Monday, July 23, 2018

Let's tear down our dependence on "walls"

The whole world is asking the same questions:

·        What has happened to the United States?
·        What can each of us do to restore civility to our public discourse?
·        When will the Republicans find and re-insert their spine and stand up to this president?
·        When will Assad be deposed from power in Syria?
·        When will global warming and climate change reach the level of seriousness it deserves?
·        How do we reconcile the random acts of violence with the spectre of a civilized city or nation?
·        How dangerous is it really, to live in the current vortex of negative impulses?

And then there are some other questions that a few on the left are also asking:

·        When and how can the world eliminate all weapons of mass destruction?
·        Is the pursuit of peace merely an aspirational goal and slogan, never to be achieved without going through another global conflict?
·        Have the faith communities, at least those inside the radical fringes on both the right and the left, become obsolete and irrelevant?
·        Is this period of cultural and political and economic chaos a temporary phenomenon or something the world will have to endure for decades?
·        What are the roots of the “strong man” archetype to which we seem to have fallen victim?
·        While we know that humans have a spiritual quality that yearns to be connected with the ultimate reality, we also know that humans have a capacity for hate, fear, contempt violence and self-destruction. Is the latter trait overtaking the former?
·        Can the corporate state be tamed and brought into some kind of compliance with the public interest?

And as the questions swirl, inside each of our heads, around most water coolers, and across the television screens, internet websites and daily newspapers, all of them in search of answers that go beyond a mere band-aid, aspirin or placebo, a sense of powerlessness pervades and prevails.

Nevertheless, there are small sprigs of “green” hope attempting to break through the asphalt of our contempt. The Caucasian Republican Congressman from Columbus, who, with his African-American female Democrat colleague from the same city has seeded a project dedicated to the commitment to civil respect in the public square is to be applauded for his efforts. Their project has so far attracted some three dozen paired members of Congress who have signed a commitment to practice civil discourse. The two originators have also begun to spread their message into the Ohio school system, in their attempt to neutralize and reduce the incidents of hate speech on social media among young people.

In Chicago, a group calling itself Lighthouse, working with emotionally, physically, intellectually and socially handicapped persons in “hands-on” projects that provide work with dignity and respect to many who otherwise would not have such an opportunity, has initiated a specific “lighthouse” project whereby models of lighthouses are painted, covered and otherwise emblazoned by their client base, and then “planted” along Michigan Avenue in that city. The premise behind the project, according to the report on CBS’s Sunday Morning, is to help passersby  pause and consider the person who created the specific lighthouse model, as a way to enhancing public awareness and respect for those on the margins.

Small, and to some perhaps insignificant in the tidal wave of violent speech, violent bombs and missiles, overturned refugee boats in the Mediterranean, and 3+million girls who still do not have access to education.

Pleading in this space for a more tolerant, more activist and more compassionate and empathic approach to all of the world’s threats/opportunities has often seemed pointless and hopeless. A new and more “loving” (in the agape sense of that word) attitude, among ordinary folks, as well as among the “ruling” class, has seemed to be defied by the multiple examples of news stories to which we are fed on an hourly basis.

Nevertheless, we continue to try to absorb mass shootings like the one on the Danforth in Toronto last night, and mass drownings like the Duckboat capsizing in Missouri killing 17, and the hundreds if not thousands of victims of the violence in Syria, many of whom would not have survived but for the “White Helmets”  who have risked their lives to save the wounded and dying in the midst of that horrendous civil war.

Words, however, without actions, seem quite hollow, given the ease with which they flow. We have, all of us, been involved, (entrapped, imperiled, ensnared) in some kind of conflict from which we have found it difficult, if not impossible, to extricate ourselves. Many have also found it problematic to engage in some form of reconciliation, or formal mediation. Even when and where one might expect a motive and spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness might be feasible and even expected, some have found that spirt and motive MIA….even after making overt and covert overtures to begin such a process.

Call it pride, hubris, arrogance, fear, stubbornness, a need for power and control, lack of trust….any or all of these attributes can be and likely are at the root of the intransigence that prevents and precludes reconciliation. We do not start with a perspective of trust in our encounters. We each start from a position of scepticism, often verging on cynicism, borne from previous experiences in which we may have attempted to reconcile without success. And the hardened positions grow more impenetrable and fossilized as time passes. This happens in our personal lives, in our professional lives, in our political lives and in our public perceptions of national and international issues.

In schools we teach history, most of it written and documented by the “winners” in the conflicts, and most of it baked into a cake we call “convention” or “normalcy”. Simultaneously, we initiate peer-mentor programs on our playgrounds in a minimal attempt to “teach” conflict containment. There is a cultural and cognitive dissonance to our evidence. We do not really listen to the victims of history, the indigenous, the poor, the handicapped, the marginalized, the victim of addictions, or the people who commit “crimes”.

Our mind-set “manages” them out of sight and out of mind so that we gravitate to the people the culture considers “successful” in the blind belief that such role models will help to ensure more who will emulate their success. As the proverbial question has it, “How is that working for you?”

It is our mind-set, our turning away from those who need our support in a hand-up, (dismissed as a hand-out from those who decry the nanny state), that fails us at every turn. We are “our brother’s keeper” only through folk-songs that make it to the top of our hit-parade. We are not even conscious of the pain being suffered by those in our immediate circle. And we rationalize, “It is none of our business!” as we release ourselves from all responsibility for their plight.

We scream and shout about the “wall” proposed to keep out unwanted people, while remaining silent, ignoring the walls we continue to build inside our mind, our imagination and our hearts. It is the interior walls, for which we do not have to claim responsibility to anyone but our private mirrors, that imprison each of us in cells of fear and contempt, aloneness and solitude, reducing and eliminating options that would include a process of re-evaluating our need for those inner walls. They do not “protect” us, except from ourselves, our anxieties and fears. They are both illusions and delusions of self-confinement from which there are but a few paths outward.

And we have to begin our own search for such pathways out of our own prison cell.
First, we have to acknowledge that “our walls” inhibit our openness to new adventures, new people, new challenges and opportunities to create. They also stiffen our blood vessels, our nerves, our imaginations and our risk-taking. And they provide only illusory benefits like the kind of safety and security that comes in the Cracker Jack box….a mere trinket or toy.

Our walls also keep us from venturing out to share the light of our knowledge, experience, inspiration and comfort to those who need and deserve it. And the more walls we build in our minds and hearts, the more we underline the futility of those walls.

Sounds like another morality play??

Not really. This is more like an attempt to draw attention to the straight-jackets of walls of fear, insecurity, contempt and hate. Never mind that trump and his cult are so fixated on that Mexican wall, to be built and paid for by the Mexicans (another massive deception and delusion); this little piece of pedestrian prose is designed to deconstruct the very notion of the utility of walls. Not only do they not accomplish what they are intended to accomplish; they also give encouragement to those people like trump who need walls to prove their worth.

Gated communities, too, are a strategy to delude the affluent into believing they are safer behind those walls when, if they were to think more deeply about their “fortress” they would realize that they are contributing to a kind of phoney superiority and snobbery that reeks of racism, bigotry, and contempt for their fellow human beings of all classes and demographics.

Let’s turn our energies to more lighthouses, and more projects that promote respect and dignity of all regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, economic and educational status and the thickness of their resume. Let us begin to deconstruct those fake fortresses that have so encased our altruism in a vault for most of our lives.

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