Politics of the Brokenhearted

May 14, 2011

I am looking forward to Parker J. Palmer’s forthcoming book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. I have just read the essay from which this book springs, “The Politics of the Brokenhearted: On Holding the Tensions of Democracy.” You can read it here.

Palmer speaks of breaking the heart open, not “into a thousand shards,” but into “largeness of life, into greater capacity to hold one’s own and the world’s pain and joy.” He speaks of the essential violence in majority-rule decision making, and urges us to consider the Taoist concept of wu-wei–“literally purposeless wandering, or creative nonaction, making space within and around ourselves so that conflict and confusion can settle and a deeper wisdom emerge.”

We are an impatient culture, desiring quick action to settle differences. Palmer offers that “only in contemplative states are we able to touch the truth.” He makes the case in this essay for holding the tension between reality and possibility in ways that open our hearts, that honor the soul rather than succumbing to cynicism or dreamy idealism.

Palmer asserts, “When the heart dares to be vulnerable in the presence of power, it can become a source of countervailing power, keeping our best hopes alive in the hardest of places and times.”


Angry and Afraid

April 4, 2010

I don’t want to live angry. I don’t want to live scared. ~John Mellencamp

My husband says the Democrats should be using “angry and afraid” to characterize right-wing Republicans (actually, that phrase seems redundant these days) every chance they get. Why don’t the Democrats wise up and learn to use the media and sound bites the way conservatives do? Anyway, I invited him to do a guest post on my blog, since he has a million wonderful and creative ideas and no good outlet for them, but he declined. So I’m sharing his idea anyway, hoping some of you will pick it up and run with it.

I’ve always loved these lines from that great song “Another Sunny Day” by John Mellencamp. They seem to me like good words to live by, and I agree with Robert Frost, who said, “There’s nothing I’m afraid of like scared people.”

Here’s a nice cover of the Mellencamp song.

What do you think?


Let Your Life Speak

March 29, 2009

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. ~Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces….

~May Sarton, “Now I Become Myself”

Palmer reminds us that the word vocation is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” He has come to understand vocation as a gift to be received, rather than a goal to be achieved. Watching his granddaughter during the early days of her life, he could see that she had inclinations, preferences, and her own personality from birth. He says, “We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then–if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss–we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.”

And he says: As May Sarton reminds us, the pilgrimage toward true self will take ‘time, many years and places.’ The world needs people with the patience and the passion to make that pilgrimage not only for their own sake but also as a social and political act. The world still waits for the truth that will set us free–my truth, your truth, our truth–the truth that was seeded in the earth when each of us arrived here formed in the image of God. Cultivating that truth, I believe, is the authentic vocation of every human being.

And: Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’

This small volume of essays from Palmer leads us through his choices about vocation, his depression and dark periods, and his ultimate realization that he is a teacher. He believes our shared vocation, leadership in the world of action, is an outgrowth of our inner journeys. We should support one another’s inner work by creating “communities of solitudes,” not abandoning or trying to fix each other.

More ideas from Parker J. Palmer here.


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?


World Community

December 27, 2008

Today the planet is the only proper “in group.” Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. ~Joseph Campbell*

The election results have had a significant effect on my outlook. I am almost tempted get that bumper sticker that says “Proud to Be An American.” But I won’t, because I don’t believe there’s any virtue in nationalism, as we are world citizens living on the earth interdependently.

Campbell’s words help me reconcile the enormous suffering in the world with our responsibility to live fully and joyfully. Carrying the weight of that suffering doesn’t help anyone. As Dorothy Day said, “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

May we live more joyfully at the same time we open to the world’s suffering with our compassion. Awake and joyful living will show us the path to our right work for the welfare of all.

*Today’s quote comes from the Word for the Day at gratefulness.org.


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.


Poverty

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.

Discourse
How can we heal our fractured society by coming together?

Happy Labor Day Holiday, everyone!


Think Globally, Act Locally

July 5, 2008

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

It matters what we do, day in and day out, on the smallest scale. In fact, that is where it matters most. I have always had a bit of guilt that I was not more politically active on a grand scale. My introverted nature was a big factor, as was the personal work I needed to do, but also it was hard to know whether the “movements” of my day were really helping or further polarizing people (for more on this idea, see Activism and Riding the Currents).

Certainly the civil rights movement has made a difference, as has the struggle for women’s rights. But it is the decisions made by individuals back home, day by day, that are the proof.  And those actions stem from our thoughts and often require courage. As the Buddha says (from another previous post):

The thought manifests as the word;
the word manifests as the deed;
the deed develops into habit;
and habit hardens into character.

So watch the thought and its way with care,
and let it spring from love
born out of concern for all beings.
~the Buddha


Conformity

June 2, 2008

We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves, in order to be like other people.  ~Arthur Schopenhauer

My mother used to tell a story she found amusing. It was about coming to fetch me from school in the first grade. I was standing in front of the class when she arrived, pretending not to know my colors. I don’t remember this event, but this is one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard.

For I had been happily reading at least since age 5, had known my colors for far longer, and was academically way ahead of most of my first-grade class when I began school. But I had been admonished so strongly not to “show off,” to be like others so I would be liked, that I had hidden my abilities in the quest for acceptance.

It was many years before I was aware of my conditioning, and many more before I could move beyond it. Even still, I find myself thinking, “How will this look to others?” when I decide on a course of action. This is actually a skill that has served me well in career and political situations, but I have had to come to an understanding about the limits on its value. And I have suffered from applying it in situations where it is not needed.

I think this explains why authenticity is so very important to me now. I cannot bear to pretend any longer that I am something I am not. I actually think age is helpful in this regard, as we who are in public service approach retirement and can be whoever we are. How do you deal with this dilemma, in a political world?


Riding the Currents

March 9, 2008

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.


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?


Lightness

February 3, 2008

To appreciate nonsense requires a serious interest in life.  ~Gelett Burgess

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.  ~Rabindranathe Tagore

Life is too important to be taken seriously.  ~Oscar Wilde

Three ways of saying, “Lighten up!”  Tagore’s words also point to the ephemeral nature of life. If we don’t laugh now, then when?

Sure, there’s plenty to be distressed about. But satire can help us bear (and hopefully change) those things:

(Imagine a “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” clip here. Every time I try to bring one in from YouTube it disappears. If you can help, I’d love to hear from you!)

There is also much about life that is fun, light, playful. May I notice those things more readily, laugh more easily, and make play at least as important as work in my life.


Presidential Politics

January 4, 2008

To be impartial is to have taken sides already with the status quo.  ~Desmond Tutu

It does not require many words to speak the truth.  ~Chief Joseph, Nez Perce

Well, here it is upon us, the season of polls and caucuses, speeches and posturing, promises and attacks. As Ronnie Shakes said, “I was going to buy The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought, ‘What good would that do?'” (sounds like a Steven Wright joke to me!) I really am fighting cynicism, but still don’t have the heart to tune in for all the media coverage.

Gandhi said, “In matters of conscience, the law of majority has no place.” Neither does the electoral college. And there are so many matters of conscience facing our country. I am far from impartial, but neither am I captivated (as are some political junkies I know) by the finer points of every argument, poll, platform, or candidate (celebrity?) bio presented by the media. In recent years I’ve shed my guilt at not knowing all those details, because our system is such a juggernaut, and the brush strokes on the political landscape are so broad. Ultimately, I know that I will vote for whichever Democratic candidate ends up on the ballot, and continue to hope for the best.

I just love the words Dick Scobie used on the occasion of his retirement from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee: “I hope I can keep reaching for a world in which those seeking justice will find it; for a world in which children wake up to days of promise and laughter; for a world in which old people will be respected and go to bed warm and secure; for a world in which young people will find love and work and there’ll be no need for guns, or police, or prisons; for a world of dancing and music where all manner of diversity is a cause for celebration; for a world without need for the tools and cruelty of war; and where the green pastures, the air and the water are kept clean.”

May it be so.


Wasteland of the Free

December 4, 2007

While we sit gloating in our greatness
justice is sinking to the bottom of the sea
Living in the wasteland of the free
~Iris DeMent

What has happened to the value of humility? How dangerous it is for the U.S. to be blind to our own shortcomings. It will be our undoing, I’m afraid. As in any organization, while it is important to recognize and celebrate what is healthy and growing, it is equally important to admit to and address systemic problems courageously. Otherwise, they can rot the system from the inside out, despite all the superficial successes.

I do wish Iris DeMent would put out another album!


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.


Power

October 7, 2007

When one does not know how to convince, one oppresses; in all power relations among governors and governed, as ability declines, usurpation increases.  ~Madame de Stael

The question is, on a national/world and on a personal/workplace level: How do we assist those in power in gaining ability–or failing that, how do we make sure that those who gain power are skillful? My observation is that most of the powerful people who lack skill also lack humility, have little self-awareness of the need to develop.

So it seems our most important task must be advancing those who do have ability, somehow renewing the respect for learning and wisdom, supporting those who lead and reach, even if they should fail. We need leaders with vision and courage, not just a will to power. And we need to give them room to be human beings, tolerating the imperfections we all have. Which is worse: Clinton and a little sexual misconduct, or Bush and the slaughtering of thousands of innocents?


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, http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/webfeatures_viewpoints_much_work)

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, http://www.sharedprosperity.org/shared_prosperity_overview.pdf.

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? 


Doing Right

August 18, 2007

Always do right; this will gratify some people and astonish the rest. ~Mark Twain

It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust. ~Samuel Johnson

Would that the simple maxim, that honesty is the best policy, might be laid to heart; that a sense of the true aim of life might elevate the tone of politics and trade till public and private honor become identical. ~Margaret Fuller

Lately I seem to find myself in the position of being the “conscience” in the group–uncomfortable to say the least, (especially for others), but dang it, I am going to be authentic and as ethical and honest as I can possibly be regardless of the culture in which I find myself.  While it doesn’t make friends and influence people, it’s the right thing to do.  Hence, my distaste for politics, where appearance and rhetoric are the important things, and honesty and authenticity are secondary at best.  In a political world, how do people balance personal integrity with political effectiveness? Is it possible?


Lies

August 15, 2007

If we were consciously aware of what we really know about ourselves and others, we could not go on living as we do, accepting so many lies. ~Erich Fromm, from To Have or To Be?

There are so many things we are unaware of, and must be, to live in the world.  If I consciously attended to the news about our president’s war, deeply felt the planet’s anguish, held those in distress close to my heart, how could I happily eat the carrot salad I had for dinner, or drive 75 miles one way to work?  I am drawn to expanding my heart and practicing compassion, and at the same time terrified of letting in what hurts.