Untouchables among us

Racism and classism are huge, deep, ancient and complex issues.

The Palestine struggle has often been characterized as the key indicator of global progress toward the resolution of religious and ethnic conflict. I do believe that this internal conflict within humanity has evolved beyond the “flags and banners at the gates” (a phrase that James O’Dea uses in one of his talks) to a more subtle working within the systems of oppression that avoids the polarization, anger and blame of dialectical conflict, the stuff of politics, and seeks to dismantle the root cause. MLK and Gandhi recognized that nonviolent resistance would not work unless it was accompanied by a parallel program of constructive action, building attractive and benevolent social structures, a concept that has escaped many social change movements. I promote community conversations because I don’t think of dialogue as moderate, submissive avoidance, but rather a more difficult struggle with the juicy stuff of the human spirit.

I read an article by Joseph Phelps, “When Dialogue is NOT our Hope,” which seems mis-titled, because in that article Phelps points out that dialogue still continues even in the midst of the most bitter conflict, simply in different forms. It ends with the comment that Jesus never gave up on dialogue, but continued to talk with his adversaries while he walked his walk. I would agree that we should never place our hope on dialogue which is intended to manipulate a certain outcome.

For me, and perhaps for you, impatience is one of the greatest stumbling blocks when the passion for justice, equality, and freedom is strong. There never seems to be enough time or resources to move things forward. We become exhausted. Yet there is an infinite spiritual strength that supported MLK and Gandhi and is available to us if we would draw upon it  so that we do not reach the point where we want to say “I can’t talk to you, I can’t listen any longer to your offensive words, I can’t imagine that you and I can trust each other.”

I have learned the hard way that my personal peace must never depend on external actions or results from those actions. I routinely forget that because I was born and raised in a pervasive culture of violence that says I must have power over others.

For me, the primary issue is the culture of violence which has risen to its greatest expression in the United States. Political criminals are not born, they are made, they learn their survival strategies from a culture of violence: our culture, we made it, we support it, and it is time to undo what we have done. Violence can be unlearned. Violence comes essentially from an inner panic of feeling abandoned, alone, and unsupported in a situation that appears to be out of control.

I think of the homeless in our own community who have been abandoned, irrationally regarded as untouchables, and the Opportunity Village proposal which has sharpened the focus of attention onto the barriers separating “us” from “them.” As Gandhi said, poverty is the worst form of violence, and as Mother Teresa said, there is an even greater poverty in the West, a spiritual poverty. Wow. How can we overcome that?

Nonviolence has a very, very long way to go. And we can see progress. Communication skill-building has expanded exponentially in the last 40 years. How one communicates has become much more important than the content. Listening has become more important than speaking. Empowering those who feel they have no voice to speak for themselves has become more important than speaking for them. Having an unshakable personal peace from the knowledge that we are not alone, we are not separate, is more important than any success or progress in the world. This means we are moving from small victories over specific injustices to a radical, systematic shift of the entire paradigm of human perception, information processing, and deep collaboration.

As someone on Facebook recently satirized this shift, by repeating over and over in different voices, “It’s happening!” which is not only true, it is simultaneously unbelievable and therefore humorous to those of us deeply engaged in the struggle to make it happen. Embracing the paradox of knowing and not-knowing how, when, why, and what to do next is part of the delicious excitement of being alive in these times.

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