Category Archives: Story Teller – Bard

Stories about the journeys in our life, mythology, music and poetry, drama and comedy and all else that shares our humanity in a creative way.

The “Golden Rule” is not so Golden; it’s Time for New Guidelines

Rockwell's Gold Rule, The Saturday Evening Post, April 1, 1961
Rockwell’s Gold Rule, The Saturday Evening Post, April 1, 1961

More and more, I find myself cringing when I hear friends and colleagues promote the virtues of the Golden Rule or the rule of thumb. A popular ethical ideal, this rule tells that a guide to being ethical is that we should treat people the way we want to be treated; “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or “do nothing to others you don’t want to be done to yourself.” The notion is this, limit the harm you may cause to others. Indeed, Google’s old motto, for they have now done away with it, “don’t be evil,” is a reflection of the Golden Rule.

But why talk about the Golden Rule? Isn’t is it old fashion and out of date in practice? This is what philosopher Bill Puka suggests, in his article on “The Golden Rule” for the Encyclopedia of Philosophy; “we must acknowledge that the gold rule is no longer taken seriously in practice or even aspiration, but merely paid lip service.” I must disagree, most folks I know use the Golden Rule as their main barometer for action. It may not be seriously promoted in the upper echelon of education, but most of my students, colleagues, and friends, when asked how they make decisions about how to act, explain how they live their life by the Golden rule. For most of society, it seems a simple, no-nonsense way of being and guide for action.

As a simple philosophy of behavior, the Golden Rule has been around for a very long time, has been celebrated by almost all cultures historically (Western and Eastern philosophy), and it has two primary functions, one problematic and the other helpful. Let’s start with the useful aspect of The Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule asks us to get out of our skin and to consider how someone else may wish to be treated or not treated. As humans, we have a hard time stepping out of our skin. Our emotions, genes, neurological make-up, cultural sensibility, all of these things tend to re-enforce a focus on “self” rather than an understanding of others. And, if you happen to live in communities influenced by individualism, such as the US, Australia or England, it is even harder to step out of your skin to view others. “Me” cultures focus so much on self; the assumption often made is: I feel this way, so others must feel this way too! This assumption is wrong. It assumes (ASS out of U and ME) a Universal value system, which tends to fall flat in most practical situations. However, as a rule, this so-called Rule of Thumb does beg us to think of others, which is the first step toward empathic communication.

However, it is not enough. To assume that people want to be treated the same way I want to be treated, this is what we call an attribution error; we incorrectly attribute the reason for action, motivation, and needs.

Let me give you an example, first, a situation from my point of view. I am driving down the road, and some butthead almost runs me off and into a ditch:

“Oh, Shit,” I say as I struggle to not get in an accident and stay on the road. “What was he thinking? Can’t he see there are other people on the road? We all had to get a license to drive, did he forget the same rules I was given?? Damn, Dude! If I were that driver, even if I were in a hurry, I would take a chill pill and get myself together!”

Now, let’s look at the same situation from the other driver’s point of view. He is speeding down the highway, the same road I was on. He has a child lying in the back of his car, something I cannot see. His thoughts might be:

“I have got to get to the hospital now! Hold on baby, we are almost there; Daddy loves you! Oh god, that woman is in my way. Move! Move!!! Oh god, I can’t get around her! There’s an opening!” He sees the woman yelling in her car and at him. “I am sorry, lady, but I have to get to the hospital now!”

"Alnomuc, or, The golden rule, with twenty-four engravings" Year: 1837 (1830s) Authors: Amory, John H
“Alnomuc, or, The golden rule, with twenty-four engravings” Year: 1837 (1830s) Authors: Amory, John H

It is impossible for me to know what is going on with the other driver, just as it is impossible for the other driver to know what is going on with me. I have limited information about the situation. Indeed, all either of us has to go on are our assumptions, biases, and personal experiences, all of which are failing in this case.

The Golden Rule fails in practice because we really can never tell instinctively or otherwise how someone wants to be treated, or why they do what they do; what their motivation for action happens to be.

Attribution errors are the cause of most negative conflicts in life, miscommunication, and other missteps in life. Because the Gold Rule inherently relies on the attribution error (people act and want to be treated the same way I like to be treated), it is not golden. This is especially true in a global community, made up of many cultures holding varying values. So, what do we do? And how does any of this apply to my life, my community, or my professional and private life?

We inform, question, investigate, and then act. One reason the Golden Rule seems so awesome is that it asks little of us! We have a rule, and all we have to do is to look at ourselves and then decide how to act. How convenient is that?! However, as comfortable as it is, it is not helpful. Rather than creating an attribution error because of built-in assumptions of the work, it is time to proactive rather than simplistically reactive. Let me give you another example from a personal situation.

The other day, I had my tooth extracted. It was not a good dentist appointment. I was shot up with Novocain, and then it turned out that my insurance said I did not exist. So, the procedure was stopped, while the office worked things out. It took over an hour. We got back to it, but I had to be shot-up again. Then the extraction went south. My tooth did not want to leave me, you know, separation anxiety. The experience was more than painful, and I was left exhausted, in a great deal of pain, and emotionally spent. My partner walked me home, and then we went back to work. In pain, I wondered why he was not helping me! “My own husband! He doesn’t care; why is he not soothing me?”

Bernard d'Agesci (1757-1828), La justice, musée de Niort. Holds scales in one hand and in the other hand a book with "Dieu, la Loi, et le Roi" on one page and the Golden rule on the other page.
Bernard d’Agesci (1757-1828), La justice, musée de Niort. Holds scales in one hand and in the other hand a book with “Dieu, la Loi, et le Roi” on one page and the Golden rule on the other page.

From my husband’s point of view, I was in pain, but I was okay. I got up, made myself small things to eat and drink, replied to students, and did other small tasks. Clearly, I was fine. But by the time night came, I was worse and frustrated with him. He, in turn, was not sure what to do for me or if I needed him to do anything for me. “Why,” I wondered, “did he not know the ‘playbook’ for taking care of his wife when she was in pain and emotionally spent?”

Why? Because I never gave him a “playbook” or any instructions on how he could help me. I made a fundamental attribution error in my assumption that he would just know what to do. The next morning, I sent him an email with a playbook: “this is what your wife needs when she is down and out. Please send me your playbook so I can take care of you when you need it.”

What a crazy thought?! Tell the people around you what you need. Likewise, ASK the people around you what they need and why they do what they do. Probing questions immediately take power away from assumptions and other attribution errors:

“I don’t understand why you are doing it this way, can you explain?” “Are you ok? What can I do for you?” “When you send emails to more than one person, please address names on the emails so I can better know when and if you are talking to me, or the other person on the email.” “Emily, I could use your help. I am sorry, I was getting angry at the fact that you were not helping with this office project, but then I realized you did not know I needed help! So, I am asking.”

In the end, using probing questions and other forms of empathic communication can save us the grief that often comes along with a problematic application of the Golden Rule as well as attribution errors. If we start to understand how people need, think, feel and act for different reasons that we do, we can begin to create better-living, working, and communing situations for us all.


Conquering Self Fears and Mamma Mia

A personal odyssey to combat fear and return to what I love:

Today, I am feeling less than 100%.  I made myself sick because of the stress and pressure I placed on myself the last few weeks. Auditioning for Musicals just scares the crap out of me, and I did two last week. I have not done a musical since I was around twenty and going to Bellevue College. Let me tell you why I went through all of this in the first place.

I wanted to do Mamma Mia at Diamond Head Theatre in Honolulu, in a seriously bad way for a few reasons:
  • First, Abba’s music partly defines me and my childhood; the moment I learned independence when my parents got a divorce, and I had to grow up a lot, striking out on my own to some degree. I remember dancing at Skate Country East and tearing up the floor to their music – skating and Abba – Trust me, there are few things more delightful – I swear!
  • Second, I wanted to do a musical because I love them so, but I had so many bad experiences auditioning for them because of my fear of singing in public (thank God for Karaoke as that helped a lot over the years), and my directional dyslexia kicks my ass at Dance auditions. Seriously, I have been terribly humiliated more than once – There was this Sesame Street on wheels audition in Seattle that scars my consciousness.
So, I wanted to do the show, but there was a serious problem: I was petrified to face a musical audition, and felt unfit to be in a musical, no matter how much I love them.  Hell, because of a series of events, I had given up theatre entirely until four years ago – but that had to change.
Here is the thing, I am going to be 50 in two months, and four years ago I realized how much I had given up by doing what I thought I had to do in life, rather than following my dreams.  Four years ago I decided to go back and follow my dream again, and boy this decision brought me Roller Derby (yes, there is a connection), theatre in WA state, a divorce as I started to embrace myself, voiceover work, and now theatre in Hawaii. But I still wanted to do a musical, but I was scared. I had said: well, if someone does Mamma Mia, I will give it a try. Then Diamond Head Theatre announced it got the rights to do the show.

Mamma Mia Auditions

Mamma Mia at Diamond Head Theatre: July 15 – August 14, 2016

I wanted to be in Mamma Mia so much; I started taking dance classes at Diamond Head Theatre almost a year ago now.  I was hoping I could curb my directional dyslexia by being exposed to dance moves more, or at least make my dance auditions suck less (boy, do I have stories). Even before this, around three years ago now, I started working on my singing with my voice teacher Leischen Moore, in Tacoma, Wa. When we started, I had told her how much I wanted to do Mamma Mia, and so we worked on Mamma Mia music. I was going to do this thing, even if it gave me a nervous breakdown – and it almost did.

I went to the audition and, to my immense surprise, I got a callback for Rosie in Mamma Mia, a role I desperately wanted. However, I botched the callback because of my fear – stupid – and then I botched the ensemble dance callback because of dyslexia, my brain just cannot seem to take in directional information quickly. I do not think there are enough dance classes in the world to combat it.
After several personally, painful auditions, I got the call:
Thank you, but no thank you.
Sick and emotionally spent; I was angry at myself for not doing better even after all the investment in myself and my craft.
Then 10 minutes later I got another call:
So sorry, we can’t use you as Rosie, but would love to offer you a place in the ensemble.
IMG_6103These phone calls threw me off balance; I was stunned but grateful, so grateful, and I cried more after the second, good-news call. Aren’t we humans insanely funny?
For whatever reason I got accepted into the ensemble, after botching my callback audition, I am eternally grateful.  In the middle of the run, I will turn 50, and I will be up there doing it: Dancing and singing to the music I love. I won’t be skating, but I can do that at Ala Moana Park while I learn my parts, listening to my iPod.  I will also have graduated from a graduate certificate program in programming and web design, allowing me, I hope, to start a new career and be self-employed as I pursue theatre in a serious way, hoping to scratch out a living (more on that soon).
And that is my story … that is, so far. My journey toward Mamma Mia has been a three-year emotional odyssey, and I am so grateful to have this opportunity.
I have to thank my community here and in Tacoma for helping me conquer my fears and get back on track, after so many years of misdirection.  But I need to give special thanks to Timothy Jeffryes who kept on me to try and believe in myself, and who went to dance class with me, and hugged me when he saw how frustrated I was getting with myself. Honestly, I can’t imagine a better partner in life. I may be an emotional basket case at times, but I am a well supported one – honestly, how many people can say that?

Circle of Life – Telling a Story

Today I this came across my Facebook page, and I found it touching.  So much so that I wanted to share it.  Cailleach, as the image of the old crone is more than a crone but she walks the circle of life each year, maiden to mother to crone.  Which is why this is super appropriate for us here at Cailleach.  This is Live Painting Show: A Woman’s Life. Originally published on Aug, 12, 2014. Drawing and painting by Stonehouse (석가), Video Editing by Yirigun (이리건), B.G.M by Silent partner – ‘Big screen.’ I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

A Welcome …. An Offer of Hospitality

Champion des dames Vaudoises by Serein. Public Domain.

Welcome to Cailleach’s Chair, the meeting place for the Cult of Cailleach.

Why have I gathered us all here?

This is a complicated question, but let me start by saying this: I do not wish to grow old … not in our Western culture as it is today. To grow old today is to be forgotten, discarded, and marginalized. How sad it is to be old today; a lifetime of knowledge forgotten. A lifetime of know-how ignored. This is true for all of us, men and women, but it is especially true for women.

So, I stand here today and I declare proudly, I will not go “gently into that good night,” or “grow old gracefully.”  When I was younger, I used to announce such silliness out of my inexperience of life and lack of practical wisdom:

“I will grow old gracefully!” I proudly declared, drinking as I did from the cool-aid.  “I’m not going to be one of those old ladies who try to be twenty-one their entire life,” said I with my perky boobs standing tall and my taunt skin glistering with a new summer tan. “I will accept what was given to me, wrinkles and all.”

I was an idiot, and cool-aid is not nearly as tasty as mead.

Truthfully, parts of the above declaration is true: I do not want to be 21 again, goddess help me …. No. I do want to accept my place in the great cycle of life.  But in truth, our society has a different spin on the phrases: “go gently into that good night,” and “grow old gracefully,” and I find the spin offensive. These phrases, in practice, no longer mean accepting and honoring the great cycle of life; rather, in practice older people, middle age onward, are asked to disappear quietly, allowing the younger generation to stand tall, while the older generation is shuffled away from their jobs (old faces don’t sell), and hidden away into retirement communities or, for those of us with little money, state-run institutions. I’ve seen it, more often than not; and unlike dear Hamlet, I have no interest in shuffling off “this mortal coil.”   Besides, this model is not sustainable, nor is it helpful to our world, culture, species, or younger generations.

It is time to take back and to re-embrace a better way of doing things. What that better way is, I am not sure, which is one of the functions of this blog: to discover a more sustainable model. As I grow older, I have no desire to be the discarded “hag.”  Nope.  It is time to reclaim the magical, mystical, powerful crone/hag: the Cailleach.

Cailleach Bheare is the celtic image of the old mother, the hag, the magical crone, who is revered as a mythical being in Ireland (Caolainn or the Hag of Beare), Northern Ireland (Cailleach Bherri), Britain (Black Annis), Scotland (Cailleach Mor), and the Isle of Man (Cailleach my Groamagh).  In essence, she is known as a mountain mother, but is also given the title of the queen of the Limerick fairies, and is understood as the mother to the gods (she has the name Boi when she was the wife of Lugh – Irish god of Light).  And, as you might guess, she controls the weather in the winter months as she too is in her declining years.  Interesting enough, she is not always old, but passes yearly through the cycle of age, from youth to old age, representing both renewal and death, the journey from ignorance and deep wisdom.  She returns yearly on Samhain, October 31st to you and me, and will leave with the warming weather, placing her staff under a holly bush before turning to stone herself, hibernating and regenerating for the next round of life … the next year.

“Barley Saturday, Waiting for the Parade” by Ceridwen, From CC BY-SA 2.0.

I will write more on this image as the blog progresses, but it is enough to point out her usefulness as an alternative image to age, especially female aging, compared to the one we have now: the quiet old woman complacently taking her place in a rocking chair, lap ready for brief visits from her grandchildren*. Not that there is anything wrong with having a grandchild on your lap, but surely the middle-aged and older generation has more to offer the world than a lap to rest in. Cailleach moved mountains because she had the knowledge, the wisdom to figure out how to do such a feat.  Let’s tap that wisdom … please!

This blog is about sustainability and wisdom. It’s about what we have to offer in the way of wisdom regarding these topics from an older persons point of view, middle-aged to the crone. And the focus is on women writers, but this does not mean that posts from guest male writers will not appear on these pages.  Although I would like to create a space for women to be able to share their understanding regarding sustainability, sustainability itself is not a one sided affair.  Feminism, in all its facets, must inherently include the masculine element, or the movement  is doomed before it begins.  But the voices of older women are easily lost in our world, and so I would like to make this space the space of Cailleach – in somewhat the tradition of the Cult of Cailleach, which has a long tradition in different parts of the Celtic world.  The cult consisted of older women who gathered together to under the cloak of nature, magic, and wisdom.

So, I welcome you to the 21st century Cult of Cailleach.  Take a seat, feel free to drape my yellow robe about you if you are cold, and stay a while for the magic about to unfold.


*I say this, but also offer a nod of homage to the great Golden Girls, who were not complacent!

Research based on the following:

  • Coulter, Charles Russell, and Patricia Turner. 2000. Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. Pp. 112-114.
  • Matthews, Caitlin, John Matthews, and Caitlin Matthews. 2003. Walkers between the worlds: the Western mysteries from Shaman to Magus. Rochester, Vt: Inner Traditions International.
  • O’Brien, Lora. 2005. Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books.