Over the last few months, I have received several questions along the lines of “So what are YOU doing about these things that you seem to care so much about?” Letting go of the tone in which the question is typically asked (contemptuous), I think, “Fair enough, what am I doing besides commenting on what I experience?”
It's not so much what I do, as it is how I am in the little part of the world I get to occupy. My personal world, not the big one in which I am one among billions of others. My "being" self. My soul. My "who I am" part; different and separate from the "what I do" part; different and separate from the "what and who I pray for/to" part.
It hasn't been some grand plan, it seems I just find myself doing them. I think that is because I am super aware of the "if you're not a part of the solution, you're a part of the problem" adage.
So, here is my current To Do List:
(1) I don’t have a lot of financial means, but I am making conscious financial choices to reduce the huge disparity between those of us who "have" and those I know who "have much less".
(2) I've been working on my listening skills, practicing hard. Intentionally exposing myself to people and ideas so foreign to me that I can hardly stand in the blinding light of what they believe to be their truths.
(3) I'm risking starting conversations with those who think differently, desperately trying to hear through their words to what needs they might be trying to get met through their rhetoric and actions. Trying to respond to those needs (which are the very same ones I have) rather than react to what technique(s) they use to try to get them met. I've found that if I listen carefully enough, I'll eventually hear a need of a sense of belonging, personal freedom, safety, security, purpose or connection (or a combination of these) being expressed. And, when I use the word “need”, it's not of the "it would be really nice if" variety, it is instead a, "if this need doesn't get met I am (or my loved ones will be) dead".
If there is ever going to be a meaningful dialog, it's people like you and me who will more than likely make the first, second, third, and fourth move; maybe all the moves to listen. To care, truly care, about their needs and respond to their needs instead of react to their actions I must set aside what I think I know to be true, if I am really going to be able to listen to them. To do that, I will also risk being changed forever in some fundamental ways by what I hear.
Many of them are so traumatized by the abuse they've received because of their beliefs and actions, that they've gone silent. So they don't talk. They do get even. That, in my opinion, is how things got to be as they are today. My experience is that when they are truly listened to, they are forced to go deeper into their logic and are often surprised when they get there. It isn't that we shouldn't talk about politics (or religion or....) it's that we don't know how to listen when someone else is talking about those subjects. Nor do they listen to us. Conversion is the goal, rather than conversation. Dogma dumping, rather than dialog.
(4) I am becoming more and more conscious of how and when my thinking is just as rigid, biased, extreme, dogmatic, and fundamentalist as those whose are now in control of our country. As I discover those parts of myself, I can see others with greater compassion, with less judgment and I am able to listen better.
(5) I'm writing closer to my heart's truth. Speaking up when before, I would have remained silent. Saying things out loud that I would have kept to myself. Being bolder, when I would have shied away. Showing up more, when I would have stayed home. Being present more when I might have been physically present, but emotionally and spiritually elsewhere.
(6) I am more purposefully engaging those currently with bulls eye targets on their foreheads; the scapegoats and victims of our country now by those currently in power (the poor, women, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, recent immigrants, all those who have been made fun of, mocked, blamed, and/or attacked over the last year). I am trying to learn what I can about their experience(s) so I can pass that information on to those I can influence. Asking them how they are doing. Being a witness to their experience, their story, and sharing it with people and in places they can't access. Places and people, I can access and influence because of my white, male, educated, relatively (compared to them) affluent, privileged position. Sadly, almost in unison they tell me not all that much has changed - it is just more transparent. I say sadly, because I obviously wasn't all that interested in or listening to them very well before.
We, in the US, have fluctuated between the liberal (I'm talking presidential administrations), and conservative approaches since I was born. Each 4-8 years we swing in the other direction. It's like the Democratic leaders grab the wheel of the ship of state, and spin it to the left and we go hard to port; then the Republicans grab the wheel, spin it all the way to the right and off we go, hard to starboard. Careening across the ocean, lurching side to side on a ship like drunken sailors fighting over the helm. Never making much headway; meanwhile souls being tossed overboard with each abrupt change of course. Each new president coming into power in reaction to the previous administration. It should be obvious to us all that neither approach has ever worked well enough, for enough people, enough of the time. If it had worked, if any one of them would have been effective enough, we wouldn't have such an erratic history. So, the answer probably isn't more of the same.
I've been in 7 countries in the last 10 months. We certainly have lost the confidence of those who live there that we are or have any moral compass that they are interested in emulating. I had been in those countries previously over the last few decades. The difference is palpable. Perhaps we were overrated in that arena to begin with, and they (as well as those of us who are mesmerized by our own press) are now able to see behind the curtain, to acknowledge that we are struggling too. I know that's happened to me. I was one of the "believers" that America had some kind of edge, superiority, opportunity, and enlightenment. The last year has changed that perception.
I grew up closely involved with a county fair. I slept overnight there. Keeping company with about 500 chickens. Actual chickens. The kind that lay eggs. I was there before the carnival rides and booths opened each morning and after they closed each night. Very early I discovered that what I saw when the lights came up and the gates opened was in sharp contrast to what I witnessed during the interval of time between the lights going down at night and the midway opening each morning.
I have been closely involved with people at the highest level in professional sports and entertainment in my professional life. Witnessing their world from the inside out. They all have that same thing in common. Humanity at its best and worst, AND totally different than the pomp and circumstance of the events the fans witness.
I think that's currently true of our country. We are the carnival, the sport, the performance. There is what we show or promote, and then there is what we don't either have the chance to see, because it is hidden from us, or we have the chance to see and choose not to. Perhaps it always has been. If you have watched Ken Burn’s recent Vietnam series, or if you are a student of American History as it relates to our (ongoing) treatment of the people living in North America when our European ancestors arrived, or saw the movie “Detroit”, or watch police videos, or the movie I most recently watched, “Marshall”, you have been witness to a sobering testimony to who we as a nation have been and to an uncomfortable degree still are.
I was recently leading a workshop that was designed to practice listening to others who believe differently than we do. Conflict resolution. One of the participants raised their hand and said, "I'm asking myself right now, why go to all this trouble to listen to people whose beliefs are so different than mine. I'm not sure it's worth it." I said that I guess we all have to make that decision, because engaging with another person who thinks fundamentally different is not easy. I also said that I believe that if we don't do something different, nothing will change. Listening to others may not work either. We all must decide whether trying is worth it or not.
This quote from Gandhi is what I am motivated by when I am overcome with the realization that what I am doing, what's on my "To Do" list is so seemingly insignificant. He suggests “It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, it may not be in your time, that there will be any fruit. But, that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result”.
What are you doing that I might add consider adding to my “To Do” list? Or perhaps, you don’t believe there is anything that needs to be done? I am open to listening to what you have to say.