I’ve gone beyond caring about Democrat and Republican, about laying blame with one party and spouting phrases that in the end “signify nothing.”  Really I have; and it’s seems as a nation, as a world, there might be some sanity in this chosen, but not resigned, approach.  Election year notwithstanding. What is at risk with an aversion to identifying solely with any one belief system?   

It’s not that I’ve gotten complacent about matters of human injustice, environmental concerns, or the sadistic powers that lead to horrific crimes against humanity. 

It is more that I would prefer to plead the case of the adoption in our culture of (what may be classically deemed an Eastern culture school of thought), the middle way.  Incumbent upon us at this juncture of our nation and the world’s history is to find the in-between space between rapid dogma and the insipid and weak refusal to stand up for anything.  Herein lies change, herein lies greatness

From our ominpresent consumer perspective, this is a hard concept to sell. So instead what is being peddled year after year, is division, is separateness. What is continually wiped from our memory is the fact that we have been and are a pluralistic nation with many truths, just as the world in which we live has always been. Embracing a multiplicity of ideas can be daunting, and the “hegemonic imagination” (i.e., those in power) are continually thwarting any efforts by those who are attempting to undertake this task (consciously and unconsciously).

Added to this paradigm, much of our religious identity in the United States has stemmed from the Enlightenment conception of self. The main idea being that “each person is an independent unit that is an autonomous, self-determining ego”. Key, here, is the notion of autonomy. This has unleashed an unrestrained individualism in many of our private and public beliefs and practices that stress personal responsibility and despise any hint of or the reality of dependency.

Richard Niebuhr, along with other modern theologians, have cautioned against this tendency which focuses excessively on me, blindly on us, and divided from them. The underlying flaw in this logic is that it limits our sphere of responsibility to some degree, instead of widening the scope to humanity and the Universe. What emerges is that “I must find my center of valuation in myself, or in my nation, or in my science, etc. Good and evil in this view mean what is good for me and bad for me; or good and evil for my nation”, etc…but not that what is good in a more broad sense of looking toward sources of creativity or social solidarity.

For any ongoing process of transformation to take place, we need to put boundaries around our own needs or desires and make room for the legacies of others to penetrate our awareness. This means being able to sit in the discomfort of another’s painful story, a piece of our collective memory.

It takes conscious effort and continued discipline to form a nuanced and educated opinion.  It takes work and discipline to stay engaged in the complex issues that change and morph daily.
The commitment to these ideals will turn the tide of our daunting nation’s issues and not who wins any election, no matter what they try to tell/sell us.                

Healing America’s Soul

After my March 24 and 26th posts, I was feeling frustrated by my inability to find a cool head in the middle of this turbulent and sometimes scary time in our country as we to try to discern what National Health Care will REALLY mean for each of us individually and collectively as a nation.  Then I  happened on this wonderfully timed article in Margaret Benefiel’s Executive Soul monthly newsletter entitled, “Healing America’s Soul“.  Dr. Benefiel was a favorite professor of mine at Andover Newton and is currently CEO and Founder of Executive Soul.  Part of Margaret’s mission includes leading workshops and lecturing around the country to companies, organizations, and conferences who are looking to nurture spiritual values and leadership in the workplace.  In addition, she has published two books, Soul at Work and The Soul of a Leader.  It is my great pleasure that she has allowed me to share her thoughtful voice of sanity amidst the cacophony of  fear and frenzy.  

HEALING AMERICA’S SOUL”  by Margaret Benefiel  (published in its entirety):

The American healthcare struggle culminating in Sunday’s vote brought out the best and the worst of legislators’ and citizens’ behavior.  The worst of the behavior inflicted wounds that not only hurt individuals, but also damages the nation’s soul.

In some ways, the heat and polarization generated by the healthcare debate can be viewed as an opportunity, an opportunity to expose old wounds that have been festering and need to be healed. When Rep. James Clyburn received a fax of a noose along with racial slurs, when Rep. Emanuel Cleaver was spat upon by a protestor and called “ni–er”, when Rep. John Lewis was called a “ni–er”, it became clear, in ways that perhaps it hadn’t been to all Americans, that racism is alive and well in America and needs to be addressed.  When a U.S. Representative shouted “baby-killer” during Rep. Bart Stupak’s speech on the floor of Congress, it became clear that slanderous speech is alive and well, even in the sacred halls of Congress.  When pro-choice advocates, characterized pro-life advocates as anti-women, it became clear that intolerance and inability to hear the good will in others’ positions is alive and well.

Racism, slander, and lack of respect for differing views damage the soul of the nation.  America was built on the foundation of mutual respect and rigorous debate.  When all positions are heard and seriously considered, the nation is richer for it.  When some positions are shut out, the nation is impoverished.  When people are demeaned because of their race or political position, the nation’s soul is damaged.  As Fannie Lou Hamer reminded us, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

The healthcare struggle revealed gaps between America’s espoused values and her lived values.  America is not a “post-racial” society.  America is not a tolerant society.  America is not a society of mutual respect for differing points of view. 

This is an opportunity for healing the old wounds that have been exposed, for closing the gap between espoused values and lived values.  Will Republican leaders step forward and challenge their followers (and colleagues) on their racist and slanderous speech?  Will Democratic leaders step forward and challenge their followers (and colleagues) on their intolerance and blind spots?

It’s time to heal the nation.  America faces problems of huge proportions.  If Americans can step up to the challenge to address and heal the wounds, the health and energy that will be liberated to engage the problems will be immense.  If we can’t, we’re destined to limp along when we need to run.

Amen, Margaret.