Make a Bigger Pie

Pie Making Party, Community Change, Make a Bigger Pie

We’ve changed the way we think of ourselves as citizens. We don’t think of ourselves as citizens in the old sense of being small parts of something larger and infinitely more important to which we have serious responsibilities. We do still think of ourselves as citizens in the sense of being beneficiaries – we’re actually conscious of our rights as American citizens and the nation’s responsibilities to us and ensuring we get our share of the American pie. We think of ourselves now as eaters of the pie instead of makers of the pie. So who makes the pie?…Something has happened where we’ve decided on a personal level that it’s all right to abdicate our individual responsibility to the common good and let government worry about the common good while we all go about our individual self-interested business and struggle to gratify our various appetites.

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

The more individuals behave like businesses, focusing on the needs and wants of the bottom line, the more competitive and consumerist we become. Citizens get lazy and feel entitled to governance but no longer choose to be responsible for it’s daily actions. No one is willing to make the pie (let alone share it) but everyone wants to assert their claim on a bigger, and bigger slice. 

What happens when we want the benefits of democracy without the risks of citizenship? Citizens stop helping out and start complaining, focusing on problems instead of solutions while becoming ever more disenchanted, waiting for ‘someone to DO something’ already. We start seeking a target to blame for the way things are without wanting to look in the mirror and face the truth: that someone is us. 

How can we save ourselves, our governments, and systems from narcissism and self-indulgence? We could start making the pie. Let’s turn the leftovers of our lives and the messes we’ve inherited in stone soup and jumbleberry pies. Civic engagement is served as well (or better!) by a community pie party as anything else. Maybe it is a silly oversimplification to think that we would all be bettered for gathering up after a day of braving thorns and harvesting berries so we can offer up a slice of goodness to each other with work stained hands – but this small sweet token of home and comfort could be the thing we’ve been truly hungry for all along. 

Why beg for crumbs when we can make a bigger pie?  

Kindness, Rightness & the art of being equally wrong

KindnessRightness

I do not mean to encourage the guilt-ridden thinking that is always too glad to be “wrong” in everything. This too is an evasion of responsibility, because every form of oversimplification tends to make decisions ultimately meaningless. We must try to accept ourselves, whether individually or collectively, not only as perfectly good or perfectly bad, but in our mysterious, unaccountable mixture of good and evil. We have to stand by the modicum of good that is in us without exaggerating it.

We have to defend our real rights, because unless we respect our own rights we will certainly not respect the rights of others. We must be able to admit this not only as the result of self-examination, but when it is pointed out unexpectedly, and perhaps not too gently, by somebody else.

Thomas Merton

Agreeing that there is no “right way” is a good start towards respect for the universally equal right to be wrong. Recognizing that we are all equally wrong protects us from living in fear of failure and never learning from the consequences of choice or become fundamentalist in our beliefs. How many problems from the political to personal can be traced, in part, to an inability to accept responsibility for being wrong? Racism or the treatment of Indigenous people are big examples of wrongs that continue to cause harm, largely because of many who want to be right about the world without listening to the complex reality of those sharing that world with them. Zoom in to find hundreds of smaller examples – from the neighbours who no longer talk because of a disagreement, to the family living in a silent Cold War because no one wants to be the first to change.

Since trying to be right hasn’t gotten most of us anywhere what if, at least for now, we just agreed to be okay with being equally wrong? Maybe then we could start to see each other (and ourselves) as real people.  In his essay on non-violence, The Root of War is Fear from New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton writes:

But someone will say: “If we once recognize that we are all equally wrong, all political action will instantly be paralyzed. We can only act when we assume that we are in the right.” On the contrary, I believe the basis for valid political action can only be the recognition that the true solution to our problems is not accessible to any one isolated party or nation but that all must arrive at it by working together.”

It is tough to accept that we might be wrong or can’t solve everything alone with our perfect plans, this is even harder when someone else is pointing it out critically! Working to let go of our attachment to rightness helps us find the security to not react defensively and readily accept that even our purest hearted intentions might cause harm. Being wrong does not make us bad people, just people – we can all find some comfort in that.

I think that we have forgotten the option of restraint and that it is no longer the survival of the fittest that is called for, but the survival of compassion…for me it’s a time of listening, a time to go underground, and I don’t know what it will yield, but I trust it. I think that anytime you go into a landscape of story or art, hopefully, the outcome will be a literature of compassion, something that causes us to pause and think about something in a different, fresh way. The power of story is that it bypasses rhetoric and pierces the heart. It goes into the cells.

Terry Tempest Williams

As our world becomes more complex and species, including humans, struggle to adapt the survival of compassion becomes a study that may help us find answers about how to live well together.  By questioning common definitions of strength and looking to the world for examples of species survival we can see that cooperation and compassion also lead to evolution. We can’t rewrite history and change how some of our ancestors treated this world, or took survival of the fittest to mean survival of the most vicious and exploitative. We can choose to evaluate and reflect on our actions right now and how what we do, value, or support, can cause harm or support healing. Could it be that we’ve misunderstood Darwin all along and neuroscientist Emiliana Simon-Thomas is right:

“We’ve come up with the idea that ‘survival of the fittest’ means that the strongest man wins, when what actually wins is highly collective, communal behavior.”

Resources:

Sign up to play Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest next coopetition starts April 11

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation 

Terry Tempest Williams and Ona Siporin: A Conversation 

James Doty’s Helper’s High, Nautilus Magazine 

#365DaysofPresence Compassion Archive:

You do, therefore you are.

You do, therefore you are. Shel Silverstein, 1973

I’ve known people with tremendous technical ability that haven’t gone very far. I’ve also known people with tremendous insight that never bothered to learn their craft. Craftsmanship is something that’s really going out now. The young people have no patience with craftsmanship any more. They think, therefore they am. It’s not enough. You don’t think, therefore you are. You do, therefore you are, or else you aren’t. Thinking is not enough. Sensitivity is not enough. People want to be accepted for sensitivity, for tender thoughts, for high ideals. That’s not enough. What can you do with it besides just feel it? You’ve got to do something with it or you’ll have the greatest unpublished novel ever, and the greatest unpainted canvas. What good is that? It’s no damn good…You do, therefore you are.

Shel Silverstein, 1963

“I think, therefore I am” is a lovely sentiment but all the sentiment in the world won’t take us very far if there is no action or craft to go along with it. We are what we do, not what we think about doing, or wish we had done.

What use are brilliant ideals, talents, and thoughts if we don’t act on them? The only way to learn a craft is to do it. Put paint on a canvas, write a silly limerick, tend your favourite tree, live your life. Dedicate yourself to doing anything often enough and you can become a master. To work steadily, learn constantly, craft our days patiently with the resources we have – this is craftsmanship of the highest degree, the making of a meaningful life.

Thinking and feeling alone are no good for anyone.  We have to combine thinking, feeling, and doing – not only in our work, but in every aspect of who we are. Imagine what could be possible if we master our talent and time enough to let us go about turning our lives into art.

What will you do with your talent and time this week?

Resources: 

Shel Silverstein, 1963 Aardvark Interview

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein 

[VIDEO] 1973 animation and poem spoken by Shel Silverstein 

#365DaysofPresence 3/22/15