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

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.

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

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

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.


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

Power & Love

April 14, 2008

Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of my personal hot buttons is feeling powerless, ineffectual. This is one of those things I have known for some time intellectually, but I know now on a deeper level. It is time to claim my own personal power, regardless of any external conditions in which I find myself. I have been operating with the old (and now useless) behavior patterns of self-protection from my childhood, afraid of my own power.

I don’t believe that I’m alone in my ambivalence about claiming my own power, especially among women. Power is considered a dirty word by so many! What does it mean to claim my own power? I think it means equanimity in the winds of change, with the willingness to yield and bend when that is called for. I think it means standing up for justice (actively loving) when that is needed. Its foundation is a feeling that I have a right to take up space, that I belong in the universe–fundamentally, a love and sense of justice that include (even) me!

What is your relationship with power?

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.

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.


December 21, 2007

I don’t try to change the world–not ever. It changes by itself, and I’m a part of that change. I’m absolutely, totally a lover of what is. When people ask me for help, I say yes. We inquire, and they begin to end their suffering, and in that they begin to end the suffering of the world.

Violence teaches only violence. Stress teaches stress. If you clean up your mental environment, we’ll clean up our physical one much more quickly…And if you do that genuinely, without violence in your heart, without anger, without pointing at corporations as the enemy, then people begin to notice. We begin to listen and notice that change through peace is possible. It has to begin with one person. If you’re not the one, who is?  ~Stephen Mitchell

For years I’ve had an ambivalence about social activism because I’ve seen so much of it further polarize people. Who am I to know what is best for the planet? Righteousness is no good; if we are to make a difference in the world, we must speak authentically, lovingly from the heart. Accusations and anger simply raise defenses. The world is perfect as it is, according to Mitchell (and his wife Byron Katie), but that’s no excuse for withdrawal or separation.

May I clear my mind, understand that the world is perfect just as it is, but stay connected with my heart to those who are suffering. May I question for the love of truth, not in order to save the world. And may I speak always, even to power, with honesty and kindness and without fear or anger.


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.