The Examined Life in Practice, Step 1: Examine Your Community
A view of Life!
If the unexamined life is not worth living, why not?
Two white middle-class girls -- around eight or nine years old -- were walking home from school one day in the early 1970s in Omaha, Nebraska. They lived just around the corner from each other and were best friends. It was a beautiful day and only a half-mile walk in a safe neighborhood.
In the very early 1800s, when Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa were still the wild west, a young Native American maiden named Maw Waiquoi woke up from her sleep having dreamt of the handsome white man she had encountered near the trappers' settlement near her village. The men there were mostly Frenchmen, but this man was Scottish. From her dream, she knew he would be her husband; so she went to him and a few days later they were married.
On August 1st and 2nd, 1832, we killed babies and women and children and weak old men, after the Sac Indian leaders (Black Hawk and a few remaining warriors) commanded his people to surrender to the US army while he and his few living men fled to the north. He thought the army would spare the women and children, but that they would have killed the Sac warriors. He thought wrong, because the US army massacred his people, lied about it (even to this day, although history has plenty of truth-tellers that have carried the real news report forward from that day to this), and then captured the warriors and kept them alive as trophies of victory.
I finally figured out my answer to all our political and cultural battles, and to the interpersonal conflicts in my own life. It came to me out of a distressing but normal conflict with my seventeen-year-old son. And, of course, I did not think it up. Rather, everything wise women and men and wise faith have been teaching me all my life finally won out in my head and heart, and put to rest my silly notions of “winning” and “losing”.
I will let you see my epiphany as most of you see so much interaction these days: as a series of text messages, written by me to my son after he had treated me poorly because he felt I was “on him” unreasonably, but then he needed a favor some hours later and so acted as if none of it even happened.Here is my response, which was also the written expression of my own eyes opening to my own struggle to communicate my reality in ways that made him (and the world) take it as seriously as his own perspective:
Him: I need to … (his words are not mine to share)… so will you … (not mine to share)
Me: I love you. My answer is going to be “yes” if you will bear with me and hear me out about this morning.
Me: When we are in community (ie family, coworkers/bosses/employees, students&teachers&staff, members of the same club or church, etc) we are committed together toward accomplishing certain goals and with efficiency and kindness to one another.
Me: In the community of our family, we are committed together toward : 1) providing daily routines that allow us all to be where we need to be when we need to be there with everything we need for our day; 2) planning together how we can each and all best move toward a future that brings us peace and joy; 3) using available resources to do a better job toward the above two things than we did yesterday; AND 4) growing, together and individually, into peacable and passionate (joy-filled) creatures.
Me: If you are not committed to those goals, but instead allow your anger to put you in a place where you work to destroy our ability (and your own ability) to achieve those goals, you do not win
Me: Nor do my goals change.
Me: I still love you.
Me: I still am after the same goals.
Me: I still know you can achieve those goals too, if you decide to do so, once you decide to do so,
Me: But right now you think anger makes destroying progress toward those goals a “win”,
Me: as if you are punishing me.
Me: I do not believe in punishment — not in the sense of retribution anyway. I do believe there are consequences to our choices, but I think life and society impose those consequences, not me.
Me: I think my role (not just as your mom, but as a fellow human being) is to keep my eye on the bigger goals and just keep trying to move toward them.
Me: That is the role of forgiveness:
Me: not some sickly-sweet useless caving in to an angry teenager,
Me: but a choosing to keep my eye on real goals that will bring joy and peace rather than to get pulled into a win/lose game where even the winner loses.
Me: So my answer is “yes”,
Me: But until you learn to use your anger to point you toward all that you actually long for,
Me: you lose.
Me: Because joy and peace and love ARE real
Me: and you are missing out.
Me: So each time one of us frustrates or angers the other, it is not a fight where there will be a winner and a loser.
Me: You ARE growing up. Neither of us can speed that up or slow that down.
Me: Each time we have conflict, it is an opportunity for each of us and for us together
Me: To grow in our ability to stay fixed on peace and joy
Me: and to get there
Me: together or not.
Me: That is all.
We each have our own perspectives and goals, and we cannot control others, and we cannot even set the goals we think those with us in community should be pursuing. They may pursue winning at the expense of everything that lasts.
However, we can choose to pursue peace and joy and love in the context of reality, and practice the forgiveness over and over and over that frees us up to KEEP pursuing peace and joy and love even if it is a lone pursuit.
We cannot avoid the conflict and tragedy that are outside our control, but we CAN each let all that conflict and tragedy direct us back to our ever-stronger pursuit of peace and joy and love.
And in our personal lives we will become amazing and experience full life.
And in our political and cultural conflicts, we will learn to listen and learn to value real progress over time, rather than just valuing the temporary triumph of our own current ideologies or the power to impose our own perspectives on others.
And in our collective life and history, over time, we will become whole and free, with real diversity and with real unity.