Like many “adult” things I try to explain to her (daughter) these days, this one made little intuitive sense. “Because he doesn’t want our neighbors to be able to get in,” I said.
Our president’s desire for a wall has all but brought our country to a standstill. And while his unforgivable dehumanization of immigrants is deeply rooted in white supremacy, the morning chat with my daughter reminds me that it’s also deeply rooted in America’s obsession with private ownership.
I might not be a white supremacist, but I live in a neighborhood — as you likely do — where we live among fences and organize our lives around the maintenance of our own homes and cars and possessions. When those in the upper middle class need help, as we inevitably do, we hire someone — a house cleaner, a childcare provider, an in-home nurse. We underpay these people and keep them off of our social media feeds. In that way, it’s not just our physical surroundings and stuff that we maintain with a lot of attention and energy; it’s our performance of self-sufficiency.
Each day, in a hundred little ways, elite American families build a mental wall between ourselves — capable, efficient, and deserving — and the others — the weak, sick, addicted, uneducated, undeserving. We may even pity the latter, but we don’t — as a rule — believe that our thriving has anything to do with their struggle. Not really. We have our house, our car, our country. They have theirs.
We may have more empathy for immigrants than President Trump, but our daily actions don’t teach our children that each human being on this planet deserves dignity. We tell our kids to share but do little of it ourselves. Maybe, in addition to fighting his walls and his white supremacy, we should be doing more to welcome our own suffering neighbors.
In other words, where are the places where neglect and a lack of moral imagination exist in my life and in the life of my family? I’m trying not to just tell the story over and over again about how much I abhor this president’s politics, but also tell a new story about us.
‘You have a vision and keep at it, bit by bit it will happen.’
‘Let’s take a moment to go back in time.
For most of human history, we lived in small groups of about 50 people. Everyone knew everybody. If you told a lie, stole someone’s dinner, or failed to defend the group against its enemies, there was no way to disappear into the crowd. Everyone knew you, and you would get punished.
But in the last 12,000 years or so, human groups began to expand. It became more difficult to identify and punish the cheaters and free riders. So we needed something big — really big. An epic force that could see what everyone was doing, and enforce the rules. That force, according to social psychologist Asim Shariff, was the popular idea of a “supernatural punisher” – also known as God.
Think of the vengeful deity of the Hebrew Bible, known for sending punishments like rains of burning sulfur and clouds of locusts, look and lice.
“It’s an effective stick to deter people from immoral behavior,” says Shariff.
For Shariff and other researchers who study religion through the lens of evolution, religion can be seen as a cultural innovation, similar to fire, tools or agriculture. He says the vibrant panoply of religious rituals and beliefs we see today – including the popular belief in a punishing God – emerged in different societies at different times as mechanisms to help us survive as a species.
This week on Hidden Brain, we explore a provocative idea about the origin, and purpose, of the world’s religions.’
-The Hidden Brain/NPR
The political is spiritual.
‘A farm in not a farm without its barn.’
- stewardship of the Earth
- and peace.
From a friend:
“All of us, culturally, and each of us individually, has a piece of the puzzle, a part of the answer; I don’t quite know the question, but I believe that the answer is peace.”
There is simplicity…ease…in kindness, inclusivity, and compassion. Complexity and chaos are created when we allow ‘other’, dominance, greed, and power.
Grace is born in community, communication, and care.
A new paradigm, therefore, is created locally, which in turn effects the collective.
Not government, or policy, or military.
We, the people, can embrace our own dialogue, and meaning, without outside influences born of profit, and alternative motive.
’It’s not that there are no difference—the world is made of infinite variety—rather it is the seizing of differences, the fearing of differences, that keeps us from feeling grace.
Paradoxically, everything in life touches the same center through its uniqueness, the way no two souls are the same, though every soul breathes the same air.
The mind’s worst diseas: the endless deciding between want and don’t want, the endless war between for and against.’ -Mark Nepo
‘Living in community means living in such a way that others can access me and influence my life and that I can get “out of myself” and serve the lives of others. Community is a world where brotherliness and sisterliness are possible. By community, I don’t mean primarily a special kind of structure, but a network of relationships. On the whole, we live in a society that’s built not on community and cooperation but on individuality, greed, and competition—often resulting in oppressive economic systems, unnecessary suffering, and environmental devastation.
Today we might call powers and principalities our collective cultural moods, mass consciousness, or any institutions considered “too big to fail.” These are our idols. We are mostly oblivious to this because we take all our institutions as normal civilization and absolutely inevitable. It is the “absolutely” that makes us blind and allows us to make passing structures into complete idols. Because we partly profit from these frequently collective evils, it doesn’t look like evil at all—but something good and necessary. For instance, I’ve never once heard a sermon against the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods,” because in our culture that’s the only game in town. It is called capitalism, and we live comfortably because of it. It is only our unwillingness to question such powers and principalities, or in any way limit them (which is worship), which makes them into a false god. “The angels of darkness must always disguise themselves as angles of light.
(see 2 Corinthians 11:(14-15)
The individual is largely helpless and harmless standing against the system of disguise and illusion. Thankfully, we’re seeing many people, religious and secular, from all around the world, coming together to form alternative communities for sharing resources, living simply, and imagining a sustainable and nonviolent future. It is hard to imagine there will be a future without them.’
Enlightening & educational interview with Dave Davies speaking to the importance of identity, community & purpose, combined with vulnerability. Excellent dialogue.
‘A Former Neo-Nazi Explains Why Hate Drew Him In — And How He Got Out’
“…after eight years as a neo-Nazi, Picciolini began to question the hateful ideology he espoused. He remembers a specific incident in which he was beating a young black man. His eyes locked with his victim, and he felt a surprising empathy.
It was a turning point. He withdrew from the movement and in 2011 co-founded Life After Hate, a nonprofit that counsels members of hate groups and helps them disengage.
So it was the fear rhetoric. … I can tell you that every single person that I recruited or that was recruited around the same time that I did, up to now, up to what we’re seeing today, is recruited through vulnerabilities and not through ideology.
In fact, I had never in my life engaged in a meaningful dialogue with the people that I thought I hated, and it was these folks who showed me empathy when I least deserved it, and they were the ones that I least deserved it from. I started to recognize that I had more in common with them than the people I had surrounded myself for eight years with — that these people, that I thought I hated, took it upon themselves to see something inside of me that I didn’t even see myself
Here we are in 2018 and we have a lot of hallmarks coming from political figures, the administration and policies that are very similar to what we espoused 30 years ago. … It is a white supremacist culture that is being pushed.”
[A couple of weeks before the end of President Obama’s White House, Life After Hate received a $400,000 grant to continue their work. After the new administration took office in 2017, the grant was rescinded. Comedian Samantha Bee brought awareness to the situation and helped raise $500,000 for the organization.]
Science’s Next Frontier? It’s Civic Engagement
by Louise Lief
‘…scientists’ problems run deeper. According to a number of recent surveys, there has been a rapid decline in knowledge about and sympathy for scientists and the institutions where many of them work, particularly among Republican and Republican-leaning voters. Politicians from the same party who now govern in over 32 states, the White House, and Congress are aware of these sentiments.
These developments point to an urgent need for the scientific community to rethink the enterprise and reintroduce science to the public as a trusted, non-partisan civic actor, a collaborator that can help communities address their problems, and partners in a dialogue where each party brings its unique lived experiences to the table. Scientists need to create more portals to the public, and the citizen science community may be best situated to lead this transformation.
There is evidence that the public is hungry for such exchanges. When Research!America asked the public in 2016 how important is it for scientists to inform elected officials and the public about their research and its impact on society, 84 percent said it was very or somewhat important — a number that ironically mirrors the percentage of Americans who cannot name a scientist.
Recently, I have focused on civic engagement, studying how communities try to identify and address collective problems and apply collaborative problem solving. There is a central role for scientists in this effort.
To better introduce themselves to the public, it makes sense for scientists to work with civic institutions the public already trusts. Arizona State University’s efforts to partner with local public libraries is one such step that helps root citizen science programs in communities, creating a natural alliance of knowledge seekers, science, and public engagement, and establishing community feedback loops. (Full disclosure, Cavalier is the PI of this initiative, supported by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.)
Scientists need to be present at these tables, and practice those deep listening skills. At a minimum you will meet new people and gain new insights. But you may also make valuable new connections, find new collaborators, and most important of all, forge stronger bonds with your community. Don’t underestimate the power of the data you collect and create to impact community decision making.
News note: During the height of the Cold War, Esalen launched the Soviet-American Exchange Program, and a series of Soviet-American citizen diplomacy gatherings, organized by Michael and Dulce Murphy and others. At these meetings held at Esalen, Joseph Montville coined the phrase “track-two diplomacy”, which is now a well-recognized diplomatic method. This work led to the first spacebridges which enabled Soviet and American citizens to speak directly with one another via satellite communication, along with multiple other projects. The following article was written by Joseph Montville for Stratfor Enterprises, LLC and republished with their permission.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev recently wrote an op-ed that, amid the many conflicts brewing around the globe today, recalls an era of diplomacy worth revisiting. In the Oct. 11 column, he expressed fear that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty he signed with former U.S. President Ronald Reagan in December 1987 is at risk of collapse. Though 80 percent of the nuclear weapons that the United States and the Soviet Union accumulated during the Cold War have been decommissioned and destroyed, and both sides have complied with the deal’s strategic weapons clauses, the INF faces stiff opposition in each country today.
“Track two diplomacy is a process designed to assist official leaders to resolve or, in the first instance, to manage conflicts by exploring solutions out of public view and without requirements to formally negotiate or bargain for advantage. Track two diplomacy seeks political formulas or scenarios which might satisfy the basic security and esteem needs of the parties to a particular dispute. On its more general level, it seeks to promote an environment in a political community, through the education of public opinion, that would make it safer for political leaders to take risks for peace.”
Treading Where Diplomats Cannot
As today’s headlines make clear, the American public is becoming increasingly concerned that Trump’s policies on North Korea could precipitate a disastrous conventional war capable of destroying Seoul and its millions of citizens, along with tens of thousands of Americans living in South Korea. Many worry that Japan, too, may become a target of Pyongyang’s short-range nuclear missiles.
In an Oct. 22 interview, Carter showed some sympathy for Trump while reiterating his recent offer to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The former president has a history of intervening in tense conflicts. He went to North Korea in 1994 to head off a potential war, reportedly annoying then-President Bill Clinton. Later that year, he persuaded Haiti’s leaders (this time with Clinton’s approval) to peacefully leave the country in order to fend off a U.S. invasion. Of course, Carter has never felt bound by strict instructions from the White House if he believes they reduce the chances of a peaceful resolution to conflict. His chief focus is eliminating violence; that’s the way he is.
North Korea has already been the subject of many Track Two initiatives, even if the North Korean participants in those talks could never be considered unofficial. According to journalist M.J. Zuckerman’s major cover story “Track II Diplomacy: Averting Disaster,” published in 2005, the Carnegie Corporation of New York supported several “Track 1.5″ meetings that eventually yielded a deal to resume formal negotiations among the six-party nuclear group made up of North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
I now realize that properly done Track Two does not seek to ‘get in the way’ of Track One diplomacy, as those in office sometimes fear, but rather to complement it, often by going to places where Track One is unable to tread and by tackling subjects it cannot approach.”
I began to discover that human maturity comes as we begin to bring out heads and hearts together.
-Humanitarian Jean Vanier
“I commit to cultivating community by finding kindred spirits along the path, soul friends with whom I can share my deepest longings, and mentors who can offer guidance and wisdom for the journey.”
#3/The Monk Manifesto
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
“It is for [us] to understand that nothing happens as a punishment but rather as a lesson. It is our birthright that we should learn and grow from life. It doesn’t matter what the circumstance; look for the spiritual truth. Look for the light behind every bit of darkness. We are here to learn and grow and become. There are no accidents. When we realize that everything is happening for our spiritual growth, we can ask, ‘What am I to learn from this?’ ‘What possible good is in this situation?'”
-Science of Mind
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
“So much of the time we think our good is somewhere down the line, that we will be ‘king our purpose’ at some time in the future. Well, surprise. You are living your purpose right now – each word out of your mouth, each action you take.”
-Rev. Karen S. Wylie
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
Alfonso Montuori, California Institute of Integral Studies:
“According to neuroscientist Anil Seth, we’re all hallucinating all the time; when we agree about our hallucinations, we call it “reality.”
Neuroscientist explains how your brain hallucinates your conscious reality:
I am because you are, you are because I am.
It is something that I have always believed in that in the ignited space of our deepest suffering, in the release of our deepest fears, in the familiar peace of our deepest joys, we are each other. I have been finding it in every path, in every way … in Martin Buber’s sense of I-Thou, where only in keeping what-is-between-us real can God appear … in the gift of Jesus, where two or more of you come together, there I am … in the one compassion of Buddha … in the numinous love that ancient stones manage if we are still enough to bow to them. Ubuntu … I am because you are, even in how we live off the breath of plants, you are because I am, even in how plants live off our exhalations.
We need each other to be complete.
-Mark Nepo’s, The Book of Awakening
“Piety is something you do alone,” he says. “True freedom, spirituality, can only be achieved in community.”
On Being with Krista Tippett
“…I was searching for that elusive thing that all of us search for. Most of the time we’re not even conscious of it, but we’re searching for ourselves in an authentic way. We want to recognize the person we see in the mirror, and embrace that person with all the brokenness and lackluster, all the things that only we are aware of in the depths of our being.”
‘Infinite Spirit within me, Gaia, cause me to think and act kindly; constrain my mind to gentleness and peace; guide my thoughts into loving kindness and eternal forgivingness; and cause me in all my ways to follow the path of truth and justice. I judge no person and am judged by none. It is my sincere desire that everything I do or say or think will come into harmony with universal truth and justice. I judge no person and am judged by none. It is my sincere desire that everything I do or say or think will come into harmony with universal truth and peace, with love and joy. Consciously I let go of everything that is unkind and seek to so enter into communion with the Eternal Spirit that I shall reflect to my environment and manifest in all that I do the spirit of kindness, of justice, and of compassion.’
‘Millennials are oriented around neighborhood hospitality, rather than national identity or the borderless digital world. […] I get the sense a lot of people are actually about to make the break and immerse themselves in demanding local community movements. […] If millennials are heading anywhere, it seems to be in the direction of community.’
“In 18th-century America, colonial society and Native American society sat side by side. The former was buddingly commercial; the latter was communal and tribal. As time went by, the settlers from Europe noticed something: No Indians were defecting to join colonial society, but many whites were defecting to live in the Native American one.
This struck them as strange. Colonial society was richer and more advanced. And yet people were voting with their feet the other way.
The colonials occasionally tried to welcome Native American children into their midst, but they couldn’t persuade them to stay. Benjamin Franklin observed the phenomenon in 1753, writing, “When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return.”
During the wars with the Indians, many European settlers were taken prisoner and held within Indian tribes. After a while, they had plenty of chances to escape and return, and yet they did not. In fact, when they were “rescued,” they fled and hid from their rescuers.
Sometimes the Indians tried to forcibly return the colonials in a prisoner swap, and still the colonials refused to go. In one case, the Shawanese Indians were compelled to tie up some European women in order to ship them back. After they were returned, the women escaped the colonial towns and ran back to the Indians.
Even as late as 1782, the pattern was still going strong. Hector de Crèvecoeur wrote, “Thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those aborigines having from choice become European.”
I first read about this history several months ago in Sebastian Junger’s excellent book “Tribe.” It has haunted me since. It raises the possibility that our culture is built on some fundamental error about what makes people happy and fulfilled.
The native cultures were more communal. As Junger writes, “They would have practiced extremely close and involved child care. And they would have done almost everything in the company of others. They would have almost never been alone.
If colonial culture was relatively atomized, imagine American culture of today. As we’ve gotten richer, we’ve used wealth to buy space: bigger homes, bigger yards, separate bedrooms, private cars, autonomous lifestyles. Each individual choice makes sense, but the overall atomizing trajectory sometimes seems to backfire. According to the World Health Organization, people in wealthy countries suffer depression by as much as eight times the rate as people in poor countries.
There might be a Great Affluence Fallacy going on — we want privacy in individual instances, but often this makes life generally worse.
Every generation faces the challenge of how to reconcile freedom and community — “On the Road” versus “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But I’m not sure any generation has faced it as acutely as millennials.
In the great American tradition, millennials would like to have their cake and eat it, too. A few years ago, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis came out with a song called “Can’t Hold Us,” which contained the couplet: “We came here to live life like nobody was watching/I got my city right behind me, if I fall, they got me.” In the first line they want complete autonomy; in the second, complete community.
But, of course, you can’t really have both in pure form. If millennials are heading anywhere, it seems to be in the direction of community. Politically, millennials have been drawn to the class solidarity of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Hillary Clinton — secretive and a wall-builder — is the quintessence of boomer autonomy. She has trouble with younger voters.
Professionally, millennials are famous for bringing their whole self to work: turning the office into a source of friendships, meaning and social occasions.
I’m meeting more millennials who embrace the mentality expressed in the book “The Abundant Community,” by John McKnight and Peter Block. The authors are notably hostile to consumerism.
They are anti-institutional and anti-systems. “Our institutions can offer only service — not care — for care is the freely given commitment from the heart of one to another,” they write.
Millennials are oriented around neighborhood hospitality, rather than national identity or the borderless digital world. “A neighborhood is the place where you live and sleep.” How many of your physical neighbors know your name?
Maybe we’re on the cusp of some great cracking. Instead of just paying lip service to community while living for autonomy, I get the sense a lot of people are actually about to make the break and immerse themselves in demanding local community movements. It wouldn’t surprise me if the big change in the coming decades were this: an end to the apotheosis of freedom; more people making the modern equivalent of the Native American leap.”
Bernie supporters at a rally in the Bronx, NY. (NY TIMES)
‘Singular isn’t about scale.
Tracy Chapman was outsold by the Doobie Brothers by 40:1. But the Doobie’s aren’t 40 times as singular an artist as she is.
Lou Reed was outsold by Van Morrison at least 40:1. But again, our image and memory of Lou compares to Van’s, it’s not a tiny fraction of his.
Singular is the one that we can tell apart, the one we remember, the one we will miss when it’s gone.
It’s entirely possible that creators with scale are also singular (like Van, or Miranda), but it’s not required. Many of the artists, leaders and teachers that have had an impact on you and on me have done so with very little popular acclaim.
It doesn’t pay to trade your singular-ness for scale.
Singular might lead to scale, but popular is not enough.’
Emphasis on ‘we.’ This is a sentiment, ‘What are we going to do?’ that is being shared again and again after our nation’s week of heartbreak, confusion, frustration, anger, fear, pain, and sorrow. Deep sorrow. Many posts and articles I have read often start with the same words: ‘I don’t know how to express how I am feeling.’
(Interfaith prayer vigil in Dallas the morning after the shootings.)
For the third time in as many days, President Obama has made public comments in response to our nation’s shock and sorrow. Today he said from Poland, ‘We cannot let the actions of a few define all of us’ and that the ‘human responsible for killing five Dallas police officers does not represent black Americans any more than a white man accused of killing blacks at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, represents whites (AP).
When he first learned of the attack, his social media comment from the White House was that he was ‘deeply disturbed.’ My initial reaction to these words were of course, we are all deeply disturbed. What now? What? So many are asking what can we do? Enough. We are hurting. And we want to do something.
“If you are a normal, white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively under-estimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.”
-Newt Gingrich (R), Former US Representative
Author Michelle Alexander writes:
“In recent years, I have come to believe that truly transformative change depends more on thoughtful creation of new ways of being than reflexive reactions to the old. What is happening now is very, very old. We have some habits of responding to this familiar pain and trauma that are not serving us well. In many respects it’s amazing that we endure at all. I am inspired again and again by so much of the beautiful, brilliant and daring activism that is unfolding all over the country. Yet I also know that more is required than purely reactive protest and politics. A profound shift in our collective consciousness must occur, a shift that makes possible a new America.
I know many people believe that our criminal justice system can be “fixed” by smart people and smart policies. President Obama seems to think this way. He suggested yesterday that police-community relations can be improved meaningfully by a task force he created last year. Yes, a task force. I used to think like that. I don’t anymore. I no longer believe that we can “fix” the police, as though the police are anything other than a mirror reflecting back to us the true nature of our democracy. We cannot “fix” the police without a revolution of values and radical change to the basic structure of our society. Of course important policy changes can and should be made to improve police practices. But if we’re serious about having peace officers — rather than a domestic military at war with its own people— we’re going to have to get honest with ourselves about who our democracy actually serves and protects.”
My sentiments echoes her’s. A task force? Really? We are so far beyond needing yet another task force. When my daughter’s college recently was dealing with unrest regarding social inequalities and racial frustrations, the president decided to cancel classes one day a schedule a day of ‘inclusion.’ There was a microphone. There were a few speakers, but mostly it was a chance for everyone to congregate and share…vent…express. It was cathartic. This day of inclusion is to become an annual event. To check in. Push the ‘pause’ button. Connect.
Maybe we need one of these in our country. Everybody just stop. Nobody goes to work. Nobody goes to school. We all meet in our neighborhoods, our communities and talk. Share. Express. Embrace. Weep. And name our fears. We ask the difficult questions. We acknowledge our sense of ‘other.’ This happened in our country immediately following the terrorists attacks on 9/11 – – until we were invited to ‘go shopping’ (President George W. Bush). And then war. And we lost a timely opportunity to unite and change.
The white police officer in Minnesota who killed the young black man in his car was seemingly petrified with fear after the shooting. He couldn’t move, or drop his gun. His voiced seemed distraught with what he had done, and didn’t know what to do, or how to proceed, his voice violent with emotion.
The girlfriend who was seemingly calm enough to share the event live via social media, was told not to move…to keep her hands where they were…as your young daughter observed, and absorbed, every word and action in the backseat of the car. And while her boyfriend moaned in agony. Until he was silent.
I have thought so much about this woman. How could she remain so calm? I would be crazed. Weeping. Screaming. And it occurred to me as I have been reading Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warm of Other Suns/The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, that quite possibly what she had just observed were similar scenarios to those she has observed again and again in her culture and community. Reportedly, her boyfriend who was shot and killed, had been stopped 31 times and charged with more than 60 minor violations – resulting in thousands of dollars in fines – before his last, fatal encounter with the police http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3679678/Man-shooting-death-hand-cop-streamed-live-pulled-31-times-charged-63-times-officers-near-home.html.
As a nation, we are seemingly are able to show unity and prayer in the aftermath of tragedies. It isn’t long before we fall back into our lives, our political ideologies, and our short news cycles with ‘hashtags’ and rants. This time, though, the words are embedded with a plea for action. I heard it in the words at the interfaith prayer vigil in downtown Dallas, blocks away from where President Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963. All creeds and ethnicities were represented. Even watching on television, the energy, the empathy and compassion were palpable.
I heard an interview today, Saturday, July 9th, (NPR) with Poet Claudia Rankine. She spoke about Timothy McVey (Oklahoma City bombing) and Micah Johnson (Dallas shootings) who she said seem to be ‘cut of the same cloth.’ Both had served in the military, and both knew how to deliver carnage with their expertise, weapons, and training, for war.
I mean, you know, for me, Micah Johnson and Timothy McVeigh are not very different. They’re both war vets who were clearly unstable in a certain way and trained in the use of guns. And, you know, why somebody was able to have an automatic gun in their home – I’m not sure why that’s possible.
But in any case, those two gentlemen are the – you know, they’re cut from the same cloth, but in no way does Johnson represent black people in America. And, you know, what we’ve seen with the police is that black people have been seen as one person. And so consequently their level of vengeance against what they assume to be the black body as a criminal body allows them to behave in a way that costs the lives of innocent people. http://www.npr.org/2016/07/09/485356173/poet-claudia-rankine-on-latest-racial-violence
One white. One black. Both angry. And both disenfranchised from their society and country. Where was the disconnect? How do we mend and reach out to those who have lost connection to their humanity to stop senseless carnage and loss?
Author and journalist George Sanders recently said that the only tool we have is ‘empathy.’ Interesting. Can we teach to empathy? What about compassion? Can we teach compassion? Is compassion, or empathy, a natural law?
Harvard Social Ethics professor Mahzarin Banaji spoke to Krista Tippet recently on her podcast, On Being, and shared she prefers the word ‘understanding’ to tolerance. How do we learn to understand each other? How do we move beyond our implicit biases, generations of racist DNA, to seek understanding? She has co-written a new book called, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, and she is the co-founder of the implicit bias research organization Project Implicit. She says,
‘The good people is extremely important to me. I do believe that we have changed over the course of our evolutionary history into becoming better and better people who have higher and higher standards for how we treat others. And so we are good. And we must recognize that, and yet, ask people the question, “Are you the good person you yourself want to be?” And the answer to that is no, you’re not. And that’s just a fact. And we need to deal with that if we want to be on the path of self-improvement.’
Self-improvement, I offer, is defined as ‘understanding’ of other.
I am a big Krista Tippet fan, read all of her books, including her latest, Becoming Wise.
I have learned so much from her over the many years I have listened to her radio show and podcasts. She is often the starting point for study and research in my dissertation program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. She is brilliant and truly a gifted communicator.
Recently, she re-aired a dialogue she had with John A. Powell, a legal scholar and director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California at Berkeley. He’s previously taught in Africa and across the United States.
She spoke with Powell in 2015 in Minneapolis before a live audience. This has been an especially difficult time for Tippet – – the shooting in Minneapolis took place only a block away from her home. Powell speaks to race, which he equates to gravity, meaning, a very ‘heavy’ topic for many people to face and discuss. His mother and father where sharecroppers in the South and his father is a Christian Minister.
“Scientists say there are probably twelve people in the world that really understand gravity. And I would say there’s only a few more in the world that understand race. But it’s actually incredibly complex once we start peeling it back. I’m old enough to have been born colored. And then I became a negro. And then I became black. And then I became African-American. And then I became afro. And people are just now confused, like, so what are we? You know?And part of the confusion — and each of those terms are significant. But also, race is deeply relational. And it’s interesting if you go back and think about how whiteness was early defined in America. It was defined largely as not black. And so, James Baldwin reminds us that blackness is in whiteness, that whiteness is in blackness, that these are these complicated dances, these — that we — most of us don’t understand.”
I remember being 12 years old in Detroit. He, like most people from the South, he did everything himself. So, he’s fixing the furnace, and it blew up. It cindered all the hair on his body, so he had burns all over his body. We’re driving around the city trying to find a hospital who would accept a black man and getting turned away, and then going on to the next hospital, getting turned away. And as I tell these stories, again, they are sad stories. But when you meet my dad, he just radiates love. I mean, he literally attracts people. And he has this quality of appreciating life, and I feel like a little of that has fallen to me. My interest in social justice — I don’t know where it comes from, really, except I would say part of it’s the family. Part of it’s — to me, it’s an expression of caring, just caring about people and saying that you are connected to people in other life forms and then giving it voice. And I think if we do that, we not only lean into what’s called social justice, but deeply into spirituality and religion as well.
So when we talk about the appropriation of Native American land or when we talk about slavery, we’re not talking about the history of black people, we’re talking about the history of this country.
And Toni Morrison made the observation. She said we’ve had all of these studies on what the institution of slavery has done to mark the black identity. She says it’s about time we look at what it’s done to mark the white identity. It’s America. That’s what slavery is about. It’s about America. And I don’t care if you came here last week or ten days ago, you can’t understand this country without understanding the institution of slavery. It was pivotal.”
US Representative John Lewis (D-Ga), who marched and organized during the Civil Rights Movement, often speaks, as did Martin Luther Kind, Jr., to the ‘beloved community.’ In the context of social alchemy he asks, “What if the beloved community were already a reality? A true reality? And we embodied it before everyone else could see it? He reiterates again and again, we need to teach peace and live non-violence. And to visualize a ‘beloved community.’
We need the ability to have uncomfortable conversations between races and cultures. We need to understand our implicit, or un-conscious biases. Does this happen through policy? Mandates from our government? Or from our communities and each other?
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We cannot have these conversations if we do not connect with each other and ask the tough questions. The questions that seemingly make us vulnerable and uncomfortable.
What are communities doing now? How are we making connections locally?
The City of Seattle has budgeted funds to explore and research implicit bias in their community and police force, training some 10,000 citizens.
In Baltimore, volunteers are working together in a program called ‘Thread’ to change the social fabric of their community by mentoring high school students who are failing school and displaying destructive behaviors. Volunteers commit to work with students over a 10 year period of time. Hundreds of students have been guided and encouraged to find their sense of purpose of contribution. http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/07/09/484053257/prove-that-struggling-high-students-can-succeed
Powell shares an anecdote from a community in Oak Park, Illinois:
“So Oak Park is in Chicago. Chicago’s one of the most segregated areas in the country. Cook County has the largest black population of any county in the United States, and a lot of studying of segregation takes place in Chicago. So here you have Oak Park, this precious little community. And they were liberal whites there, and blacks started moving in. And they were saying, “Look, we actually don’t mind blacks moving in, but we’re concerned that we’re going to lose the value of our home. That’s the only wealth we have. And if we don’t sell now, we’re going to lose.” And it basically said, “If that’s the real concern, not that blacks are moving in, that you’re going to lose the value of your home, what if we were to ensure that you would not lose the value of your home? We’ll literally create an insurance policy that the value of your home — we will compensate you if the value of your home goes down.” And they put that in place.
Think about Katrina. So these examples are all around us, and yet, we don’t tell stories about them. Katrina — the face of Katrina, when you remember it, it was blacks stuck on roofs as the water was rising. What’s not told is that Americans, all Americans, gave to those people. It was the largest civilian giving of one population to another in the history of the United States. So here you had white Americans, Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans trying to reach out to what they saw as black Americans. They were actually saying — they were claiming we have a shared humanity. And they actually did a poll asking people if they were willing to raise taxes to rebuild. 70 percent of Americans said, “Yes, we would tax ourselves to help those people.” The pundits and the politicians ignored it. And so that story simply didn’t get told. The fastest growing demographic in the United States, the fastest growing demographic in United States is not Latinos. It’s actually interracial couples and interethnic couples. That’s people themselves right now, not tomorrow, trying to imagine a different America, trying to say, “I can love anyone. I can be with anyone.”
There is a lot we can do, if we come together and have the conversations that our difficult to have. I am hopeful. No more task forces. We need to find a way to dialogue, to question, to understand in our own communities and neighborhoods.
“People are looking for community. Right now, though, we don’t have confidence in love. You mentioned love earlier. We have much more confidence in anger and hate. We believe anger is powerful. We believe hate is powerful. And we believe love is wimpy. And so if we’re engaged in the world, we believe it’s much better to sort of organize around anger and hate. And yet, we see two of the most powerful expressions, certainly Gandhi, certainly the Reverend Dr. King — and I always remind people he was a reverend. It wasn’t just Dr. King. Even though he came out of a violent revolution — Nelson Mandela — he just — again, I met him personally — he just exuded love. And as you know, he had a chance to leave prison early. He refused to unless it included structuring the country. He actually tried to actually lean into a notion of beloved community. He actually didn’t want the blacks to control or dominate the whites. He wanted to create — so his aspiration — and he’s loved. Even today, he’s loved in South Africa, and he’s loved around the world.”
So I think part of it is that we don’t have to imagine doing things one at a time. And the other thing is that it’s not that we necessarily get there, but we claim life, our own and others. We actually celebrate and engage in life. And so, to me, it’s like — it’s not like, “How do we get there?” It’s like, “How do we live?”
‘…what we’re finding now in the last 30 years is that much of the work, in terms of our cognitive and emotional response to the world, happens at the unconscious level.
We move from race, the discussion of race — it was partially because we were trying to move from the Jim Crow era and the white supremacy era. And we said, “OK, that’s bad.” So to notice race is bad, so let’s not notice it anymore.’
The human condition is one about belonging. We simply cannot thrive unless we are in relationship. I just gave a lecture on health. And if you’re isolated, the negative health condition is worse than smoking, obesity, high blood pressure — just being isolated.
So we need to be in relationship with each other. And so, when you look at what groups are doing, whether they are disability groups or whether they’re groups organized around race, they are really trying to make us — a claim of, “I belong. I’m a member.” So if you think about Black Lives Matter, it’s really just saying, “We belong.” How we define the other affects how we define ourselves.
Tippet’s foundational question:
‘We’re not defined by the worst that happens but we struggle to know how to rise to our best; so what if we opened the question of race to the question of belonging?’
Carolyn Myss believes we can be the change in our own communities simply by being a light. This light, she believes, is enough to create change. We lead by example in our language and our behaviors, allowing a sense of belonging.
‘We’re talking about what I call a circle of human concern, a circle of concern for all life, human life, and our planetary life.’
“I think we all know, deep down, that something more is required of us now. This truth is difficult to face because it’s inconvenient and deeply unsettling. And yet silence isn’t an option. On any given day, there’s always something I’d rather be doing than facing the ugly, racist underbelly of America. I know that I am not alone. But I also know that the families of the slain officers, and the families of all those who have been killed by the police, would rather not be attending funerals. And I’m sure that many who refused to ride segregated buses in Montgomery after Rosa Parks stood her ground wished they could’ve taken the bus, rather than walk miles in protest, day after day, for a whole year. But they knew they had to walk. If change was ever going to come, they were going to have to walk. And so do we.”