We are well into a New Year and I feel that this message is long overdue as it’s been months since my last post.
My primary reason for the absence of posts has been a lack of something to say. To be honest I’ve been pretty much speechless for months now, and though that speechlessness continues I do feel the need to at least speak to that condition.
You may wonder how someone could be speechless with so much happening that cries out for strong words of rebuke, messages of comfort, stirring rallying cries, and so much more. I’ve been wondering, too.
My first response is that words have seemed ineffective as a vehicle for change. Or at least for positive change. It’s easy to use words to enflame and incite but what are the words that pull people away from incitement or, better yet, inspire people toward goodness?
I’m reminded of a story about Buddha:
Buddha was once threatened with death by a bandit called Angulimal.
“Then be good enough to fulfill my dying wish,” said Buddha. “Cut off the branch of that tree.”
One slash of the sword, and it was done! “What now?” asked the bandit.
Put it back again,” said Buddha.
The bandit laughed. “You must be crazy to think anyone can do that.”
“On the contrary, it is you who are crazy to think that you are mighty because you can wound and destroy. That is the task of children. The mighty know how to create and heal.”*
I have longed for most of my life to create and to heal, and especially to create peace and ease suffering through my words and actions. Ethical Culture has provided avenues that I’ve found very helpful – nonviolent communication comes to mind – yet the ease with which seemingly any tool for promoting change may yield harmful effects has been a growing concern.
This past summer, for instance, our Ethical Humanist community approved a Black Lives Matter to AEU statement at the American Ethical Union’s National Assembly. As the person who inserted the words “white supremacist ideas, policies, and practices” into what was to be the final version of the statement I can honestly say that my intention with those words was to open a door to conversation about the ubiquity of systemic racism.
That conversation did happen and, for many, the acknowledgement of our participation in a racist system was a welcome reminder of the depth and breadth of racial inequity. Some felt harmed by the use of the term “white supremacist” which is so deeply associated with hate and violence and not in accord with the intentions of our community members. That conversation also brought a deeper awareness of a divide in understanding within our community that calls out for more study, more dialogue, and more deliberation. I’m finding that it is much easier to cause pain than bring healing and the pathway to a shared understanding has been pretty bumpy. I have confidence, though, that our regard for one another will carry us forward.
With the conversation about white supremacy as a backdrop, the events leading up to, during, and after the November elections have really packed a wallop. I was pretty stirred up by the white supremacy conversation yet that was a disagreement with friends, most of whom share my progressive values and rely upon the same sources of information that I rely upon. What can be said about the divided perceptions of the facts surrounding the presidential election? I really can’t get my mind around the possibility that people truly believe that the win for Biden as president was the result of mass fraud. Harder for me to believe is that Donald Trump actually received more votes in 2020 than in 2016. Harder yet is to take in that the great majority of Republican voters continue to believe that Trump won the election despite massive evidence to the contrary.
Perhaps what worries me most is what seems an impenetrable forcefield that separates camps in our divided nation and the vigilance – and vehemence – with which the borders between people are monitored for breeches. We are living in a hair trigger world, I’m afraid, where tiny perceived infractions are treated as the beginnings of a dangerous infestation that must be met with forceful condemnation. That is not how I want to act yet I don’t want to be silent, to let the divide stand, to give up on the potential good of civility in the face of conflict.
And so I am putting words together to help me get my mind in gear and hoping to discover (and share) new avenues for better communication with people across the political spectrum. If you have uncovered effective tools I’d love to hear about that and would welcome hearing from you!
*from The Heart of the Enlightened, a book of spiritual stories by Anthony de Mello.