For more than a week now, the death of George Floyd via police brutality and the resulting widespread, vocal, and persistent call for police reform and the end of racism has pre-empted the prioritized space of the Covid-19 in the news. Most of the protests have been peaceful; some have been violent and destructive. Protests have been held in small town parks and cities worldwide. Protests are still continuing, politicians have weighed in with their stances, and proposals have been put forth for completely eliminating the police, to demilitarizing the police, to more anti-racial attitude training. Serious thought is also being given to increased funds being allocated to issues such as homelessness, mental health, food deserts, education disparity, and other issues which effect the poor, but mainly the poor of color. We have yet to see if any or what will be a permanent outcome.
Protests are necessary, but they are only the beginning of change. They serve to wake people up, to make as many as possible aware of the change that is needed and desired. That is as far as they go; protests are dramatic, but they do not in themselves create change. Political action and legislation can be helpful, but they, too, are limited. Legislation can control specific actions, such as stopping for a red light. It cannot govern attitudes, thoughts, and emotions, such as road rage. For permanent change to occur, the perceptions, thoughts, attitudes, and emotions of people must change. These are what underlie conditions; they create the conditions that the protests and laws are trying to change, and they create the change. Negative emotional pressure, such as guilt, shame and fear cannot alter underlying conditions; in fact, they reinforce them. Logic can inspire people to want to change, but the change must come from inside people themselves. Change is truly a grassroots endeavor.
Most of us are familiar with the adage, “Be the change you want to see.” Jay Shetty, in an interview in the September/October 2019 issue of Unity Magazine, explains, “When you start with being, you end up doing more effectively, but when you start with doing, you sacrifice being. Everything is a byproduct of being.” He advocates making to-be lists, rather than to-do lists. Achievements, then, flow not from what is done, but from the being that underlies them. The concept is not too difficult to understand; the application, however, can be a bit more confounding.
For example, it can be quite clear that one’s home needs organizing, but understanding what it means to be the organization, to be organized, is a bit less clear. Being organized does not come from doing organizing; it is the other way around. Yes, one can require oneself to do some organizing, and even achieve the result of an organized house. However, if the being organized is not there, the result does not last. Exactly how to change oneself from not being organized to being organized is still a mystery to me. However, I know it does not come from shaming or guilting myself for disorder or fearing judgments or results of the disorder. I can accept the logical desirability of being organized, and on rare occasions can even feel organized for a short while, but I have not yet learned to make organizing a central part of my being. (It is also a virtue to be able to respond spontaneously, even in no visible organized order.)
To return to the topic of social order and social change, let’s pick three topics to explore. Racism, the underlying motivator of “Black Lives Matter”, the practice of war, and the restoration of life and health to our Earth are three good examples.
Given that the more gradual method of being the change is the surest way of making lasting change, how would we proceed to change subconscious institutionalized racism into a social construct supporting the humanity of all and granting an equal status to both the needs of all and the peaceful expressions of all? How could we change our own being in such a way as to support the larger change we wish to see? Perhaps, if one is white or of a group perceived as privileged, one way would be to make a true friendship with someone who is black or of another color. By this, I do not mean befriending someone who is black. That is the stance of the privileged helping the lesser person. It is not bad to befriend someone, but that will not end racism. By friendship, I mean becoming vulnerable to that person, in an equal emotional relationship. Becoming a true friend means hearing the hurts and anger of the other person without judging, and appreciating even if not participating in the cultural expression of that person. It means taking joy in the achievements of that person, and letting that person know of your joy. It means accepting and acknowledging help from that person, as well as enjoying activities together. It means feeling the human connection between you and recognizing the dignity of the other. It means learning to love the other. Conversely, if one is black (or of another underprivileged group), it means setting aside the assumption that someone who is white is not trustworthy (a kind of reverse racism when broadly applied) and making a true friendship with someone who is white. In the movie Remember the Titans, the coach understood this when he integrated the team. It is this kind of thing, multiplied many times over, that will bring about lasting change. I think it has already begun.
War has plagued humanity since tribal groups encountered each other and competed for what were perceived to be scarce resources. Over the lifetime of humanity, war has increased in virulence until it now can destroy not only humanity but Earth itself. It is time for this to change – but how? Agreements and treaties have been made, but because the underlying perceptions have not changed, the treaties have been manipulated, ignored, broken and betrayed innumerable times. That method is not viable. War persists, more destructive weapons are developed and distributed, and more people are being trained to kill. Here is something many people do not know; in order to be able to kill another human being without overwhelming damage to oneself, one must first become convinced that the ‘other’ is somehow less human than himself. Boot camp sergeants are well aware of this. The soldiers in any one army are taught that the soldiers in the other army, the ‘enemy’, are somehow less human than themselves, and permission is given to kill them. This is the underlying assumption – that the ‘other’ is evil, barbaric, dangerous or in some way lesser, and therefore, it is OK to kill him and take what he has. How, then, would one who wishes to transform war into peace go about this Herculean task? How can one be peace, on a deep level? It is easy to see how this is related to the root of racism – the idea that another human can be less human, less valuable than oneself. Being friends with an enemy is certainly a possibility; there are stories about this which involve almost any war. But the instances are presented as exceptions, not the rule. In addition, the “enemy” keeps changing, depending on the era and the circumstances. Somehow, we must give up judging the other entirely, give up the idea that we are better or more valuable than anyone else. On a personal level, this would mean not judging the person one considers to be one’s worst enemy or biggest threat. It would involve not wrong making the backbiter who one perceives is destroying one’s reputation, or the one who cheated to get the higher grade on the test or the desired promotion. It would mean finding compassion in one’s heart for such a person. That is a tall order, but it is the underpinning of lasting peace. Be the peacemaker, be peace; do not expect a government to negotiate and implement lasting peace without the underlying change in the majority of people, starting with oneself.
Healing our Earth is now of critical importance, to the extent that the survival of our own species is at risk if we do not do it. The topic has been discussed, debated, and pronounced upon for nearly a century without any appreciable progress being made. Yes, protests are held, activists are persistent, volunteers plant trees and examples have been made by communities who have discovered sustainable living. Laws have been created and rescinded. Yet, the Earth is in even more danger than before. How can one be the change of a healed Earth? Everyone can do something – even small children can raise their voices and remind adults of what needs to be done. How, though, can we be the change? Others wiser than I may have better answers, but it seems to me that the start of being the change of a healed Earth is to love that Earth – to spend time in nature, to enjoy and appreciate wildlife, to treat the Earth with respect, as one would a friend, to feel the earth under bare feet, to feel the energy of the Earth inside oneself. How can one be the change of something of which one is unaware? Secondly, a being agent of change would mean looking upon the Earth with the vision of Earth in its state of glorious wholeness, as a lover looks upon the face of the beloved in all its perfection. The objections to the perfection – the scars of pollution on the Earth, for example, or the blemishes on the face of the beloved, would not be the central focus of perception. That does not mean an unawareness of what needs healing; it means the vision would not be of the wounds, but of the wholeness. We need more people who can do and are willing to do this. No, the being is not the doing; it is the wellspring of the doing. When we can be the change, the steps will be taken and the change will be done, and it will be lasting.
For most of us, this being is difficult; for many, it is also counterintuitive. We have been trained to accomplish, to do. It is time, now that doing has seemed to accomplish little, to raise our awareness to the level of being, and to begin our creations there. It would seem to me that the level of being is also the level of love – not romance, but that love which considers the other as equal to and at one with oneself. The time is now to go within and call upon this awareness. In this way, we can make lasting desired change.