The Hidden Agreement
They want a community, a nation, an economy, a world, based more on the values of community, generosity, compassion and love, and less on hierarchy, acquisition, and win/lose competition...
Date: 2/25/2006 10:37:50 PM ( 14 y ) ... viewed 2417 times
It was just a warm-up question. I was beginning an hour-long live interview with Rabbi Michael Lerner on my daily public radio talk show, The Jefferson Exchange. He had been on the show about a year earlier, so I asked him if any special insights had come to him since then.
Michael's life is rich with insight. He is the founder and editor of Tikkun magazine, rabbi of a large, vibrant congregation in San Francisco, and author of The Politics of Meaning and Spirit Matters, both required reading for anyone serious about social transformation in contemporary America. Shortly after becoming First Lady, Hillary Clinton seized on The Politics of Meaning as a foundational text for the new administration and the media began to call Michael the White House Guru. That lasted until some journalists started quoting from the book, moving the Clintons to say that actually, now that they thought about it, they weren't really that interested in Michael and his ideas after all.
"Well, in fact, yes," the rabbi answered. "I have been talking with an awful lot of people since Spirit Matters came out. All kinds of different people, from different cultures, generations, ethnic and income groups, parts of the country, a really wide range. And I'm hearing the same two things from just about everyone I have a real conversation with. The same two things everywhere, from everyone." Here he paused with a small smile. "The first one is that people want a society different from the one we have. They want a community, a nation, an economy, a world, based more on the values of community, generosity, compassion and love, and less on hierarchy, acquisition, and win/lose competition. That's the first thing. The second thing is this: they think they are alone. They think that they're the only ones who feel that way. They look around them and they see no reflection or support of the values they want, so they decide they're just being unrealistic, and that they just have to get a grip and adjust to the world as it really is. And so the world goes."
In the days and weeks that followed I heard myself repeating the rabbi's words whenever anyone talked about changing public consciousness — or, less ambitiously, about nudging public opinion on a particular issue. Almost everyone hearing the premise would pause, and I imagined that I could hear their thoughts move from the concept to the big question: What if it's true?
What if most Americans really do share a longing for values that connect and nurture people? What if everything we see to the contrary — the "He who dies with the most toys" vector that seems to drive the economy and society, the staggering levels of individual consumption, the fearful arguments and political struggles that make up every day's news — what if it's all a thin layer of mental noise, a story that we accept as real just because, out of unthinking habit, we expect it to be? Could we be creating and projecting into the future, for no reason at all, a world that's colder, lonelier, grimmer, and more hollow than the one anyone wants?
We could be. And if we are, the task of shifting the nation and the world toward peace and sustainable abundance becomes a lot easier. It's not the immense — some would say impossible — task of changing the consciousness and values of hundreds of millions of people. Instead, it's shining light and drawing to the surface values we already have.
That doesn't make the task easy. The mainstream cultural messages that lure us to consume and conform and that ridicule sacred, non-material thinking aren't there by accident. They won't quietly fade away the first time a few people shout that the emperor has no clothes. Nevertheless, the answer to the rabbi's challenge matters: It would be one thing to say at the end of our days, "We couldn't do much because our values and beliefs were too different from the core values of the vast American majority. We just weren't born at the right time."
But that would be a lot more bearable than figuring out too late that we were born at just the right time; that we had all the human raw material for social transformation we needed and didn't know what to do with it. We didn't even know we had it.
Jeff Golden is the host of public-radio's The Jefferson Exchange. This article is the basis of his book-in-progress, The Hidden Agreement.
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