For, Not Against

March 12, 2010

Every value we hold dear is an expression of either support or opposition, and it is our perspective that determines whether we are for something or against it…being for something is a vastly more potent means of inspiring change because it carries with it the power of constructive intent. ~from the Daily Om, 3/3/10

As regular readers know, I have some degree of ambivalence toward social activism. (See Riding the Currents.) I believe so many good intentions to make the world a better place go astray and further polarize people. This may be largely because of the negative nature of much activism–protest marches as opposed to nonviolent demonstrations in favor of an ideal.

I want to be for the things I believe in more than I am against the views of others. Constructionist rather than deconstructionist. Here’s my list. Join me! What would your “for” list include?

Peace–in the world, in our communities, in our homes, and in ourselves
Social justice–ensuring all the opportunity for health and happiness
Economic justice–raising all boats through equitable policy and legislation
Intellectual freedom–to read, think, and believe as we wish
Human rights–the Universal Declaration says it best
Tax-supported government services–such as libraries and health care
Community–locally, nationally and globally
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part
Simpler living–right relationship with possessions and the earth’s resources


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.


From the Archives: December

December 8, 2008

Writing is a struggle against silence. ~Carlos Fuentes

My struggle last December included the following posts.

Being a Beginner
More on the recent theme of unknowing, the world of possibility.

Becoming
The year-end ritual from The Not So Big Life.

Loss
In spite of loss, we must love because our lives depend on it.

Activism
How effective is activism for social justice?

A New Year
Thoughts on New Year’s resolutions.


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


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