I watch and observe what’s playing out these days in governments, politics and the media and I ask myself, “Isn’t there a better way?” Whether we’re in the era of gladiators, Civil War or pandemic, the scenarios are different but the human dilemma is the same. It’s the powerful versus the powerless. Each side digs in until they get enough support to overcome the other side and then, when they succeed, they proceed to reign over the rest but in a different way. It’s a never ending cycle.
Oh, we’ve evolved and improved life, as we know it, but we just can’t seem to get passed this power play. I wonder what it will take . . . are we experiencing that right now, the birth of a better way, in this pandemic where it doesn’t have a preference nor takes sides?
“The Real You” by Alan Watts
There were many power plays I observed growing up and noted briefly in my last post, “Imperfection”, when I said my parents were from the North and South. That’s a reference to the Civil War era where places in the U.S. will always hold onto their ancestors’ deference of pride and belief.
In the South, on summer vacations as a young child, I witnessed anger and hate between my grandfather and his black neighbor and the heated exchanges they had with each other. The police came to cool things down but the anger remained and I wondered how it began. It’s been more than a century since we had slavery in this country, that resulted in a Civil War, and the lack of understanding and respect on both sides still causes conflicts.
The human dilemma . . . and how far back does it go? I suppose it’s been there since the beginning of time and we’ve all taken turns on one side or the other, either being the one to hurt and apply force or the other who is beaten down and wounded.
My grandmother, as years passed, grew weary of the feud and cut down the story-tall hedge along the driveway that separated their homes. I don’t know if that was the beginning of change or not – time has a way of revealing truth and the handling of past events. On the day of my grandmother’s funeral, my sister and I were walking up to the funeral home when we saw an elderly black man with a straw hat coming out. We recognized him as their neighbor long ago. He gestured as he paused to acknowledge his condolences and we noticed a tear on his cheek.
Growing up in the North, south of Philly in blue-collar family suburbs, the culture was different than the South. Struggles were not as much focused between colors of skin as it was with money and power between the “haves” and “have-nots”. My family was no different in that I observed those struggles with my parents in their community and their neighbors. In what I can remember, gathered from stories I’ve heard, our little community was built by a somewhat rich developer. Even the name of our street we lived on was named after him, “Love”. He had influence in the community and politics where even some regulations became law from his recommendations.
They didn’t have property management companies in those days but fines were enforced if certain laws were not abided by. My dad grumbled at having to cut his grass, as his pie-shaped lot was larger than most because it was on a curve. Likewise, he grumbled at having to shovel the sidewalk, again twice as long as others. And, if he didn’t comply in a set amount of time he was threatened with a fine.
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to keep his home kept up and safe for the neighborhood. It was how those in power flexed their muscles and enjoyed it. Many of times I heard him complain . . . “old man Love is at it again” . . . or “old man Love is making us do this now.” I don’t know whether any of that is true or not. I just remember the mutters every time we passed his big house on the hill when coming up out of our complex.
This is mild compared to the many union battles and displays of anger and hate between workers and owners. My father was a welder in the shipyards and spoke of the many disputes disgruntled workers were having with their employers either over wages or working conditions. In some places, it even came to violence. The scenarios are different now but the battles still linger on.
Is there a better way? Is it possible we could make a shift, while in the midst of a pandemic that doesn’t play favorites and economic losses that, if not already touched by it, seep out and eventually affect everyone? I’m hopeful we can draw on a source deep within us and learn a different way than how it’s been done . . . forever. Perhaps, it would look something like this.
Years ago, I came across this passage by Ram Dass in his book, “Still Here”:
“…when there is true surrender and service between people, the roles of helper and helped, and the boundaries between those in power and those who are powerless, begin to dissolve.”
These words have always stuck with me and I’ve wondered what true surrender and service would look like in my own heart. How do I truly surrender when I look to be validated and want my voice heard? And, what is true service look like aside from volunteering and giving of my time when it fits in my life.
I think Mother Teresa was the pure example of what true surrender and service looked like. She had a poem above her bed in her little ashram in Calcutta, India where she must have looked every day before stepping out on the street (similar to the 1968 publication by Dr. Kent M. Keith called the Paradoxical Commandments). It goes like this:
The Final Analysis
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone may destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is all between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
“The Final Analysis” — Dr. Wayne Dyer
We’re living in unusual times. In my 70+ years, I don’t remember when we’ve had a disease spread across our country and the whole world not only taking lives but causing economic hardships for many. It’s something calling our attention, where we no longer have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines watching others go through it, but where it can potentially touch each one of us in some way or another. It gives me pause to look deeper within myself and seek direction on what part I have to play.
As I do, I can’t help but reflect on those great teachers that have left behind for us their nuggets of truth. At this time and space, there is opportunity to find a better way. Where we’re poised at a crossroads we’ve never seen before, I believe it’s possible. Do we listen and understand?
“It may be when we no longer know what we have to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey” ~~ Wendell Berry
Pat from the ‘ol kitchen table