I was talking with a group of friends last week about the troubles in the world: racial profiling, the "purchase" of political power, the spread of Ebola, the abuse and fouling of our planetary resources. As each person shared their concerns the thought struck me that I didn't know what I could do in the face of all these crises. I found myself feeling powerless. Surprising to me, the feeling of powerlessness was actually as upsetting to me as any of the problems we had been discussing.
Shortly after this unsettling discussion I found myself in the library. The books that have been calling to me of late are those that promise to deliver a new perspective, that discuss conflict resolution. The titles I am currently reading and trying to digest include: "Eco Mind, Changing the Way We Think, to Create The World We Want" by Frances Moore Lappe, and "The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of the Conflict" put out by the Arbinger Institute.
In "Eco Mind" Frances Moore Lappe talks about how the old vision of Democracy, people having a voice by voting a candidate in (or out), is no longer enough. Now, she says, we have a need to become community, to place ourselves within the change process, to take ownership. And, in this way, our combined voices will become louder than those of the wealthy power-holders (the power purchasers). Her book gives loads of examples of how this has been done: from crowd-sourcing new shoppers to purchase at stores that make green systems upgrades (starting the "Carrot-Mob"), to large companies where an employee-determined board deals fairly with issues such as a division of reduced work-load in a downturn, so no employee is laid off.
"The Anatomy of Peace" shares a clear and detailed explanation of how we, as individuals, put ourselves into a box where we need to demonize others in order to justify our own failure to do "right". For example, when we see a person in need and feel a call to help (an internal tugging at our heartstrings), but we instead ignore that internal urge, we must then justify our lack of action. We create a story that says, "Yes, I am still a good person. I just chose not to help because ________." Perhaps we fill in the blank with "the person is able-bodied and should help himself" or "I don't trust him or his peers". We create a story of "other" to justify our avoidance of our heart's call. We then remain bound to this "story". The book is an easy-to-read and amply detailed explanation of the justification conundrum. I was so amazed at the shift this book caused in me that I ordered copies of it - one of which I will be sending to Reverend Willis Johnson of the Wellspring Church in Ferguson.
About the time I was finishing "The Anatomy of Peace" I heard Rev. Johnson on the radio. I was so impressed with his true desire to shepard his flock, to keep them safe, and to create a climate of peaceful change! The thought occurred to me that some of the insights I derived from reading this book might be useful in Rev. Johnson's work of bringing people together, finding common ground, beginning a community dialog. So, I listened to my heart and ordered a copy for him.
On the NPR show, To the Best of Our Knowledge, I heard an interview with author Steve Almond about his newest book, "Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto". A life-long football fan, Steve had a recent epiphany - that the game of football, as currently played, is too violent and that the rules should be changed. When Steve's mother suffered from a brain-damaging illness Steve began to feel a strong bond of empathy with brain-injured football players and their families. Steve felt compelled to write about the excessive violence in the game as currently played, and the effect this violence has on our society. To listen to the interview click the link: http://www.ttbook.org/book/our-minds-against-football
Why did this interview and these books register on my radar screen? I am beginning to hear the same message from many venues. It is a message of empathy, of following the "Golden Rule", of seeing everyone as a person, not as "other". We are being called to feel this connection... to be aware that what hurts one, hurts us all... that what lifts someone up will positively affect many more. Whether it is Bill Gates and Warren Buffet sharing their billions, trying to do good in the world, or employees voluntarily sacrificing a few hours each so no one loses a job, whether it is someone acting on an empathetic feeling and asking for a (likely unpopular) change of rules, or even if it is just me choosing to act on a personal heart-message and send a book to someone I don't know, all of these are heart connection signs. I feel heartened. I hope for a continuing planetary increase in empathy, sharing, and kindness.
Thank you for listening. Please share with me the empathy messages you are hearing out in the world.