kelly, for your kudos and your kindness. If I receive any interesting mail on the topic, I'll forward it to you. I will be very interested to follow your academic career.


Sincerely yours,


Eppy Harmon



Hi Kelly-


An afterthought… May I post your letter to me on my blogsite ( along with my reply to you–following my geisha article, in the comment section? May I also post your email address, in case someone has a question for you? Thanks again so much for writing….









        Thanks for your letter.  I like Kyoto too, and lived there, but kind of found that there were more actual artisans in Tokyo than in Kyoto (almost all of the arts headmasters who teach Kyoto geiko live in Tokyo or Osaka).   I love Tokyo's energy, and Tokyo geisha are really fun!   The kind geisha you saw in Kyoto are the real thing; they are far too busy to be as langourous as that film depicted, too refined to be as catty as that.   There's competition for the arts roles and artistic rivalry to be sure, but nobody has the time to waste like that.


    The real problem with the film, that the media seems not able to acknowledge, is that this awful film is based on an awful book. Golden's book is a fiction, and nothing more than a cheap white boy fantasy at that. He wrote it to cater to American orientalist fantasies, to sell copy (which it did).  So the movie should be viewed in the same vein as Harry Potter or something, if at all.


    Geisha do not spoil men; men feel spoiled around women who spend all day studying art, for most of their lives.  Imagine having dinner with a Bolshoi ballerina, or with Nadia Solerno-Sonnenberg?   Or a person with both talents combined?   We don't have anything like this.   Geisha don't cater to men's whims at all — I can assure this.  They are actually pretty aloof, in the way that artists are (even around the people who pay for their living).   Japan has gradually devalued its own arts, especially traditional music and dance, so any future audiences for geisha rely on a cultivated taste in these things, and this is unlikely.   Even the music tracks (all except for two) were completely inaccurate;  there's Chinese er-hu or pipa for many of them, shakuhachi (never heard in the geisha quarters), and tsugaru shamisen (a northern folk form).   Would you use blue grass fiddle music to depict classical ballet, just because the instrument is associated with it

(the violin)?!


            Please read the actual memoirs:   Geisha, a Life, by Mineko Iwasaki.  This is the same person that Golden interviewed for Memoirs, but chose instead to create his own weird version.   The two stories have no relationship whatsoever.


         Bad Girls of Japan (Palgrave Press, 2005) includes my chapter, called “Bad Girls Confined:  Okuni, Geisha, and Negotiation of Female Performance Space.”    It answers a lot of the questions many people have about geisha.   My dissertation is called The Role of Music in the Lives and Identities of Japanese Geisha (Kent State University Press, 2002), and I have an upcoming book being published by Ashgate Press in London called The Gei of Geisha:  Music, Identity, and Meaning (2007?).


         Thanks for the interest, and for doing the blog!   I’m fine with posting this conversation too….





Hi Kelly-


Thanks for your permission to post our exchange. I must admit I enjoyed Golden’s book, and admired his story-telling abilities. I’m sure I projected my own image of geisha onto his. You, on the other hand, were evaluating critically, from an informed background and interest, which is another thing entirely…. Thank you for the above references…. I will post them too.


One last comment: I wish I’d said, “Geisha make men feel spoiled” instead of “geisha spoil men.” I agree that geisha are too hard-working and serious of purpose to have time to indulge men often. The lucky few men, on the other hand, who are graced with the good fortune to enjoy the complete, gentle focus and presence of a geisha, even for a short time, must feel spoiled and honored by that moment’s special attentiveness to their needs and thoughts. Too often, western women perceive attentiveness to men as flattery and indulgence, when sometimes what men want is merely courtesy, kindness, and a little unrushed attention…. They feel spoiled just to get that!


I look forward to talking with you again someday, Kelly.





<a href=” of a Geisha” rel = “tag”>Memoirs of a Geisha</a>

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The Three Quiet, Dark Months

A boyhood in snowy Wisconsin left my dad with an aversion for January, February, and March—the “dark months” which he merely endured, sighing through a long boring waiting period of sniffling, cold feet, snow shoveling, windshield scraping, drafts, freezing bed sheets, slick icy patches, dangerous driving, and being cooped up indoors…


And lo, he passed his distaste for winter on to me, who then wasted years of perfectly useful winter months. Writing them off just like my childhood hero did, I dragged myself through them, counting the dreary days til spring.


When Dad died, I realized I couldn’t afford to throw away a quarter of my life on mental darkness anymore, so I graciously deigned to inspect the mixed blessings of this gift more closely….


Hmmmm. No big family holidays during these months; family gatherings here at home are wonderful, but I love my quiet schedule, too…. And no “perfect” weather to lure me outside, away from indoor work and play.


So I looked more closely, and saw that…


These three months are a special time to refresh, review, re-energize, rejuvenate, reorganize. All my achievements of the coming year find their first forms within these months’ quiet listening. They’re productive, rewarding months, where I find the inner resolve to do what’s important the rest of the year.


In all the other months I can go rushing around like an idiot, babbling with spring, bursting with summer’s red-hot pleasures, skyrocketing with the harvest of fall’s energy….


But winter nudges me to stay inside, slow down, nurture myself and my own, lift spirits with art and beauty, stop and smell the comfort food, cross things off my life-list, throw stuff away, create a new habit or a new masterpiece, start my year thoughtfully and meditatively….


Winter is mother earth’s rest time, when all her little earthlings roll themselves up like moles into warm balls of fluffy blankets, to drowse, to sleep, to dream of life renewed.


And when I tire of retiring, I’ll bundle up and go outdoors for a crunchy walk in all the variations of wintry weather, see the snowbirds, the gaunt trees, rosy faces, icicles, snow angels, and the soft winter sun….


(Author’s addendum: If you’re working on trading in winter blues for “cold’s opposite,” as I did, here’s a different and very helpful observation on the “dark months” from “Seasons at Eagle Pond,” by the amazing word-painter and idea-smith, Donald Hall….)


“Some of us…are darkness-lovers. We do not dislike the early and late daylight of June, whip-poorwill’s graytime, but we cherish the gradually increasing dark of November, which we wrap around ourselves in the prosperous warmth of woodstove, oil, electric blanket, storm window, and insulation. We are partly tuber, partly bear. Inside our warmth we fold ourselves in the dark and its cold—around us, outside us, safely away from us; we tuck ourselves up in the long sleep and comfort of cold’s opposite, warming ourselves by the thought of the cold, lighting ourselves by darkness’s idea. Or we are Persephone gone underground again, cozy in the amenities of Hell. Sheltered between stove and electric light, we hollow islands of safety within the cold and dark. As light grows less each day, our fur grows thicker.”


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