Hyper-Individualism, the Dismissal of Civil Society and the Pending End of Society

Please excuse the following political rant…I can’t help myself. Read it or don’t. There will be more horticulture and science to come. Again, my sociology side spilth over!

We Americans, well, we white dudes, like to picture ourselves as rugged individuals, self-made made men, brave and lonely cowboys, rebels standing up against tyranny….Our fortunes rise and fall due to our own efforts, efforts that others work to thwart. We pride ourselves in our ability to work our own ‘bootstraps’. We are above all else individuals standing against a rising tide, of mediocrity, of those who stand against us. Our success is attributable to our own strength, genius and persistence. We are ‘heroes’ in search of a cause who succeed in spite of others. This is deeply ingrained in many of us. We are products of our culture and as Americans it is part of our identity. For many of us it is a totally foreign concept to credit anyone else with our success, though we readily blame any and all others for our failures. This makes it all the more remarkable that while we live in a complex society, enjoying all of its benefits, supports and technologies, that we can so readily deny the assistance that each and everyone of us receives, though society’s ‘largesse’ is distributed far from evenly or even ‘fairly’. The poor get less. The rich get more. It is written into our laws. It is evident in our interactions and the trajectory of each of our lives. While this characteristic of our culture and ourselves may have served many over the formation and growth of America across a ‘new’ land, over time its ‘faults’ became more obvious and the costs it has exacted less and less excusable.

In horticulture and gardening our cultural practices, what we do, how we do it and when, shapes the landscape and it does so in a way well matched with our practices. Our errors and oversights, our ignorance and assumptions, our shortcuts taken, manifest more deeply over time with their repeated practice. It creates a positive feedback loop, the more and the longer we do something the greater its influence and the further out of balance a landscape becomes, depending on how far out of balance our practices are. Our ‘choices’ thus practiced and applied to the landscape ‘favor’ certain outcomes and this in turn creates problems that a different practice would not have. By continuing the same practice the problems grow and if we do not understand our role in creating them, the health of the landscape, all ready out of balance and in need of our regular intervention, becomes far more volatile and the ‘problem’ more dominant.

Human societies and culture are no different. Both are complex, dynamic, even ‘organic’, systems and by putting our focus on a particular outcome or result while ignoring the system’s overall health we are bound to create ever larger problems while the overall health and qualities of the landscape/society, decline. It is essential that a gardener, or a society, be able to stop periodically, step back and re-evaluate both its practices and what its desired outcome is. A rigid ideology, or practice, assures a negative and unsustainable outcome. It is a rejection of one’s responsibility to the health of the whole while hastening the moment of system wide, or society wide, collapse.

Any society is a product of all of its members. As members we agree to accept or reject its terms and conditions. In so doing we accept our duties and responsibilities in return for its supports and benefits. Through this pact, this agreement, a social ‘contract’ is made and members ‘accept’ their given rights and responsibilities, their liberties, privileges and whatever supports and guarantees of security, if any, their positions bring with them. As members of a society, whether we recognize it or not, what we are flows directly from that society, our relationship with it and the ‘gifts’ it either bestows, or denies, its members. Whether spoken or not, written or not, we each have our place in it and it is central to what we might attain over the course of our lives. This is not to say that we don’t work for it, most of us do! We take advantage of our opportunities and the status we are born into by virtue of our family’s position, our race, our sex and our willingness to go and take it. Or we struggle…our positions offering little opportunity from that beyond our immediate family’s and close neighbors, if they have anything to offer. So the poor are stuck. The gifts we do receive are a benefit of the society we live in. Were we and our family lines magically transported to The Philippines, Haiti, the Sudan or Turkey, our American ties broken, our lives would be very different. The members of a society share a social contract that varies wildly from one to another, depending on their own governments, their local social institutions and the wealth and resources of their country. These go to defining the relationships between us, our social and class positions and through them, our social networks, opportunities and, most importantly, our responsibilities and obligations to one another. Yes, we each have our roles and responsibilities to fulfill and they are different depending upon where we fit in the social hierarchy. Our position largely determines our rights and responsibilities, our ‘duties’ to others. When this breaks down, social chaos ensues. These ‘shared agreements’ are not necessarily just…for the most part, they simply are.
New societies are generally born out of massive social change, often of upheaval, even rebellion. When these are the result of popular social pressures, as ours was, members more readily adopt their new positions and may settle for something slightly less with the promise of better things to come. All societies distribute power amongst their members, and, that distribution, historically, has been hierarchical, with the powerful on top.

America was born out of the rejection to the English monarchy, a society lead by an all powerful king who distributed that power most carefully to those who would assure his own longevity. Agreements were calculated and strategic, limited and specific. Most people were outside of a country’s aristocracy with no chance for improvement. Choosing badly could quickly bring the monarch down. The American colonists rejected this arrangement, and their inferior, unrepresented and relatively powerless position, its inherent unfairness and so built a new country, which created a new social contract between its peoples, one that ‘shared’ more of this power with its other classes. Through the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, the idea of a democratic, representative government, in which citizens had a voice through representatives they themselves elect, combined with the idea that citizens were equal under law and that governance and society should be defined by egalitarianism, became bedrock ideals of this new America. Unfortunately, not all people were recognized as full members. Women and those identifiable as members of other ‘races’, were excluded. Various ethnic groups, immigrating to this country were often without legal rights as well until those were fought for and granted.

Many of our original ‘members’ were ‘refugees’ of one sort or another, who because of their class positions, their particular religious beliefs that differed from those accepted in their countries of origin, those many who for political reasons were persona non grata and those who ran afoul of the law. Many were denied their freedoms and in being ‘offered’ this new opportunity, were placed into indentured servitude, for years, to the wealthy few among the colonists, as laborers, with few rights, until having worked off their ‘debt’, a debt assigned to them by powerful others. Others still fled their homelands to escape the crushing effects of poverty and famine. We were born of a population of those rejected, castoff and abused by their governments, those eager and ready to make the most of this possibility in the colonies and a new America. This helped set the concerns and priorities of a new nation and, perhaps, indicated a willingness of Americans, at that time, to believe that this is simply the way of all societies, that there will always be a bottom, and they will fight to not be in it.

This proffered American ‘equality’, had limits that were codified by law into our society…their ‘fine print’ and details of its execution carried in the ‘hearts’ of each man. Such laws of society have always been enforced, at the first level, by its members. The ‘arrangement’ served those who held power. The fact that this arrangement was profoundly unfair, mattered little to white, male, property holders…from their positions of superiority. Their positions here offered them more power and security than did those societies in Europe which they had left. For them this new America represented a tremendous gain in stature and security. No matter where they ranked in this limited democracy, they had an obvious advantage over those who were excluded. That fact alone served them. That was the reality in America. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution were there to benefit recognized full citizens. It also served as a kind of ‘window dressing’ the elite of the recognized classes could display like a flag, ‘benchmark’ documents, defining our ‘better’ nation…and it was ‘better’ in many ways for this newly expanded and recognized class. But we were still locked into a classist society. And, the exceptions made possible the exclusion of entire classes from the beginning, giving a firm legal grounding for the introduction and spread of slavery, the ultimate indignity of the outright ownership of another person..

This allowance nearly resulted in the destruction of this country. We fought a war between ourselves, one side to defeat it, the other to establish it as a bedrock of America…and almost immediately after having having won and ‘decided’ the question over whether issues of equality and justice cannot be decided by individual states, contrary to the position of the federal government, we began to backpedal, failing blacks by giving them flimsy legal recognition while allowing states to make their own rules, legalizing discrimination and permitting the encoding of racist laws, thus normalizing them. The grandiose language of those earlier federal documents were, unrealized, its language of ‘all men are created equal’ defined in an exclusionary manner to allow for differences in legal position and protection, based on conditions of birth. The laws of the land fell far short of the ideal expressed in the founding documents. For those unrecognized, excluded, these documents were set aside, reduced in effect to being aspirational, a tease. America’s excluded people’s realities demonstrated the hard truths of their exclusion. Meanwhile leaders could quote the positive passages of these historical documents as ‘evidence’ of America’s moral superiority. A superiority undercut by a well oiled legal system which relied on its exclusionary power. The laws of our land apply to particular identified ‘classes’, those specifically included in the law. For those not so included, it simply does not apply and they have no legal rights or even the standing to contest their exclusion. This legal fundamental of our system of law now extends to much broader and diverse questions. This exclusionary power has become commonly used to define legal standing, to decide who and what can bring a case to court. Without standing an individual and entire ‘class’ essentially fails to legally exist and our courts and government, can legally ignore their ‘claim’ and in so doing, deny them the rights and supports they would otherwise deserve without this exclusionary power.

Excluded Americans view these same documents as evidence of promises withheld and individuals and movements have repeatedly risen up to claim them…and have been just as regularly denied, their protestations actively ‘reined’ in by those with recognized power. Many in middle America still aspire to be among the elite and so back repressive actions, others simply recognize the ‘reality’ of hierarchical society and demand a place somewhere above the bottom. Some are passive in their acceptance, quietly going along. While others seek the moral and ethical ‘cover’ of these founding documents, while actively accepting the fiction that these other Americans are in no need of more or ‘special’ rights above and beyond what ‘they’ themselves have, they view these excluded classes as wanting, as possessing less of those traits required by citizenship…they accept the charge often made of those excluded, that if the ‘excluded’ only increased their efforts, worked harder and give up those cultural and ethnic practices and habits that set them apart from the dominant white culture of America, their would be no problem. And there are those who see the exclusion as justified because those people are ‘inferior’ and can, as a result of their race or other ‘weakness’, never rise to the level needed for citizenship. All of these are convenient and self-serving positions for the white, male majority, secure in their place in the hierarchy. Some may offer the skinny carrot that some day the excluded could find some degree of ‘success’, like those of included did. But this is disingenuous and a denial of history.

There has been some 250 years of rhetoric claiming America’s superiority, our pact with all of our people, built of language and promises of equality and democracy, of a social contract extended, however, these efforts have been disingenuous, never serious. Promises unfulfilled. Never intended to disrupt the status quo, the hierarchy and the distribution of power. Today, for far too many, it is still a dream and promise deferred. This is the ‘contract’ I’m referring to. The promise implicitly made to all Americans, regardless of social class, race, sex, ethnicity…that all Americans should enjoy equal rights and share in the benefits and protections of a society, has instead rewarded an elite differentially, simply because of their position, denying so many others because of theirs.

Today we have a group of supreme court justices who choose to interpret our constitution conservatively, and narrowly, limiting government and its laws to those created by our founders. They have successfully frozen political economic and social progress, and would, if followed to the extreme, take us back to the 1770s and 80s. Such an interpretation is a denial of equality and would forever trap those excluded from membership, opportunity and full rights. The social contract inherent in those foundational documents is thus violated.

When this contract is broken, the laws which layout the rights and benefits of a citizen of a free and open society, are effectively abrogated and chaos likely ensues. Social order is, at such times, seized upon by the ‘state’ and enforced by its police. Those excluded and denied are still expected to carryout their responsibilities to the larger society. Let me restate this in more market based terms, those excluded are still obligated to pay whether they receive the supports and services they ‘pay’ for or not. In this case those supports and services are the basic rights and protections of citizenship, those reserved by society for recognized classes. We should not be surprised when the excluded refuse to ‘play’. Society in such cases has failed to honor its role to them.

When society’s members fail to fulfill their duties to the larger community there is little other than force that can hold it together. In these cases ‘society’s rules’ have become a ‘tool’, a ‘weapon’, used by the powerful included elite members to enforce their exclusionary vision of America. This ‘failure’ is not because of any inherent fault of those excluded, it is instead a direct result of society’s failure and its refusal to admit and rectify the wrongs it has committed and continues today. If a white man refuses to concede when faced with a case of injustice and stands up to those responsible, he is admired for his manliness and maybe a bit of foolishness. When an unrecognized and excluded individual from another class does this, he is at best a whiner, but more likely labelled a threat and danger to the same society who refuses to grant him his/her do…and as a threat, real or manufactured, it doesn’t matter, the police will be charged with removing the threat, often in which ever manner they choose….And, historically white America has excused this form of violence…some sectors have, in fact, demanded it.
There is a companion group to these excluded Americans, its ‘mirror’ partner, those ‘included’ recognized citizens, whom have come to expect to receive a larger, disproportionate, portion of society’s supports and services and in fact, may even assume a sense of entitlement, in which they work to reduce their contribution while expecting an ever larger share of society’s capacity. This of course can only lead to further injustice and unfairness as it becomes the norm and more widespread. Search crash accumulation of wealth is Causally weight to the poverty afflicting society. It is not just the excluded’s refusal to fulfill its social and legal obligations that threaten a society’s stability, though this is the problem often pointed to by the privileged and powerful, it is the included’s like efforts to get more for less while denying those of lower ‘rank’. There is a righteousness that goes along with this, an insistence on the idea that life is unfair, so better that it is done to them than me. It is a mindset of scarcity and a belief that the strong do survive and so to the ‘victor’, deservedly, go the spoils, ‘deserved’ by virtue of its recipients having successfully wielded the power and strength to take for one’s self. This can manifest as a willingness to do ‘violence’ to gain and keep one’s share, while at the same time completely ignoring the simple fact that a society succeeds and produces only as long as the vast majority are committed to the core principles of that society, with members committed to the rights of others and their own obligations, a recognition of our shared mutual path. In other words, societies rise and fall, based on the degree to which all of its members commit to its social contract. ‘Blame’ today is cast on the other and the social contract, is crumbling, unsupported by so many. Blame is most powerfully declared by the elite and privileged and it is publicly assigned to the excluded and the powerless.

It is simple really. When too many fail to meet their obligations to the whole, when society begins to abandon its commitment to community, the ideas of mutual support, and instead place too much focus on their own ‘rights’ and privileges as individuals, our social institutions begin to break down. This can include the economy, a social institution itself which is dependent upon our mutual commitment and belief in its rules and workings. When our faith in one another begins to fail, our institutions do as well and the only way to sustain them is through threat and the use of violence…the force and the power of one class against another…and the police, but that cannot work for long. When those excluded suffer too much or for too long, retaliation becomes the rule and society falls even more into a downward spiral as ever more of its misappropriated wealth goes into the ‘controlling’ of its excluded peoples, leaving less for all and contributing to our declining sense of safety and security. Despite what many of our elites seem to believe, a great many of our excluded Americans still look to our founders and their documents in aspirational terms, as promises of what could and should be. So unless the far right is able to disabuse the millions of Americans who are today living as secondary citizens of this ‘belief’, without the security and supports ‘promised’ them, pressure will continue to rise and the injustices built into present day America will become even more of a flash point. Once ‘woke’ you can never return to being ‘unwoke’.

In today’s world in which society continues to fracture and divide along ever deeper lines, our society threatens to collapse. If you find that too alarmist you likely haven’t looked too closely at your own life, your position or the system that provides you with a degree of security, a level of security that can disappear in a moment as it has for far too many.
The petty and small minded selfish seek to drive wedges between us to gain their own short sighted and selfish purposes.

The ‘good old days’, which the reactionary right is clamoring for, never were ‘good’ for many millions of Americans, but they are definitely ‘old’ days and as such must be left behind if America is going to retain any shred of its international position as an example of democracy worth striving for and as a beacon of hope for the rejected and forgotten.

American leaders bridle at the accusation that ours is a classist society. They trot out ‘rags to riches’ stories, make a big deal about including racial and ethnic minorities, individuals who have found success, without ever examining what benefits and supports they may have had along the way, benefits that so many more are denied. The apologists chant, ‘this could be you’, ‘this could be anybody’, but for the vast majority it isn’t and never will be. It is a cruelty and a falsehood to promote the idea that any of us, with work and persistence, could become millionaires ourselves. The reality is far more commonly found to be that the majority of the excluded, of the working poor, work far harder, than the pampered and privileged elites. Such exhortations are in complete contradiction with economic reality. The poor, the excluded, fail because they are intended to fail. The rich and powerful succeed so fantastically because they are intended to.

Wealth and power are a product of a society set within the context of its resources. Economies distribute that wealth in patterns according to its rules. Societies codify these rules by writing them into laws which it then enforces. The excess of millionaires and billionaires is made possible only in a world inwhich the work of others can be ‘stolen’ from them. This is a society in which others, those already in positions of relative power, have more power and rights, than those who don’t. It is a fiction that the rich and powerful work harder and so ‘deserve’ so much more, a fiction which serves to justify an economy and society that can so easily deny what is owed to all of society, simply because these relatively few, powerful, members, through their own sheer audacity and boldness have done just that…taken what they wanted, what they could. In doing this they deny the same to so many others. In America too many still believe that the denial of rights, the denial of opportunity, of security, which rightly and naturally are deserved by all people, those touted ‘inalienable rights’ the far right eagerly seizes upon for themselves, assures and secures their own. This sets the stage for ‘taking’ as a way of life. It in fact accepts and promotes this kind of thinking, that if ‘I’ can take it, I can claim it mine!
In a society of such ‘takers’, those whom deny outright or shrug off their responsibilities to other members, it is only a matter of time before the whole system collapses. Any society, any functioning living system, can tolerate only a relative few such takers before that system is too compromised. Resources will become exhausted, essential parts and functions atrophied, promises reneged on, contracts failed, capital in all of its forms, financial, natural and social, plundered and spent, the needed reinvestments withheld. The required trust and good faith, is spent and withheld. Commitment becomes a naive concession of the past and suspicion comes to dominate.…We point fingers at everyone else to affix blame, but it won’t matter. Without adequate support, without humility, without empathy, without an understanding of the inherent value of the many, the other, the whole which together comprise our collective and individual lives, without the practice of reciprocity, of giving back, and in so doing honoring and respecting others, of always keeping in mind the health of others and the systems on which we all depend…it all ends. This is basic kindergarten 101.

In ‘forgetting’ or denying this and simply taking what we want, whenever we want it, we have created an insatiable child/beast, because while ‘god’ may have provided all of this for us, this never ending cornucopia of gifts and life, it requires that we do not squander and degrade it, that we honor and respect all of ‘creation’. Our own personal ends lie in understanding this, that ‘riches’ flow from a vital life force and to insure its continuation, requires that we honor and respect all of creation all of its human members, all of its myriad living contributors, the cycles and energies which are essential to its continuation…and the people who labor to create wealth. To choose otherwise is to squander those gifts and to poison the source of plenty. Choosing instead to aggressively take what we might selfishly value today does damage to the rest and the health and integrity of the whole is compromised by our out of balance taking. If we fail to see the value in others, is it still possible to appeal to that core of people’s selfishness in such a way that they understand that their own survival, their health, whatever joy and satisfaction they experience, their sense of accomplishment, will always remain rooted in a society and living earth which can continue to fuel and supply them? There can be no such future for them in a degraded world, whose wounds are becoming ever more compromising, it’s capacity to do so crippled. What, these people need to ask themselves, will become of them and their children in a world so compromised that its human communities turn on each other in a frenzy over possession of the dwindling resources we have all become so dependent upon? We should be asking ourselves how we can get out of this downward spiral of diminishing resources and rewards. How we can transform our relationships, our inappropriate overly consumptive/extractive technologies and broken social systems that cripple us in such a way that we remain incapable of the cooperative and creative institutions we are in desperate need of.

Today this accelerating pattern of taking, our increasing reliance on the narrow one sided ‘virtues’ of individualism, at the expense of our needed ability to cooperate, to create, to conserve, to steward, to support, diminishes and threatens us all. We have to learn to play well together in the sand box that is our world, our only world…or we will find ourselves alone, without anyone to depend on, defending dangerously out of balance lives which are absolutely dependent upon our now diminished good relationships with our neighbors, as well as with those removed from our daily life. One way or another, we need to discover how small our planet is…how integral every member is. Our survival and the richness of our lives follow simply and directly from how we treat others and the world we all share. If we cannot acknowledge that our lives are shared in this way, then no nation, no police force, can hold it together as the fractures run deeper and the gaps between us widen. If we fail to do this ours will be a relatively quick and hard ending as we pursue this lopsided view of lives lived out of balance. No species’ survival and prosperity is assured on this earth. Today our lives, truncated as they are, continue through the enforcement of regular personal and institutional violence, too keep others, generally the excluded, in their place. Serious questions are not asked. Blind adherence to ideology reigns.

As we continue down this path the capacity of this world, is diminished. No such system can long continue to function and fulfill our genuine needs, let alone those fueled by the fear and greed which drive it. From it comes the essentials upon which we all depend, the luxuries which so many desire and the entertainments that work to distract, placate and fulfill so many. We have the opportunity here to understand what this life is and to what purposes life serves. Only poisoned ‘fruits’ can flow from such a system with life so compromised. No prizes are awarded to those who die with the most. In a healthy world there are checks and balances, compromises are made, cooperative relationships forged…it cannot long continue as a world of blind competitors despite the abstract arguments of free marketers arguing the brilliance of the ‘invisible hand’. A successful society and world works in such a way to ensure the long term survival of the whole living community. It does not select out and give preference to individuals or even species…such ‘successes’ are momentary. Assessments we make when we decide what is yours and what is mine, assignments of ownership, amount to little in the longer stream of life. When the collective ‘we’ deny others, what they simply need, and make little accommodation for their or own real future, when ‘we’ lack the imagination and courage to change our path and allow a world that honors and respects others so that each may contribute positively as we attempt to meet the needs of a world we are desperately in need of, each contributing what they can through invention, beauty and joy to the health of the whole, denying the challenges of the present, we hasten the demise of all of us.

Many of us today see the failures of society all around us, the actions of individuals ‘divorced’ from the larger community, individuals who see the rules of society, be those of increasingly uncommon courtesy or those inscribed in public laws, as intended for others…rules to be selectively followed, perhaps only when we feel likely to be ‘caught’. For each of us who do this, the transgression is justifiable, permitted by an overarching commitment to personal, individual liberty, our freedom to do what we want, when we choose and that any infringement on such liberties, by others or government, is unfounded and maybe excused by the assumed transgressions of others. Compliance to society’s rules has too often come to be seen as a surrender of oneself by many, a sign of individual weakness of character, a public admission of one’s compliance. These believers in a libertarian individual sovereignty, have committed to the idea that individual liberties are the basis for government, that government should first and always serve those, their rights, privileges, properties and powers they have claimed, at whatever cost to others….These they see as theirs and theirs alone. Possession, ownership and righteous bold action in defense of one’s ‘liberties’ are themselves evidence of such claims. Government should therefore not tax, attempt to regulate or limit the liberties of an individual. Such a philosophy entirely ignores the value of a just and egalitarian society and the world from which those powers, properties and wealth are derived. It sidesteps the question of the value of others. Views life as a pure competition in which an individual would be weak or foolish to recognize the value and rights of another as comparable to theirs. It exists in denial of civil society and our social contract, of the concept of justice, fairness and health as a right of all. It is an endorsement of the philosophy of winner take all, of the survival of the fittest, and the justification to do violence to others to retain one’s ‘rights’ and power.

The world is awash in such claims. Yet they are bogus at their core. Such a world of unregulated ‘liberty’ would quickly deteriorate into chaos, anarchy. Without a basic social contract, no admission of an overarching relationship that binds us in a mutual association, no wealth would be created, no contracts could be made, whether written in legalese or verbal, no security could be assured; the course of our lives would be largely limited to that which we were born into and what little we could take and hold by ourselves.

It is not only the middle and excluded classes which were dependent upon a healthy functioning society. The wealthy and powerful are even more dependent upon ‘our’ agreement, ‘our’ compliance, in order to fulfill our role. They are ‘apex’ consumers while producing next to nothing directly of use to even their own survival. To survive at their level they must either have our agreement or readily wield the power to force our compliance. The limits to noncompliance a society can endure while, continuing to fulfill all of its obligations to its members, are narrow. This is why examples are made of ‘squeaky wheels’. Dissent must be quashed lest the middle fail.

The radicalized, libertarian right, rallies angrily, even violently in opposition to the excluded’s protestations and against the authorities they believe ‘coddles’ the noncompliant excluded. Portrayed as violent and threatening, the excluded are used to divide and weaken the middle, and to instill fear, all to gain compliance. Compliance is the driving goal…not justice. But as more people become resigned to their fate, their reduced position, living marginal lives with minimal security and support, they have less reason to support the laws and rules of what is an increasingly ‘uncivil’ society. They are excluded. All of this, the excluded, the radicalized libertarian middle and the ‘entitled’ of the more privileged classes, while in pursuit of their own goals divide and weaken the social contract and civil society.

At a customer service class I attended once years ago, it was impressed upon us several times that a disgruntled, unsatisfied customer was 12 times more likely to share his/her experience with friends and acquaintances than are those with positive experiences. This helps shape how we see the world and even goes to determining the physical reality of it as the negative expectation spreads, repeated and likely embellished. We live amongst communities and cities of hundreds, thousands even millions of people. Among them are many people who make mistakes or choose to ignore rules they find burdensome, unjust, stupid or disregard for other reasons.

We run stop signs and traffic signals, drive recklessly, in the eyes of our neighbors; drop our trash out the window as we drive along or toss our cigarette buts; cut across switchbacks on trails; blast our music on the street; take cuts in line or take the place of someone who was waiting; ignore others on the sidewalk as we walk together; take advantage of those less powerful, demean women, maybe even abuse children justifying it in self-serving ways; we steal and vandalize; cheat on tests and in court; we fail to take responsibility and to value the lives of others; we carry our fears and prejudices and use them to gain advantage over others; there are those who routinely violate the boundaries of others be it of their physical personal space or of their property; people who if they can do something, will…we do all of these things and worse, while at the same time we daily perform acts of gratitude and kindness, of altruistic acts because we feel better about ourselves for having done a kindness for someone, a kindness which feeds directly back to us, to our own tattered self-image, hopeful that others might visit such kindnesses on us, grateful to be able to do something for others. We are all of this and so much more, but it is so easy to become jaded.

It is so easy to give up on others when overwhelmed by the ‘bad’ that we see and experience…bad that we may magnify in our own minds, that diminishes the many and countless gifts, that have sustained us all, especially over hard times…and that many use to excuse their own violations. We are in desperate need of a self-reprieve, a chance to see the world and its opportunities for what they are and could be rather than our debilitating focus on what is wrong or bad. We need to find forgiveness if our futures are to contain any hope and joy at all. We need to come to an understanding that a valuing of the individual in near exclusion of the community, must change. And, it is there we can choose to see and allow that which can heal and transform our lives. Is this naive, even Pollyannaish type thinking? Is this a setup for disappointment? What’s the alternative? Retreat to our bunker and wait to repel all boarders?

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