"America is a leap of the imagination. From its beginning, people had only a persistent idea of what a good country should be. The idea involved freedom, equality, justice, and the pursuit of happiness; nowadays most of us probably could not describe it a lot more clearly than that. The truth is, it always has been a bit of a guess. No one has ever known for sure whether a country based on such an idea is really possible, but again and again, we have leaped toward the idea and hoped....The idea does not truly live unless it is expressed by an act; the country does not live unless we make the leap from our tribe or focus group or gated community or demographic, and land on the shaky platform of that idea of a good country which all kinds of different people share."

–Ian Frazier, from On the Rez

Love, Truth and Thinking for Yourself

The polit­i­cal scene in the Unit­ed States is so deeply frus­trat­ing. We are polar­ized, embat­tled, insult­ed and insult­ing, tired of fear but still feel­ing it — often as a kind of mid­night despair and pow­er­less­ness. What the hell hap­pened? Now we are so eas­i­ly out­raged, con­temp­tu­ous and seem­ing­ly des­per­ate for rad­i­cal change that means our side is vin­di­cat­ed, our side wins.

Under­neath so much of this, it seems to me, is the sense that we — who­ev­er we are — have been treat­ed unfair­ly and that the oth­ers — who­ev­er they are — start­ed it. The oth­ers are the cause of all this pan­ic and pain, whether they are the rich, the poor, peo­ple of dif­fer­ent her­itage or reli­gion or skin col­or, the racists, the con­ser­v­a­tives, the lib­er­als, the politi­cians in Wash­ing­ton, the gov­ern­ment, the media, the greedy cor­po­ra­tions, whomev­er, what­ev­er — those oth­er peo­ple, the ones who pose the threat — the ones get­ting away with mur­der, the ones vic­tim­iz­ing us, treat­ing us unfair­ly, the ones who must be stopped. Those peo­ple, the ones who must be to blame.

The Range

Who has the dis­cern­ment to know what to do under such cir­cum­stances? To even explain what is hap­pen­ing, and why? With­out sim­ple answers, all we seem to be able to do is rage and con­demn. We divide things, peo­ple, up into a world of clear goods and clear­er evils. We become like aban­doned infants, cry­ing in the crib of our absolute enti­tle­ments and unmet needs.

Dis­cern­ment in this con­text is such an impor­tant word. It means to see into events and to begin to dis­tin­guish things in that dark­ness. It means step­ping back to view and rec­og­nize what is real from a larg­er stand­point. None of us, obvi­ous­ly, are per­fect in our dis­cern­ment. Nev­er­the­less to dis­cern is an incred­i­bly valu­able skill when the emo­tion­al field of soci­ety seems to be, as it is today, crazy and crazy-mak­ing. Dis­cern­ment is all about notic­ing the pea soup envelop­ing us all. It’s about notic­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, that peo­ple have now divid­ed them­selves into camps at war with oth­er camps, that dog­ma is run­ning the show, that we are deeply dis­ap­point­ed because no par­ent­ing voice of lead­er­ship seems near­by to com­fort us or save us.

It appears we’ll have to get out of the crib on our own. Nobody, no leader, is going to res­cue us.

This, it seems to me is an awk­ward first step, a first truth. We have to be our own best lead­ers and self-par­ents. We have to grow up, now rather than lat­er, even if we are not sure how.

Per­haps this whole thing is about a start­ing point. If we are feel­ing that we are being treat­ed unfair­ly — or see that so many peo­ple are, in fact, being treat­ed unfair­ly — per­haps yelling into the void about that isn’t going to do any par­tic­u­lar good. Maybe we have to look at what is. Maybe we can’t just go around shoot­ing inno­cent peo­ple out of frus­tra­tion, out of not being rec­og­nized for who we are. Killing inno­cent peo­ple, would­n’t you say, is the ulti­mate unfairness?

We are not going to go back­wards. Prin­ci­ples, per se, if they are only part of our home group’s dog­ma aren’t going to save us. His­to­ry, as much as we might need to under­stand it, isn’t going to give us a com­mon answer for cur­rent dilem­mas. We have rather to unlearn and relearn and maybe invent an entire­ly new learn­ing. Such is the nature of crisis.

Real­ly, it seems to me the only thing we’ve got is dis­cern­ment, and that to my mind is made up of these three parts: love, truth, and our abil­i­ty to think for our­selves. Love and truth com­bined are the only way we can see and hear things dif­fer­ent from what we want to see and hear, the only way we can share in a dif­fi­cult dia­logue, the only means at our dis­pos­al to gen­uine­ly under­stand or influ­ence any­one else. And the abil­i­ty to think for our­selves, rather than let­ting some group iden­ti­ty or affil­i­a­tion or label think for us, is the only way we can bal­ance what oth­ers say with what our own hon­esty and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty tell us is so. 

It would be so easy to weep — to say that our lead­ers have betrayed us, that soci­ety has betrayed us, that life in the form of “those oth­ers” has cre­at­ed this unfair­ness that is our hurt and deep­est pain. I encour­age you to feel free to acknowl­edge the pain and every bit of the unfair­ness you have expe­ri­enced. I encour­age you to express all of how unfair­ness is in con­trol of this soci­ety and what that means. And then, please, come think with me, under­stand­ing that we’ll nev­er get rid of it all, how we go about chang­ing the game — with­out pre­tend­ing, with­out walls between us, with­out cre­at­ing more and more of the very unfair­ness for oth­ers we say we hate so much. Come think with me about the cre­ation of this risky thing called, “a good country.”

Mt. Baker

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3 Comments

  • I’m rather tempt­ed to tweet this to a list of those who shun any­thing or any­one that does not fol­low their play­book ~ plen­ty of those in yclept pro­gres­sive and social justice. 

    But I’m not that tempt­ed — very like­ly a waste of time, coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Bet­ter to say thank you for writ­ing it and then share

  • Thanks, Vanes­sa — I know how you feel — and indeed the play­book seems very lim­it­ed for some. And yet there are also those with a thirst for what’s bet­ter than an end­less con­flict of ide­olo­gies, and gen­uine­ly want to attempt a bet­ter world. It’s to them and for them, I wrote this post.

    All the best
    ~Dan

  • I agree with you on indi­vid­u­al’s respon­si­bil­i­ties. As we grow with aging and inner matur­ing we may come clos­er to under­stand that ‘Every man dies alone’. Every indi­vid­ual need to pick the bat­tle and fight it. Look­ing for­ward to more communication

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