How To Stay Connected and Inspired in America

american-flag-in-a-bottle

WHAT NEXT?

Some of us recently witnessed (or participated in) the largest public demonstration our country has ever seen.

The Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, January 21, 2017 was a historic day, seeing 2.5 million people around the world take to the streets to support causes such as women’s reproductive rights, climate change and criminal justice reform.

Now that everyone has returned home, hung their pussy hats in the hallway, and attempted to return to some sense of normal family/work/life balance, the question has been asked, “What next?”

And for those who were on the losing side of the recent presidential election, a more pressing question, “How did we get here?” — a time in our history when a highly-narcissistic television star and his white nationalist advisor now sit in the White House issuing executive orders that some have called “separatist,” “xenophobic” and even “unconstitutional.” A time when even scientists, librarians and journalists have taken to marching in the streets in the name of “truth.”

According to most sociologists and psychologists (including Lawrence Kohlberg, Jean Piaget, Erik Erickson, James Fowler, Jean Gebser) we all move through a series of developmental stages that carry us from egocentrism (a concern for our own self and survival), to ethnocentrism (a concern for our own family, tribe, team or nationality) to worldcentrism (a concern for all living beings).

According to philosopher Ken Wilber, 60% of the world is at an ethnocentric stage or lower. This means that they have not yet developed modern, postmodern and systemic ways of thinking and seeing the world.

Those at the worldcentric stage (if their concern really is for all beings) must claim some responsibility for the people whose values and beliefs vary so dramatically from their own. The more we distance ourselves from our neighbor, and the more we steer clear of the places they gather, the more we estrange ourselves. The more we unfriend people who disagree with us, or our point of view, on social media the more we create gaps, bubbles, echo chambers and blind spots where we would otherwise have the opportunity to connect, lean in, or engage our neighbor in meaningful and transformative dialogue.

As Sean Blanda wrote in 2016, “Sharing links that mock a caricature of the Other Side isn’t signaling that we’re somehow more informed. It signals that we’d rather be smug assholes than consider alternative views. It signals that we’d much rather show our friends that we’re like them, than try to understand those who are not.”

Obviously, there are exceptions. No one should suffer needlessly where bullying, psychological abuse and physical harm are concerned, but turning away from people because they hold a different worldview is something we need less of.

We are all holding pieces of the map, and unless we begin to work together, we will never escape the labyrinth of separation, prejudice and fear.

Those at ethnocentric (“mythic” and “conformist”) stages of development may eventually begin to experience some discomfort with the loyalty to the self-imposed rules and laws of their worldview. They may begin to question their religious doctrine, or cultural assumptions or scientific dogma and seek out other perspectives.

They may only half-heartedly agree with the politics of their neighbor or with the actions or policies put in place by the government. They may be complacent with the institutional and cultural racism they find rampant in this country, but intuitively at odds with the personal or subtle racism they see online or in public. They may disagree with putting another person’s religion to a test out of loyalty to the language found in our Constitution. Those people, when in doubt, will turn inward to their own values, their own religious beliefs, or to a community of their peers for social reinforcement.

If we have disconnected from them, they will be seeking a bridge where there is none. We will be island communities unable to communicate with or even orient ourselves to the population and culture of our own neighbors. We will have abandoned them in the name of “community-building” or unfriended them in the name of self-preservation.

Our primary objective, the tallest order, should be to meet these “fundamentalists” where they are, or go to where they meet. We should provide opportunities for connection and dialogue on a daily basis. And we should stop excluding them from our own events, social programs and marketing messages. We need to be able to disagree with their worldview while still being able to integrate it into the larger whole.

Put differently, how might you explain to someone who collects music on vinyl albums or compact discs that the artifacts they possess, the totems imbued with sacred art and language, the equipment and devices on which they play, and indeed, the ecosystem and industry that produces and manufactures those artifacts are outdated and part of the past? How do you convince them that the future is not in “ownership” of pieces of plastic, but in “access” to an invisible cloud?

The short answer is, you don’t.

There will always be small, loyal holdouts for the previous product or paradigm, but the majority, the center of gravity and the tipping point is determined by closeness (proximity) and convenience (access).

In any relationship, we need to stay close and remain open and accessible. We need to be able to turn toward one another in times of crisis, instead of away. And, we need to consistently and conveniently show each other the map (what we know), or pieces of the map (what we think we know), providing all parties a glimpse of a larger, more integrative, territory.

Once we have a picture of that territory, we must begin the actual work of tending to the land.

WHAT IS YOUR ELECTIVE?

Doing that work means choosing something that we are passionate about, or a piece of a larger problem, and working diligently on it toward a solution. In Judaism, this is referred to as tikkun olam, and means to heal or repair the world.

The time is now to choose your “elective” (your elected initiative or objective). What might you do in your spare time? For those who may not think they have any spare time, I challenge you to look again. For some, it’s the time they spend on their device fogging up the window to other people’s lives.

Ask yourself, “What is of ultimate concern to me?”

What is your passion or purpose in life?

What will be your legacy? When you die, what will people say that you did? It could be something small — “He loved his family.” It could be big — “She climbed Mount Everest. Twice.”

What keeps you up at night?

What pisses you off or turns you on?

You may be frustrated that your gender, sexual preference or ethnicity can’t easily be checked off on a job or loan application. Your family may not technically have a “head of household.” You may celebrate different holidays or follow the lunar cycle. You may be an atheist, or another religious minority. You may be sickened by the amount of garbage you drag to the dumpster every week. You may be disgusted by the way you see people being treated.

We all can take on a section of the puzzle and find a way to do the work. Some prefer to start with the edge pieces and some work from the middle, sorting by color or texture.

I have a friend named Bruce who works and advocates for the homeless. Homelessness is the tiny little piece of a broader, more complex problem that Bruce has chosen to take up in his hands and personally attempt to fix. He is a tireless advocate for homeless rights and can be found marching for them, or literally feeding them, every week.

I have a friend named Jennifer who has chosen to call her senators every day. She has a script and an auto-dialer that prompts her phone through various mailboxes and extensions, allowing her to maximize her time and prioritize the ever-changing issues and causes that are important to her from week to week. She makes time for this chore every morning, just as she would wash the dishes or fold the laundry. She could probably do this while folding her laundry.

Then there’s my new friend, Don, who works in the Transition Movement. The organic farmers he works with were distraught that they couldn’t join the others as they marched in the streets in record-breaking numbers. He had to convince them that the work they were doing — turning the soil and watering the seeds and pulling food from the ground — was just as important.

This is true not just in community gardens. Those that maintain the infrastructure that’s already in place are every bit as important as the ones on the front lines and the bleeding edge.

Sometimes I wish I cared for something, argued for (or against) something, fought for something as hard as Bruce, Jennifer and Don do. My passion is religious literacy and interfaith dialogue. While some people may be starving from ignorance, pluralism is not as vital in most communities as, say, hunger or poverty. It may be that pluralism isn’t a cause, but rather a stage of development – a worldview. It may be an eventuality, once we fix the other problems dividing us.

So if you, like me, can’t decide (or need some help deciding) on which cause to throw your valuable time and energy behind, here are some issues that need attention and might interest you:

  • Homelessness
  • Education / Literacy
  • Reproductive rights
  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • The Wage Gap / The Minimum Wage
  • Xenophobia
  • Immigration / Refugees
  • Indigenous or Native American Rights
  • The Environment / Pollution
  • Natural Resources (Water, Forests, etc.)
  • Alternative Energy (Solar, Wind, etc.)
  • Crime
  • Hunger
  • Poverty
  • Interfaith Literacy (Muslim or Jewish advocacy)
  • Medical Research (AIDS, Cancer, MS, etc.)
  • Healthcare / Insurance Reform
  • Child Slavery
  • Sex Trafficking
  • Animal Rights / Abuse
  • Mentoring (Minorities, Youth)
  • Social Justice Reform (capital punishment, mandatory minimum sentences, etc.)
  • Big Pharma (synthetic drugs, medication, regulation)
  • Food / Farming
  • Agriculture / Sustainability
  • Non-Violent Communication / De-escalation Training
  • Bullying / Teen Suicide

Maybe one of these issues calls to you. Maybe one (or two) of these causes already inspires you to get up in the morning. Maybe you’re thinking about switching causes. That’s OK, too.

No one person can tackle every problem. And not one of these problems can be solved without an entire community of people and a strategy. This means that all of us must convene and place all of our pieces of the puzzle on the table for everyone to see. It’s even OK if you decide to pocket one of the pieces and gloat as you slowly drop the final piece into place. (We’ve all done that, right?)

And another thing is for sure, we must not give up. We must not allow ourselves to become fatigued. We need to hold our elected officials feet to the fire. And that means staying motivated, staying educated, and staying mobilized.

It may mean marching in the street every week. It may mean writing e-mails, letters and postcards. It may mean calling and leaving a voicemail for a box that’s still already full. But we must remain vigilant, rested and focused on our self care.

We must lean forward, stay engaged and involved in the democratic process, and encourage our neighbors to do the same — regardless of worldview, party or ideology.

We must talk to our neighbors. Even the crazy ones. And, definitely the ones that are angry or that aren’t having a nice day. Your smile, or your support, might be what turns that day around. It might be what saves them.

We must not “resist,” we must meet, engage, reflect and understand. And, keep voting.

We must not fear one another. We must face our fear head on. Our fear, after all, is the doorway to our freedom.

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I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What are you passionate about? What electives did I forget?

For more information on Joran’s workshops or classes, sign up for his mailing list here.

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