Category Archives: experience

The Sixth Sense: A Radical Theory

Have you ever had a gut feeling?  Of course you have.  And it is very probable that, more often than not, any time you chose to “follow your gut” in a given manner, things likely worked out very well for you.  And how many times have you opted to ignore your gut, only to find yourself in a predicament, one where, after all was said and done, you berated yourself for failing to listen to that inner voice saying, “I knew it, I knew, I knew it!…”?

Intuition.  Perception through extrasensory means.  The sixth sense.  Whatever one chooses to call this faculty, it is one we all possess.  The line of demarcation is in how attuned we are to information of this nature when it is presented, how accurately we interpret its meaning, and how consistently and efficaciously we apply it in our lives.

It is highly unlikely that the means of intuitive insight are the result of any sort of supernatural or otherwise inexplicable origin.  Just as the five commonly acknowledged senses are all based in the physical, so too must this heightened perceptual ability be grounded in the corporeal.

One hypothesis (and, perhaps, the most mundane) is that intuition is simply the result of an unconscious awareness on our part through the observation of common everyday environmental signals or patterns that, because they are so common, tend to go unnoticed by the conscious eye and mind.  When intuiting and interacting with other people specifically, it is posited that we perceive and respond instinctually to the myriad of all but undetectable facial behavioral tells known as microexpressions.  Moving along this avenue of supposition, what you see, even if you don’t know that you see it, is what you get.

Another and, to my way of thinking at least, more intriguing possibility is the gut itself.  Dr. Michael D. Gershon relates in his book THE SECOND BRAIN that the neural pathways in the human intestinal tract are so numerous and complex that the enteric nervous system (ENS) is capable of functioning independent of the central nervous system (CNS).  Dr. Deepak Chopra has opined that a gut feeling originating in the ENS is quite simply every cell in the human body making a decision.  Though there is currently no hard and fast evidence to support an unqualified declaration that the ENS is endowed with a consciousness that is in any way comparable to that operative in the “first brain,” is it possible that this “second brain” which we all possess is capable of a form of autonomous “thinking” that, in tandem with the CNS and the Human brain, contributes to a fuller perception and sensate awareness of things seen and unseen?

There is yet another possibility.  Perhaps our thoughts are not our own.

The Human Microbiome Project, a multi-disciplinary medical research program initiated in 2008, has compiled some rather startling (and some would say disturbing) findings regarding the makeup of the human body and the microorganisms that are present in the very fiber and filament of our earthly transits, not the least of which is the fact that, for every Human cell a body contains, it is outnumbered by a factor of no less than 10 to 1 by microbes of various make and model.  Percentage wise, we are 10% human and 90% microbe.  The greatest portion of this microbial mass is bacterial in origin; the average Human body contains between two and six POUNDS of bacteria and other microorganisms in and on its surface, with the majority of this bacteria contained in the digestive system.  We are not just Human beings; we are veritable ambulatory self-contained ecosystems.

Before proceeding further, let me put any overwrought minds at ease – these bacteria are absolutely critical for the function and maintenance of the Human body.  Without them, we would die, plain and simple.  The synthesis of needed vitamins, reducing our susceptibility to infectious disease, and the growth stimulation of needed critical lymphatic tissues are just a few of the necessary functions these tiny friends perform in the continuance of our species.

The full extent of our relationship to and dependence upon bacteria for our survival has yet to be explored but continues to expand with each scientific discovery.  For instance, we have always been admonished to get outside more often and be in nature for the benefit of our health.  But are you aware that exposure to certain bacteria (Mycobacterium vaccae) found in the great outdoors may well make you smarter?

Another very interesting recent discovery about this unseen world within each of us is the fact that bacteria have the ability to communicate, not only with members of their own “tribe” but with bacterial species other than their own.  Bacteria are aware of their surroundings and aware of their neighbors, cognizant of changes in their environment and responsive as a group to those changes.  What I wonder is this: can these organisms, which are undeniably as much a part of us as our bones and our brains, communicate with us?  Can the intuition and insight which our very language positions as being in our gut have as their point of origin a collective life form with billions of years of history on this planet?  Can we understand and in turn communicate with them through hormonal and enzymatic secretions resulting from our emotional and mental states at any given moment?  Are they us and are we them?

All language is symbolic, whether it be written, auditory, or otherwise; chemical language is no different.  The language of chemistry communicates to our bodies how to move, to heal, to reproduce, to digest, to adapt.  It is not inconceivable that we are equipped and adept at eavesdropping on the group mind that resides on us and deep within our viscera as it/they respond in kind to chemical thoughts and questions we unknowingly present to them.

Do I think the microbiome exerts a conscious influence over our actions?  No.  Their goal is survival and continuity, and they have billions of years of precedent to vouch for their success in the achievement this goal.  Any actions they take will be solely to that end.  Do I believe the microbiome to be the singular locus of Human intuition?  No, in fact, I think it more likely that the intuitive sixth sense is a combination of all three of the previously discussed options: unconscious awareness, the enteric nervous system, and the microbiome, all three performing in concert with the aware conscious mind to achieve apparently improbable results.

A fifth ingredient yet to be added to the stew is that of spatial energy.  What do I mean by this?  Spatial energy (for want of a better term) is that spatial/temporal displacement/non-displacement that exists between even the smallest subatomic particles that may well be the informing and energetic potential that is the binding and enlivening force of creation.  Spatial energy must surely contain information and/or itself be a conduit for such information.  Again, nothing supernatural is suggested here, just a function of physics as yet to be understood.  But that is another topic for another day.

I am certain that many a doctoral thesis could be researched and authored on the role of the microbiome and its cognitive interaction and function in the Human arena.  Perhaps, one day, I’ll have the opportunity to read such a thesis and find my intuition on the matter validated.

So, there you have it.  How did I arrive at this most unusual theory?  A little bacterium told me…

©Billy Red Horse

Hell On Earth

I am here today to convey a warning that, alas, only the wise shall heed: Hell is VERY real.  I know for I have been there.  I have experienced first hand the misery of the place, smelled the stench of the ovens and the countless bodies that have passed through the gates, and heard with my own ears the cacophony of the tortured souls contained therein.  How I found myself, an unwilling guest, there among the damned, I do not know; obfuscation and confusion are allies of the tormentors and the scourge of the tormented.  I recognize my good fortune in that I somehow managed to escape, by what means I cannot say.  I know only that my gratitude at being free of that wretched realm is without bounds.  I now feel it my duty to sound the alarm, to alert the unknowing, the unwitting, and the unbelieving, for the portals of damnation are often close and perilously easy to enter.

Through subtle plea or determined summons, the unsuspecting are enticed into the maw of the abyss, as if guided by the hand of an innocent little child.  The curious and the obliging make such easy prey.  Once through the gates the assault on body, mind, and senses begins.  The false promises of fun and games give way swiftly to a stunned awareness that condemnation is at hand.

Hell is a place of darkness, yet it is filled with lights of dazzling color and variety, oscillating madly and blinding in their intensity.  From every shadowy corner they shine on the assembled throngs, oppressive and unrelenting.  There is no solace to be found, for should one light begin to dim, another will take its place, more offensive and more odious than the one it superseded.

Detritus litters the ground, piled high and scattered all about, decomposing where it sits.  Cries and shouts like thunder assault the ears as demonic orchestras grind out their tortured melodies.  As for respite, there is none to be had, only discomfort and mayhem and distress.

The last thought there is of hunger, but the minions of blackness foist their potions and poisons on the gathered denizens, so-called “food” prepared and served that at once offends the nostrils and turns the stomach, a mockery of the real needs of the cursed.

In this land all is frenzied and kinetic; demons run to and fro, laughing as they torture the masses and even one another.  The den of suffering is populated by creatures difficult to describe, with no comparison to be found in nature.  Vile Myomorpha the size of full-grown men, taunting and teasing, beasts that sing high praise and dance with glee at the folly of the damned.  Lurking in mazes or trapped in cages, it is often difficult to discern the prisoners from the ungrudging sentinels of Beelzebub.

No more, no more, I can speak of my travail no more!  Should, by hapless circumstance, my shadow ever again darken the kingdom of torment, I fear I would not be so lucky as to elude for a second time the fiends abiding there which delight in the agonies of another.  I confess the very thought brings a sweat to my brow and the trembles to my knees.

Hades, Tartarus, Sheol, Gehenna, and Tophet, all ancient names for the Land of the Lost.  But be warned and be wary for there is yet another name for Perdition’s abode.  Be vigilant and permit no one to lure you there and dare not even to utter its infernal name:

Chuck E. Cheese’s.

©Billy Red Horse

Burn Notice

The HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF INTERNATIONAL INTELLIGENCE by Nigel West offers the following definition for the term Burn Notice– “When a Central Intelligence Agency source has proved unreliable, a warning known as a Burn Notice is distributed, alerting personnel with responsibility for the recruitment or running of sources not to have any further contact with that individual.”  As the opening monologue of the old USA Network TV show BURN NOTICE related, “When you’re burned, you’ve got nothing: no cash, no credit, no job history.  You’re stuck in whatever city they decide to dump you in…(y)ou rely on anyone who’s still talking to you…(b)ottom line: As long as you’re burned, you’re not going anywhere.”

Join me in a piquant thought experiment:  Though you are most likely not a spy, intelligence informant, or even a breaker of law beyond that of an occasional moving violation, what would you do if you were to be the recipient of your own Burn Notice? What if you suddenly found yourSelf without credit, no access to your savings accounts, no record with any governmental, banking or business entity that you have ever existed?  People that once knew you deny they have ever even met you, let alone admit to having any sort of relationship to or with you.  Those hard copies you have of your birth certificate, your mortgage, your divorce decree?  Well, as there is no official record of these documents anywhere, then they must be clever forgeries.  If this happened to you, how would you respond?  Would you exert all possible energies to convince people of who you were and to reclaim what you feel is rightfully yours?  Would you, like the protagonist in the TV show, seek out the person or entity behind your burning? What would you do if, despite your best attempts, you were unable to reclaim that which was once yours?  Would you flounder? Would you spend the remainder of your days sulking and bemoaning your situation?  Would you start over?

Technology can fail.  In today’s modern digital society, it is not so far from the realm of possibility that you might, indeed, find yourSelf on the receiving end of your own version of a Burn Notice.  Though it might not be orchestrated by an unspecified shady governmental cabal or the result of some criminal enterprise out to purloin the identities of the unsuspecting, and though it might not be as total as that experienced by a burned spy, you still may one day find yourSelf in the position of having to prove who you are and exist without access to your digitally stored virtual resources until the matter can be resolved.  Could you do this?  Do you have sufficient liquid resources spread around and available should you require them?  Do you have multiple copies of relevant important documents stored in various secure locations?  Most importantly, in a worst case scenario, do have the fortitude to start over from scratch if you needed to?

Don’t get burned against your will.  Against your will?  An interesting concept which sets us off in an entirely new and intriguing direction.  Look at your Life.  Look at your tendencies. Look at the way you habitually respond to situations and circumstances.  Look at the good.  Look at the bad.  What if…what if you were to issue your own Burn Notice…to yourSelf?

How would your Life be different if you were to burn those traits that no longer served you?  What if you erased the behaviors that held you back or, worse, harmed you?  While it is not possible to avoid the consequences of our prior choices, decisions, and actions by “burning” them, it IS possible to create a “new identity” for ourselves, to move toward becoming the person we want to be.  Change your mind, change your approach, and you will most certainly change your Life.

Perhaps a Burn Notice is not such a scary thing after all.

©Billy Red Horse

Putting Pen To Paper

Witness the fountain pen.  Elegant in design, functional in performance.  A precision tool when paired with fine writing paper.  Why is it that, in the hand of one person, this pen is the radix of an all but illegible chicken scratch while in the hand of another it is a tool for creating exquisite Beauty?  The pen is still the pen, the paper, too, remains itself.  What, then, is the difference?  Is it in the skill?  Is it in the vision?  Is it in the ability to execute?

And what shall we make of words that, though less than pleasing to the eye, are capable still of touching the soul?  To further confound and confuse, consider when the words dance with calligraphic rhythm in appearance yet cut deep and painful swaths as they go, at once agreeable to behold but bruising to the heart. The presentation can be beautiful but the content can be laced with the poison of spite.

Beauty knows many levels and subtleties, as does pain.  There is far more here than the obvious.

You are the pen, your Life is the paper.  What will you write?…

©Billy Red Horse

Death Of A So-Called Friend

The beer was cold against my lips.  I sat there looking out over a particularly sunny landscape and, raising a toast to a passing cloud, took another draw from the bottle.  You see, I was celebrating . . . celebrating my first murder.

My victim?  Nobody you would know.  But then again, maybe you DO know this guy.  He and his ilk are nothing if not ubiquitous.

The weird thing is, there was a period when I considered this guy to be my best friend.  You would have been hard pressed to find two closer companions anywhere.  For the longest Time, if you saw me you could be certain that he was always close by.  We were, in fact, inseparable.  It was the dawning realization a few years back that my identity, my very sense of self, was wrapped up in my relationship to this guy that caused me to question if that relationship was really healthy and in my best interest.

When I first brought up my concerns, he just laughed them off.  Quite the joker, he was.  But I persisted and when I refused to be dissuaded, he acted as though his feelings had been hurt.  When this little ploy didn’t have the desired effect of making me recant, well, then . . . that’s when he got nasty.  I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed him, that I was nothing without him, that I just couldn’t handle things on my own.  After a while, he softened a bit, reminding me that for years he had protected me, looked out for me, cared for me.  He said he was only doing what was best for me and that I should be grateful.

I hate to admit it but, at first, I thought that he might be right, maybe I DID need him.  I recognized that, after so many years together, I really had come to depend on him for far more than I should have.  Could I do okay on my own?  Did I even know how?  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I had my doubts.

I moped around for a few days, questioning my judgment and my commitment to break free all the while.  He could tell that I was still struggling with the whole thing and did his best to pacify my doubts.  Strokes to my ego followed apologies and other various attempts to distract.  Something told me, though, that this was about nothing more than the preservation of the status quo and his own preeminence in my Life.  His coddling gradually changed to coercion, then became threats.  I recognized with painful finality that there was something very wrong and that, if anything was to be done, I was the one that would have to do it.

I knew he had no interest in changing the state of things but I refused to let that stop me.  I sought out counseling but, with me being the only willing participant, it wasn’t at all effective.  I was the one that wanted change, not him.  I knew that the longer I permitted him to remain in my Life, the more I was giving away my power.  This had to stop.

I tried to walk away, but he refused to leave me alone.  No matter where I went, he followed.  The more I tried to be done with him, the more determined was his pursuit.  My entreaties for him to just leave fell on deaf ears.  Pretty soon I found myself drowning in my emotions.  Fear and anger were constants when I was awake and when I dreamed.  It was then that I recognized just how poisonous was the whole affair.

So I decided to kill him.

It was a most satisfying task, that of snuffing out his life and hiding all remnants of his existence from sight.  The monster now lies in an unmarked grave.  I mean, really . . . why on earth would I want to memorialize such a villain?  And what would the headstone read? –

Here lies
– MY DELUSIONS –
Though to the eye exceeding fair,
His heart, ‘twas black and vile.
No longer shall his mien ensnare,
nor manner e’er beguile.

I know I’ll never see him again. Unless I resurrect him, that is.  It’s kind of scary to know that I have that kind of power, even more so to know that the responsibility to keep that tomb sealed rests with no one but me.

I really do feel the better for his being dead.

Care to join me in a beer?…

©Billy Red Horse

Best Case Scenario

Not so long ago your humble scribe penned a most insightful tome entitled The High Cost Of Living. An astute and prepossessing piece, I labored through its composition to express with eloquence the weight of our every action and their attendant consequences.  I wish now to revisit the same subject matter, but this time from a slightly different perspective.  (Accuse me of repeating myself if you must; it is a charge I shall in no wise repudiate.  Yes, the topic is THAT important to me.)

Barring a total governmental usurpation of this nation’s private healthcare system, one might, with modern preventative medical care, deliberate nutrition, sufficient exercise, and efficacious stress release, expect to easily live to the age of 100 and even beyond.  (This is not at all an unreasonable assertion.  There are great sages of the past who have proffered that the human body is by design constructed to live a minimum of 125 years, but that is another topic for another time.)  Rather than surrendering to the storms of Life, there are those who will not only fight for every breath, every moment, but who will endeavor to fill those moments with thoughts and experiences and actions that make lLife worth the living.  Which brings us to a point (or two) well worth pondering.

Thinking solely in terms of quantity rather than quality, and taking into account the averment made in the preceding paragraph, best case scenario: how long will you be alive?  If, as you read this, you find you have reached the quarter-century mark and, for the sake of our discussion, you accept that the ripe old age of 100 is, in fact, within the realm of achievement, then basic mathematics dictates you have roughly 75 years of Life remaining in the here-and-now.  Not that bad, I suppose.  There are some who have never made it even close to the 75 years you hypothetically have left.

Now, let us bring forward for consideration a second best case scenario:  how long will you be dead?  Arguments of reincarnation put aside, it would not be unreasonable to proffer an answer for this second question to accurately be “forever.”  Comparing and contrasting the duration of best case scenario One with that of best case scenario Two, would it not be prudent to get as much out of scenario One as is humanly possible prior to entering scenario Two?

Returning to the 75 year figure mentioned above (for you more seasoned folks reading this, the following should carry an even greater weight), I should remind you that there are no guarantees.  Sure, you MIGHT have 75 years left or 65 years or 50 years or 25 years, all, of course, depending on your current chronological situation, general health, and all the other previously mentioned factors.  Or you might suffer the misfortune several weeks from now of expiring as the result of injuries sustained from being trampled by a stampeding herd of flash-mobbing teenagers.  Or you might be the victim of an undiagnosed cardiac malady and drop dead of heart failure before you finish reading this sentence.  So I ask once again, best case scenario, how long will you live?  Best case scenario, how long will you be dead?

In the overarching architecture of it all, even 100 years is less than the most fleeting moment when juxtaposed against Eternity.  If, in death, the best case scenario that can be hoped for is, at the very least, everlasting, should this not give one pause to design and experience a Life as devoid of pain and sorrow as possible?  One characterized by a vital existence, challenging, engaging, fulfilling and, above all, overflowing in Beauty?

Reject a willing servitude and find that which makes your Heart sing.  Cause no harm and do what you will. Love the Mother Earth and all Her children.  Become more than you feel you are, more than you think you can be.  When presented with a choice between Life-affirming and Life-negating, choose that which will amplify most your Great Desire.

There are those nihilists who will say, when presented with some conundrum or other, 100 years from now it won’t matter anyway.  I say, 100 years from now, what I do in this moment or the next or the next will be of the gravest importance.  The best case scenario allows for nothing else.

©Billy Red Horse

The High Cost Of Living

(This article was originally published in January of 2008)

The new year bears down upon us.  It is a Time to swear penance for that extra 10 pounds we added to our already stressed frames over the holidays, a Time to review the year that has passed and to look forward to all the positive changes we intend to initiate in the coming 12 months.  Should we be brutally honest with ourselves, though (a skill so few seem to possess in this day and age), we might find that the resolutions we are now confidently pledging to discharge are not unlike those we vowed to keep at this same Time last year.  Well, I suppose there is something to be said for consistency . . .

In a few weeks we will begin to receive the W-2 forms that allow us to accurately calculate the amount of tax we owe our feudal masters and, come late January, the mailman will deliver to us the stacks of credit card bills which are evidence certain of December’s feckless orgy of conspicuous consumption.  You had promised to curtail your spending, to buy fewer things for fewer people.  You may even have succeeded in doing just that.  But them prices, they are a risin’.  Witness the automobile that not so very long ago required a mere $17 in gasoline which now demands $50 to see the little indicator needle hover near the FULL side of the gauge.  That which once was is no more.

There is one area, however, where the prices never rise and never fall, but where the cost has always been consistently the highest that can be paid.  In this province it is not possible to negotiate better terms, more favorable rates, or to in any way defer payment.

Everything you do in your Life costs you something.  Each thought, each action, each emotion, each failure or success, all of them draw from an account that is irrevocably finite and subject to sudden catastrophic ruin.  The coin of the realm of which I speak is binary in its constitution, one half being constrained at all times by a factor of 24, while the other is a bit more protean in its capacity to wax or wane.  I speak of your Time and your Life-Force Energy.

You, like every person who has ever lived, are limited to but 24 hours in a day.  In this aspect, we truly are equal, everyone.  The visionary and the vagrant, the mystic and the madman, all are bound by the same limitations of temporal fetters.  How is it that you spend your Time?  Are you aware that every second of your Life that has passed is a second you will never EVER have again?  How much of this most precious and limited asset has slipped unnoticed through your fingers as you sat idling in traffic, suffered through yet another pointless business meeting, or engaged in some meaningless activity that did absolutely nothing to feed your soul?  Time is the one resource of which you have only so much and you can never know just how much it is that you will have.  How many more days can you claim with any certainty are at your disposal?

Every activity you undertake requires of you Time; just how much is your Time worth to you?

If Time is the “when” of human existence, then Life-Force Energy is the “how.”  This antipodal face of the two-sided coin is the Energy that motivates you, that quickens you, that sustains you, that IS you.

As with Time, a portion of your Life-Force is demanded against all that you do.  Whether an intentional expression of Beauty or a thoughtless act of anger, your personal account will be debited immediately and without consideration.  Depending on the act, you may pay up front and only once, or you may find yourself making installments for years to come.

Fortunately, and quite unlike Time, your Life-Force can be replenished, not only in quantity, but in quality, as well.  You can increase the level of your “funding” by taking care to consume only healthy food and drink, avoiding ingestion of substances that can damage the body and mind, exercising, resting, meditating, praying, by divesting yourself of as much negativity as possible and by developing a mindfulness for and about the way you live your Life.  Paradoxically, the more you engage in conscious acts that bring joy to your soul, the more likely is your store of this Energy to accrue rather than diminish.

Learn how not to give away needlessly your Energy to others and do not permit people or circumstances to drain it from you.  Don’t pay more than you must and don’t squander what you have.  Use wisely your resources and learn to invest rather than spend.

It is your responsibility to determine if what you are doing at any given moment is worth the incredible cost demanded of you.  When you tally the price you must always be willing to ask yourself, “Is this really how I wish to spend my Life?”

©Billy Red Horse

The Paradox

Our lives are cumulative.  Where we are at any given moment can be traced to the decisions we made 5 minutes, 5 years, or 5 decades earlier.  Ours is an existence characterized by Karmic consequence.

The interesting thing, however, is that the “we” of right now is not the same “we” of 5 minutes, 5 years, or 5 decades past, so “we,” in effect, are not “we” at all.  The paradox comes in that, on the one hand, while in the Time from our birth to the present moment up until the point of our death, the ecliptic of our Earthly journey can be conceived of symbolically as a great snowball, collecting snow (memories, attitudes, etc.) and increasing our substantive energetic girth inevitably for the duration of that journey.  On the other hand, not all that snow (those memories, attitudes, and the like) will remain constant for the entirety of the journey; we change, we (hopefully) mature, we transcend who we were and develop (again, hopefully) into the more Beautiful Who We Are.  We are, therefore, less like reservoirs and more like conduits.

Using another symbolic analogy, think of your “Self” like a baseball franchise that was founded on the very day you were born.  In the decades since you debuted there have been many coaches, even more players, changing uniforms, and a constantly rotating base of fans.  It’s still the “same” team, but different. The name has been a constant, there is a team memory, but the years have seen varying attitudes, aptitudes, concerns, and results.  The same but different; constant, yet ever-changing.

By the very act of living your Life you have seen to it that “you” are not who “you” once were.  Use your power of Choice and the discipline of action to move these changes with intent in the direction of your dreams.  While consequence is unlikely ever to be manipulated, future Karma CAN be.

©Billy Red Horse

Manners

What is it that separates humans from animals?  This is a question I have mulled often over the years, but revisited more intently in recent months.  While there are certainly many differences which can be observed, there are two distinctions which I would class as primary.  Firstly is the degree to which humans are capable of abstract thought.  Though members of the animal nation demonstrate a rudimentary (by human standards) competence at abstraction (witness crows and simians that can use tools, for instance), it is the depth and breadth of the human ability to abstract which has led directly or indirectly to every technological breakthrough and artistic statement in the whole of the history of our species on this Planet.  The second trait distinguishing homo sapiens from all other life on Earth is our capacity for impulse management and civilized interaction which I refer to simply as manners.

The human ability to abstract can be considered a calculating and cognitive left-brain process. Our capacity for manners can be seen as a function and emotional component of the right-brain.  Each attribute serves as a compliment and counterpoise to the other.  As our ability to abstract continues to develop, so too does our capacity to interact with and influence our physical surroundings.  And it is the degree and the extent to which we evidence our manners that demonstrates the progress of our evolution both culturally and as individuals.  It is in manners where is displayed our highest refinement as a species.

It should be understood that the manners of which I speak are not merely some perfunctory etiquette, behavioral mores observed solely to facilitate routine coexistence.  Manners, as postulated here, go much further and speak more to a genuine and expressed dignity that demonstrates a profound appreciation of and respect for Life, Self, and Others.

Over the course of recorded history, the development of these two attributes have more or less paced one another in a dance of give and take with, generally speaking, neither outstripping the other by very far for very long.  It could be argued that the Golden Age of our twin natures was from the mid-18th century until the dawning of the 20th.  By the start of the 20th century’s second decade, something began to change.

Fast-forward to the present.  Technology rules the day.  If there can be consensus that our abstraction and its now ubiquitous computerized offspring has taken such a commanding lead, even a cursory appraisal would suggest that the continued development and utilization of manners is currently, at best, stunted or, at the worst, regressing at an exponential rate.

As technology has advanced to its current state of the art, we find ourselves able to communicate with one person or, potentially, millions of people instantaneously around the world with no more effort than is required to tap a few characters into a keyboard and then press SEND.  We have come to use these products of our abstraction as a means to debase our manners.  The root of the problem, however, is not with the technological fruits of our left-brain intellect per se; technology is just the vehicle.  The conundrum that is the assault on manners arises from a deficiency in and of the very manners that are themselves under assault.

The present vector of our faltering manners is one that self-sustains and self-proliferates.  The attrition of a refined Lebensweise and cultivated self-expression is a consuming and spreading fire that with enthusiasm adds fuel to itself.  Essentially, withering manners are contagious and pathological.

Twitter, Facebook, Google+, internet chat forums and the like have become contemporary virtual equivalents of the parlor or drawing room of old, but very often playing host to precious little of the civility and decorum customarily exhibited in those antiquated chambers.  In these incorporeal analogs, modern discourse has been reduced to the inorganic limit of 280 characters or to digitized photos and cartoons regularly overlaid with snide paralogisms.

The technology that facilitates this widespread interaction has the added simultaneous effect of fostering the monolithic comfort and impulsive daring of anonymity.  This implied and inferred veil of anonymity provides copious opportunities for the drive by insult and the spiteful zinger, which are but two of the manifestations of a waning sophistication.

Even should a factual personal profile be posted and no alias ever used, there is still the inherent element of being one step removed and thus at least marginally anonymous.  It is in the incubator of anonymity where bad manners are most likely to breed.

This is not to say that anonymous animosity is the sole source of unchecked impulses and less than elegant interaction in the virtual world.  Often, ignorance or a distorted perception as to the clarity with which one’s message is presented and/or will be received is at fault.  Many honest and sincere attempts at self-expression and the communication of heartfelt ideals are derailed by poorly considered and ill-mannered assertions.  What the author/poster imagines to be insightful, witty, and clever is more often inciteful, snarky, and mean-spirited, which results in doing absolutely nothing to forward dialog or civil debate. Ultimately, no one’s mind is changed and the trenches of division between contrasting positions are only dug deeper.  The only ones to consider and applaud such a post are those who are already in agreement with the author’s position, thus, an opportunity for constructive discussion is effectively jettisoned in favor of what could be interpreted as nothing more than a display of tawdry and caustic self-satisfaction.  Regardless of whether the boorish dispatch springs from animus or ignorance, the result remains the same.

It is a matter of course that what we express should be important to us; if it is not important, then what is the point of expressing it at all, beyond the shallow satisfaction of hearing or reading our own words?  It is, however, critically important to be aware that, due to the nature of the way humans communicate, how we express is equally as important as the sentiment itself.  For the mannered person, there must be integrity and consistency between intent and expression, between thought and deed.

As an extreme example, consider that I can say to an acquaintance “you are important to me,” but if I do so with loathing in my eyes or a measure of acid in my tone, then what I say is and always shall be overridden and overwritten by the way I say it.  This was a lesson yours truly learned the hard way.

In the early days of the internet (way back in the mid-1990s) I created and maintained a personal web presence that could be considered a forerunner to the contemporary blog.  In expressing my opinions there, I was crass, inconsiderate, impudent, immature, and ill-advised in my approach.  It saddens me very nearly to the point of shame when I consider the times past when I displayed the grace of an ogre, the tact of an ingrate, and the skillful means of a halfwit when trying to share an opinion or convey a truth.  I have since often wondered how many people discounted what I had to say simply because of the way I chose to say it.

Fortunately, the virulent nature of my ignorance did not prove itself to be incurable.  Over time and with much contemplation and reflection, I was reminded that I was a teacher of a discipline (Zen) that extols the merits of, among other things, reasoned interaction, peaceful coexistence, and the enduring certainty of cause and effect, that is, the inevitability of Karma.  I recognized the gravity of the fundamental proposition that, even in something as apparently anodyne as a personal editorial, what I gave out would be inextricably woven into the fabric of that which would return to me, very often multiplied.  It took much longer than it should have but, through the years, I managed to find a mature and mannered voice in spite of myself.

Lest there be any confusion, I do not discourage anyone from sharing an opinion, any more than I suggest that opinions themselves are bad things.  It should also be understood that I do not call for the evisceration or abandonment of one’s heartfelt positions or passions on any given subject.  To presume that passion and well-mannered expression are mutually exclusive is to presume in error.  To have manners is not to quash or otherwise enfeeble one’s passion.  The interesting irony is that a restrained passion is often the more powerful passion.  Certainly a well-mannered passion enjoys the greater prospect of receiving a fair hearing.

I now strive continually to carry myself with the comportment and grace, that is, the manners, of a respected elder.  Sadly, in this effort I do not always succeed.  I can, however, say with a clear conscience that any lapses I experience are unintentional and are no longer the product of intent as they so often were in the past.

Bad manners breed worse manners.  It is fortunate that the converse is also true.  As with all things in Life, that which is given energy is that which grows.  It is a simple matter to restore a more balanced equilibrium and bring our right-brain manners back into parity with our left-brain abstractions.  We have a choice.  Be nice!  Think before pushing the SEND button.  Let this new (old) perspective become “viral” and spread, not only in the virtual world, but in the real world as well.  It is the evolved and civilized thing to do.

©Billy Red Horse