Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Right Condolences: An Autistic Activist's Response to the Santa Barbara Massacre

The recent deaths of the students in the University of California is a deep tragedy so much that every person who hears of it can feel profoundly affected, and certainly these students loved ones deserve to be respected and understood in a courteous way.  Unfortunately, there are those out there who would use tragedy for their own purposes, thus undermining the magnitude and vastness of this occurrence.  In an age where the media sensationalizes just about everything, people like me tend to be dragged into our own pool of misfortunes from these events.  Every recent mass murder, whether in Oklahoma state, Sandy Hook, or Columbine, even though valid studies show absolutely no connection to Asperger syndrome and violent crime, and autistic people are more likely to be victims of violence.  And when autistic people are associated with these events by media pundits, it simply increases stigma and violence against them.  What parent, may I ask, or spouse, child, sibling, niece, or nephew, would want their own suffering and grief to be associated with violence and intolerance?  Who in this world would want to have guilt for their own grief over their flesh-and-blood child or the like? 
                The fact is that any repressed minority group, whether gays, blacks, or Hawaiians, has been connected to violent crime.  How often have we heard of “a black man” who has robbed a convenience store or committed a murder?  Televangelist Pat Robertson once said 99% percent of the world’s crimes are committed by gays when they make up 1% of the world, and these proportions surprisingly enough were used by Hitler to describe the ratio of Jews in the crimes committed.  For autistics, these events include Sandy Hook, Santa Barbara, and the Oklahoma state bombings.  None of these speculations were by reputable professions.  They were by media pundits who have perpetuated the assumptions of the average citizen.  I have heard it argued that these speculations are meant to prevent future shootings, but since the Sandy Hook massacre, have these types of incidents stopped.  Alex Plank, founder of the autistic social network Wrong Planet wrote in response the Sandy Hook massacre that the search for a reason that the search for the source of these crimes should not be the search for a scapegoat.  What’s more, why are these “sources” always the ones who face higher levels of unemployment, lack of education, and alcoholism than the general population, when neither Elliot Rodgers, Timothy McVeigh, or the Sandy Hook shooter have ever been diagnosed?  
                Giving condolences and comfort to the loved ones of the victims is not the same thing as searching for a scapegoat.  Stigmatizing people with Asperger syndrome will not heal the pain and grief of Cheung Yuan Hong’s, George Chen’s, or Weiham Wang’s loved ones, nor will it give the closure they may desire or renormalize their lives.  The deaths of these nineteen- and twenty-year old students should never serve as a leeway for escalating current life-threatening violence of living people with hopes and dreams and loved ones like Hong’s, Chen’s, or Wang’s, and just happen to be autistic.  The truly unfortunate flaw of many is that the people we love are not always appreciated as they should be until they are gone, and I hope that all people of this world will learn to truly appreciate their loved ones that they hold dear, whether or not they are autistic. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Five Reasons Autistic Adults Are Top Advocates for Children

The fact is this: we all want the best possible life and the same is something we would want for our children.  For some children this may involve a para, speech therapy, individual counseling, and other services.  Unfortunately, many children are not given what they need from society to develop to these heights the way others are and when that happens, parents feel they need to be involved and often people with the conditions of the children they advocate for our not heard.  Many parents of autistic people and their supporters have said that autistic adults are not good advocates for autistic children.  Some say they do not have the same issues facing them that children do, can’t speak for the diversity of everyone on the spectrum, that parents are better advocates as they care most about their children, or that children wouldn’t understand their own situation or that it won’t be relevant to their lives when they grow up.  Yet if were honest, the clear picture is that parents have been advocating for their children with autistics being almost completely excluded in the process for over twenty years, and in all this time, very little has changed in the availability of autism services for the autism community as a whole.  History, meanwhile, has shown that people affected most by a particular issue have the power to change their situation.  Black Americans have succeeded very significantly in reversing segregation laws throughout America.  Women have gained the rights to vote, own property, and hold careers, while people with disabilities have been given universal services and the Americans with Disability Act.  Autistics similarly, can do the same thing for themselves, for they have five advantages that (most) parents with autism can make them a unique asset to (non-autistic) parents of autistic children.

Common Experiences

                What people ignore about autistic adults is that they have had similar experiences as children.  They have experienced segregated education aversive therapies, bullying, etc.  Many like me can remember what they had trouble with in elementary school, where adequate supports were not available to me.  I remember better than anyone what teachers and paras did, or tried to do for me, because I was there, and I like many other autistic adults, who have for some reason or another, been in segregated education for the reasons that we were unable to keep up with our non-autistic peers on account of our different abilities.  I have heard parents comment, through social media and other forms, on how autistic people from autistic-run organizations such as the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, the Autism Women’s Network, the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership, and the Aspergers Association of New England, have been instrumental in giving parents information on autism that they are able to use to help their children’s progress and argue with legislators for adequate supports for their children.

Common Needs

                As an autistic person, I know what is stressful for me and what makes certain tasks difficult to perform.  As autistic people, we know that being socially active can be difficult because the planning can be stressful, whereas most neurotypical people I know would simply assume I don’t want to get out and be social.  We can also stress over changes in routine because we like predictability, yet most people I know used to say autistic people were simply rigid because they have not heard things from an autistic person’s point of view, but rather professionals, who may be honest and trained, but do not experience life from the point of view of someone who is wired as we are.  This has changed somewhat, but a lot of society still has yet to accept our perspectives.  Autistics know on some level what distracts or unnerves them, but often times do not know how to communicate it to others.

Common Future Projections

                Disproportionate numbers of autistic adults experience underemployment (or unemployment), divorce, substance abuse, crime, and poverty, all of which could be prevented with early services and interventions.  Autistic people are the ones most affected by discrimination, and autistic adults, many with aging parents and with their understanding of their unique needs and condition, are aware of what future struggles today’s autistic children could experience with the right supports.  Many have learned to compensate for their differences and have unique perspectives on what autistic children can do and can be taught to help live the best possible live

Common Social Networks

                Autistic people are commonly parents of autistic children.  Autistic adults such as John Elder Robison, Sharon daVanport, Jennifer O’Toole, and Bec Oakley have autistic children.  Several of them are authors, bloggers, executives, secretaries, and treasurers for material on and resources providing information and services for people with autism.  They have the same interest in their children as one would hope for parents to have and the same insider’s view of autism that autistic adults, with or without autistic children have.

Common Identity

                Frequently used rhetoric by autistic self-advocates is that one wouldn’t trust a civil rights organization run entirely by white people or a feminist organization run entirely by men.  Autistic people like me don’t just want to be tolerated but celebrated to for our unique contributions to society, such as the inventions of Thomas Edison or the discoveries of Albert Einstein, both of whom were suspected to have autism.  Autism is more than just a medical condition for us, but an essential part of who we are just like being Jewish or Greek.  We do have to get services from our legislators by pity, which is something that degrades and dehumanizes us all.  We understand the need for supports because autism is part of who we are, and it is not just about struggles but also strengths, which autistic people have in fact, been telling the public about for years.  Autism supports, just like accommodations for people with learning disabilities, help people like me work to the best of our abilities, not our disabilities, so we can contribute to society in the unique ways that others have before, something that autistics like me have always identified with, what's more making autistic adults great leaders in advocating for autistic children.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The A-Z Om Guide to So-Called Autism Acceptance: Ideas Claiming to Be Autism Acceptance and Why They Are Not

“Albus Dumbledore: Indifference and neglect often cause more damage than outright dislike.” –Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

                In today’s culture of modern day political correctness, it seems to become almost impossible to criticize anyone for prejudice, racism, sexism, and other bigotry unless it is a premeditated, front-brained notion.  What we end of with is that no one seems to want to confront the ordinary prejudices of society and individuals that help perpetuate injustice.  We hear racism doesn’t manifest in burning crosses and wearing brown shirts like it used to, but inequitable and racial practices still persist even if a lot has been done to combat that.  No one hates women; they just don’t always accept them as they would themselves.  Immigrant communities aren’t called bad outright, but just are associated with negative social and economic problems often for simply enjoying the same social status as natural-born citizens.  LGBT groups aren’t considered intrinsically bad, but just aren’t considered entitled to respect and freedom the way heterosexuals are.  None of this rhetoric wants to admit its uneven level of respect and dignity for others or to take responsibility for their current plight.  These attitudes are unfortunately seen all the time in the autism world and people, particularly the privileged, dominant ones, want cudos for how far they come without fair feedback on how far they have to go. 
                Injustice isn’t just injustice.  For many ethnic and minority groups, their plight is the consequence of historical circumstances and/or genocide, rather than the perpetuation of it.  For LGBTs, disabled people, and women, inequitable treatment did not start this decade and may not have simple, clear-cut origins, and have happened in virtually every culture and society at some point.  Civil rights struggles may not be like a movie where there is one good side and one bad side, with clear-cut villains such as Sauron or Voldemort, and obvious heroes such as Frodo and Gandalf or Harry and Dumbledore.  Oppressed view and treat different groups with the same lack of humanity that their oppressors treat them and not everyone in these struggles are as commendable as King, Mandela, or Gandhi.  If I were to view discrimination as acts committed by clansmen, brown shirts, or red guards, and fought by Gandhis, Kings, and Mandelas, I would have very little case.  The truth is that most injustice is perpetuated by people somewhere in between these two types of personas, who in any case, don’t respect other groups of people are equal in their rights, presence in society, and way of being.  The title of the article “The A-Z Om Guide” refers to two things: one is how the various strands of autism prejudice are numerous, just as are the sounds in the English alphabet, hence “A-Z.”  The other thing my title refers to is that while these various strands of prejudice may be varied, the differences on closer inspection appear meaningless, in the same way the word “Om” is believed by many Hindus to contain all the sounds of the world.  Among neurotypicals (and self-hating autistics) there are several ways of perceiving autism that, in the end, do not amount to acceptance.

“I don’t hate you.  I just wish you weren’t different from me in this respect.”

                Someone could always say to a person of a different racial/ethnic background, “It don’t hate you, the individual.  I just wish you had as light/dark/medium skin tone as me.”  Similarly, autistics hear everyday, “I don’t dislike you.  I just don’t like autism.”  In both these cases, we see the person saying these worlds has to hate dislike something about the person that cannot be changed.

“I just wish you were more like me because then your life would be better and/or easier.”

                The classic line of European colonialism that lasted for over two centuries was, “We (the Europeans) need to bring Western civilization/the word of Christ to the indigenous people so they can enjoy the benefits of modern civilization/become civilized.”  A line I have heard fed to me before as an autistic by neurotypicals is, “I think if you were neurotypical, your life would be easier/better.”  Both of these lines assume that the autistic/indigenous person is not capable of succeeding/being civilized without the European/neurotypical’s help respectively.

“I should accept/not judge you because you have to struggle against so much.”
                I’ve heard people say, when talking about the so-called Third World cultures, “I guess we’d be like them if we didn’t have what they did.”  This may sound tolerant, but instead it just says to me that if Third World cultures had what we did, they’d be just like us.  We characterize these cultures as living in mud huts, being technologically ignorant, war torn, badly governed, or uncivilized.  We don’t see big cities, laptops, cell phones, and politicians such as Nelson Mandela.  Nor do we take into account the rich traditions of food, music, art, and literature to come from these countries such as Nigerian author Chinua Achabes’ Things Fall Apart.  In the case of autism, neurotypical and other non-autistic people ignore strengths autistic people have such as superior-working memory, 3D-drawing skills, graphic recall, and perfect pitch of voice. 

“I don’t hate these people.  I just don’t think they should be allowed to do/given this.”

                I’ve heard it said by people that, “I don’t hate gay people.  I just don’t believe they should be allowed to marry.”  We also hear, “I don’t hate women.  I just don’t believe they should have a choice to abort a pregnancy.”  The latter one could potentially seem much more compelling to me than the former.  Certainly, depending on your belief in when life begins, do not want a baby to be killed.  However, this argument would be much more convincing if it weren’t for the fact that politicians and political think tanks who say this openly support bombing innocent civilians in another part of the world without a solid threat coming from the area, or to execute criminals. 
                In a similar sense more or less to both of these other examples, I’ve heard it said, “People don’t hate people with autism.  They just don’t want to see them be given the educational and medical services that will help integrate them into society for this or that reason.”  All of these views deny someone else the right to enjoy or benefit from freedom or accessibility the way they do.

“We don’t deny these people their rights because we hate them.  It’s just a financial/economic issue.”

                I’ve heard people say that, “This society doesn’t look down on, devalue, or hate autistic people.  They just don’t want to pay higher taxes needed to give them the same social advantages.”  This logic has also been used to argue against desegregation of America, equal health coverage for homosexuals, and the decolonization of the Philippines.  It essentially implies that autistics/ethnic minorities/LGBTs/indigenous people are not as important as a fraction of the earnings of middle class Americans.  Currently the average American makes $60,000 per year, while the average amount of dollars each tax payer pays to fight the War on Poverty is $34.  Middle class Americans, particularly white conservative ones, complain about being bled dry by the War on Poverty.  In the meantime, the average American taxpayer pays $870 dollars in taxes to provide for corporate subsidies.  World powers from America to Britain to China argue against greater freedom and equality for their ethnic and religious minorities saying it is not cost effective.  In fact, government studies indicate that every dollar spent on people with special needs as children save $17 spent on them later in life.  South African archbishop and social activist Desmond Tutu once said, “When will governments learn that freedom is much cheaper than oppression.”

“I don’t hate these people.  I just don’t like how they cause all these problems for us.”

                This is commonly said about migrants to the United States, particularly ones from the Latin countries, most often in reference to taking jobs and services from natural-born Americans.  The “they took our jobs” mantra implies three things: (1 That these jobs belong to natural-born Americans, 2) That is as immigrants/Latin Americans that they are taking jobs, and 3) That these migrants being given jobs makes employment opportunity scarcer for natural-born citizens.  (1 and (2 In the six years that I’ve been in college, both junior college and university life, I see natural-born workers, many but not all white, texting, web-surfing, talking on their phones while many of the international and ESL student workers go out of their way to help me with whatever issue I come to them with.  Shouldn’t people be given jobs based on their hard-work and loyalty to their company, rather than their nationality or ethnicity, and (3 economists have pointed out for decades that migrants come to the U.S. willing to work for less pay and harder work, and both of these in turn save and make companies money, which actually opens up jobs because it grows companies.  Meanwhile, equal health coverage for homosexuals is criticized on the grounds that it would cost society more money.  This sort of thinking doesn’t explain why homosexuals are denied benefits while others such redheads, left-handed people, and Asians are not.  
                In the case of inclusive education for autistic people, parents of typical children have said they worry it will cause their students to get less attention from teachers.  In fact, studies have indicated that disabled students in inclusive classroom settings develop better social skills, school performances, and self-confidence that would actually require them to need less attention from teachers, while typical children in inclusive classrooms learn better leadership, problem-solving skills, and empathy that allow them to work more on their own without a teacher’s help.

“I don’t hate these people.  I love this one celebrity who is from that group.”

                We hear, “I have nothing wrong with gay people.  I love movies with Neil Patrick Harris.”  Temple Grandin, in my opinion, has become Neil Patrick Harris for autistic people.  The fact that you have appreciated something they have done does not mean you respect them as equal human beings.  Liking a celebrity from a particular group does not mean that one believes that group is entitled to the same rights and benefits from society.  Comparing autistic people to John Wayne, Michael Jackson, or Kurt Cobain just ignores each autistic person as an individual.

“I must be like you because I’m acting/feeling this unpleasant/inappropriate way.”

                Individuals with bipolar disorder will often hear their non-bipolar peers say, “I’ve been feeling awful.  I must be bipolar.”  People with AD/HD hear their peers who can’t pay attention say they must have their condition.  I’ve heard people who were stressed over getting their house remodeled or starting a new job say, “Oh, that’s my autism acting up.”  All these words depend on stereotypical oversimplified notions of these conditions lack the understanding societies need to accommodate them.  It would be like me saying, “I must be neurotypical because I can’t just ask a girl out without droning on endlessly about our school work.” 

“Underneath your so-called differences, you are just like me.”

                This kind of rhetoric is frequently said towards transgender individuals, whose parents say, “I still love you, but you’ll always be my son/daughter to me.”  A common autistic variant of this rhetoric is, “Underneath your autism, there is a completely normal child.”  Neither of these ideas accommodates to accept these people knowing who they really are.  Both of them suppress the individual’s own identity, which in turn, makes it harder for the world to accommodate for their differences. 

“I don’t hate these people.  I just don’t like how they do certain things.”

                This “keep it in the bedroom” rhetoric is heard all the time in the autism world.  People say, “I just don’t like how autistic people flap their hands/speak in monotone/lack eye contact.”  To accept someone, you do not need to like everything they do.  You just need to respect that they have every right to do these things without changing them, just as I can accept neurotypical’s right to talk about trivial things such as weather, or not know how to make operable a railway system or develop the Silicon Valley.  I don’t say, “I accept neurotypicals, but…”  To me, “but” means that there is something to compensate for lack of prejudice, which in the end is not accepting at all.  Acceptance means no ifs and/or buts.  If you see autism organizations that put forward any of these ideas when talking about autism acceptance, be aware.  Acceptance means accepting autistic people as individuals who are equal in way of being, rights, permanent belonging, and importance to society. 

Buddha Jayanti Post 1: One Dharma to Rule Them All: Teachings on Living the Dharma from Middle Earth

I have been practicing Buddhism for eight years now.  For the first six years of that time, I read several great Buddhist authors such as Robert Thurman, Jack Kornfield, Norman Fischer, James Kullander, and others.  Nowadays, I have grown disenchanted by American Buddhist literature, and have hardly read any Buddhist book, except for poetry books, picture books, and novels.  Another thing that has disenchanted me about American Buddhism is that it seems to be dominated largely by people from older generations, and after years of reading and collecting magazines such as Tricycle, Buddhadharma, and Shambhala Sun, I think I found the problem: most of the contributors in these magazines are older people.  Not once have I seen in these magazines an article written by someone in their twenties or thirties.  Moreover, when looking at these publications and Shambhala Publications Best Buddhist Writing series, I notice that these author’s experiences don’t connect very well to younger generations of Buddhists and potential Buddhists.  I read chapters and articles on losing one’s spouse to cancer, unhappy marriages, disillusionment with their professional lives, aging, and other experiences that young people just don’t connect to, however important they are.  Many talk about how they still suffer from time to time, indulge in bad habits, or feel slighted by people.  Many of them are very bleak and confusing, and they never really say anything positive about practicing the Dharma.  I currently have over a dozen Buddhist books in collector’s condition that I have never even touched.  Meanwhile, one of my books, which I’ve had since my early teens, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, is held together with loads of packing tape, with lose pages hanging out.  To me, that just means it’s important to me.  Its contents are still accessible and I still get hours of joy and inspiration from them and other books by Tolkien.  Before my disillusionment with American Buddhist literature, I was lucky enough to come upon Buddhist psychotherapist David L. Loy’s book The Dharma of Dragons and Daemons: Buddhist Themes in Modern Fantasy, which had an amazing take on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  Since then I found a renewed sense of enjoyment in Tolkien’s work as an artist, poet, film buff, and Buddhist.  Before I got the idea for this post, I realized that yesterday was Buddha Jayanti Day, the celebration in the Buddhist world of Buddha’s birth, and thought that I ought to do a post (albeit a late one this time) for that time, like I did with Autism Acceptance Month, and I thought I’d talk about what it means to be Buddhist.  Part of me was struggling from having heard accounts from my fellow Buddhists (all of them older) about what Buddhism and meditation hadn’t done for them and part of me was wondering, “Why practice Buddhism?”  Earlier I had come upon an article called The 10 Best Quotes from Middle Earth to Live By by Selina Wilken, and later I thought back to the article and realized all these quotes share something about what Buddhism does well for people, and that these have been true from all my experiences practicing Dharma.  While looking at articles on The Lord of the Rings quotes I found some that showed me what happens when one practices the Dharma.

“A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.  An hour of war and shattered shields in the age of men may come crashing down, but it is not this day.  This day we fight!” –Aragorn

This quote was not from the aforementioned article, but it did see that it made a good Buddhist point: be in the present.  There is no need to worry about the age when mankind is shattered because it is not now.  Similarly, we need not dread taking tests, asking out dates, and learning to drive all the time because most of the time, it is not now. 

“All we have to do is to decide what to do with the time that is given to us.” –Gandalf the Grey

                This gets to the heart of the Buddha’s teachings, for one of the most quoted Buddhist axioms is, “Live in the present.”  This simply means to put your hopes for happiness, love, and freedom by what you think, say, and do in this moment, for it is precious, and once it is gone, you can never get it back.  Maybe you’re a student in college at home for the summer, and know a desired sweetheart who will be living off campus next year while you’re still in the dorms, but hey, what if you knew now that she didn’t have a car?  Then you may see her in the dining hall and could hit things up with her, huh?

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, this would be a much merrier world.” –Thorin Oakenshield

            (Spoiler alert) Thorin Oakenshield from Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy gets the ax in The Hobbit, the part that is to be covered in PJ’s third installment, yet says these beautiful parting words to Bilbo on his death bed.  Perhaps dying made him see how meaningless and empty hoarded gold really is, but food, cheer, and song on the other hand?  Well, food, that’s necessary to live, and cheer, well is that not our end goal in all things?  Isn’t everything we do, whether getting our bottom lip pierced or holding out a box of Valentine’s box to your love interest all done in the pursuit of something that will make you happy?  And song?  Well, what does that have to do with Buddha?  Well it’s easy to think in an age of gawdy pop music that music is tacky and commercial, but most of the world begs to differ.  Song comes from within, and by coming up with songs, we can see what’s within. In Senegal, West Africa, music praise the journey to God.  The Dinka of South Sudan sing songs to celebrate love or praise the cattle that their livelihoods depend on.  In war-torn Somalia, songs are composed around campfires celebrating heroes who committed brave and noble acts.  And hoarded gold can easily translate into the hordes of money possessed by billion dollar companies, such as Enron, Chevron, and Haliburton.  Oil companies deny responsibility in cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico, politicians bomb the Middle East while protecting major oil companies, and the CIA overthrows democratically elected presidents in Iran, Zaire (modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo), and Latin America (note oil has been called black gold).  And isn’t the whole point of socially engaged Buddhism to help alleviate greed, hatred, and ignorance-the three poisons in Buddhism-to make this world a better place.  

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered, full of darkness and danger they were.  Sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy.  How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened?  But in the end, it’s just a passing thing, this shadow, even darkness must pass.” –Samwise Gamgee

A famous Buddhist saying goes, “This, too, shall pass.”  Breakups, fear of driving, nasty professors all cause us stress but in the end we forget all about them.  Mentally handicapped people find decent housing.  Tragic losses make people stronger and closer to the people around them.  Life is about hanging in there until change comes around, and when it does, we’re all still here.  Through meditation, we’re able to see that all challenges are impermanent, and we just need to see them through. 

“Not all those who wonder are lost.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

Sometimes we all go down the wrong path: wanting a girl who’s completely egotistical, hoarding objects we think have value to us, snack cravings before we go to bed.  But we eventually our able to see that this girl is very manipulative, that those things we collect aren’t always so interesting, and that we can unwind in bed from the day without food.  Yet these don’t stop us from truly living because we’re in touch with our selves. 

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.  You step out onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” –Bilbo Baggins

Hobbits are particularly afraid of going out their door, particularly beyond the borders of the Shire, their home.  They love creature comforts like good food, an armchair, fireplace, and well-groomed gardens.  Yet Bilbo Baggins discovers that when he decides to take Gandalf and the company of thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield to reclaim their kingdom, going out into the nasty, uncomfortable, and dangerous wild, he discovers that there is more courage and resilience in him than he previously believed.  This is not to different from the story of the Buddha, who left his palace, sexy wife, and creature comforts to try and live discover how all people could truly live, into the wild, eating very little until he nearly starved to death, or the alluring, obedient women and concubines that strutted around his palace, and found that he was much happier and wiser now that he knew there was more to life than his wild, sex-crazed, drinking, party life.  Today in the West, we have several safety blankets to help make us feel secure in our lives, such as our televisions, cell-phones, professional lives, material luxury, and even religion to make us feel secure in our safe predictable lives to the point where they almost enslave us, and we begin to feel disconnected to all the people around us.  With Buddhism, we can take work, money, relationships, and technology with moderation so we can truly feel loved by and connected to the world.

“But no living man am I!  You look upon a woman.” –Eowyn

This quote is delivered by Eowyn, niece and surrogate daughter of King Theoden of Rohan, who sneaks into battle disguised as a man after she is refused to be allowed to go to battle on account of her gender, right after the king is mortally wounded and her best friend, Merry the hobbit is critically injured by Sauron’s chief lieutenant the Witch-King of Angmar.  Going back to the Witch-King’s beginnings, Sauron used the ring of power he gave his servant, which he made so no living man could kill him.  However, he didn’t foresee a woman riding into battle against him, so consequently, he left a major weakness for his most valuable servant.  While Tolkien did not create a lot of female characters, he left one of the most important acts to one of them.  Similarly, are own differences, whether gender or otherwise, are capable of serving this world to a greater degree.  Companies often hire workers with Asperger syndrome for their ability to recognize and perceive patterns.  During World War II, Navajo Indians gained a place in the war for the fact that they could communicate with each other without the Nazis or Japanese being able to listen in on their plans because they didn’t understand the Navajo language.  The Dharma can help us all understand that while we all have our own unique differences, we are able to use them to contribute to this world.

“It’s useless to meet revenge with revenge; it will heal nothing.” –Frodo Baggins

When people egg you on, you know longer need to respond to them.  The former classmate who makes snide comments at you is really just jealous of your success and is so immature that he thinks when you share it with your high school staff that you’re out to get him.  Snooty middle-age mothers engage victimize themselves for being chastised for their charity which pays more money to its executives, and then make snide comments when you tell them of more accountable charities.  Yet you realize they just want to provoke you into chastising them so they can continue to indulge in self-pity, and when you don’t respond to them, they just look vindictive and snide and hurt their own cause.   

“It is not the strength of the body, but the strength for the spirit.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

Selina Wilken elucidated this quote best when she writes, “When all hope seems lost, Frodo and Sam do not give up; Eowyn fights her way through a world of men; Arwen does not abandon what seems lost; Faramir stands up to a rotten parent…”  Haven’t some of us had to stand up for ourselves when we are physically smaller, been a woman who had to move up the ranks in a male-dominated profession, or pursue a dream when our parents or family aren’t supportive.  Yet we get where we need to go anyway.  Practicing Dharma and meditation allows us to see challenge and adversity with compassion and equanimity.  

“Deeds will not be less valiant because they are not praised.” –Aragorn

These days, pop stars, football players, and reality show stars seem to get all the positive attention from society, not to mention more money than teachers, doctors, and social workers who put more of their lives and energy into fulfilling much more noble pursuits.  Yet for trainee nurses, student teachers, and engineering students, this does not have to stop them from appreciating and valuing their own hard work, for with the Dharma, one is able to see things as they are, not simply as they are valued by society.

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” –Lady Galadriel

This quote may be in reference to the physical stature of hobbits, who are smaller than other races, including dwarves, yet it is a good metaphor for the potential for ordinary people to make an impact on their own world and the world beyond.  Groups of teenagers are able to save local parks from being built over by chain malls, preteen girls are able to successfully petition large corporations to cut down on their use of pesticides and GMOs, and small groups of concerned citizens are capable of helping mentally disabled men who are fired for their misbehaviors to be reoffered their jobs.  One who truly practices the Dharma is fully capable of living in the face of challenge and adversity and eventually coming out successful.  For when we practice the Dharma, we are able to be more proactive, humble, resilient, peaceable, and adventurous people.  Regardless of whether we are Buddhist or not, Tolkien’s work has some great Buddhist wisdom, delivered in a universal, non-Buddhist package, by which we can all live by.