“Rick, I think you’ve thrown in the towel!” A good friend of mine had thrown down the gauntlet! He thought I was taking the ‘why fight city hall?’ stance. I was offended, but recovered and taking his comment seriously, I look for new direction as a citizen of Milwaukee and the world for 2016.
He’s right in this sense. I no longer see my role as solving various problems in the world. Rather I choose now to be a citizen, a human being who tries to better the situations I am in.
I am not going to resolve the problems that the various members of my family face. Nor the neighborhood, city, country or nation. This never happens in human experience. ‘Solving problems’ is an illusion that produces unnecessary anxiety.
In the film “Bridge of Spies”, a Soviet spy being interrogated by his lawyer remains stoic as the lawyer describes the trouble the spy is in. “Don’t you ever worry?” the lawyer asks. “Would it help?” is the response.
I do not see worrying over ‘solving problems’ as helping. It creates an expenditure of psychic and spirit energy that exceeds the reality of whatever plan we may have for solutions. The result can be cynicism or ‘throwing in the towel.’ I choose neither path.
Of course we begin by facing the reality of global warming, terrorism and economic inequality just to begin a much longer list. Yet, I’m guessing that 2017 will begin with much the same list, as will 2018 and beyond. And, in the midst of that, however, things do change, sometimes from intention, sometimes in serendipitous fashion. However, this year I choose to pay more attention to ‘the things I can change.’
“Making things better in my situation” is an approach to life that is accessible to anyone with a sense of the other. This can range from ‘small acts of kindness’ to active participation in organizing like “Black Lives Matter.” It can be working on housing rehab in communities of poor quality homes or it can be registering high school students to vote. It can be signing a petition for preserving Native American rights or it can be participating in a block watch. It can be reading to my children or grandchildren or both supporting and holding accountable public officials and the police. The list is literally endless. The responsibility for participation falls back at my feet.
My personal quest in 2016 is to continue my journey of responsibility. How will I live the self that I am? I have energy to build relationships. I have energy to think seriously about our world. I have energy to participate in a a variety of social enterprises. I have energy to look at my resources for how they can best be shared this year. Where am I needed? Who needs some of my disposable income? How can I bring my gifts to the table(s) in our community?
Consider joining me in examining your world, your resources, and your opportunities to add something that may make things better. Some of that will be rewarding, some won’t.
The influential Reinhold Niebuhr reflects that sentiment in this writing.
"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness."
A professor of mine liked to say “Love your Niebuhr as yourself.” OK, a little corny but…..
Happy New Year