Hope, good will, and fairness are participatory. Without active, committed, forward-thinking collaboration and attentive participation, they are just words. Whatever political system we live in, it is a universal longing that leaders show deep loyalty to the graces that would allow their leadership to liberate people as they move through the everyday.
- We must remember that cynicism is a destabilizing temptation, an emotional and spiritual vice that hinders clear thinking and pulls talented people off the road to constructive action.
- Wantonness is not freedom; bearing its ravages is not a necessary condition of living among free people.
- We owe it to our own humanity to rise above the toxic infusion of wantonness and degradation that comes with spending our sacred attention on those agents of toxicity who thrive on that wantonness and degradation.
To achieve this, we must seek, expect, embody and expand the more faithful intention to do the generous work we see too little done.
The ills of the world we live in, the complaints we harbor, the upheaval we feel for every disappointment — these are flashes of the ethic of witness emerging, the first renewal of the fate of the world. That renewal depends on our turning the complaint we feel into the overwhelming force of the good we have seen displaced or forgotten by others — overwhelming because its loss sticks to our awareness.
The most resonant act of rebellion might be to overcome the complaint and let the ethic of witness act through us, to make hope, good will, and fairness more the rule of our experience than the deficit that begets a grudge.
At this moment, we hear from many voices a cry for unity. We hear leaders and commenters say we should “speak with one voice”. Politics laces these declarations with accusation. This confuses the point. What such calls for unity really are calling for is a conscious commitment to put the ethical call ahead of other sparks and fires that tantalize and capture our political emotions.
Fairness starts with the “I am” that asks itself: If you also feel the “I am” within yourself, how can you not be careful about what impact your actions have on me? “We are always already called” is one of the ways postmodern philosophers have come to rephrase the transcendent question of the root of all ethics.
Witness and ethics are a continuum. False witness (spreading untruth, using words to undermine and degrade) pushes against the fabric of human ethics. The way we witness our existence plays a role in how power operates.
- Is power the successful exertion of individual will on the stuff of the world, including people?
- Is power the successful collaborative problem-solving of a people exercising their sovereign human interest through responsible accountable leaders?
- Is power ethical, meaning tied into this always already-there shared experience of being bound to be fair to one another?
- And if it is not ethical, is it not then illegitimate, meaning we must have checks and balances against the unjust exercise of power?
Terry Tempest Williams writes, in her book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, that:
The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.
We can be vulnerable and also be ethical. Strength that does not make room for gentleness is not strength. Your decision to be environmentally conscious or not does not change the fact that we have one planet Earth, and we are always already called to consider the other. To waste what we cannot create is beneath our humanity.
It is often the case that power is wielded unjustly, and we are given too little room for justice and thriving. But we are all crew; we are citizens; our conscious awareness is the cathedral where ethics is born, honored and sent forth.
If you are given a small desk, do big work diligently there. Flood its surface with world-changing upgrade strategies, or with everyday insight and unquestionable follow-through. Treat every patch of real estate as if it matters. You will cover more ground, make small discoveries, achieve more good, and take on the enviable status of insight leader. You will be counted on for more of the good.
“Wild mercy is in our hands.”
[ The Note for December 2017 ]