Idealism Redux

I make no apologies for being an Idealist.

Of course, I have been criticized for it, as have many with shared values. We’ve been called naïve. We’ve been told that our Idealism is “unrealistic”. We’ve been told we need to “grow up”.

But I, for one, have a hard time equating the process of “growing up” with abandoning our dearest principles and rejecting our inclination to serve our fellow man. To my mind, Idealism means believing in something better than what we have, that we are capable of more. Believing that there are noble pursuits and goals that we should strive for, rather than accepting the status quo, which is so often marginalizing, self-serving, and oppressive. When we cease fighting for Idealism, we abandon the very things that makes us human: Compassion, Hope, Love. Shortly before her husband became the first African American President of the United States, Michelle Obama spoke eloquently about our “moral obligation to strive for America as it should be.” This is not an abstract concept or empty platitude; it is a call to action. It is a call many of us have heard and answered.

In responding to this call, we join many “grown up” Idealists throughout history. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an Idealist. He dreamt of a future where people of all skin colors lived in harmony, where discriminatory treatment was a thing of the past. I dare suggest he even dreamt of a day when a Black man could become President. Dr. King’s teacher, a brown-skinned Palestinian carpenter, was also an Idealist. Long ago, this woodworker-turned-itinerant preacher called us to love our neighbors, not to bully, degrade, reject, or strangle them in the noose of our own stubborn prejudices. Five hundred years before him, yet another Idealist, a nobleman of the Indian Shakya clan, called us to relieve humanity’s suffering by offering unconditional grace to our fellow beings, and to recognize our union with others, rather than our differences. Our capacity to care for others, regardless of personal cost or sacrifice, is an Ideal that has been promoted by countless saints of the past, prophets of today, and, God-willing, by the generations of tomorrow.

But right now, in this moment in America, we are struggling to hear this call. We have abandoned our national Idealism, erasing the “Ideal” in favor of a toxic nationalism that is wholly self-serving and absent of grace. And as those of us who persevere continue to push back against this tide of hate and callousness, we grow weary.  We find ourselves constantly having to redirect our brothers and sisters to freely available facts that have been drowned out by recycled fiction. We fend off allegations of ignorance while attempting to refocus the conversation on the many who need our help, rather than the few who exploit an already tragic situation. Even non-Christians are having to cite the most basic tenets of the faith to self-professed believers, who seem to have conveniently forgotten every word Jesus said.

It’s exhausting.

We are called to be better than this. We are called to care for the widow and the immigrant, to help the poor and treat everyone as our neighbor. Why do so many seem to believe that we are instead called to judge the many for the actions of the few, to disregard the basic human dignity possessed by all people, and to refuse to care for anyone but ourselves? Why do so many succumb to fear when the Book in which they claim to believe repeatedly demands that they “fear not”? And how does a simple truth like “black lives matter” elude so many? This phrase is not the “symbol of hate” our President would have us believe. As even staunch Republican Mitt Romney recently said, “I state the obvious, which is black lives matter.” It’s not rocket science; it’s an intuitive Truth. One that our President and Vice President and so many of their followers flagrantly refuse to concede. I find their reluctance to do so appalling.

I’m exhausted of being continually criticized for stating the obvious. I’m tired of the willful hypocrisy and the lack of common decency. I’m disgusted by the greed, insensitivity and hate. I’ve had enough of the accusations, finger-pointing, and demagoguery. If you aren’t willing to stand with the marginalized, then, for the love of God, please stand aside. Or better yet, take a seat. History is not on your side. You will fail. And we’re tired.

We’re tired of you. We have enough work ahead to change the systems of oppression that got us to where we are, that created people like you, and that bound us in complacency for so long before reaching this moment. We don’t need the added burden of dealing with your ignorance.

So, for all those in the back: Generosity is not weakness; selfishness is not strength. Benevolence and compassion are not “unrealistic” or “naïve”. They are the bedrock of our humanity. We are better than the individualism and selfishness that pervades our society today, and we must all learn to be Idealists if we want to have any hope of a better tomorrow.  Dr. King was right about the arc of the moral Universe bending toward Justice, but we’re the ones who have to stand up and bend it.

So if you are having trouble empathizing with our brothers and sisters of color, if you can’t quite wrap your mind around why claiming “All lives matter” might be considered offensive in the face of ongoing, systemic mistreatment of “Black lives”, if you fail to realize that wearing a mask in the middle of a pandemic has nothing whatsoever to do with your liberty, then I urge you to take a lesson from another wise sage:

It’s not about you.

Maybe, just maybe, you should stop and listen for a change.

And if you’re very lucky, in that space of silence, you just might be surprised to hear a still, small voice chanting the same mantra.

Birth

Light!
All is Light. Awareness.
Vibrant Life. Being.
Wholeness. Connection. Unity.
Undifferentiated world, full of Light and Vitality.
Awareness is All and All is Light.
All is Joy.
All is Love.

Time?
Passing. Distinctions. Separation.
Consumption. Production of Waste.
Differentiated world, separated by Time and Pain.
Anger and frustration. Change.
Tears. Suffering.

Unity gives way to Separateness,
Connection to Chaos.
Colors and Sounds. Objects. Disarray.
What is mine? What was All?
I am Me and You are You. We are not the same.
We are Divided.

Body and Mind.
I am these and these are mine.
Mine are not yours.
Hands and Feet. Fingers and Toes.
Clothes and coverings.
Disguises. Masks.
Lies. Fear.

I am learning.
Symbols and patterns. Abstractions and metaphors.
Thoughts morph into words. Syllables. Sentences.
Communication and Judgement.
Because we are Different. Because we are Separate.
Unity is Lost.

I have aged. I have grown.
My mind is my own and you may not have it, you may not know it.
My objects are my own and I do not share.
Clinging. Groping. Grasping.
Change is inevitable; Life is Suffering.
God is Dead.

Abundance. Is this Joy?
I have accumulated much and you may not have it.
I am Important, you are not.
My life is significant and I do not know who you are.
Do I know who I am?
Only that I am not You.

Time has passed and I am old.
I bear regret and shame. These are me and I am them.
What was that?
A faint echo, a brief glimpse. All? Light? Love?
Forgotten and Alone,
I don’t remember.

Unity in Daily Life

True unity lies at the crossroads of wisdom and pragmatism. The underlying web of life to which we all belong is undeniable. Yet, this is an intellectual concept. Language can only produce concepts; that is its fundamental limitation. It cannot describe Truth. It cannot describe Beauty. In cannot describe Love. Language is rather impotent when it comes to describing the ineffable nature of experience. So, in order to make this intellectual concept of unity mean something real in our daily lives, we must rely also on pragmatism.

One of the most direct manifestations of this is the invocation of the concept of unity to defuse or avoid conflict. Conflict is rife in society today at every level and shows no sign of going away. A true unity of mankind would preclude conflict. How does one have conflict with oneself? Conflicts which arise from different points of view or different ideologies must be seen as part of the larger unity of consciousness. There must be darkness for there to be light; there must be hatred for there to be kindness; there must be fear for there to be liberation. In this way we respect the darkness as a necessary part of the light.

This does not mean we get to ignore our responsibility to speak out against injustice or alleviate suffering. Not at all! It simply provides a larger context in which to continue our work. By recognizing the darkness as part of the light, we see that the very nature of the darkness itself is suffering. Those mired in hatred, bigotry, greed, and selfishness are suffering in that same darkness. Their apparent, individual consciousness may not realize or accept this, but it’s true. They are striving against their natural state, which is Love. Being separated from Love is the very definition of suffering.

So, we must first acknowledge that those who peddle hate and fear are a symptom of our diseased society, not the disease itself, and that they are not their words or their ideas. How do we approach this pragmatically? We don’t add suffering to suffering. We speak against ideas and ideologies, not against individuals. We don’t label. We offer love to the unloving as well as the unloved. Is this easy to do? Absolutely not! But it is necessary. The cycle of conflict cannot be broken through constant escalation. It can only end when light is shone into the darkness and Love is offered unconditionally to all.

For, truly, we are One.