Fingerprints

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Much has been written about the authentic self.  We put a lot of mental, emotional, and spiritual energy into connecting with some part of ourselves that is untouched by the world around us.  On some level, I think we want to affirm our own uniqueness . . . we want to connect to something pure.  But what if it’s all a sham?  A baby is quietly formed in darkness . . . in water . . . it’s mind is a devoid of knowledge . . . formless and void.  Once she is born, she begins to be formed by her interaction with the world around her.  She learns and grows, covered with fingerprints from day one.  As adults, it’s tempting to look back at the innocent days of young childhood as the last dying days of our unique self.  The harsh, unwelcome reality is that the little girl with blond curls was no more pure or authentic than I am now.  Sure, she was more naive . . . untouched by the discordant relationships around her for a time . . . not yet tainted by the cruelties and injustices time would bring.  She was not yet broken, and unaware of the slow chipping process that had begun.  But she was not authentic, not in the truest sense of the word.  Her only real uniqueness lies in the mind of God, in His idea of her before she ever took on human flesh.  And as He knit her together in the womb of an 18-year old, unmarried girl who had her own scars to bear, he knew she would be formed by the world around her from the moment of her birth . . . and he was okay with that.  God has always been in a cooperative relationship with humankind.  Even in this, the cycle of humans begetting human flesh, He shines in it’s midst, taking dreams of beautiful souls, and placing them inside these fleshly bodies, allowing them to be transformed by time and experiences.  To those who would say we are God-like, I say yes . . . yes, we are – created in His image and likeness . . . His are the first fingerprints we bear.  And to those who would say we are wretched, ruined creatures, I say yes – we are tainted from the beginning . . . and we chip and crack . . . and we are broken.  Maybe the trick isn’t to look for an authentic self somewhere deep inside or down the long, lonely road back to childhood.  Maybe the answer is to accept the truth that we are born a mixture of the Divine and the profane, and that the struggle is both our brokenness and our salvation.  We have hope, because we know He holds all the broken pieces, and He has not forgotten who we are in His eyes.

Walking Among Starfish

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And Justice for All

My old blog was called “Real”, and this was my first post . . . I was re-reading them all and decided to repost this one, because it really captures the essence of my thoughts and values, as well asmy real purpose in blogging. . .

Awareness . . . it all begins there. The first moment that the reality of something enters your consciousness . . . what will you do with that awareness? You have a lot of options, you really do. You could immediately turn your mind to something else . . . get busy . . . forget what it was you saw or heard. You could rationalize . . . reason . . . make an excuse? Anger . . . you could get real angry . . . fume and fight and get on a soapbox . . . and then . . …

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An Empty Space for Love

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And Justice for All

I just watched a short video about what one group of people is doing to transform their neighborhood and bring the sunshine of Jesus’ love to a dark, hopeless place. It brought tears to my eyes and laid yet another stone in the foundation being laid in my own heart. And yet there was an anger that rose up in me . . . a frustration. It wasn’t new; in fact, it’s very old, but until today I could not really identify its origin.

Bob Goff’s “Jesus Does” also fed those tears and anger. They welled up so strong in me it was frightening. My heart was shredded, my tear ducts emptied, and my soul at once satisfied and empty. I had no words to describe what I was feeling, much to the disappointment of my husband. He loves to hear me pour out my heart, but the words wouldn’t…

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Feeling Hurt – A Revelation

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I was feeling hurt and angry yesterday . . . you can relate, right?  Hurt and anger – those emotions are almost like two old friends with whom I have a dysfunctional love/hate relationship . . . so familiar that they actually feel more normal than other emotions, like joy.  I began to wrestle with my feelings.  As a good Christian, I know that forgiveness is sort of the top of the list . . . “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”, and all that.  But when I feel that I’ve been wronged it’s hard . . . you know what I mean, right?  So I’m praying, wrestling, trying to disengage my self-esteem from what happened.  This morning I opened my Bible to Isaiah 58, a chapter that’s been “mine” for many years.  It opened in the last version I’d been reading, the Common English Bible.  Here’s what I read:

“Isn’t this the fast I choose:  releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke?”
                                                                                Isaiah 58:6

No other version I’ve ever read this in has said it quite like this.  Releasing wicked restraints . . . untying ropes of a yoke.  I know that the issues of our hearts, our hurts, wounds, and anger are complex. But I saw an aspect of the inner work that the Spirit of God does in our hearts in a new way this morning. 

It’s not wrong for me to feel hurt; something happened that hurt my feelings and made me angry.  These feelings are not sinful, they just are.  And it’s important to acknowledge them, accept them, feel them.  That’s the starting place.  Be honest about your feelings.  Lay them out on the table where you see them for what they are.  But what happens next is very important.  In the past I’ve been prone to scoop them up off the table (if I acknowledged them in the first place), stuff them back into my heart, and let them talk to me. And they say all kinds of things . . . things about those who’ve hurt me (that may or may not be true) . . . things about the situation (that may or may not be true) . . .  things about myself (that most certainly are NOT true) . . . things about God, about my life, about the world.  And I listen . . . and I hurt more deeply.  It’s kind of a vicious cycle of hurt feeding hurt breeding more hurt. I may not realize it, but I am bound . . . bound with an awful yoke, a wicked restraint.  In listening to the voices of my hurt and anger, I literally place a restraint, a yoke, on those who have hurt me, chaining them forever in my mind to that event.  They are tied to my pain, my expectations, my thoughts about them, their motives, and their character.  And because I have bound them, I am also bound.  I have effectively yoked us together with this terrible pain between us.  Now I cannot look at them without seeing it.  I cannot think of them without seeing it.  And the hurt continues to feed itself, making me miserable.  The other person is personally unaffected, but our relationship will always tainted by my hurt.  It will affect my thoughts about them, the way I feel about them, the way I treat them.  And it will never change until I set both of us free.

Without the breaking of the yoke there can be no real honesty, no real community, no healthy relationships.  We can be honest about our hurts and our anger while refusing to allow them to talk to us.  They don’t give us good feedback about the situation, do they?  They don’t tell us the truth.  They give us a skewed, distorted version of reality.  We must allow the voice of reason, the voice of truth to come alongside to speak to those thoughts.  Sometimes a trusted friend can give us perspective, help us sort out truth from fiction.  I think the Spirit of God helps us, bringing truth across our path in many forms to help us see what we need to see.  And sometimes we just need someone to hold us while we hurt, we want someone to acknowledge the hurt with us, to express sympathy or empathy.  That makes it easier to take the important step of silencing the voices of those painful emotions.  And then perhaps we can feel safe to untie the ropes of the yoke, and set ourselves and those who have wronged us free.

This is a part of what it means to be emotionally healthy.  It feels good to take charge of the voices in your head, to refuse to allow yourself to be mistreated by your own negative emotions!  It’s empowering  . . . and I’m all about that.

Hearing Voices

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I have a nifty app on my phone called “Notes”.  It looks like a yellow pad . . . I’m sure you’ve seen it.  I use it to make grocery lists, to save important information, etc.  Silly things are recorded there . . . profound things . . . I wrote this there some time ago:

“Am I afraid of the power of my own voice?”

About a year ago, I was several years into my journey toward a college education.  I had declared ‘general sociology’ as my major, because I really didn’t have a solid direction to move toward.  I figured that if I got the ball rolling, God would lead the way.  Things were going well – I was a straight A student with an honors scholarship.  Then . . . we decided to see a movie.

I don’t remember the name of the movie.  I only remember that it was a beautiful weekend in fall, almost exactly one year ago.  We settled in our seats at the Warren, ready for a cinematic experience.  Now, I love cinema.  You must understand this; when I watch a movie I value the experience highly.  I take it all in . . . the cinematography (“What a fantastic shot!”) . . . the acting (“She/He is perfect for that role!”) . . . the editing (“Seemless!”) . . . the music (“Hans Zimmer scored this, didn’t he!  I’d know him anywhere!”) . . . I critique everything.  And I usually have an opinion on how it could have been better, if it wasn’t perfect.  I love the movies!  So on this beautiful autumn day, as the budding sociologist settled in her seat and the previews began, a voice out of nowhere (somewhere . . . but where?) spoke clearly, without pause or drama:

“I don’t want to be a social worker; I want to make documentary films.”

Stillness.  Silence.  “What . . . ? . . . where . . . ? . . . where did that come from?”  Then, running . . . running in my head, running far from that voice.  “I am knee-deep in my education.  I am on a track.  No.”

And life goes on.  Classes . . . tutoring . . . still asking God for direction . . . researching . . . frustration . . . it’s time to take a break.

My planned break was last summer.  Spring semester had been exhausting. Then came the unplanned break – no money for fall semester.  I enrolled in an 8-week course for the second half, holding out hope that the money would be there.  It wasn’t.

In October, my husband and I went to the Storyline Conference in Nashville. We planned a wonderful vacation, just the two of us, around this event.  It was everything we wanted it to be.  But I was still no closer to knowing what I was supposed to do with all the passion inside me or the knowledge I had been gaining.  I was getting pieces of the puzzle, but couldn’t find the lid.

We’d heard about a weekend seminar that a friend was having, and it sounded wonderful.  It was along the lines of everything I’d been reading, everything I’d been praying about.  We went with eager and open hearts.  No lightening bolts came . . . no booming voice from heaven.  And then, in a regular moment, sitting in someone’s living room, I spoke about the voice I had heard a year ago.  And someone said, “Me, too!”  And everything changed.

Am I afraid of the power of my own voice?  Because it was my voice that day in the theater.  It wasn’t the voice of God, telling me what he wanted me to do.  It was in first person.  It was my voice.  But it was a voice faraway, a voice from deep-down . . . a knowledge that decided that it must be heard. Perhaps it was a voice stirred by the working of God within . . . I don’t know why it came when it came.  Maybe I needed time to wrestle with it, to converse with this part of myself that I had not acknowledged.  I kept it to myself, for the most part, for a whole year.  And now it was more than a voice.  It was a force.

Things I had been thinking about, reading about, praying about . . . it all clicked into place.  Not every puzzle piece, but a large section finally made sense.  That didn’t make it any less scary.  In fact, it was so scary that I couldn’t bring myself to say the words out loud in front of anyone . .  or even to myself.  Thank God for encouraging friends!  Because in that place I was able to invite that voice to the table, to acknowledge it, and let it sit down. It was nerve-wracking . . . scary . . . but I had come far enough in my journey to handle the fear.  It wasn’t easy . . . but it was necessary.  To embrace this voice is to embrace an unspoken part of my heart . . . to allow my real heart to be heard . . . it is to grow, to change, to be what God always knew I was.

The cry of my heart is for social justice.  My heart breaks with every story of oppression I read.  I long to document the good in the world, those places where the kingdom of God is taking hold.  People need to see that for every story in which evil triumphs, there are stories in which love wins, mercy triumphs . . . that there really is good in the world.  So . . . I don’t want to be a social worker; I want to make documentary films.  And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Dreams That Really Change the World

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I read a wonderful post recently that started my wheels turning.  Family on Bikes (on Facebook) shared a blogpost entitled, “Can we all really follow our dreams?” 

http://familyonbikes.org/blog/2013/01/can-you-really-follow-your-dream/

I read it again this morning, posted a comment, and I couldn’t stop there.  Ideas are bubbling up to the surface, and I want to share them here.

Nancy Sathre-Vogel offers some sage advice in her up-beat, encouraging post.    The question is posed, “If every single one of us chucked it all and took off to travel the world, who would be left to keep things running?”  Her answer lies in the life-affirming mandate to make conscious choices about our lives.  As long as we choose to be where we are, we are living our dream for that moment, for that season.  I find comfort in this wisdom, easily applying it to my own life.  At the age of twenty-three, I chose a wonderful man to marry, and we began a family immediately.  I spent many adventurous years raising my brood, homeschooling, laughing, crying, and living my dream of creating a large family.  A new season is upon me; my youngest is in public school and I am still supervising school work for two teenagers.  The oldest three are young adults, and I am working toward a college degree.  I’m living a new dream, one that I have chosen for myself.

We all have dreams, every human being on the planet.  Some dreams are huge and scary . . . others are simple and small.  But no dream is unimportant.  The system human beings have created on this earth requires that a great many people be engaged in the work of fulfilling someone else’s dream.  Everything that exists was once nothing but a dream.  Every physical item we use every day – our clothing, tools, kitchen gadgets, furniture, cars, roads, homes, office buildings, dams, lakes – every single thing that exists!  Think about it!  Someone had an idea that became a dream, that he or she worked to bring into reality.  And each one of those dreams required that other people come on board and help make that dream come true.  My question is this: “How do we create a system in which no one’s dream is sacrificed?”

I’m going to describe two scenarios; they will not be perfect, but this is the way I see the difference between the existing system and a better one.

In this first scenario, someone in a first-world country has a dream to own a nice hotel on an island.  The place is a virtual paradise, and he knows that it will be quite profitable once word gets out.  He finds financial backers, secures land, and builds a beautiful hotel.  He hires educated first-world folks to run the place, do all the important jobs.  This is great, because they have always dreamed of managing a hotel in an exotic location.  Next he hires a bunch of locals to do the rest – cook, clean, and serve.  They think this is great, too, because they see the job as a way to provide for their families.  People begin to come to the hotel, enjoying the island beauty and the pampering they receive in the care of the hotel staff.  Everyone is happy . . . right?

Now the second scenario:  Someone in a first-world country has a dream to build a nice hotel on an island.  But he doesn’t want to be the sole owner.  His dream is to partner with local people, to help them benefit from this venture.  So he finds financial backers, secures land, and works with local people and groups to set up the hotel as a worker-owned business.  The beautiful hotel is built, and locals are trained in all aspects of the day-to-day running of the business.  Because they have a vested interest in the hotel and are not just low-wage employees, the atmosphere is infused with a satisfaction and pride that can be felt by the guests.  Even the maids, janitors, groundskeepers – everyone – is part owner in this grand adventure, elevating the status of their work in their own eyes.  They all share in the profitability of the hotel, because they are more than just employees, working to fulfill someone else’s dream.  Now, they shareit.  They own it.  It is their dream, too, because they benefit directly from it.  They take pride in it.  And everyone really is happy.

Now, I know nothing about business.  I know there are problems with my contrived scenarios.  But I believe the basic principles are sound.  In scenario one, the man with a dream uses others to realize it.  In scenario two, the man with a dream invites others to dream with him, and in doing so makes the dream grow.  The dream urges others to dream even bigger dreams than they thought they could, to be part of something they hadn’t even considered.  “You mean I can be an owner, not just a maid?”  Sure you can . . . as long as we are willing to dream dreams that are big enough to carry others along, instead of doing business as usual.

So . . . to answer the original question,“If every single one of us chucked it all and took off to travel the world, who would be left to keep things running?”, I say this – “Keeping things running” can be a part of that beautiful dream, if only we will begin to dream differently, dream dreams that embrace others, seek to create businesses and systems and lives that help others realize their dreams.  If your dream is only about you, you’re dream is too small.

An Empty Space for Love

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I just watched a short video about what one group of people is doing to transform their neighborhood and bring the sunshine of Jesus’ love to a dark, hopeless place.  It brought tears to my eyes and laid yet another stone in the foundation being laid in my own heart.  And yet there was an anger that rose up in me . . . a frustration.  It wasn’t new; in fact, it’s very old, but until today I could not really identify its origin.

Bob Goff’s “Jesus Does” also fed those tears and anger.  They welled up so strong in me it was frightening.  My heart was shredded, my tear ducts emptied, and my soul at once satisfied and empty.  I had no words to describe what I was feeling, much to the disappointment of my husband.  He loves to hear me pour out my heart, but the words wouldn’t come.

This foundation that has been in the process of coming together in me has much to do with social justice, what real Christian love looks like, putting feet to our faith.  But the missing element – the source of the frustration in my own soul, the anger that stirs my emotions – is the lack of connectedness that would enable all to participate.  Perhaps others feel it, too, so I will try to give voice to it.

I do several things that connect me to the larger world.  I make small loans through Kiva, helping entrepreneurs around the world to build their businesses, take care of their families, and grow their communities.  I sponsor several children in Uganda, helping to secure for them at least a shot at becoming what they were created to be.  I give to clothes, shoes, household good, books – anything at all – to thrift stores and free stores, because I know that what I don’t need can be useful to someone else.  On Facebook, I post stories and pictures that illustrate social justice issues.  I share posts from ministries and groups who are doing good work, so that others can be aware of them and perhaps be inspired to participate.  I purposely make attempts to connect with the larger world, but right here in my own little world, I feel terribly disconnected.

To the poor and disenfranchised where I live, I’m just a nice lady who drops stuff off every once in a while.  Perhaps they think I’m a well-off lady who gives money sometimes to help out.  But I don’t fit in.  I’m not a real part of anything.  And I don’t know how to be.  The truth is, I don’t fit in.  I thought that was the point, though . . . to take the disenfranchised and somehow reintegrate them into society . . . to plug them in so that they can experience the joy of giving as well as receiving, and so that we can all benefit from their gifts, from their unique presence.  If I don’t fit in, aren’t I disenfranchised now . . . ?

I don’t want to live alone in my comfortable world.  I don’t want to drop by with ‘help’ every once and a while or volunteer ‘out there’ then go back to my reality.  I want my reality to change.  I guess that’s what’s so attractive to me about the way some Christians have chosen to live their lives.  They don’t float back and forth between two worlds that never really touch each other.  They imagine a different world, then work to create it little by little.  They build community gardens.  They take care of each other.  They make sure no one is hungry or thirsty or without clothing or shelter.  They have created community.

No one is making sure I have what I need.  They assume that I do, because my family functions well in society.  We have good jobs, plenty of food and clothes, etc.  So we live in our house, interacting with people through work, through school, and the occasional conversation with a friend.  And I look through the windows of my life, the windows of books and my computer, and see a big, beautiful world loved by God, and I see all the heartache and pain that has been wrought, and my heart longs to be one of the instruments of healing.  So I do what I can, but . . . at the end of the day, I am still very much alone.

Something is wrong.  As much as my soul cries out over issues of social justice, there is another issue that separates people.  We all know that there is a deep divide between what some call the “haves” and the “have nots”.  However that divide was created, both sides must work to eradicate it.  I don’t want to drive over from the “haves” side, bringing gifts to the “have not” side, then drive back home where it’s safe.  I want to walk out into the empty space between us and pitch a tent.  Build a fire.  Plant a garden.  I want to imagine something new – a world without labels.  Because we all need to belong.

In Defense of Small Dreams

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Inspiring images abound on Facebook.  Today I saw this one:

                                                                                   
Now I think this is a great encouragement to folks to dream really big, to be courageous and not let anything get in the way of their dreams.  But lots of folks have small dreams.  And that’s okay.

Dreams come in all sizes.  Some dream of changing the world.  Some just try to make a difference in their own small world.  Some dream of touching hundreds or maybe thousands of people.  Others focus on touching the people around them. 

Dreams are infectious.  When someone is focused and passionate about their dream, others will take notice.  Some will resonate with that dream and climb on board to help, making the dream their own.  Others will contribute on a smaller scale, because they believe in the dream.  Dreams have  way of taking folks on a journey with many levels of contribution and passion.  And that’s okay.

Those who dream really big dreams are not necessarily more courageous than all the rest.  Certainly they are more courageous than some, but it takes courage to live your dream no matter how big or small it is.  It takes courage to love and protect the people in your circle, day in and day out, when it’s easy and when it’s hard.  It takes ingenuity and imagination to overcome hardship, figure out a better way, do things differently.

Courage for some is simply getting out of bed in the morning.  A big dream could be as simple as being able to give more of your income to causes you believe in or as complex as helping to revitalize an entire village.

Don’t worry about the size of your dream.  Your work is to discover all the wonderful, hidden gifts God has put within you, then to look around and see where they can best be utilized.  You were made to live God’s dream for you . . . and no matter the size, that’s BIG.

                                                                                 

Walking Among Starfish

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My old blog was called “Real”, and this was my first post . . . I was re-reading them all and decided to repost this one, because it really captures the essence of my thoughts and values, as well as my real purpose in blogging . . .

Awareness . . . it all begins there. The first moment that the reality of something enters your consciousness . . . what will you do with that awareness? You have a lot of options, you really do. You could immediately turn your mind to something else . . . get busy . . . forget what it was you saw or heard. You could rationalize . . . reason . . . make an excuse? Anger . . . you could get real angry . . . fume and fight and get on a soapbox . . . and then . . . ? Or you could just tell yourself it is none of your business . . . you have your own problems to deal with, after all . . . and what could you really do anyway? You’re just one person . . . what could you possibly do that would make a real difference . . . ? I think there’s something we’ve been missing . . . Every day we are confronted by the problems of this world. Footage of copper-haired African children with flies on their faces . . . emaciated infants who are not long for this world . . . men, women and children sifting through gigantic piles of refuse, looking for anything they can eat or sell . . . women dipping plastic buckets into polluted rivers and feeding it to their babies. The news keeps us informed about wars, drought, wildfires, political unrest, homelessness, joblessness . . . it is overwhelming. What the average person lacks is not compassion – it is power. What in the world can one person do to stem the tide of disaster and evil that seems to be never-ending in our world? I wonder if the average person knows about all the good things going on in the world? Do they know about all the hungry children being fed, all the homes, schools & churches being built? All the wells of fresh, clean water being dug? All the medical care being given? All the communities being rebuilt one family at a time? Those are the things we don’t see much on the news . . . but it’s happening . . . all over the world real people are making a real difference in the lives of real people. I’d love to show you . . . There’s a story I heard about a young man walking along the beach. The sand was covered with starfish, suffocating by the hundreds. The young man was walking along, picking them up one at a time, flinging them back into the ocean. Another man saw him and laughed at the futility of his efforts. “Why bother?” he said. “You can’t save all these starfish . . . this is stupid . . . it doesn’t matter.” The young man bent down, picking up one starfish and holding it high. “It matters to THIS one, ” he said, tossing it into the life-giving water. And that’s what this blog is all about. What you do matters. YOU matter. That’s what’s real.

Do You Care What I Believe?

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Do you care what I believe?  If you really don’t know me well, do you care what I believe about politics?  About religion?  About anything?  If we were to cozy up at Starbucks to spend some time getting to know one another, would your first question be about current political issues?  Or would it be about my family, my upbringing, my favorite genre of music?  What would I ask you?  What’s your favorite book/movie/song/memory of your childhood?  Where do you like to shop?  How do you spend your days?

And what if we found we liked each other?  What if we found we had the same taste in music and movies?  Had read some of the same books?  Decorated our kitchens in a similar motif?  What if, right there in Starbucks, time stood still for a while while we explored a new found friendship?

When the conversation finally turns to more controversial topics, what if we have divergent opinions on some issues?  Now that we have a foundation of mutual interests, now that we “like” each other, what are we likely to do?  Discuss the issues?  Talk about how we came to our conclusions?  Reveal the values we hold dear that led us to our beliefs?  Banter back and forth respectfully?  Will we be motivated to try and understand each other’s viewpoints?  Are we willing to believe the best about each other, because we are ‘friends’?  Even if we never see each other again, we will both have benefited from the exercise of dialogue in an attempt to understand.

Now . . . if you and I are strangers, and we somehow engage in a conversation about politics or religion, finding ourselves on opposite sides of an issue, how likely do you think we are to keep it ‘friendly’?  How easy will it be for me to make assumptions about what else you believe?  How easy will it be for you to dismiss me, boxing me in with stereotypes and negative labels?  You and your latte will walk to your car, muttering under your breath about idiots who are the cause of all society’s ills.  I will take my Americano and fume about idiots who lack critical thinking skills.  We will leave much as we came, perhaps more entrenched in our personal beliefs and less willing than ever to even listen to anyone who has a different opinion, idea, thought, or value.