What now? A Way Forward in an Time of Crisis

by jimowensjr

If you haven’t thought about that, when we’ve been forced to push a planetary pause button, perhaps it’s time to reflect upon how reliant upon one another we are.

Our western notion of rugged individualism, much of which has merit, must now, more than ever, be tempered by the the common wisdom of such diverse teachers as Marcus Aurelius, Thich Naht Hanh, Jesus, Gandhi and others.

Aurelius wrote, “what is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee.” In the New Testament, Jesus is quoted “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Gandhi said, “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” I could continue but I will not belabor the point.

Clearly, our beliefs, both spiritual and political, the source of all our words and conduct, are the harbors into which we flee during the tempest. But in retreating to our own safe places no longer can we afford to turn deaf ears of bitterness and disrespect toward those who do not scribe to our opinions. For in this time of crisis, there is a danger lurking: the intractable belief that our tribe alone holds a monopoly on all that is right, good, and true.

While we, as an electorate, bemoan the conduct of our elected officials in Washington, we must remember we are the ones who elected them. As the great prophet-philosopher Pogo said, “we have met the enemy and he is us,” so to speak. Whatever our particular spiritual traditions, during worship we divide ourselves into competing spiritual camps.

Our social media feeds are largely filled with posts and photos from those who believe and live as we do, rather than a more diverse community. While bringing us closer to our friends in many ways, this also insulates us from those with different beliefs, experiences, and material belongings. In so doing, at best, we mindlessly inhabit bubbles of reaffirmation. At worst, we spew bile at one another over our political and religious differences.

At home or driving in our cars, we indulge our outrage by living in the echo chambers of our own brand of “the news.” We shake our heads judging people we do not know, questioning their motives, and calling them names we would not permit our children to use. We can no longer afford such self-indulgence.

 So what now?

As Thomas Friedman acknowledged, “the world is flat.” Now, because of a microscopic virus we have the chance to realize this world is forever connected through our interdependent economies. We occupy a tiny, resilient, yet fragile planet. And we must somehow, to borrow a phrase from Ben Franklin, learn that “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Rather than indulge ourselves in the fantasy that we might somehow be able to “win” the cultural, spiritual, and philosophical wars we wage, perhaps we could adopt a different posture.

What if our dialogues began with “help me understand,” “tell me more,” or “I don’t know?” How quickly might the world change? It is possible to remain true to our convictions and still acknowledge the pragmatic value finding some shared middle-ground—just as it is possible for me silly at times as well as it is to be thoughtful. It is possible to protect our nation, educate our children, provide for a safety net those in need, and provide for public health. Yet we must not bankrupt our country in the process. We need not divide ourselves into ourselves into the virtuous “us” and and evil “them.”

To be sure, there are bad ideas in the world, just as there are bad people. And as Edmund Burke wrote, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” Thus, we must find a way to allow liberty and responsibility to thrive in our nation, even as we provide for those who reside in poverty and crime-ridden communities whose misfortune is little more than the bad luck of birth.

Conversely, we who have been fortunate enough to be born or found our way into the middle and upper class, or even into great wealth, must acknowledge there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman.

Even those who rise from the deepest disadvantages of birth have learned from their teachers, driven on streets paved by others, or been fed by the efforts of those when they could do nothing for themselves. They, too, just as all of us must, realize we eat food grown, packaged, shipped and prepared by others. As has been said, we all walk in the shade of trees planted by others.

We must recognize there will be those who, as merchants of fear, clinging to their tribal mythology, who will attempt to capitalize on this pandemic. Religious zealots may claim their gods are angry and this modern day plague has been visited upon us in their wrath. Politicians will, in the efforts to gain or keep hold of their offices, suggest they alone can lead us from the precipice of disaster. Extremists will lay blame at the feet of those of different colors, faiths, genders, and sexual identities. We must not fall prey to such absurdity.

It is not lost on me that what I have proposed here is simply one more opinion amongst a cacophony of fools. There will be those who might read this tome and suggest I am part of the problem—that I am not liberal enough, conservative enough, that I am not amongst the faithful, that I am somehow unrighteous. Let them so think. They may well be correct. I cannot know if I am right, for, as has been said, opinions are like assholes…everyone has one. On this they would be correct. And in so doing, I think, they make the make my argument for me.

So, tell me more. Help me understand.