(Crossposted from Orange, and also posted at Writing in the Raw. buhdy, my friend, this one is for you, because you catalyzed this at least in part.)
This has been a hell of a year.
And I don’t mean that in a good way. It’s been the culmination of four years of stress, grief, anger and pain.
A silver lining exists, though, and that has been the journey I began in late spring, trying to reconnect with my deepest self. Recently, an exercise in my ethics class (UUF) really shocked open the vague sense of unease that had been nagging at me for a year or two. The exercise was the selection and ranking of my ten most important values.
It was a tough exercise. The base list was far from comprehensive, but it sure felt like it! When I got done, my list looked like this:
3. The common good
8. Quality of life
Conscience heads the list for a reason. Nothing else works without it. Conscience, and its corollary, conviction, are what impel me towards a fundamental re-evaluation of how to put my ideals into practice. It also made me look very hard at what is most important to me in terms of my relationship to society at large:
How do I make a difference?
Blogging, discussing, kvetching, arguing — as budhydharma put it, roaring louder — is not enough. Similarly, national politics as a means for social, cultural and political change leaves me deeply unsatisfied. It requires too many deals, too many compromises on matters of principle, too many abstractions that lose sight of human needs for me to feel that I can make much difference and still keep my values intact, to not betray my deepest, core beliefs. I need more. I need to DO more.
My conscience and reason tell me that, indeed, our politics is profoundly corrupted. Our society does not encourage its citizens to really involve themselves in the national discourse, apart from electoral politics — unless they are business people with gobs of money or serve that set of interests. The divorce between what happens in DC and what happens in our communities is not complete, to be sure. There are good people working to stop it, such as Howard Dean. But it resembles more and more a marriage falling apart. Meanwhile the citizenry reminds me of the children of a nasty divorce: neglected, frustrated, angry, acting out. They aren’t getting what they need. The state and local governments are not able to step in to fill the breach. we are on our own, and we have ot help each other. We are the people we’ve been waiting for, and if we do not create small changes we can believe in, we won’t get any further.
One of my most deeply held convictions is that every single human being deserves a life of dignity and meaning. More and more of us do not have either anymore. I don’t have to tell any of you which policies on a national scale will promote such lives, and who on the national stage works toward those ends. And I think we all know how unlikely it is that there will progress towards those goals over the next few years.
Meanwhile, in every community — city, town, village — in this country, economic injustice and inequality means men, women and children — our neighbors, our co-workers, our children’s classmates — go hungry, lose their homes, forego needed medical care, and struggle to find work. Too little is done to help them, too much is done to deny them what they need to live. Their needs and their numbers grow greater and greater every single day. If Paul Krugman is right, it is going to get much, much worse before this country’s economy starts to slowly turn around and improve. And look at the waste, the sheer, appalling waste of human potential, human worth, human joy. It is not to be borne.
My conscience compels me to admit that what I’ve done thus far — blogging, volunteering in national politics, etc. — hasn’t really done all that much in real terms. It hasn’t fed somebody. It hasn’t gotten them a job. It hasn’t served the common good in the sense of supporting and enhancing my local communtiy’s good, let alone the national community’s. It hasn’t brought my town economic justice, or promoted equality in society. It hasn’t improved the quality of life in my town or my country as a whole. It hasn’t built a more sustainable culture.
Where are we going as a country? Earlier today I ran across a link at Crooks and Liars that led me to something truly amazing. It crystallized everything I am trying to say here: what kind of society do we want to have by 2076, our tricentennial? The principles expressed in this particular essay distilled down to me what I want to see: http://www.scholarsandrogues.c… I want all of you to read this. It is brilliant.
The longest journey begins with but a single step. This is the destination I would like to see us arrive at in 66 years. I don’t think we’re going to get there if we don’t start in our own communities. In a way, I am lucky — I’m unemployed myself, and time hangs heavy on my hands. I think it is time for me to step away from this particular form of political consciousness-raising. There are children to tutor, homeless people to house, the hungry to feed. And, to me more importantly, there are minds to reach — for if we as a country are going to get through this, it will take all of us working towards community. And I won’t reach them sitting here on my butt blogging and commenting. I’m not sure what I will do — volunteer with the interfaith shelter, and volunteer/substitute in my local elementary schools is as far as I’ve gotten — but it is time for me to do something real.
This is not “Good-bye”, but it is “Sayonara”, excepting the WYFP community. In Japanese, the word “sayonara” means both hello and good-bye, implying a return renewed. I need to work with a whole heart where I can, as I can, without the distractions of the outrage du jour. Ultimately, I believe that’s the only way to make sure we all survive the next two years. I’ll be here most Saturday nights, and in whatever follows Docudharma, because in all of this, we’ve got to stand by and support each other, lay down burdens and refresh souls, so we can do more that is real, here, now.