Today I had the privilege of hearing from someone close to me an account of her vacation trip to Florida. One of the highlights of her trip was a boat excursion in the waters of southwestern Florida. There were some clear waters, views of marine life, gorgeous sunsets, and impressive landscapes; the tour also passed several mansions belonging to highly placed corporate and banking executives. Those modern palaces were huge, opulent and beautiful to behold. They were massively expensive, and in at least one case, only one of many such edifices owned by one of those executives. She reported, “Everyone on the boat was thinking about the suffering of the world’s refugees, and also, more specifically, about the over 80,000 people who would not be getting a paycheck because of the government shutdown.” It is a comment on the value system of our current economy, as well as the economies of many of the world’s countries, that such opulence can exist in the face of such suffering.
The most current example of arbitrary deprivation in this country is the over 80,000 families not receiving their paychecks this month. Many of them have also been required to work without pay (usually, that is called slavery). Most live paycheck to paycheck and will have to make hard choices about what to let go – healthcare, food, shelter, heating, transportation…the list goes on. Food pantries and shelters are gearing up for an increased demand which they may not be able to meet. Breadwinners are pursuing, often in vain, any job they can do – part time, gig – in an economy which is already stressed. In short, bad news has been created by a government shutdown which could have been avoided. People who pay taxes to support the government are now paying their livelihoods to support a government shutdown.
The economic suffering is not the only result of the government being suspended. Government regulatory agencies such as food inspection and air traffic control are compromised. Contracted services in the military and homeland security are suspended or not renewed. Public buildings and parks are closed, and trash piles up in the tourist areas of DC and in our national parks. These are a few of the effects as the shutdown drags on and on…….
There is, however, a silver lining to this pervasive dismal energy. Some people have begun to open to the idea that we, the people, can make a difference, instead of trusting a government to do it for us. These are a few examples, taken from the news. There are surely more which have received less attention. One example is a school system that is ramping up its use of substitute teachers and dropping many of the extra academic requirements used to give some applicants an edge over others. It is opening that field to part time people who have a bachelors and can pass a background check. That covers many furloughed government workers. Another is the sight of people on our national mall picking up trash to keep one of our country’s showcases clean. Yet another example is restaurants and organizations which offer free meal events. Not usually in the news are cooperative gardens, charitable neighborhood clinics, volunteer tutoring projects, daycare arrangements shared between parents, barter organizations, and the like. Although there are not enough of these to cover the current crisis, it is a ray of hope that they are there. They exemplify something that we used to know but have largely forgotten – the assumption that we are responsible for what happens to us, and that we are not helpless in the face of government incompetence. We are not infants who need the protection and provision of Big Brother; we are adults, and together we can make a difference. Big Brother exists when we forget this.
I would urge each of us to ask himself or herself this question: What can I do to help? What can I contribute? Do I know of a family affected by the shutdown? What can I do to help, even a small thing? Is the school system stressed, is the snow affecting the elderly or the handicapped, is there a barren plot of land that could grow food, does someone need a ride to a job or a medical appointment? Am I a doctor or an alternative care healer who might help? What can I do to help? If each of us can respond in large or small ways, some suffering can be avoided, and we will be reminded of our own power and our own responsibility.
The healing effect is magnified when we join together to act cooperatively. A group can have a synergistic effect which is greater than the sum of the talents of those comprising the group. This, also, I think we once knew, at least in part, but have forgotten. Not totally, but often, we operate in competition with each other, focusing on our individual benefits rather than on the well-being of the whole. Residential mobility and the tendency of neighbors to keep to themselves exacerbates this. This focus on individual benefit does not apply comprehensively, but it is endemic in mainstream society. It is one reason we have a shutdown in the first place.
The core composition of activist groups and charitable organizations, neighborhood self-help groups, volunteer organizations, co-ops and close extended families are some examples of groups which have a greater effect on the well-being of the group than might be presupposed and also on the outreach that is often made. Those who have had the privilege of being involved in such groups can attest to this. They are examples of responsibility for ourselves and the magnified effects of group effort. We need many more such startups.
In addition, intentional communities are exemplary illustrations of responsibility and outreach. I will not attempt to define them here, other than to say that they are groups of like-minded people who choose to commit to living in proximity and to creating supportive structures and solving problems together, using the synergistic effect of many ideas to magnify their effect. Usually, they not only support themselves, but also reach out into the larger society to teach and assist in whatever ways they can. One website that anyone interested can visit is www.ic.org . These communities are a true seed of the future.
May we all reflect not only on the current situation of the shutdown, but also on the direction we wish to take for our future. The current highly individual-oriented social system and the consumption-driven, extractive and money-oriented economic system are crumbling. The people at the bottom of the system’s structural pyramid are suffering now; when they are too poor to consume, the top of the pyramid will also come tumbling down. What do we want to replace it? It is time to all consider these two questions: What can I contribute? With what groups can I cooperate to magnify beneficial effects, for myself and others?
I wish healing for us all and awakening to a gentler future.