Happy New Year!
I start this writing project as part of my reflection process this year, reflecting on journeys, walking, my recent work with the Faithful Fools and the 2010 Census, time spent in Nicaragua, in wilderness, and on the streets of cities throughout the US and the world. I write because I want my action to be strong, purposeful, effective, and adaptive, and reflection and action nurture each other as they grow together. Thank you for taking the time to enter this reflection with me, whenever it is you found the time to read this.
As I write and work this year, I want to start with following ideas as my guideposts: 1) things aren’t as bad as they seem, 2) I (and therefore everyone) can make a difference, 3) personal experience is the most direct path to truth. I pose these ideas as questions, hypotheses to test through experiment, contemplation, and discussion. I invite you to join me in these tests, and encourage you to conduct your own experiments, contemplation, and discussion, and to share your results with me!
Let me take a moment to flesh these ideas out a bit, so we can watch for them together as I continue my reflection:
1) Things aren’t as bad as they seem. I spent yesterday morning, as I do most mornings in San Francisco, listening to news on the radio. The news, as we know, is overwhelmingly negative: wars, crime, injustice, political fights, and disasters predominate. It is easy to hear all of this and feel like the world is in bad shape, and when compounded by pain and difficulty in my own life and the lives of those close to me, I can sometimes feel despair creep in. It is important to hear the news of the world’s problems, and that of my friends and loved ones, and to feel the pain of loss and outrage at injustice. At literally the same time, it is important to remember that the world and its people are beautiful, and that rays of hope are working to pierce every dark cloud – when I do, it feels like things aren’t as bad as they seem.
2) I (and therefore everyone) can make a difference. As mentioned above, all is not right with this world. It follows that some things can change for the better. A good friend has cancer – I can help, by laughing with her, more directly by helping her get to doctor’s appointment, or in some other ways she and I can dream up. There is no reason to think I can cure her disease, but I can make a difference in her life. There is a bumper sticker advising us to “Think globally, act locally.” The kind of small difference I can make in one person’s life changes the world only in that the world is made up of people (and other living and non-living things) and many people making these small changes can add up to a larger change. If I am thinking globally (or scaling up to community, city, state or nation) as I am acting locally, I may be led into associated action that can have a larger-scale effect.
3) Personal experience is the most direct path to truth. We learn in so many different ways: some things we are taught, shown or told, some we come to understand through imagining in thought experiments, and others are experienced. Over the course of my life, a tremendous amount of information has been given to me by various authorities: by my parents, teachers, and elders, in books, films, TV shows and songs, and through the news, among other sources. It has been crucial at times for me to accept the accuracy of this information, and I have been taught to believe these authorities. What if the information I gather from experience conflicts with the information given to me by authorities? I propose that my own experience is more valid for me than information given to me by authority figures, and that the closer someone is to actual experience, the more credibility I should lend them. If a farmer in Nicaragua tells me his crop yields have declined since he began using a pesticide, I should listen to him over the scientist in the U.S. who tells me the pesticide is good for growing crops in Nicaragua.
Thanks again for joining me in this journey, and in advance for helping guide and deepen it.
Until next time…