Saturday, August 8, 2009

What is our alternative to the birthers, teabaggers, astroturphers?

As far as I'm concerned, we've managed to document and understand the reactions we're seeing come from the birthers, teabagers, astroturphers pretty well. We've expressed our outrage and done our best to show the lunacy of their positions.

If, as many of us believe, we are in the midst of the next evolution of the battle against racism and privilege, I begin to wonder what we, as progressives, bring to the table as the antidote to the hate and fear that the wingers are espousing. Certainly we want to see universal health care. But we all know that the battle that is raging is about more than that. So I ask myself what the vision is that we are offering as an alternative and how that vision can ground us in the heat of the battle.

Recently jessical wrote a diary spurring much thought for me about that question.

We are all living with a burden of shame and fear and anger, and in every single moment of your life, in every action, you invite decency and grace, or you invite violence and hate. Sometimes, sometimes, you get the violence and hate anyway. But if you feed it...that is always what you will get. That doesn't make it right or deserved. But if progressivism is about anything to me, it is about the very long fight for human dignity.

I'd guess that most of us would agree that a sense of human dignity for all is a foundational principle/value of progressivism. But if you're like me, believing in human dignity does not always ensure that I treat others in my life accordingly. Since I'm a real believer in the counsel of Gandhi when he said "Be the change you want to see in the world," I think working on that is the foundation of any successful movement for change.

When Obama talks about the "empathy deficit" we face in this country - I believe this is what he's referring to. In order to treat others with a sense of human dignity, we must be able to put ourselves in their shoes and understand their struggles and point of view as much as we possibly can.

A while ago, Nezua at the Unapologetic Mexican, did a series on finding the nexus between all of our "isms" - or our sense of privilege and exceptionalism. In the first installment of that series he found the nexus in our sense of entitlement (another word for privilege) and finds the antidote in humility and gratitude.

And after all, what happens when we remove that sense of entitlement?

We grow humility.

What happens when you nurture a sense of humility in place of entitlement? You place your feet on the same ground as I. You remove racism without really chasing "racism." You remove environmental harm without getting caught up in side arguments. You remove sexism without feeling less-than as a man. You remove road rage. You remove exploitation. You remove rape. And you join with others in the understanding that you are not entitled to a damn thing. Nope. Entitlement is the antithesis of gratitude. And honestly, you are one lucky human.

I think that Lynne Twist identified most powerfully for me the reasons we lack this sense of humility and gratitude in her book The Soul of Money when she talks about the myth of scarcity and the need to replace that with the concept of sufficiency. Here's how she describes the impact of the scarcity model.

Whether we live in resource-poor circumstances or resource-rich ones, even if we're loaded with more money or goods or everything you could possibly dream of wanting or needing, we live with scarcity as an underlying assumption. It is an unquestioned, sometimes even unspoken, defining condition of life. It is not even that we necessarily experience a lack of something, but that scarcity as a chronic sense of inadequacy about life becomes the very place from which we think and act and live in the world. It shapes our deepest sense of ourselves, and becomes the lens through which we experience life...

This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life, and it is deeply embedded in our relationship with money.

In contrast, here's how she talks about sufficiency.

We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind-set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don't mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn't two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn't a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn't an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, and a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough...

When we live in the context of sufficiency, we find a natural freedom and integrity. We engage in life from a sense of our own wholeness rather than a desperate longing to be complete...

When we let go of the chase for more, and consciously examine and experience the resources we already have, we discover our resources are deeper than we knew or imagined.

It seems to me that, when we can come to the place where we believe we are/have enough, we can find gratitude, humility and empathy for others. In so doing, we can treat everyone with a sense of human dignity and live out the "be the change we want to see in the world." I know its much more of a struggle than just writing those words in a diary. I live that struggle daily and fail way too often.

But when I find myself reacting to the wingers and the havoc they create in both our culture and our politics, I need to at least ground myself in the vision of what I see as the alternative to their message. I find that vision in a sense of gratitude, sufficiency and empathy.

I suspect that many of us have had the experience of trying to talk to the wingers in our families, neighborhoods, and places of employment. In doing so, we know that reasoned arguments don't tend to have much of an impact. I believe that this is because they are operating from a sense of scarcity which breeds fear and overcomes reason. So in closing, I'll share something written by one of my favorite poets, David Whyte. It captures for me what a sense of sufficiency has to offer.

Loaves and Fishes

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time
of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

-- David Whyte

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