Not Knowing

March 9, 2009

Eventually we realize that not knowing what to do is just as real and just as useful as knowing what to do. Not knowing stops us from taking false directions. Not knowing what to do, we start to pay real attention…If you think you know where you are, you stop looking. ~David Whyte, The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship

Ah, here’s the theme of living the questions again! But it’s this line that strikes me today: “Not knowing what to do, we start to pay real attention.” Jose Ortega y Gassett said, “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.”

To what are we paying attention…as individuals, as groups, as a nation, as a world? Have we stopped looking because we think we know where we are? I hope not. We need unknowing in order to come up with new, creative solutions for old and growing problems–global warming, economic collapse, the shameful disparity of wealth and health and education in this world.

Einstein observed, “Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem–in my opinion–to characterize our age.” We need to stop taking false directions and sit with unknowing. Otherwise there will be no space in which to welcome creative solutions. He also warned us: “Without changing our patterns of thought, we will not be able to solve the problems we created with our current patterns of thought.” I believe changing our patterns of thought requires spending some time in unknowing. What do you think?

We’re All In It Together

October 12, 2008

Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see? ~Bob Dylan

Tara Brach, in her powerful and important book, Radical Acceptance, says, “Our capacity to look away from the realness and suffering of others has horrendous consequences.” She contends that we look away because we are focused on the differences, holding tightly to our views of right and wrong, of self and other, of “good” and “bad” guys. “Once someone is an unreal other,” she continues, “we lose sight of how they hurt…All the enormous suffering of violence and war [and I would add poverty and hunger] comes from our basic failure to see that others are real.”

And it is not just for the “other” that we should care about economic injustice, but also for ourselves. The division of the world into haves and have-nots creates suffering and fear, not just in the poor, but in the rich. When it is possible for all to have enough, our having too much not only does not make us happy, it corrupts us at the core, creating in us fear of loss, suspicion of others, and greed for more.

How do we stop perpetuating this inequality? What can one person do? Here are some of my ideas:

1. Volunteer at or donate to a social service agency.
2. Get to know someone better who seems different from you in some way (socioeconomic status, disability, age, race, educational level). Learn to see them as real.
3. Live small. Conserve, recycle, and donate what you don’t really need. Expand your definition of what you don’t really need.
4. Educate yourself about economic disparity and its consequences. A good place to start is the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), and their Agenda for Shared Prosperity.
5. Practice opening your heart and widening your circle of compassion for others, and developing an abundance (rather than a scarcity) mentality.

We’re all in it together.


October 11, 2008

He mocks the people who proposes that the government shall protect the rich that they in turn will care for the laboring poor. ~Grover Cleveland

Our Charitable Contributions Campaign is underway at my workplace. We are approaching the “giving season” that so many nonprofit endeavors depend on for support. Giving to those less fortunate than ourselves is important, but it is a short-term and patchy solution (providing fish vs. teaching people to fish). It’s the systems perpetuating poverty and economic disparity that need to be addressed.

I have recently been neglecting my blog, but this week I am prompted to write by Blog Action Day. It is appalling how wide the economic gap has become just within this country in the past thirty years. I believe it is because we have forgotten that we are all part of the larger whole, interconnected and interdependent. What helps (or hurts) one of us, helps (or hurts) all of us.

I recently overheard someone say, “It doesn’t matter who I vote for in this presidential election, because I don’t make enough money for it to matter.” I found this a profoundly sad statement of disenfranchisement, and significant that it was attributed to economic status.

Take a look at what one person can do. And take action.

See also Economic Equality

From the Archives: September

August 31, 2008

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~William Wordsworth

September begins tomorrow. Now that this blog is a year old (and then some), I have decided to honor the first day of each month (or in this case, the day before the first day of the month) by bringing back a few posts from the previous year. Here are some from last September.

Expanding Time
Time expands when we are present in the moment.

Economic Equality
With our presidential election looming, consider the concept of raising all boats.

Letting Go
I’m convinced this is one of the keys to happiness.

How can we heal our fractured society by coming together?

Happy Labor Day Holiday, everyone!

New Ideas

February 7, 2008

I can’t understand why people are frightened by new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.  ~John Cage

Without changing our patterns of thought, we will not be able to solve the problems that we created with our current patterns of thought.  ~Einstein

Sam and I watched Michael Moore’s “Sicko” last night. After he has shamed us in the U.S. for our refusal to offer universal health care, and shown us the secure (and healthier) people in Britain, France, and Canada, Moore asks, “Who are we?” Good question.

We need some new ideas. But beyond that, we need to reconnect to the values of democracy, and yes, true Christianity (not the mockery some have made it, in which doublespeak is rampant). Jesus was all about giving to those less fortunate and not amassing wealth. What has happened to the concept of raising all boats, of pulling together for the common good?

I am sick at heart from the cynicism, the greed, and the lack of real statesmanship that I see in the political arena at all levels. Selfishness and ambition has replaced leadership and public service it seems. And our system is constructed to support that. What decent person with genuine concern for all seeks public office anymore? I believe a will to power should disqualify a candidate! How do we reverse this tide?


November 21, 2007

Hands that give, also receive.  ~Ecuadorian proverb 

This is the season of the donation solicitation. Form letters in the mail are one thing; but it is always painful for me to pass human beings begging in the streets.

The first time I saw the “Will Work for Food” sign, I wept. But the panhandlers on the city streets always seem a little risky. There is so much at the root of the problem as well, and perhaps if I were actively working for social justice, I could pass these people by with a clear conscience.

Someone I was reading once (was it Natalie Goldberg?) said they vowed to give to anyone who asked for a year . It’s hard to know if such an intention is for the beggar or the giver.  I think it was a Jane Austen novel (I miss my memory!) in which a mother explains to her child that they give to the less fortunate in order to make themselves feel better, to alleviate the suffering of privilege.

What is the right response to the beggar? In a sane society, it would certainly be to give, but there’s always a question about how the money will be used. On the other hand, Aeschylus said, “It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted.”

Libraries and Social Equity

October 26, 2007

…public libraries actually distribute income from the poorest to the more affluent strata of the community.  ~Frederick and Serena Weaver (from an article in Library Journal, 1979)

When I hit this quote in my library marketing textbook, I actually read it the other way around at first!  Apparently, Weaver and Weaver argue that because the poor rarely use the public library and because public libraries are supported from taxes, the working poor are paying for libraries that benefit the nonpoor.  Of course, if our tax system were more progressive, it would be the wealthy who were paying most.  But it does give me pause, since I think of my work with libraries as helping to foster social and economic equality.

The text goes on to suggest that in order to not transfer wealth from the poor to the rich, we might charge users for library service, perhaps charging more for services that upper classes use relatively more often.  Most libraries would be reluctant to do this, I think, because we are so dependent on political support from those upper classes.  Do we prostitute ourselves?

The text is Andreasen and Kotler, Strategic Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations, 6th ed., Prentice Hall, 2003.

Economic Equality

September 22, 2007

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.  ~Anatole France

Research shows that for 30 years after World War II, Americans grew more prosperous and less unequal.  However, in the last 30 years, we have had the opposite trend–and the statistics are staggering.  Middle-class incomes barely rose (with much of that rise due to the increasing numbers of women in the workforce), while households in the top quintile gained 84 percent, and those in the top 1 percent gained 450 percent.  From 2000 to 2005, 3.6% of national income (about $270 billion) was transferred from the bottom 90% to the top 1%.  (Source: Ross Eisenbrey, Economic Policy Institute,

Why is this important?  Because we will never have peace without shared prosperity.  Because working for economic equality is the right thing to do.  Because  greed is out of hand, and capitalism has become our national religion.  I can feed the hungry and clothe the poor, but how can I help change the systems that perpetuate economic injustice and misery?

Take a look at the overview of EPI’s Agenda for Shared Prosperity,

I find myself increasingly desirous of working in some way toward a better (fairer, safer, more democratic) world, but I want to concentrate my efforts where it will do the most good.  I don’t think fringe activism is the answer, but perhaps aligning with more powerful coalitions could be.

What can we do, those of us who are not really inclined to engage in political or social activism, but believe strongly that things must change for the good of all?