My Turn: Choose to become leaders, examples this holiday season


Monday, December 18, 2017

I’m finishing Scott Kelly’s amazing and unimaginable recounting of his life, training and year in space onboard the International Space Station. With the precise detail of a man whose training goes far beyond what at times feels humanly possible, we are privy to the extreme dangers being in space poses, as well as the unique and amazing capabilities of the human body and mind to conquer the inhospitable. When space flights were novel in the 1960s and the moon became the new frontier, the world reflected on Neil Armstrong’s famous reflection in 1969, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Perhaps it’s fitting then that we take stock of the present by remembering that we as a race are explorers. We are risk takers. We attempt to beat the odds. The curiosity of the mind to know more, encompass broader perspectives and understand more deeply what our roles as human beings are, and should be, is what drives us.

Day-to-day survival most often doesn’t permit us to languish in self-reflection. The traffic light turns green and we have to go forward. The day accelerates forward and we try to change and adapt to the sights and obstacles ahead. At least many of us do consciously and many others struggle just to keep up and not fall too far behind. Evolution of our minds, or lack thereof, is changing our horizons and visions of who we are and want to be. Technology has fast forwarded us into the “Data-ist Age” and our brains are being rewired.

As the holidays impose their all-consuming presence, our spirits need affirmations that, beyond the usual, sometimes obligatory gift giving, we truly reflect on the experiences of the past year and re-align ourselves with our highest goals and aspirations. Even the usual platitudinous gestures can invoke real sentiment when we remember to come from the heart. But, we need to continually advocate for compassion as an expression of our better angels all the time throughout the year.

The world knows this. At least, I believe it does. Sometimes scant evidence presents itself. We are so much greater than the sink hole of current political selfishness. What our representatives do has absolutely nothing to do with anything but material self-aggrandizement. I consider it like the anti-Christ in many ways, walking in broad daylight over a field of the fallen. Our excuses are manifold. Our skullduggery is legion. Truth is gerrymandered to encompass the disfigured minds of those caught in the web of deceit and deception, dollars in the pockets, and where is Jesus, metaphorically, to overturn the money lenders in the temple? Didn’t He leave the job to us to continue? A fight that may or may not be won, and that may very well produce or induce a wide range of actions, hopefully positive, but we know not necessarily so.

Monastic souls sequestered themselves throughout the ages so they could remain focused on taming the outsized ego and tendencies of man to do harm to himself. The ego developed very early on as the human race evolved into larger societies and became an instrument for success. It didn’t consider war as necessarily immoral, but necessary. In the end, the church took a backseat to national ambitions. Governments and rulers felt unrestrained quite often. The Holy Cause melded with economic conditions and expansion. The cancerous side of our civilization turned spiritual and religious observance into enterprise. Now, we often try to minimize the holidays and stay centered on what love, charity and forgiveness really means to us, not abstractly, but again in touch with the heart and our higher angels.

We’re in a perilous state. The world has to come to its senses or a tragic fate will befall us. We’re fighting a person, leading or deciding not to really lead a free world ostensibly dedicated to democracy and human rights. That is all in a disheveled state. The ego runs the show. Faith in the true sense is given lip service and too many congregants genuflect to false ideology — idolatry really — forgetting Christ’s true message. Ideologues rather than idealists warp the nature of leadership and leave us in the purgatory of human shortsightedness.

Can our Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations be a true reflection of our love and thankfulness for all we’ve been given and able to achieve? Of course they can, and we have to make sure that they do. It’s a time for our better angels to take flight and guide us toward a much grander, expansive, humane view of our future capabilities, not just on the scientific, technological, but as a people whose power to include, revere, find compassion, welcome difference, lend a hand when needed invariably raised us above the hardscrabble realities we face.

Join forces in light this holiday season, become leaders and examples. Scott Kelly shows us how from inside his remote capsule, circling a planet of treasure beyond our dreams. Our loftiest goals only happen when we believe in them. Happiest of holidays to all.

A playwright, Harris has been a well-known chef for 40 years in Franklin County. He lives in Shelburne Falls.