Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Pie

A feeling of peace settled somewhere close to me as I crushed up Saltine crackers in a bowl, and Del sat across from me chopping up two green apples we had saved from the chow hall. We were making a Christmas pie for the room. Christmas was still five days away, but the general season is upon us. It’s still a time of mixed feelings for me.
I committed my crime in November and for about 15 years after that, there was nothing celebratory in my life, including Christmas. I simply ignored the whole season, telling myself it was all commercialized anyway.
But over the past decade or so I’ve been trying to find meaningful ways to reconnect with the season. I make cards to sell and give away, which gets me away from my usual writing and other work into something more meditative and manual. I don’t do artwork much anymore throughout the year so this brings me back to that. I also usually work out a set of Christmas songs and perform them with a band here for fellow inmates. This process of playing the old familiar songs and trying to find new ways to keep them interesting is a nice point of connection for me.
I tell Del to put the cubed apples in a big bowl. I pour sugar over them, then get a sideways look when I add about three tablespoons of instant lemon tea. I’ve never used it before, but act like I know exactly what I’m doing. By now, I’ve crushed the Saltines crust into the bowl. I slide it across to him and tell him, “Mix it up and dump it in here.”
Maryann and I talked recently about innocence and reconnection — of living in a place where we are not constantly falling into a mire of existential boredom and spiritual numbness. We know there are some ways of living that are more lifeful and spiritually nourishing than others, so we were talking about ways to practice them. Reverence — acknowledging the presence of the transcendent in people and things — came up, and so did the danger of thinking we already know all we need to know. This is where our spiritual boredom and “whateverness” comes from: this conclusion — before we even encounter things — that nothing’s going to surprise us because we already know and have already experienced everything.
Del gives me another crazy look when I tell him to cut up the little Lemonhead candies I got in my Christmas pack, and sprinkle them in with the apples and sugar. Despite the crazy look, however, he’s a believer and is always willing to be surprised. In go the Lemonheads.
This, it seems to me, is pretty close to the true meaning of Christmas — this crazy, against-all-odds belief that if we look real close, maybe even close our eyes and pop them open at exactly the right moment, life might hit us with some delightful little surprise. Something we weren’t expecting. We might wake up in just a moment to find something under the tree of our life that makes all the waiting worthwhile.
I found mine this morning when I brought the pie back from the dayroom after 12 minutes in the community microwave. Del cut it up into four pieces and we served it up. He popped a good-sized piece in his mouth then jumped up, his lips shaped like a cartoon Christmas caroler, saying “ooh, ooh, ooh,” trying to fan cool air in and over that hot bite of pie. I took my cue from him and made sure mine was cool before trying to eat it. Then, we both sat there for the next 10 minutes, slowly eating and praising the virtues of pie in general and this pie in particular. In my last bite, I got a big chunk of Lemonhead candy. Chewy sour sweetness. It was finer than frog’s hair as they say in… well, somewhere folksy.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Who Is God Without Words?

Many of my Christian friends think I don’t talk enough about Jesus in my work. The other day I was talking with someone I’ve known for many years and he’d just read “Stepping Up.” He said “I saw all this opportunity to talk about Jesus but you didn’t do it.” He was concerned and even said he probably wouldn’t have read the book for this reason were it not for his personal connection with me. This is someone I respect and admire, and since I know that other Christians feel this way I think it might be beneficial to explain why I take the approach I do.
It begins with the desire to avoid any connection with the whole “Jesus Industry” that has sprung up. Jesus, as I told my friend, is too often turned into a commodity in our consumer culture. Our relationship with commodities, of course, is to acquire, possess and consume them and this is how Jesus is often presented — as a product to be acquired, possessed and consumed. Many of our religious programs on TV and even many actual church services are indistinguishable from infomercials: “ ‘Jesus-Wow!’ will wipe up all your spiritual spills with twice the absorbency of other leading brands. Get ‘Jesus-Wow!’ now and watch your problems disappear.”
So this is one reason I hold the view I do — to avoid any association with this craziness. I know, of course, that this is not what my friend represents. I’ve known him long enough to know his faith has far more integrity than this.
But he and I differ on where the line is between commercial and non-commercial Christianity. For me the whole emphasis on constantly selling Jesus (as if we’re sales reps fighting for market share with various other religious and secular forces) is across that line on the commercial side.
I am, of course, well aware of the commission to carry the gospel (i.e., Good News) to all the nations. The question is, what is this Good News? Is it an intellectual and theological construct as modern Christianity believes? (Often presented as the “ABCs of Salvation”: Accept Jesus, Believe, and Confess and you’re “saved.”) This is nothing but a theological product, a commercial packaging of profound mysteries for easy mass consumption. If this is the Good News, then it’s the kind of “Jesus-Wow!” good news that belongs, again, on a late-night infomercial: the kind of good news that brings in lots of consumers who are almost immediately disappointed and very soon off chasing the next “once-in-a-lifetime offer.”
So, what is the gospel, the Good News, if not a certain set of ideas or a theological formula?
This question, in my judgment, brings us to the heart of the matter. Rather than give my answer I would like to issue a challenge to anyone interested in deepening his or her spiritual life. lt’s a simple thought experiment: First, imagine that human language suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth. There are no more words. There is no more writing, no more reading, no more hand signing or braille. I’m not just talking about communication between people but language itself, which includes thinking in words.
Now ask yourself the following questions:
  • Does truth (God, Christianity, spirituality, etc.) still exist?
  • If so, what does it look like in my life?
In other words (ironically), what is God without words? What is a “Christian”? A “Buddhist”? A “Muslim”? What is truth without words?
The reason this experiment is valuable is because words are not reality but rather representations of reality. The word “cup” is not something you can drink from. It’s an abstraction, a symbol that represents a cup.
The same is true with mental images. When we think about a cup we don’t actually have a cup in our minds. We have an image of a cup in our minds.
This is fine as long as we’re aware of it. When we forget that words and images are mere symbols, we’re like a person who forgets that photographs are mere images. Such a person might then try to have relationships with the “people” in the photos, but what will be the result of that? We actually see this with pornography and one of the results is that it can cut the person off from real relationships. In the same way, a person who tries to relate to the image of God or truth represented by words or mental images will be cut off from the real thing.
This experiment will sharpen the line between words and reality if we conduct it seriously. Language is a powerful tool and an integral part of human consciousness. But both truth and consciousness exist beyond words. This realm is referred to in wholeness ethics as “the transcendent.” It can be experienced but never explained, encountered but never understood intellectually. This is where Jesus and God reside for me.
This doesn’t mean we can’t talk about these things. It just means that when we do, we must remember that our words cannot contain them. This, for me, is an expression of reverence.
The world might be better off if there were less talk about God and more talk about what God wants us to be doing: loving one another and living in right relationship on earth.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

An Open Letter to Occupy Wall Street

“The world revolves around the inventors of new values.” —Nietzsche
 Almost three decades ago, Ronald Reagan began a process of steering American values in a different direction. Things like self-interest were lifted up as virtues because they stimulated the economy, and a stimulated economy, in his worldview, was the ultimate good. Many Americans believed him and the people who came along behind him turned his thinking into an ever-expanding economic and social philosophy. And, bearing Nietzsche out, the world has revolved around this ever since.
All that changed recently with the birth of Occupy Wall Street. For the first time in decades, mainstream media is asking questions like, “Is greed really a virtue?” and “Is it fair that the wealthiest 1% are doing so well when everyone else can barely stay above water?” Previously, these questions were left to people like Bill Moyers and others who shared his “suspicious passion for social justice.” Mainstream media was talking about how deeply we should gut government and cut taxes for the “job creators” and whether those who questioned this were really socialists or just misled liberals.
You have managed to do what so many before you in the past decades have failed to do: you’ve changed the narrative. You’ve taken possession of a little thread of the story. Congratulations.
The question now is, what will you do with it? Already forces are gathering to reclaim this little piece of the story you’ve managed to lay your hands on. You’re being accused of not having a coherent set of demands or a “consistent message.” This in itself is an attempt to regain the narrative and manage the movement. Tell us what you want and we can either talk you out of it or give it to you — then we can all get back to “normal.”
CEO Peter Schiff recently brought a camera out to confront protestors and his question to one woman was: Wouldn’t you like to be one of the 1%? If I gave you the money to make you one of the rich you’re protesting, are you telling me you wouldn’t take it? I’m paraphrasing, but this was the spirit of what he said. What he was really asking was: Are you protesting the system or just the fact that you’re losing right now? This is the question at the center of all revolutions: Do you really want to change the system or do you just want to be on top?
And if you really do want to change the system and not just your status in it, do you realize that your task is not merely to change our politics, our economics or our power structures? You must become the “inventors of new values” Nietzsche refers to.
Whatever changes we make without changing our values will amount to nothing. I’ve learned this in prison where I’ve spent the 30 years referred to above. During this time I’ve seen an endless stream of men try to change themselves and their situations without changing their values. I’ve seen reformers spend their entire lives trying to change they system without questioning the core values upon which it’s built. Such groups have accomplished almost nothing and what changes they did miraculously make were immediately absorbed and undone by the system.
Everything we are is a reflection of our values. This is why I’ve spent my time here articulating new ones for myself and for anyone else who wants them. The result is wholeness ethics, a value system built around doing “only what increases wholeness in yourself and in the world,” and treating all reality with reverence, goodwill and justice.
Apply this system of ethics to our public policy and social structures and you get a society that includes everyone and in which people are more important than chasing money or any other agenda. You get a society that demands ethical markets, markets in which mindless greed is once again recognized as what wholists call “a-holistic.” In short, wholeness ethics is an ethical system that, once adopted, goes to the core of a society or a person and begins a process of complete transformation and healing.
I contend that this is the ethics for the world you envision. It is practical, consistent and coherent. It is a “people’s ethics,” an ethics of life, relationships and consciousness. I suggest that you adopt it, begin calling yourselves wholists and set about making it your own by applying it to both yourselves and the situations you’re trying to change. Your movement is about creating, maintaining and advancing wholeness. Wholeness ethics is a simple articulation of that. Take its language and the worldview and replace the old, obsolete economic worldview with a new, life-centered one.
Your “consistent message” is, “Do only what increases wholeness in yourself and in the world.” Claim it and call the country to wholeness. Let us revolve for awhile around a center that is worthy of us.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

More on the Ethics Project Cancellation

I was pretty brief in my initial post on the closing of the Kinross Ethics Project. I know many people are puzzled and upset about this decision and some have asked after me and asked what, if anything, can be done.

The first thing I want to say is that the ethics group always existed due to the grace of the Michigan Department of Corrections. So losing it isn’t a matter of losing something we had a right to. We’ve never had any sense of entitlement about it. I also know that from the DOC's point of view, all things must be considered in terms of maintaining order in prisons and preventing prisoners from using privileges for bad ends. These are legitimate concerns.

This doesn’t mean I agree with their decision. I believe the ethics group came under fire because I wrote the guidebook “Stepping Up.” In their legitimate concern for security, prison officials have created a situation and a system of rules in which good and healthy things (such as healthy relationships with ethical and successful people and the writing of a book imploring prisoners to act ethically) are treated with suspicion, condemned and prohibited. Since such things — not external control mechanisms — are the infrastructure of true security, condemning and prohibiting them in the name of security actually has the opposite effect: it decreases security.

Because I believe this, I’ve written to the MDOC director and offered the program to the department. I would love to see them accept this offer and implement the Ethics Project throughout the state. If any of you have anything to say that may allay their suspicions (about me or the program) or simply something to say about the program’s value, you can follow up with a letter of your own to Daniel H. Heyns, MDOC Director, PO Box 30003, Lansing, MI 48909. Maryann has a copy of the letter I sent, so if you want that for background she can email it to you.

As with all things, the most important question in this is how can we keep our response wholistic? How can our response represent what we're standing up for? Getting smacked often has the power to pull us away from our principles, so when we feel smacked we have to make an extra effort to stay on course. Thus, though I’m upset about this and disagree with it philosophically, I’m not going down the "us-vs-them" road. Or trying to win the case by proving that they’re “bad people.” They’re not. I know many who work here who positively support this work.

Some are obviously against it but they don’t represent all staff anymore than those prisoners who are constantly doing evil and who need to be suppressed represent all prisoners.

To keep it wholistic, we need to keep this in mind and deal with everyone involved with reverence, goodwill and justice. I’m trying to do this and will continue to do so.

I deeply appreciate the concern many of you have expressed. Wholeness ethics has always been more than a “prison program.” We need it in our schools, in our marketplace, in our agriculture, in our politics, and in every aspect of our lives. If wholeness ethics is not allowed back into Kinross Correctional Facility, this will simply free up more time and energy to take it into these various other places.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Choosing Connection

It happened late in the evening toward the end of one of our last wholeness ethics meetings. A newer member — I’ll call him Eric — raised his hand after hearing another man speak on how wholeness ethics and the code of reverence had affected his life. “This is more a personal reflection than a response to what was said,” Eric began. He went on to explain that he’d long been labeled a “sociopath” because he had no empathy for others.

He didn’t think of this as necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, he talked about some of the benefits of a lack of empathy. “I can watch a program on TV about starving people and I don’t feel anything. I just change the channel. Or all the stuff I see in here, it’s a lot easier not to feel anything.”

But, he said, as the other man was talking about his wife coming to visit him when she had cancer, something unusual had happened. Eric started to open up to some of the feelings the brother was talking about. He started to feel what it must have felt like for his fellow inmate to sit in the visiting room with his wife who’d lost all her hair to chemo — the feelings of guilt and helplessness. Eric was telling us about this because he was concerned about it. He wasn’t sure he wanted to open himself up to this “connection to the whole” that we were talking about. Maybe it was better to just stay where he was.

We all face this question at some level: How much will we open ourselves to the suffering of others? Especially those who could potentially bring some of this suffering into our lives?

We try to avoid suffering and that’s normal and healthy — to a point. One of the central teachings of wholeness ethics, however, is that suffering cannot be avoided. It’s part of being conscious. Even if we succeed in completely numbing ourselves (as I’ve done at various point in my life) we quickly learn that numbness causes its own form of suffering: the pain of not feeling. So there are two kinds of suffering in this world: the suffering of connection and meaningfulness and the suffering of disconnection and meaninglessness. All we can do is choose one or the other of them.

Acknowledging this, wholism is in no way about ending or avoiding suffering. It’s about choosing the suffering that’s worthy of us and then relating with it in ways that increase rather than decrease wholeness.

As Eric spoke in our meeting, several thoughts were darting around in my mind like swallows. The first was that the word “sociopath” gets thrown around too much in places like this. I wanted to tell him, “Don’t believe it too readily.” Not only that, but in an environment as dysfunctional as prison, shutting down may represent a perfectly healthy psychological reaction. It is certainly widespread among staff and prisoners. Indeed, emotional deadness, disconnection, and an absence of genuine compassion is widespread throughout our entire culture.

However, the fact that it’s a healthy and sane reaction doesn’t mean it’s a healthy and sane response. Reactions are for immediate circumstances; responses are more measured plans about how we’ll go forward in the long term. Healthy reactions often cease to be healthy as they become longer-term responses. To live in and ultimately change the culture that invites, incentivizes, and often demands that we constrict and shut down, we must develop a response of intentionally and mindfully pushing in the opposite direction: toward expansion and an open heart.

We must put this work at the center of our lives and strive to build an ethics and a narrative around it. We must create community rooted in it — space and time set aside to seek and speak our truth, to tell our stories and to reimagine ourselves and our world.
This is what wholeness ethics is ultimately about. It is an ethics of ever-expanding empathy and authentic connectedness. As Einstein said, “Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison [of disconnection] by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ethics Banned

Well, they’ve cancelled the Ethics Project here at Kinross Correctional Facility. Not sure what we’re accused of; the official reason was that we are not an approved program. Since we’ve been running for seven years this seems a little odd.

The tragedy is that like all things in our legal system, once a decision is made, it’s highly unlikely that it will ever be reversed. We’ll see. What I can say for sure is that the Ethics Project is hereby officially banned in Michigan prisons.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Changing the Economic Game

I’ve heard that the Occupy Wall Street protests have spread to hundreds of cities around the world. Not long ago it was the Tea Party that was taking to the streets and influencing our political process. People are angry, afraid, and fed up.

But with what, precisely? We know things are not going well, but why? Who or what is to blame? And, more importantly, what’s the right way forward? What needs to change?
Religious people think we need more religion — specifically, their particular brand of religion. Politically ideological people think we need more right or left wing ideology. We could break it down further but in the end it comes down to this: Various forces are trying to get us to play the game by a different set of rules, each faction believing its rules are best.

I don’t think we need to change the rules. We need to change the game. I’m talking about the whole materialist, consumption/acquisition life style that the American Dream has mutated into.

What does this mean? It means, first of all, restructuring our value system.
The ugly truth is that our value system, instead of being life- or people-centered has become money- and power-centered. Consider the concept of perpetual economic expansion. We not only value it, we worship it unquestioningly. If I can make a convincing argument that something will “stimulate growth” it will immediately be accepted as a virtue. Reagan did it with greed. For centuries Western culture had considered greed a vice — it’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins — but the simple claim that it serves economic growth turned it into a virtue.

This isn’t just a right-wing thing. The left worships at the very same altar of endless expansion. The only difference between the two is over how — not whether — to pursue it.

Yet our mindless pursuit of this notion has driven the massive redistribution of wealth from the middle class to a small minority at the top. We were told it would produce growth. Ditto with free trade and globalization and the corresponding transfer of economic power from local communities to unseen and all-powerful corporations. Ditto through a long list of changes in our society that have come about by asking, “Will it serve economic growth?” and nothing more.

Is there an alternative? Yes. Wholeness ethics offers an entirely different game. By putting wholeness and right relationship at the top of our value scale then reasoning back from there to ask what kind of economics serve these goods, we find the concept of endless expansion replaced by the concept of wholistic sustainability. What is a wholistically sustainable economics?

First, it is an economics that promotes local community. This one word banishes forever the god of efficiency. Community isn’t economically efficient. But who cares? Efficiency is only a virtue up to the point that it begins to degrade community. When we consider it a virtue after that point, as we do in perpetual growth economics, it becomes a god. Why should I buy a tool from a local hardware supplier when Walmart can have it shipped in from China and sold to me for half the price? Why should I hire Julie, who has a disability, when I could maximize efficiency and profits by hiring Debbi, who has no disabilities? In fact, using this same logic, why shouldn’t I then get rid of my American employee completely and hire someone in India to do the job for pennies?

Why? Because (and I’m going to commit blasphemy here so you may want to get the kids out of earshot) people and community are more important than profits.

Wholistic and sustainable economics isn’t opposed to global trade. It simply uses a different standard to determine whether something is good or not. Instead of asking whether something maximizes profits to determine if it’s good or not, wholism asks whether it maximizes right human relations.

We are so immersed in the current system that we don’t even notice the insanity of it anymore. But we have created a way of living that tells us that chasing money is more important than being in right relationship with our world, our neighbors, even our families. This is insane, yet it shows up again and again in our culture. Many of our current problems and sufferings can be traced back to it.

What can we do about it? The first and most obvious thing is, as I said earlier, to change our value system, to make a conscious decision to put people, right relationship, and community above economic issues. The desperately poor can be excused for thinking of nothing but money, but anyone who has reached a level of economic comfort ought to ask why we continue to define ourselves and create lives that are defined by money. We can think ethically rather than economically. We can embrace the principle of “enough-ness” in our lives and start using our money —wherever possible — to say no to the gluttony of over-consumption that is supposedly the point of life in our time. This is simply a matter of asking about any discretionary spending: Will spending my money this way support human relationships, local community, and wholeness?

Find Your Questions, Find Your Soul

We might think that knowing answers would make us more knowledgeable, not less, but the truth on some level is that the more answers we have about any topic, the less intelligent we are about it.
Think about it. What are some characteristics we ascribe to people who know all the answers, the know-it-alls? Right. They’re arrogant, narrow-minded, full of themselves, intolerant and intolerable. They don’t ask questions or even grasp the value of questions, so they stop learning, and over time they become less and less knowledgeable because knowledge is about information. Wisdom is about meaning.
Life is constantly moving and changing. Answers are only good if we write them in sand. When we write them in stone, life moves on and our answers become first stale, then dated, then obsolete, then wrong, then in the end outright dangerous and hateful of life. Every answer that does not turn itself into a question is a curse to those who possess it.
We often hear of institutions being “soulless,” and they often are, but what does that mean? It means they have stopped asking questions; they think they have all the answers and know everything they need to know.
There’s a program on TV called “Undercover Boss” in which CEOs go undercover in their own companies. Without fail, they come out stunned at what they didn’t know about their own employees’ lives and their own company. The show is about the boss, and through them the company, regaining soul. How? By asking questions.
Bring it down to the individual level. Show me a person with no questions, and I’ll show you someone whose ability to love is limited. Show me a situation where love has died and I’ll show you people who have stopped asking questions.
If you feel the passion has gone out of your relationship, try this: Start asking questions about your partner. Ask them silently and aloud. Start digging and very soon you’ll hit the fresh water of reawakened compassion. And if any relationship can be saved, it can only be done through questions. For how can we love anything without asking questions: Who are you? What do you need? What wakes you up and turns you on in life? Love is asking questions.
Now expand this thinking back out to life in general. Wholeness ethics calls us to live question-based lives, and to know that caring begins with asking. How can we ever be in right relationship with life if we don’t ask questions? Possessing the answers may make you well-informed, but it doesn’t make you wise. Only questions do that. That’s because wisdom is from the soul. Not the intellect or the ego. Find your questions and you’ll find your soul.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Using Power Wholistically

Ethics, in one sense, is all about the right and wrong use of power. We tend to think of power only in terms of the most obvious forms but everyone has and uses power all the time.
We have the power of thought and of speech, the power of blessing and cursing, and the power of choosing how we respond to life. These are some of the most basic human powers. Obviously, beyond this we then have varying degrees of social power. The power of adults over children, of various positions such as teacher, prison guard, government employee, medical personnel, boss and so on.
When we use whatever power we have to advance wholeness, we act ethically. When we fail to do so or when we go in the opposite direction and use power to undermine or decrease wholeness, we act unethically. This, however, isn't always as simple a matter as it might seem. There is always a cost to the exercise of power and some forms of power cost more than others.
The two basic forms of power are controlling power and influential power. We’re all familiar with both of these. Controlling power compels compliance — sometimes with physical force (or the threat of it) and sometimes with manipulation. Influential power is power that seeks cooperation and voluntary commitment to ideas and actions. These two types of power have different costs.
Influential power, for instance, costs time and energy in the form of goodwill and respect — caring about the people and things over whom it is exercised. lf you want me to stop smoking and you use influential power it might take weeks or even months of talking to me before I decide to quit. If you use controlling power it may not take any time at all. You can simply put a gun to my head and order me to stop. I most likely will do so immediately. Thus, this often seems the best way to get things done — not necessarily with a gun, but with some form of controlling power.
But there's a cost to this as well. Putting a gun to my head will erode whatever good relationship we already had or could have developed. This is also true of other forms of controlling power such as threats and punishments. I will either submit to your rule passively, which infantilizes me, or I’ll submit to it hostilely and grudgingly. In which case I will attempt to undermine you and rebel against you at every opportunity. Which, in turn, will cause you to spend an ongoing portion of your energy policing me. Controlling power often demands an entire infrastructure to ensure compliance.
I’ve had a lot of experience with this form of power as prisons use it almost exclusively. The elaborate apparatus of external control that we've created here has grown directly from and is made necessary by our reliance on controlling power. I’ve seen it locally here. The "tougher" officials make the prison, the meaner and more hostile the prisoners become. Controlling power, overused, has this built-in consequence whether we're dealing with our children or with criminals.
Does this mean that controlling power is unethical? Of course not. It simply means what it says: that there is a cost to using it. If we are going to be conscious and live wholistically we must acknowledge this cost and remember that controlling power isn't the only power to which we have access.
To be wholistic we need to look at the big picture and ask ourselves what form of power is best in any given situation or time. Sometimes controlling power is best in the initial contact, as when we arrest and remove someone forcibly from society.
That’s often the most wholistic thing to do. After that it’s most wholistic to resort to influential power to whatever degree is possible. When we don’t do this and continue to use controlling power after its appropriate time, we turn a wholistic and ethical act into an “a-holistic” and unethical act.
This is true in our personal lives as well. Sometimes we have to tell our kids to do something “because I said so” or to accept the consequences. But if we continue to do this beyond the point where it’s necessary we create adults who know only how to submit to or rebel against authority but not how to think for themselves.
It’s been said that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is pithy, and we’ve heard it all our lives, but unfortunately it’s not true. As stated above, we all use power all the time; some of us use it wisely and for good. There are countless parents who have power over their children who are corrupt. The same is true of business people who have power over their customers, bosses who have power over their employees, and so on.
What corrupts is power without wisdom. As we all have various forms of power it is then our responsibility to acquire the wisdom necessary to use this power wholistically. That wisdom begins with the understanding that there are two forms of power, and the admission that we currently use most the one that ought to be used least, and least the one that ought to be used most.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Quotable Quote

Three things are necessary for a relationship that increases wholeness. We call them the three aspects of right relationship. They are:


Reverence is acknowledging the presence of the transcendent in people and things and inquiring into their larger meaning and purpose.

Goodwill is wanting people and things to express their transcendent meaning and purpose and move toward wholeness.

Justice is giving people and things what they need to be whole, not what we think they deserve for failing to be whole.

These three things are the foundation of all right relationship with self, others, the transcendent and nature. 

— from Stepping Up: Wholeness Ethics for Prisoners and Those Who Care About Them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Michigan Prison: Wrong Place for Right Relationship?

My book, “Stepping Up: Wholeness Ethics for Prisoners and Those Who Care About Them,” has recently been marked by prison officials as “a threat to the good order and security of the facility.”
A hearing has been requested and Michigan Department of Corrections officials may override this decision and allow the book in. I understand their concern, as a prisoner could potentially attempt to use a book to some criminal end.
This is certainly not the case with Stepping Up, however, and everything in it is what the DOC should be advocating itself. Hopefully this situation will be corrected as it should be and DOC will not ban a book encouraging prisoners to “do only what increases wholeness in yourself and in the world” and to live in right relationship in all areas of their lives.
I’ll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

This I Believe: Life Lessons

We are happy to announce that Troy Chapman's essay, "Caring Makes Us Human," which was produced by This I Believe, Inc., for National Public Radio in September 2008, has been published as part of the new compilation of selected This I Believe essays, "Life Lessons," available Oct. 4. Troy is honored to be part of this collection of extraordinary essays, many by ordinary people.

First created by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s, the popular radio program This I Believe explores the core beliefs and guiding principles by which Americans live today. In this book, you will find an inspiring collection of personal essays from men and women of all walks of life who share the stories of important lessons they have learned about life.

In this collection, you’ll find personal experiences and profound insights from a roller derby queen and a physician, a corporate executive and a homeless person. You’ll find essays written by those with several decades of life experience, while others have been written by teenagers.

You’ll find ponderings on life’s big questions, such as “Why am I here?” and “What is my place in the world?” as well as beliefs in the importance of saying hello, saying thank-you, and saying “I forgive you.” There are revelations on the importance of listening to your inner voice and taking responsibility for your actions. And there are reflections on the resiliency of people—living through cancer, depression, or an accident—and coming through it with spirits intact.

These diverse, engaging essays share valuable lessons for those just starting their adult lives or anyone dealing with life’s challenges. Revealing much about what it means to be human, this book offers wisdom, guidance, and inspiration for all.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Quotable Quote

... we don’t just make maps of places. We make maps of everything. If you’ve ever baked a cake, put oil in your car, tied your shoes, or changed your underwear (and I hope you’ve done at least one of these) you have a map of the process in your brain. If you can whistle or hum a tune it’s because you’ve heard the tune, made a map of it, and are following that map as you play back the melody. In fact, everything you’ve ever done in your life, everything anyone else has ever told you about — even if you thought they were lying or crazy and you made a mental guess at the truth — has been turned into a map in your brain....

"We make maps and we use them to get around in life. But what happens if a map is wrong? Imagine you want to go from Point A to Point B. You pick up a map or create one yourself but it’s completely messed up. It’s got roads mislabeled, roads indicated where there are none, swamps and rivers where the actual roads are, and so on. How well are you going to travel using this map? And what if Point B, the place we want to get to, isn’t a physical place? What if we’re reading screwed-up maps to places like “Success,” “Happiness,” “Manhood,” “Honor” and “the Good Life”?

Read more about how your map of reality affects your perception of the world and your wholeness in Stepping Up: Wholeness Ethics for Prisoners and Those Who Care About Them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Troy Davis and Wholistic Justice

Last night the state of Georgia killed Troy Davis. This is certainly not the only state killing recently, but it’s been creating a bit more buzz than such deaths normally do.
Obviously the death penalty in any instance is an ethical issue. When I apply the standard of “doing only what increases wholeness in myself and in the world” to the taking of human life, I can only conclude that unless the person is a direct threat to others, it doesn’t pass the standard. I can’t see how such an act increases wholeness, nor can I see it as an expression of reverence, goodwill or justice.
Of course many people who support the death penalty do so on the very grounds that justice demands it. When such people say the word “justice,” however, what they mean is “retributive justice,” and I think we should take the time to properly identify what we’re talking about. When we identify retributive justice as simply “justice,” we imply there’s no alternative way of thinking about justice or at least not one worthy of consideration. This is not the case.
Retributive justice is the justice of giving people what we think they deserve. Another form of justice is wholistic/restorative justice. This is the justice of giving people (all people concerned) what they need to be whole, not what we think they deserve for failing to be whole.
By telling us that justice is giving people what they deserve, the supporters of retribution are giving us a false choice — either you’re for giving people what they deserve or you’re for letting them get away with hurting others. They don’t want us to think about the other alternatives, but when we think about giving people what they need as a form of justice, we realize that justice might be more than merely hurting those who hurt us. Indeed, we already have a name for that — it’s called revenge.
When we take off the nose ring of this false choice, we are able to ask some bigger questions. What does an offender need? We of course want them to recognize when they hurt others, to show some empathy, take responsibility, make amends and finally, to refrain from similar behavior in the future.
What leads to these things? What do offenders need to get there? Our current approach fails on all these points for one simple reason: the more pain you inflict on people, the more self-centered they become. If you don’t believe this, the next time you stub your toe, ask yourself what you’re thinking about as you hop around on one foot biting your lip. Prisoners in the process of getting what they deserve — be that bad food, sexual assault, physical assault or general humiliation — aren’t thinking about their victims. They’re thinking about themselves. They’re wondering if they should get a weapon or how they can turn themselves into tough guys so as not to be victims or how many hours they can manage to spend in the weight pit, or whether they should make an example of the guy who didn’t pay them back a 30-cent soup. Thus, despite its claim of being administered in the victim’s name, such justice is the one least likely to foster any awareness of the victim.
Wholistic justice asks what victims need as well. Retributive justice either ignores victims or uses them to advance its own agenda by encouraging them to seek vengeance. But who does this agenda really serve? Is it what victims really need? We don’t ask. If we did, we might see that when people are hurt they often need to be angry, but they also need to move through and beyond this anger if they’re going to be whole again. They need support and guidance to do this. They need the person who hurt them to recognize what he or she did. They may well need this person to experience reasonable punishment, to apologize and make amends. They need to know that the person isn’t just thumbing his or her nose at them and that they’re not going to victimize others in the future. This, of course, sounds a lot like the above list of what offenders need.
We see the same similarity when we expand the question further and ask what society needs. What everyone needs most of all is to be told the truth — that we can never violate another without violating ourselves. Until we get hold of this deep truth we will continue to grasp at the myth of redemptive violence; we will continue to fall prey to those who tell us, again and again, that hurting others will somehow save us. It never will. It may be necessary sometimes to do so, but there’s never any redemptive value in it.
And this, I believe, brings us to the right question in reference to the killing of Troy Davis and the death penalty in general. The question is: Is it necessary? M. Scott Peck defined evil as any killing that isn’t biologically necessary. When we begin to reduce our killing to only that which is biologically necessary, I think we’ll be much closer to the ideal of wholism.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mirrors and Windows

The journalist Sydney Harris said, “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”

Instead of everything reflecting back on us, we learn over time that the world is relevant beyond us — the way we as children we learn our parents have lives that have nothing to do with being Mom and Dad. This moment, when we catch a glimpse of the bigger circle (and realize we’re not at its center) is often startling.

Sometimes we retreat when we see it and get stuck in a place where we feel betrayed by the world — clinging fearfully to those “glory days” when we were at the center of everything and feeling like the world has gone to hell around us. This is the response to the fear of losing ourselves completely. There is a false belief that if we’re not at the center of everything then we’re out of the picture completely.

But the beauty of windows is that they’re not only for looking through; they also reflect. We can see ourselves there in the right light. But this image, unlike that in a mirror, is transparent. When we turn our mirrors into windows, we don’t lose ourselves after all. We just learn to see ourselves and the world simultaneously, and it’s this kind of seeing, rather than the either/or kind, that tells us the bigger truth about ourselves and the world. This is wholistic seeing.

Monday, September 5, 2011

One Very Full Burrito

Today I woke up and ate a burrito. This simple act was an expression of my relationship in all four areas of life. It was relationship with myself because I was putting something into my body. Depending on what was in the burrito it might have been good for me or bad. It was relationship with others because someone milled the flour that made the wraps; butchered the animals that contributed their meat; planted, kept, and harvested the vegetables and so on. Depending on whether these things were done with fair labor, in environmentally sound ways etc., relationship in this area could likewise be good or bad.
This humble breakfast was also relationship with the transcendent — the larger aspect of reality — because the transcendent is ever-present in all things. Everything that led up to the burrito happened on the mundane or “small” level of reality but also on the sacred or “large” level. The act of eating itself was relationship with the transcendent and depending on my mindset, my thoughts as I consumed this meal, this relationship could have been good or bad.
Finally, the relationship with nature is obvious. My body and all its processes are natural as is the food I was eating. I was in nature as I ate, even down to looking out the window at the rainy morning. Again, depending on my thoughts and actions, this could have been good or bad relationship.
What’s the clear distinction between the two? Between good and bad, right and wrong relationship? Wholeness ethics gives us a template with which to answer this question. It’s called the “three aspects of right relationship.” They are:

  • Reverence
  • Goodwill
  • Justice

Reverence is acknowledging the presence of the transcendent in people and things and inquiring into their larger purpose. So, to be in right relationship with anything on earth we must have reverence for it. And having reverence is a matter of acknowledging that there is more to the world than its surface. All things have a larger aspect and to be in right relationship we must acknowledge and inquire into this reality.
lnquiring into the larger meaning of anything is the beginning of caring about it. The full flowering of this caring is goodwill: wanting things and people to fulfill their larger purpose. To be in right relationship we must acknowledge and inquire into the larger purpose of things and desire to see that purpose fulfilled.
Lastly, we must do something about it. More specifically, we must do justice. Justice is giving people and things what they need to be whole, not what we think they deserve for failing to be whole.
ln this framework we see immediately that there can be no goodwill without reverence and there can be no justice without both reverence and goodwill. lf these three were a plant, reverence would be the root, goodwill the plant itself, and justice the fruit. This is important because we often try to deny or ignore it. We want to do justice or claim we have goodwill without bothering to acknowledge or inquire into the larger meaning and purpose of what we’re dealing with. The result is goodwill that isn’t good and justice that isn’t just.
So, these three, in their own proper relationship with each other, are absolutely necessary for right relationship in the world — with self, others, the transcendent or nature.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wholeness Ethics in Daily Life

So how does wholeness ethics apply to our lives? In some ways the whole notion of consciously thinking about ethics in our daily lives has been pushed aside in our time. We think of ethics as applying to “big” issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and so on. But wholeness ethics, while it certainly applies to such things, is ethics for daily life.
This is because it sees life as relationship. All of us are engaged in four basic relationships at all times — whether we like it or not:

  • Relationship with self
  • Relationship with others
  • Relationship with the transcendent
  • Relationship with nature

Ethics is a matter of relating in each of these areas in ways that increase wholeness — which I define as soundness, well being and ongoing realization.
The question of whether we’re relating in ways that increase or decrease wholeness is one that is ever-present. lf we live in a family or any kind of household the question applies. lf we engage in any form of trade or business, it applies. If we are a parent, have any impact on the environment, or interact in any way with animals, it applies. If we express any religious thoughts or impulses in the world or have an opinion on anything, the question, “Am I increasing wholeness?” applies. And where this question applies, wholeness ethics applies.
The other thing that ought to be said is that wholeness ethics isn’t about limiting our freedom or making our lives more burdensome. We sometimes think of ethics and rules as the same thing and if we’re talking about rule-based ethics that’s true. Such ethical systems are, as the name indicates, all about rules. Do this, don’t do that.
Wholeness ethics, however, is a reason-based system. Rather than a list of rules that tell you what to do (or what to think), it’s a set of principles with which we must figure out for ourselves what’s good and not good in any given situation. This is the central difference between rule- and reason-based systems. Rules don’t demand that we think — only that we obey. But if all we have are general principles, we have to think about what they mean and how they apply.
So, wholeness ethics is an ethics for everyday life. Further, it’s an ethics that increases rather than limits freedom because it’s reason-based and gives us the responsibility of doing our own thinking.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stepping Up: Now Available!

Stepping Up: Wholeness Ethics for Prisoners and Those Who Care About Them is now available!

From the book jacket:

Men and women in prison are seen by society as problems and burdens. This book begins with a different premise: that you can be a solution, not only in the world but in your own life as well. It's about a way of living called wholeness ethics and it's based on the simple truth that we find our own wholeness only in right relationship with the world.

From the perspective of his 30 years behind bars, author Troy Chapman offers a roadmap for living this truth and moving toward soundness, well-being and the realization of one's larger purpose. Distilling experience to four essential relationships - with yourself, others, the transcendent and nature - Chapman shows how to consider each in the light of ethical thinking and restore wholeness to each one.

With down-to-earth examples and language, compassion and good humor, this book will help you "step up" to your true purpose, transform your life and your relationships, and help create a better world in the process.

I hope you'll consider clicking the link above and purchasing a special advance copy of the book. In addition to the e-store at that link, the book will soon be available at

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Welcome to Wholeness

When I came to prison in 1984 for killing a man in a bar fight I was about as messed up as a human being could be. As I faced what I'd done and the 60-90 year sentence that was now my life, it occurred to me that I essentially had two choices: I could try to figure out how to live in a way that made some kind of moral and spiritual sense or I could just give up and put an end to the whole mess.
I chose the former course of trying to figure out how to live in a way that made some sense. What has emerged over the almost three decades since is a philosophy of life I call wholeness ethics or simply wholism. It’s a way of thinking and living that puts a premium on wholeness, defined as soundness, well being, and ongoing realization. I arrived at this as a central thing because the absence of wholeness most comprehensively defined my failure. It was what was missing in both my inner world and in the mark I left on the world outside of myself.
I also observed that wholeness seems to be the thing all life strives for. All things want to be whole, to fulfill their larger purpose. Our life energy is the currency we are given to fund this endeavor. It’s meant to be spent on increasing wholeness in ourselves and in the world. Whenever we use it for something contrary to this we're acting unethically.
Everything I saw around me and in me that was good was an example of life energy being spent to increase wholeness. I asked myself why I considered a small act of kindness, a bit of honesty, or a display of honor to be good. The answer was that these things advance wholeness. On the other hand, why did I think of thieving and lying and petty cruelty as bad? It was because these things reduce wholeness. This then became my measure and compass. It’s expressed in the maxim of wholeness ethics:
Do only what increases wholeness in yourself and in the world.
This blog will explore the various ways this maxim applies to our lives. Your questions and comments are welcome and invited.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Coming Soon to

Wholeness ethics is coming, with the publication of Stepping Up: Wholeness Ethics for Prisoners and Those Who Care About Them by Troy K. Chapman. Published by The Whole Way Press.

“…It was about stepping up as a man and deciding to serve my larger self rather than my smaller self. It was a decision to no longer be governed by my feelings, my pain, my failures, limitations or circumstances, but rather to be governed by a clear vision based on what I love rather than what I fear. And it was about making some atonement for the harm I had caused in this world.” —Troy K. Chapman in Stepping Up

Men and women in prison are seen by society as problems and burdens. This book begins with a different premise: that you can be a solution, not only in the world but in your own life as well. It’s about a way of living called wholeness ethics and it’s based on the simple truth that we find our own wholeness only in right relationship with the world.

From the perspective of his 30 years behind bars, author Troy Chapman offers a roadmap for living this truth and moving toward soundness, well-being and the realization of one’s larger purpose. Distilling experience to four essential relationships — with yourself, others, the transcendent and nature — Chapman shows how to consider each in the light of ethical thinking and restore wholeness to each one.

With down-to-earth examples and language, compassion and good humor, this book will help you "step up" to your true purpose, transform your life and your relationships, and help create a better world in the process.

Check back for publication date.