Victories won in an adversarial fashion come at a very high cost. These have led to the spiral of mutual hostility that we see acted out in Congress every day, where the last vestiges of partisanship and civility have virtually disappeared. ~Charles Halpern
Halpern, one of the country’s first public interest lawyers in the 1960s, has written a book, Making Waves and Riding the Currents: Activism and the Practice of Wisdom. I have just read about it in an interview with the author in the March issue of Shambhala Sun, and was reminded of my earlier post on Activism, as well as the one on New Ideas.
As to what’s wrong with the way activism has been practiced, Halpern says, “To go back to the early days of the environmental movement, there were ways we could have proceeded that were less polarizing. We could have been less self-righteous. I think of my own self-righteousness in my early days as a public interest lawyer, and it makes me cringe.”
He says, “Reagan became a symbol of a self-indulgent individualism, which is still a powerful force in this country. The idea that selfishness is a virtue, and generosity a kind of foolishness, received wide acceptance. That’s still a widely held point of view, reflected in the fact that we have enormous and growing inequality between the rich and the poor, that we’ve created a new Gilded Age.
We’re starting to see the prices of that attitude in environmental destruction, indifference to the plight of the poor, and idea that government is the enemy and taxes should only be cut, never raised. These are attitudes that activists have to work against, but they shouldn’t just be working to change corporate policy, or to get a new law adopted that will put, for example, stronger limitations on products sold to small children…they’ve also got to understand that these shifts in public policy are only possible, and ultimately, only effective, if they are attached to a shift in wisdom, and toward the values of community, mutuality, and interconnection.”
Good for Halpern! I look forward to reading the book.