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Guest Contributor Phil Dynan: “The Myth of Separate”

From The Pachamama Alliance: Human beings are not separate from each other or Nature. We are totally interrelated and our actions have consequences to all. What we do to others we do to ourselves. What we do to the Earth we do to ourselves.”

Do you ever feel separate from part of or all of the rest of the human race? Does a particular group or event try to force an identity onto you by name calling or putting you in a “box” ?

Many of us have felt these things at one time or another. Sometimes you give in and let a group dictate your identity. Other times, you rise above the nonsense of separation and assert your rights and feelings. It can be a very difficult decision. There are times when it feels like you must lose a battle in order to win the war. And there are moments when it feels hopeless; just as there are moments when it feels joyous and hopeful.

I’m a visual and performance artist. I wake up every day and to feed my creativity I try to look at the world around me as if it were brand-new and I have a clean canvas. I make that decision every morning and sometimes more than once a day. I can do this because I feel connected to all of life in the Universe. I feel connected to the plants and animals and all other humans. The “group” I belong to at the start of the day is this amazing and beautiful and connected Universe.

Being connected not only provides me with an appreciation of everything and everyone and just how incredible this Life is, but also opens my heart and mind to learning new information and meeting new people. I travel to new places, in my head and with my body. And when I arrive at the new destination I find I am welcomed by those who also have an open heart and open mind.

I do not pretend that I have always been successful or that every day goes perfectly or that every person I meet is friendly. Some days I encounter self-interest groups or individuals that feel separate from the rest of the world. They try to force me into a box that they can use or dispose of, they call me names, or hurt me physically in order to get rid of me. They are sad and pathetic because they have closed their hearts and minds and do not feel the connection of the Universe. And yet, they are connected. What they do can be hurtful. And the truth is, they hurt themselves as much as they hurt others. 

My hope is that one day I will awaken with my “clean canvas” and look out over the city and see millions of people who also have a “clean canvas” that morning. I hope my dream will find you with an open heart and an open mind. I hope you find happiness in the world – with the animals, with nature and with all the other humans on this planet.

Phil Dynan is a contemporary artist working in painting, sculpture and performance art from Northern California and London.  Besides his art website, he has established www.LoveIsAllYouNeed.net  which is devoted to Human Rights and Non-Separatism. The late Pearl Bailey (American Entertainer) inspired Phil to create the website and she asked him to further her concept of “non-separatism” which was her way to deal with the racism and sexism that she encountered during her career. Pearl was appointed as “Ambassador of Love” by President Nixon in 1970. Phil has long been inspired by the kindness and love that his friend Pearl Bailey demonstrated during her entire life, even in the face of extreme racism and sexism. This blog is dedicated to her.

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Apocalypse: The Great Revealing

I’m a sensitive person. Always have been. It’s both a gift and a burden to feel the weight of the world and care deeply about the suffering of others. When I was a child, I often felt emotionally overwhelmed and didn’t have the words to articulate my experience. I immersed myself in books and closely observed those around me. I eventually began to make meaningful connections and apply language to my feelings. I began to understand myself and others.

I was that kid- the one who wanted to rescue birds with broken wings and nurse them back to health. The one who couldn’t watch violence on television because I could feel the victim’s pain. The one who called out injustice when others seemed oblivious to it. The one who was always asking “why?” The one who imagined that alternative worlds/realities were possible.

I remember being told that one day- when I was an adult- I would be able to change things and make the world better. I’ve spent my entire adult life seeking to do just that and I know that my actions had a positive impact on a significant number of people. When I zoom out and look at the big picture, however, I wonder if I’m doing enough- if it’s even possible for me to do enough…? I see the accelerated pace of crisis and feel the ever-compounding awfulness of disaster and destruction all around me and sometimes it’s all too much to bear. How many times can one heart break and still function?

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year. I started it at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, after several months of working on a book about the flawed design of hierarchical human societies and possible solutions through the lens of my lived experience. I shifted to publishing my ideas online because I felt an urgency to address the issues we are facing NOW. I get discouraged, at times, by the limitations of this platform and how few people my posts reach. I wonder if anyone is listening or if I’m “shouting into the void.”

Then I remember that I am a part of the Web of Life and I am never alone. I remember that everything is interconnected and all of my intentional actions in service of healing, wholeness, and collective well-being are expressions of love for all beings, for all time- and that they are valuable. I remember that pain is information. I remember to listen to my grief and honor my sadness. I remember and I keep writing.

What would happen if many more of us remembered our interconnectedness and the value of our contributions to the Web of Life? How might we restructure our societies and our cultural norms if this were the dominant paradigm?

What would be revealed?

What would be replaced?

What would we recover?

Who would we become?

I was not raised in a religious tradition but I read the Christian Bible as literature and interrogated the meaning of the stories through various interpretations of the symbols, metaphors, and implications of literal applications of its components. I started to recognize the role that religion has played in the structures, systems, and institutions humanity has built. I identified as an atheist for most of my early adulthood, then as agnostic, and later as spiritual- but not religious.

While studying philosophy and comparative religion in college, I recognized similarities and differences between various incarnations of spiritual belief and became fascinated with Eastern and indigenous worldviews as counternarratives to the Western Civilizational paradigm. I reflected on the moral, ethical, and legal models that have developed in the modern world and how they’ve been shaped by conceptions of power, domination, and control- originating in mythological narratives.

It seems to me that there is an obvious link between religious beliefs that have a basis in divine power being held only by God/s and the development of cultures that normalize extreme imbalances in power based on hierarchies of human value, separation from nature, and a focus on individual rights without balancing those with responsibilities. Patriarchy, racism, materialism, violence, slavery, ecological destruction, and all other structures of harm are predictable extensions of a worldview that sees our relationships as inherently defined by superiority and inferiority. Varying degrees of domination and subjugation have become default conditions of life for most of us and we rarely step back and observe how ingrained and unquestioned they are and how they impact everything we experience.

This brings me to the concept of apocalypse. Most people would immediately associate this word with the literal end of the world (SCARY!) but the original Greek word actually means “uncovering, disclosure, or revelation.” It is natural that we would be fearful of the end of the world but if we consider the potential that exists in uncovering or revealing truths about the actual state of things and imagining how we might participate in transitioning ourselves and our world to reflect the divinity and sacredness of all life- that, to me is hopeful, purposeful, and exciting!

In a number of meaningful ways, the world as we’ve known it has already ended. We are in “the in-between,” “the upside-down”- the messy middle of an unstoppable, global transformation. There are those who have long benefited from the status quo (materially, at least) who would have us believe that the massive disruptions we’ve witnessed over the last several generations- wars, pandemics, fires, floods, and famines- are temporary anomalies rather than predictable symptoms of unsustainable (poorly designed) economic, social, and political constructs. I also think most of us reject the oversimplified literalism of dogmatic religious teaching that these phenomena are signs of the pre-ordained day of “judgment” described in monotheistic mythology.

So, what do we do?

I think we must continue to wonder about what is possible under these conditions and how we may be intentionally involved in adapting to and shaping inevitable change. There are innumerable communities of practice, locally and internationally, engaging in this right now. Everyday, I’m discovering new ideas, making new connections, and building new relationships. I encourage you to seek out places and spaces that foster your sense of wonder and possibility. Invite others to join you. Imagine. Ideate. Relate. Create. Liberate. Emerge. Embody. Reveal. Transform. Know that your presence in the here and now is meaningful and necessary and you are never alone.

Not sure where to start? I have linked quite a few resources on this site and will be continuously adding more as I become aware of them. This compilation is collaborative– not prescriptive- and I invite you to share anything you’ve found with me through my contact page. Together, we will reveal what is possible and transform our world.

Namaste.

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Transforming the Culture of Harm

On January 29, in my hometown of Rochester, NY, police officers responded to a call about “family trouble” in an economically distressed neighborhood with predominantly Black residents. Several officers responding to the call subsequently chased, threatened, tackled, handcuffed, pushed, pulled, and pepper-sprayed a 9-year old child who was clearly experiencing severe trauma and emotional crisis before the cops even arrived. A 9-year old CHILD. My heart is broken and I am filled with anger after watching the video footage from the officers’ body worn cameras. Once again, video evidence clearly shows abuse of power by state-sanctioned “authorities” and, once again, official spokespeople have attempted to deflect, distract, and defend the indefensible.

Local police union head, Mike Mazzeo, held a press conference after the footage was released and throughout his public comments he emphasized how traumatic and stressful the job police officers do is, while refusing to acknowledge that their behavior frequently traumatizes the people they are sworn to “serve and protect.” When a reporter asked him directly about the harm this violent interaction with police inflicted on the child, who was verbally and physically assaulted by the officers, Mazzeo immediately deflected and re-centered the victimhood of the officers who go from one stressful situation to another with no time to process their feelings about what they’ve experienced. From his perspective, our sympathy should be focused on them.

As I reflect on all of this, I can’t help but apply my own experiences as a survivor of child abuse and an adult advocate/activist/co-conspirator for social justice- centered on liberating children and youth from exploitation and trauma. I have spent my entire life seeking to understand why our culture is saturated with violence at every level and I’ve dedicated my professional and personal energy as an adult to working with young people to envision and enact a culture of healing and care. I know that the conditions of harm in our culture affect everyone in our society- compelling those with greater relative power to oppress, exploit, and abuse those with less- and leaving the masses in a state of near-constant hypervigilance, exhaustion, rage, and grief.

None of us alive in society today created these cultural conditions but we are all responsible for recognizing that they do not serve us- that they have never served us. The structures and systems that were built to establish and maintain hierarchical power have been exposed as harmful, in and of themselves. It does not matter which individual people are in positions of power. As long as the institutions are designed to create power over, rather than power with, the results will continue to be devastating for humanity, individually and collectively.

For every story we hear and see of the kind of egregious abuse exposed in this case, there are countless others that we don’t ever learn about. I’m concerned that those of us who are active in social justice movements are constantly reacting to the symptoms of our deeply systemic social dysfunction and not applying adequate attention and energy to the root causes. We do need to respond to individual incidents and address their impacts. I am convinced, however, that the only way to truly prevent additional trauma to ourselves, our communities, and our children, is to dismantle and replace the systems of oppression we are embedded and enculturated within- white supremacy, misogyny, patriarchy, authoritarianism, ableism, heteronormativity, etc. These are all manifestations of toxic hierarchy – the Culture of Harm.

I have written elsewhere on this blog about alternative models and systems of human organization that have proven much more effective than those most of us have been raised within. I have also linked many online resources, books, and other media for your reference. I don’t claim to be an expert on formal systems transformation but my education and experience has prepared me well for my chosen role- actively co-creating conditions that make real and lasting change possible. Please reach out if you are interested in exploring ways to work together to foster healing, care, imagination, regeneration, joy, and justice- rooted in love- to transform our institutions.

We must do this for and with our children. Let’s demonstrate that we really do value their lives and their futures. That we are willing to let go of the old ways of doing things and allow alternatives to take hold and grow. Each of us has a role in the transformation of our world. What is yours?

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Reflections on a Tragedy

Note: I wrote this opinion piece almost one year ago and am posting it here on the anniversary of the helicopter crash that took the lives of Kobe Bryant and 8 others. This tragic event took place nearly 2 months before COVID-19 completely upended our collective sense of normalcy and predictability. Tragedy has become our constant companion on a global scale. The points I sought to make then are still relevant and resonant with me so I am choosing to share it and welcome your feedback.

On January 26, 2020, the world was shocked, saddened, emotionally-triggered, and polarized by the death of a very famous and celebrated man and his 13-year-old child, along with seven other people, in an impossible to foresee, violent crash.

For some, this celebrity represented the pinnacle of excellence and achievement, hard work and persistence, in the face of formidable odds. For others, he represented the hubris of success and the impunity that often accompanies it, based on multiple, credible allegations of his abuse of power and harm of the vulnerable.

As I reflect on the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, I’m struck by several things that I think are relevant to where we are as a society in this moment in time:

First, I’m reflecting on the way in which ordinary people feel so personally connected to famous people. We celebrate their excellence, their notoriety, their wealth, and their relative power. They influence our language, our fashion, our loyalties, and our aspirations. We don’t need to know them directly to feel and acknowledge their deep influence on us and our lives. When they make mistakes, even very ugly mistakes, we have a hard time reconciling our feelings about those actions and often ignore or defend their behavior, often to the detriment of our relationships with people we actually know and love.

Secondly, this tragic event brings up our collective discomfort and aversion around the concepts of death and dying. Having experienced momentous personal losses in my own life recently, the very public nature of Kobe’s death and our collective response to it brings up feelings of pain and grief that are not now, and likely never will be, fully resolved in myself. I find myself especially upset that his young daughter and her friend were also cut short and how we are all diminished by the loss of their potential contributions to our world. I imagine that many of us struggle to make peace with our own deep and complex grief related to the cumulative losses we’ve experienced that have been triggered by this glaring reminder of the indiscriminate nature of death.

My third observation has to do with polarization and conflicting feelings. For those who loved Kobe and what he represented to them, this is an unequivocally terrible situation. There is no scenario, real or imagined, that could change their sense of who he was or what he accomplished. He is a hero. Full stop. For others, who are troubled by very serious misdeeds he committed during his life, this loss is far more complicated. It is not possible to erase well-documented and public history or the memories of those who have experienced abuse when discussing Kobe’s life and death. I wonder how our collective reactions might be different if another celebrity (perhaps Harvey Weinstein is an appropriate example) was killed in an accident, instead of Bryant…?

Finally, I’m thinking a lot about the state of our world, more broadly. Every day, we are bombarded by truly terrifying information. Global climate change and its impacts are especially difficult for us to wrap our heads around. A number of recent commentaries I’ve seen on the subject have compared our responses as reflecting the stages in the grieving process. Some are still in denial- insisting that it cannot be real or, if it is, it is not within our ability as humans to affect. Others are angry- furious, even, toward anyone who dares to tell us that we are headed for a tragic crash of our own. Directing their ire at children- like Greta Thunberg and others- who stand, unflinching, in front of the most powerful people in the world, and tell us to wake up and do something. There are those who are dealing with deep sadness- depression- about where we seem to be headed. They feel powerless to act or believe their limited efforts are insufficient and pointless, so why bother?  Others have accepted that climate change is happening and insist that we must do everything in our power to mitigate the consequences immediately in order to secure a livable habitat for our children and future generations. Some vacillate between and among various stages from one day to the next.

To be clear about my position, I’m sincerely saddened by the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and the 7 other people who lost their lives. My heart goes out to their families, loved ones and all those who didn’t know them personally but loved them anyway. I also relate to and have empathy for survivors who cannot accept or excuse the harm caused by Kobe’s actions during his life, despite his tragic death. I implore anyone reading this to consider whether their perspective would be different if the public figure who died on Sunday had been one who you have complicated or negative feelings about. Perhaps that may help you empathize with those with whom you may disagree- on this situation and others? Finally, I wonder if we might, as a society, begin to question why other tragedies- such as the extinction of over 200 species of life on our planet every day from climate change and the threat that poses to all of us- are not met with the same public outcry that we are seeing over the death of one celebrity, regardless of his individual impact. Will we mobilize to prevent our own crash or pretend it was unforeseeable, too?

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A Safe Place to Land

This post is titled, A Safe Place to Land, in tribute to the Sara Bareilles song from her album, Amidst the Chaos (2019). A stirring duet with John Legend, co-written by Lori McKenna, this four-minute song captures and connotes the urgency and ubiquity of humanity’s current situation and personalizes it in a way that resonates deeply with me. The first verse:

When holding your breath is safer than breathing

When letting go is braver than keeping

When the innocent words turn to lies

And you can’t hide by closing your eyes

Written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the killing of George Floyd, these words ring prophetic to me. In the context of the last year- a year that has been dominated by massive upheavals in public health, economic, political, and social realities- I’ve returned to these words over and over again. I’ve spent countless hours studying, reflecting, writing, and talking about what we collectively face and how global conditions affect individual lives- especially the lives of the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our human family. I’ve struggled to clarify my own role “amidst the chaos” of our rapidly changing world.

It goes on:

When pain is all that they offer

Like a kiss from the lips of a monster

You know the famine so well but never met the feast

When home is the belly of the beast

This verse, for me, in a mere 4 lines, captures the essence of what life is like for exploited, deprived, alienated, and forgotten people- increasingly encompassing more and more of us. We have created systems and institutions that have made life so precarious for so many. The vastness of our collective pain and grief threatens to overwhelm our capacity to imagine how it could possibly be different.

The chorus:

The ocean is wild and over your head

And the boat beneath you is sinking

Don’t need room for your bags

Hope is all that you have

So say the Lord’s Prayer twice, hold your babies tight

Surely someone will reach out a hand

And show you a safe place to land

These words remind me of the oft-used adage, “we’re all in the same boat,” which has been trotted out often throughout the pandemic, typically by politicians and pundits who seem blind to the reality that the vast majority of the world’s population may be experiencing the same crises but their impacts are not evenly distributed. The image accompanying this post, drawn by artist Barbara Kelley, represents a more accurate view of the reality. COVID-19 has exposed long-standing disparities in access to all manner of basic needs and protection against shocks. It has also offered us a unique opportunity to see the connections between global warming, extractive economics/market capitalism, social/political alienation, and the narrative foundations at the root of all of our existential problems.

Verse 3:

Imagine yourself in a building

Up in flames being told to stand still

The window’s wide open

This leap is on faith

You don’t know who will catch you

Maybe somebody will

This verse, for me, bring to mind global warming and ecological devastation and the ways in which the governments of the world have consistently procrastinated on addressing the causes and consequences of our unbalanced relationship with our fragile planet. Greta Thunberg has bravely and famously admonished political and business leaders multiple times to act as though “our house is on fire,” and treat the climate crisis as the emergency it demonstrably is. She and many other youth activists are recognizing that standing still is not an option and they are leaping through the open window and simultaneously trying to catch all of us. As someone who has been in close relationship with hundreds of teenagers and young adults, I have committed to being an accomplice to their actions. I intentionally teach my students about power and engage in conversations with them about what they care about, in direct contrast to the systems and institutions that have been built to maintain the status quo. The window, to me, is alternative ways of knowing and being, rooted in protection and care. It’s in emerging philosophies and practices that center and amplify the voices of the unheard.

After a repeat of the chorus, the song goes into the bridge, which repeats through the end:

Be the hand of a hopeful stranger

Little scared but you’re strong enough

Be the light in the dark of this danger

‘Til the sun comes up

Less than a week ago, the United States and the world witnessed the transition of Executive government power from an openly xenophobic, nationalist, isolationist, and cruel administration to one that has some potential to act rationally and compassionately in the interest of people and the planet. Structurally, however, our systems of government are still designed to operate separately, slowly, and with deference to wealthy interests. There is light in the dark of the danger posed by the former administration’s cruel rhetoric and policies but President Biden and Vice-President Harris are not going to turn the ‘ship of state’ around without significant and persistent pressure by those of us who envision the world as it could be- as it needs to be if humanity is to survive.

Having interacted with a number of members of the Biden-Harris transition team prior to the Inauguration, I was encouraged by their grasp of the intersectionality of the issues we face and their intention to listen carefully to the actual, lived experiences and ideas of regular people and shape policy accordingly. Without transforming the institutions and systems tasked with supporting the stated goals of our national Constitution, to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence (sic), promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” however, their intentions will be fatally hamstrung.

In my last post, I promoted the Revolutionary Love Project‘s initiative, The People’s Inauguration, as a resource for we, the people, to engage in learning and community-building to support the transition away from the old paradigm and into new ways of enacting needed change from the grassroots. After the first few days of the initiative’s launch, I’m excited to share that the content and process being used has real potential to hasten our collective shift and I reiterate my encouragement to check it out. There are numerous other resources linked on this site to consider engaging, instead of or in addition to this effort.

Bottom line, each of us has a role in bringing about real and lasting change- in being “the hand of a hopeful stranger.” If we all accept and embody our roles in transforming ourselves, our communities, and the world, we may yet create many more safe places to land.

Please share, comment, etc. and connect with me if you’d like to collaborate.

Video of a live performance of the song may be viewed HERE.

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The Love Revolution (“It’s All Happening!”)

Friends, this is an invitation. To reflect. To commit. To act.

This week, our world held its collective breath, wondering if a peaceful transition of power would actually happen in the United States. Yesterday, that transition took place, as Vice-President Kamala Harris and President Joseph Biden took their respective oaths of office and became our Executive Branch leaders, positions they will hold for the next four years. The insurrection of January 6th failed to usurp our electoral process. We wept. We cheered. We exhaled.

In one of my favorite movies, Almost Famous, young women who call themselves “band-aids,” have formed a community with one another and the musicians they love. They consider themselves muses- inspirations of transcendent art- while others see them as “groupies,” merely allowing themselves to be used by men for sex and companionship with no lasting value. I think the film and its message provide an apt metaphor for the moment and the movement we are experiencing.

Whether you are a political person or not, there is no denying that public policy affects our lives. As the COVID-19 crisis continues to claim thousands of lives everyday- devastating families and communities- we cannot underestimate the impact of government. The abject failure of the prior Federal administration to respond appropriately to the pandemic and other concurrent crises has had disastrous consequences that won’t be easily overcome by the new one. I won’t spend too much time elaborating, as this post is not about blame, but accountability.

The financial and ideological backers of the former resident of the White House and his surrogates may be likened to the ‘music industry’ folks in Almost Famous. They seek to enrich and empower themselves with little regard for the impact on the people affected by their decisions. They managed to convince a significant portion of the U.S. population to buy their ‘brand’ of politics through mass marketing on radio, television, and social media platforms- with the gaping, willing mouthpiece of a larger-than-life, celebrity POTUS.

Without his pre-established celebrity status, Mr. Trump would not have been the GOP candidate for the presidency in 2016. He had fans. By the end of his term, the media apparatus around him had effectively recruited a lot more Trump fans by stoking their fears, resentments, and biases. Some of those fans went so far as to attempt a coup, having been told that the results of November’s election were fraudulent and it was their duty to violently resist the transition. Those individuals bear personal responsibility for their actions, yes. It is important, however, to examine how they were manipulated and used by those with power and platforms for malevolent ends.

I want you to imagine yourself at a concert of one of your favorite bands. You’re in the midst of a sea of people, (pre-COVID, of course), and the music is washing over you- bass thumping, drums pounding, melodies and harmonies blending, bodies rocking together. Remember that feeling? That feeling of being one with a group of strangers? Getting swept away in the moment and losing yourself? That feeling is not unlike what many people describe experiencing when they participate in rallies, marches, and other demonstrations. In Almost Famous, the concert scenes accurately depict the kind of crowd response we’ve all observed- masses of people, enthralled and entranced by the performance of a favorite band.

Social science research has documented that we are much more susceptible to suggestion and direction when we’re in groups and the larger the group, the greater the impact. The pressure to conform to what others are doing is extremely effective and used skillfully by those who seek to exert influence. Sometimes it is used in the interest of the greater good, as in the case of movements for liberation and justice. More often, however, it is used to maintain and extend the power of the few at the expense of the rest. In either case, each of us is potentially subject to the impacts of mob mentality. Each of us is responsible to align our intentions and our actions with our integrity and resist getting swept up in actions that do harm to our humanity and injure our communities.

As we started this week with the national observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and reflections on his enduring legacy, including the ongoing Movement for Black Lives and other justice efforts and moved into the transition of the U.S. Federal Administration from one intent on maintaining white supremacy, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression to one demonstrably interested in representing all of our nation’s people, it seems to me that this moment- right now- is ripe with possibility.

Shouldn’t we identify and root out the ideological origins and philosophical frameworks of oppression and violence at the core of injustice? Shouldn’t we seek to replace those toxic ideas with alternative ones that are rooted in love of humanity and all that supports life? This is my art- the music I am moved by- my passion and my purpose. This is the tune I choose to dance to.

Care to join me?

“There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Amanda Gorman, Youth Poet Laureate, from her poem, “The Hill We Climb.” Recited at the Inauguration of President Joseph Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, January 20, 2021

Today, we are called to be the light, leading the transformation our society. Today we are called to take our own oaths- we, the people- through an initiative called, The People’s Inauguration. This collaborative 10-day launch of civic engagement, is led by the Revolutionary Love Project and its founder, Valarie Kaur, and involves over 70 visionary artists and activists, hundreds of co-sponsoring organizations, and millions of ordinary individuals who understand that the paradigm shift we seek in our world will only happen if we actively engage in creating it. The shift is happening– here in the US and around the world- and this initiative seeks to amplify and expand our collective impact through shared values, knowledge, and skills.

The People’s Inauguration is an opportunity to connect with an inspired and inspiring community of individuals who are taking accountability for the future and committing to our roles in creating the world we want and our children deserve.

It’s all happening.

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Polarity, Paradox, and Possibility

Now that 2020 has drawn to a close and the New Year has begun, I am reflecting on the seemingly ubiquitous sentiment that 2021 will bring transformation of our collective pain, loss, and worry. Between the widening availability of COVID-19 vaccinations, the inauguration of a new US Presidential administration, and the prospect of “normalcy” these events inspire, hope is peeking out like the full moon I watched gloriously emerge from behind the clouds the other night.

I am a hopeful person, by nature, but not unthinkingly optimistic in the ways we are often encouraged to be in our culture. I hold opposing thoughts in my mind and process information with an understanding that there is often more to the story than what I’m being told. I am, gratefully, a “critical thinker.” My ability to collect, analyze, and synthesize various facts, opinions, and other quantitative and qualitative data and discern significant connections and meaning from them is a gift I don’t take for granted. I also recognize that no matter how much I “know” there will always be a great deal more that I don’t. This represents the fundamental paradox of knowledge articulated by a great many philosophers, mystics, and artists throughout history.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

― Socrates

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

― Albert Einstein

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.”

― Anais Nin

“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.”

― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

The concept of knowledge is something I’ve studied at length through my formal education and throughout my career. Philosophical thought is deeply rooted in examining how we come to know and understand the nature of the world and our (humanity’s) place in it. The mere fact that no universally accepted consensus has been reached after thousands of years of discourse and study indicates, at least to me, that the nature of knowledge is slippery and the pursuit of wisdom is exceedingly complex and personal.

There is no one “right way” to achieve higher states of consciousness and understanding but there have been individuals and organizations that have claimed to have knowledge of effective process and have advanced certain practices including meditation, mindfulness, movement, study, service, therapy, psychotropic substances, dialectical discourse, self help books/courses, harmonic frequencies, and other means of transcending the materialistic worldview that dominates our culture. What does seem fairly universal is the belief that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the determinism and objectification that is rife in our modern world.

We are, collectively, going through a highly disruptive sociocultural transition, precipitated by a series of events that has no definitive starting point- though many have tried to identify one- and no clearly defined vision of what the world will look like on the other side of what we’re going through. We have more information at our fingertips than ever before in history, yet confusion and conflict are rampant. This is where holding polarity of thought and experience in our minds and hearts is extremely valuable. We’ve been bombarded over the last several years with assertions from media personalities and cultural critics with the idea that we are a polarized society/nation/world. There has been little discussion, however, of what polarity is and how it may be viewed as an opportunity to evolve in our thoughts, words, and behaviors.

For my purposes, the definition of polarity that I’d like to employ comes from Mirriam-Webster Online:

“Polarity: the quality or condition inherent in a body that exhibits opposite properties or powers in opposite parts or directions or that exhibits contrasted properties or powers in contrasted parts or directions the condition of having poles”

This definition can apply to individuals and collectives. It implies ambiguity, conflict, struggle. Living through this age of compounding social, ecological, and health crises naturally brings us to greater awareness of the ways that we are psychologically and emotionally torn between different ideas, loyalties, and options for how to act in the face of existential threats. It’s certainly easier to demonize and oppose other individuals and groups than it is to examine the shadows within- especially within a culture that encourages us to find an enemy to fight far more often than prompting deep reflection on and understanding of our core motivations. I have had many discussions with people I love and respect who seem unable to get out of the trap of shaming and blaming others for the circumstances of their lives.

I am aware that I was once in the habit of doing this myself and I’ve been trying to remember exactly how I moved away from this tendency, having recognized the futility and harm inherent to it. There were internal and external influences on my choosing different ways of thinking and behaving- it was definitely a process, not an event. It’s not the case that I’ve eradicated any trace of shame and blame in my thought process but I’ve developed a level of self-awareness and self-control that allows me to detect it early and move through it without being reactive in the moment- most of the time, anyways. I strive to be thoughtful. Conscious. Conscientious. Compassionate. Most of us would agree that these are virtuous characteristics but there can be no doubt that disagreements about what the application of these traits should look like. The perception of human virtue is less universal than we may want to believe which presents us with a paradox.

It seems like common sense that we should operate thoughtfully, consciously, conscientiously, and compassionately, doesn’t it? These are “good” goals of “good” people, right? The contradiction comes when we consider the extension of these to those who we see as “bad” people who are, in our eyes, without value- irredeemable. They don’t deserve our goodness but must be opposed with the same vitriol that they appear to us to be emitting. This seems to be the common-sense line of thinking. In succumbing to the tendency to return scorn, disgust, and hatred in response to the deplorable behavior of others, though, we feed the beast of inhumanity and remain stuck in a cycle of violence and degradation.

I certainly struggle with the idea of extending empathy and care to those with whom I disagree- especially if their behavior is unquestioningly harmful. I am subject to the desire to stop them and to punish them for their wrongdoing. As my understanding of conflict, justice, and processes to create peace has increased, however, I have become aware that it is precisely this way of thinking that has led us to the brink of extinction as a species. To dehumanize others is to dehumanize ourselves because we are inextricably bound together, as Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

This worldview is supported by science in quantum physics and ecology and the philosophical, cosmological, and sociopolitical concepts of interconnectedness, interbeing, and solidarity. Unfortunately, the most recent insights of scholarship have not been widely applied in educational, economic, and other cultural institutions. We are still being taught that the mechanistic, dualistic, and bio-evolutionist theories of Newton, Descartes, and Darwin reflect our lived reality- despite significant evidence to the contrary.

As an educator and activist seeking to create a regenerative future for current and future generations, I am frustrated by the lack of recognition that a better world is tangibly visible and being created by millions of “ordinary” people everywhere in the world. We are constantly told to await action by global “leaders” to address the existential threats we face when both history and current events clearly demonstrate that transformational change has invariably come from the grassroots. Established power within hierarchical structures will always seek to keep and grow itself through the institutions built by the powerful. Our collective liberation from oppression won’t come from demanding change from and within the oppressive systems we are purportedly “fighting.” We must create alternative systems that are aligned with what philosopher Timothy Morton calls “the symbiotic real.

We are bound together, whether we want to be or not. Not just with other human beings but also with all other living and nonliving beings. For me, this is an empowering revelation and opens up expansive and exciting possibilities for the future. Yes, there is polarity and paradox inherent in our transition from the age of individualistic self-interest to the age of interbeing but we need not be immobilized by the conflicts and contradictions that inevitably arise during massive cultural shifts. It’s worthwhile to question the “truths” we’ve been taught that aren’t working for any of us and to imagine the world we want. That world is possible. If you know nothing else, know that.

Wishing you peace, connection, love, and infinite possibility in the new year.

Mama Sara

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Reflections on a Year in My Life- A Holiday Offering

The great celestial “conjunction” of Saturn and Jupiter was unviewable from my location on Earth but it still happened. I have seen photographic and telegraphic proof but I, myself, didn’t see it directly so, in a way it didn’t happen for me. I think this is an apt metaphor for considering how many events of 2020 were experienced and reacted to in such radically different ways by individual members of our human family.

This post is intended to communicate my thoughts for a broad audience, though I am keenly aware that most won’t see it. Of those who do read it, some may find my perspective uncomfortable to consider or even think it’s offensive. I may, at some point in the near or distant future, experience new events or have new insights that make what I say today seem contradictory to my current thinking. Should I, then, just keep my thoughts to myself? This is the paradox of offering any ideas to others, I think. It is a key element of so-called “imposter syndrome” and the unseen motivation for the reluctance of most of us to “put ourselves out there.”

It is my intention and my hope that this post, this blog, this website, and all of my direct work in the “world” liberates individual and collective creativity in creating relationships that lead to healing and substantive social change. This year, perhaps more than any other in recent history, has brought our human vulnerability to light in unexpected, often frightening, ways and led to both profound connections and disconnections between and among us. Our daily lives and experiences are indelibly marked by the impacts of COVID-19, also known as SARS-coV-2, n-cov2019, or World Coronavirus- and, of course, other versions that seek to demonize and blame particular groups of people for its origination and spread that I will not repeat here. Misinformation, disinformation, and data-supported information are being disseminated all day, every day, through traditional and social media sources and people are, legitimately, confused by the contradictions and political rhetoric surrounding this public health crisis.

I believe that fear and confusion can, at the same time, be useful and destructive forces in our lives. Their usefulness lies in the ways that they may catalyze meaningful change- transformation- by shaking us loose from comfort and certainty, leading to new thinking and inspiring intentional action that serves humanity. Their destructiveness lies in the ways they may cause us to cling to biases and judgments, perpetuate harmful behaviors, and deepen unfounded certitude in myths/stories that divide and isolate us, both within and without.

I think it’s helpful to ask myself, “what am I afraid of?” Is it my own death? Is it the suffering of my loved ones? Is it the looming specter of the next/concurrent crisis? All of the above? Each of these has numerous additional questions embedded and enfolded within them. Why do I/we fear death? Am I not living my life in the ways I want? Are there things I want to accomplish that I haven’t yet done? Am I worried about my own suffering and/or the pain my death would cause to those who love me? Is the impact I’ve had been more positive than negative? How will I be remembered? Has my life mattered?

I’ve written elsewhere on this site about the ways I’ve attempted to make use of my life and to transform the trauma I’ve experienced into healing and well-being for myself and others. In the past year, I’ve committed myself to documenting and amplifying my story and the stories of others in a variety of ways- through poetry, podcasts, narrative retelling, philosophical musings, and resource links. I’ve engaged in book studies, courses, events, creativity forums, protests, demonstrations, conversations, and arguments- most mediated through electronic devices and some in person.

I’ve made profound, life-changing connections with people I would never have met if it weren’t for the pandemic, and I’ve deepened relationships with people I’ve known for years. I’ve felt extremely isolated at times and completely attuned to my interconnectedness with all beings at others. I’ve supported others through personal crises and have found myself strengthened and empowered by their resilience and willingness to envision new realities on the other side of pain. I’ve written, and read, and baked, and gardened, and cooked, and sung, and danced, and meditated, and wondered, and listened, and talked, and worried, and cared, and dreamed, and lost, and wept, and laughed, and remembered… and lived.

As I write this, I realize that the constant reminder that human lives are fragile and finite has been the catalyst for my actively and intentionally choosing to commit my time and energy to life-affirming and relational activities- not just this year but ever since I recognized that certainty and comfort are, for me, not what I need to be at peace within myself. That realization came when I physically brought life into the world and felt an intensity of love I had never known possible. A fierce, protective love that has extended beyond my own child to envelop all children, all beings, all that contributes to life. This is, as Valarie Kaur has coined, “revolutionary love.”

The Christmas season and approach of the New Year has traditionally been a time of gathering and reflection. Of celebration and resolution. Of gratitude and joy. The songs and stories of this time communicate the human desire for hope and peace- of light in the darkness, regardless of individual religious beliefs. Despite the consumerist aspects of our culture that have been attached to the season, I have always loved and looked forward to the winter holidays because they meant being with loved ones in preparation for and celebration of our interconnectedness. Each year, my mother, sisters, and I would bake way too many cookies while listening to Handel’s Messiah and classic Christmas carols. Since her death in 2018 after a three year journey through cancer treatment and eventual decision not to treat it, the season has been melancholy and more than a little bit tinged with grief. In a way, I am happy that my mother hasn’t had to endure the stresses of the last two years and I also miss her terribly. Her absence is palpable and inescapable and yet, I also feel her presence viscerally. She haunts me in indescribable and not wholly unpleasant ways.

My personal grief is compounded by the grief of humanity in the face of incomprehensible loss of life and indelibly painful disruptions to our collective comfort and certainty throughout this pandemic. How can I possibly process all of this pain and still function? Self-care seems to be the buzzword on social media but opinions abound on what that looks like. For me, being in relationship with others through their personal experience of stress, trauma, and loss is not depletive but energizing. Does that mean I somehow sadistically enjoy their suffering? No. That’s not what it means but I realize that for some reading this the temptation may be to apply the cynical interpretation that those who choose a life of relationship and service are doing so to feed their own egos. This knowledge can make me self-conscious and force me to question my own motives- in that way it is helpful to think about it- as long as I don’t let the possibility that some will judge me as a “virtue-signaler” or insist my actions are performative keep me from continuing to act in alignment with my integrity.

I am energized in my interactions with others because of the “symbiotic real,” a term I recently encountered in the book Human Kind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People, by philosopher Timothy Morton. If I were adherent to the idea that we have a limited amount of love, empathy, care, or whatever term you use to describe the capacity to be in meaningful relationship with others, I would likely be drained and exhausted all the time- suffering from “compassion fatigue.” The commodification of care compelled by capitalist frameworks is inconsistent with my lived experience and with the scientifically and spiritually supported concept of interconnectivity or interbeing. I am often frustrated- not by the “neediness” of others but by the structures and systems we’ve created that define relationships as hard work, generally unrewarding, and requiring exact reciprocation in order to be worthwhile. I’m frustrated by the emphasis on data collection over meaningful connection for those of us who are employed in care-oriented fields and the normalization in our culture of outsourcing care to industries and institutions. That will be a blog topic for another day, though.

I can’t count the number of social media posts I see each day that are expressing some iteration of the idea that the author believes they are doing all of the “emotional labor” in their relationships and not receiving anything in return. That they are cutting people out of their lives and protecting their energy as a form of self-preservation. This is a tangential effect, I think, of the more widely recognized “cancel culture” phenomenon that has increasingly defined online relationships over the last few years. I linked adrienne maree brown’s blog post on the subject because she articulates my position on this better than I ever could. My main point is that our cultural norm for caring about and for one another has been polluted by social and political ideologies that center disconnection, discord, division, destruction. We cannot reconcile these ideologies with our true desires for love, connection, and belonging- they are literally irreconcilable. I’ve found this conclusion liberating because it’s freed me from the torment of trying to make sense of other people’s thinking and behavior. I can be present with people in pain without triggering my own trauma because I’ve intentionally transformed my own thinking and behavior. I choose to see beyond, look beneath, and hear what is unsaid when people behave in ways I don’t like. This is the essence of empathy, I think.

I have agency to imagine, define, and create alternative possibilities for myself and others not because I am independent but because I am interdependent. Who I am and what I do only matters if I am cognizant of the impact of my choices on my relationships and the impact of my relationships on my choices. It may seem counterintuitive and potentially paralyzing to consider all of my decisions in this way but, for me, it is actually quite empowering. Rather than trying to control others’ perceptions of me or how they treat me, I can focus instead on my own motivations and commit myself to curiosity and wonder about myself, which naturally leads to curiosity and wonder about those with whom I am in relationship and the web of inclusion I’m constructing continues to expand exponentially.

To return to the metaphor I started with, this post represents a conjunction of ideas that, together, may illuminate some portion of my perspective for the reader. Like the visual alignment of two of our solar system’s largest planets, perceptions of their radiance and interpretations of their meaning will vary. I offer these thoughts as a gift of my presence- to be with you in your grief, confusion, and hope for liberation and transformation as we set our individual and collective intentions for the coming year.

As ever, I invite you to comment, share, repost, as you like.

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Moving Beyond Civilization

I have written elsewhere within this site about the influence of Daniel Quinn’s work on my thinking. His books, Ishmael, My Ishmael, The Story of B, and others, have been fundamental resources and have significantly shaped my life. (Find all of Quinn works HERE)

In Beyond Civilization, published in 1999, Daniel Quinn broke down many of the concepts he explored in his fictional works as a nonfiction response to many of the questions he received from readers. Coincidentally, 1999 was the year I realized I was meant to do and be more in life than I had previously understood.

The catalyst for my shift was the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999, which compelled a near-obsession with understanding youth violence, which led me to decide to return to formal education after having been pushed out of high school 10 years prior, which led me to Philosophy 101 and the assignment and examination of Ishmael by my professor, who became a primary mentor and friend in subsequent years. I list this progression in this way because it illustrates the power of ideas to shape our choices, our relationships, and our impact. After reading Ishmael, The Story of B, My Ishmael, and other works by Quinn, I discovered Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure.

This portion of Quinn’s dedication in Beyond Civilization provides context for the subsequent content:

The homeless and the young are rapidly converging on the socioeconomic territory I identify in this book as “beyond civilization.” The homeless have for the most part been thrust into it involuntarily, while many of the young unknowingly yearn for it, as anyone does who wants more from life than just a chance to feed at the trough where the world is being devoured. It is to them and their hopes that this book is particularly dedicated.

Quinn, Daniel; Beyond Civilization, dedication page. Published by Harmony Books, 1999.

Quinn’s observation that many young people and others yearn for an alternative culture (way of life) wasn’t groundbreaking but his framing within his written work and speeches offered a way of understanding that I had not encountered prior to reading Ishmael and his subsequent books. Using the Socratic Method of structured questioning and interrogation of concepts across academic disciplines, Quinn told compelling stories of intellectual and relational transformation that resonated strongly with me. In reading his books, I felt as though many of my own thoughts and feelings were being articulated clearly and accessibly, supported by logic, facts, and emotionally accessible characters.

Having been forced into homelessness for a time, myself, I am able to relate to those who are unhoused within the “wealthiest country in the world.” Those who consume the least and live outside of the systems of harm throughout the world are often the most marginalized and mistreated within our culture. This, to me, seems fundamentally wrong. I have worked and developed relationships with young people for over 20 years and have listened closely to their stories of experiencing harm within our culture. I share their desire for new ways of living that honor our diversity and the inherent value and worth of all of us.

One of the most powerful aspects of Quinn’s works is the use of narrative techniques of fable, parable, and dialogue to clarify complex ideas. In Beyond Civilization, he uses this fable to begin the text of the book:

Once upon a time life evolved on a certain planet, bringing forth many different social organizations – packs, pods, flocks, troops, herds, and so on. One species whose members were unusually intelligent developed a unique social organization called a tribe. Tribalism worked well for them for millions of years, but there came a time when they decided to experiment with a new social organization (called civilization) that was hierarchical rather than tribal. Before long, those at the top of the hierarchy were living in great luxury, enjoying perfect leisure and having the best of everything. A larger class of people below them lived very well and had nothing to complain about. But the masses living at the bottom of the hierarchy didn’t like it at all. They worked and lived like pack animals, struggling just to stay alive.

“This isn’t working,” the masses said. “The tribal way was better. We should return to that way.” But the ruler of the hierarchy told them, “We’ve put that primitive way behind us forever. We can’t go back to it.”

“If we can’t go back,” the masses said, “then let’s go forward – on to something different.”

“That can’t be done,” the ruler said, “because nothing different is possible. Nothing can be beyond civilization. Civilization is a final, unsurpassable invention.”

“But no invention is ever unsurpassable. The steam engine was surpassed by the steam engine. The radio was surpassed by television. The calculator was surpassed by the computer. Why should civilization be different?”

“I don’t know why it’s different,” the ruler said, “It just is.”

But the masses didn’t believe this – and neither do I.

Quinn, Daniel; Beyond Civilization, page 3. Published by Harmony Books, 1999.

Much of my writing and thinking today is centered around how we move beyond the harmful systems and structures civilization (colonization) has created over the last 10,000 years and create others rooted in human well-being in relationship with the land, water, air, and all life on our finite planet. I’ve written of the myths and stories that hold the status quo in place and accelerate harm and attempted to offer alternative narratives and examples of living differently (in Chapter 4 of Flattening the Pyramids). I am convinced that indigenous ways of thinking, being, and knowing are essential to our survival and eventual thriving here on Earth.

I invite you to participate in imagining a thriving world with me- a world where justice is normalized and all life is valued as sacred, interconnected, and necessary. A world beyond civilization. Join me and imagine what we can create together. What an amazing adventure!

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What if Mother Teresa Was a Slut?

This post is the product of a series of thoughts I have been having about the nature of charity, the culture of harm in our society, and the objectification of, well, everything. I hope you’ll read beyond the headline to explore these ideas with me.

A couple of years ago, I got into an argument with a family member which culminated in her stating, “If you want to be f***ing Mother Teresa, you have to live like Mother Teresa!” The admonition struck me as absurd and not terribly relevant to what we were talking about but it has stuck with me. What did she mean? Was she saying that in order to make a positive difference in the world, I had to join a convent, take vows of chastity and poverty, and serve the poor in the streets? Did she mean that I was too flawed, too damaged, too human to have a meaningful impact? Or was she lashing out at me for making life choices she didn’t understand?

Since we grew up together, she knew that I had been a “troubled” adolescent and teenager. I had a “bad reputation” in high school because I talked about my sexual experiences and claimed the badge of “slut” with some degree of pride because I recognized the hypocrisy of shaming young women who were sexually active while celebrating the young men as “studs.” I didn’t complete high school for a variety of reasons that most of my family members didn’t know but the judgment was then, and appeared to remain, that I failed at one of the most basic tasks expected in our society. I chose to leave my marriage after over 20 years- another personal and social failure. I was financially unstable and living with my parents while working full time with young people and volunteering with various social justice organizations- all of which seemed to be viewed as selfish and irresponsible by other members of my family.

She, on the other hand, was a home and business owner, still married, and financially secure. AND she was thin. In short, she was living the “right” way. It is not surprising that she felt justified in passing judgment on me. She was “succeeding” in life and I was a failure. She was a winner and I was a loser. A fat, slutty, loser.

So, what about Mother Teresa?

As a kid, I heard about Mother Teresa a few times in school and in the news. She was regarded as one of the most charitable and selfless people in the world. She established orphanages, medical facilities, schools, and shelters through Missionaries of Charity, affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. She won the Nobel Peace Prize and many other awards and commendations. I admired her commitment to the poor and the suffering. In college, I learned more about her life and work and I realized there was a much more complex story beneath the surface image presented to me as a child. Though she had been portrayed as a saint, pure and virtuous, who had achieved world renown through countless acts of grace and compassion, her actions and motivations were not without controversy and criticism.

Some critics focused on Mother Teresa’s objection to family planning and the reproductive rights rights of women, as she was vehemently opposed to contraception and abortion. Others proposed that she had no interest in alleviating the conditions that caused poverty and illness but accepted these social issues as part of “God’s will” and she served the poor and sick only as a means of converting them to Catholicism. These critiques are supported by Mother Teresa’s own words and by the stated mission of the Catholic church throughout its history. Her objective as a missionary was “saving souls,” not healing society. Christopher Hitchens quoted her as saying, “I’m not a social worker. I don’t do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the church.”

As I think about the complexity of Mother Teresa’s work and its impacts, I am compelled to consider the ways that our dominant way of life tends to oversimplify and objectify everything and everyone. This is a particularly harmful facet of our culture, in my view. It is perpetuated through systems and institutions, including faith communities, media, government, and schools. We have these images in mind for what it means to be a “good person” or a “bad person,” doing the “right things” or the “wrong things.” Nuance and acknowledgement of co-existing contradictions in ourselves and others are rare in our public discourse and our society is becoming increasingly fragmented and polarized, as a result.

The truth is that we are all- every one of us- both sacred and profane. Does this mean we can’t make a positive difference in the world? I don’t think it does. I imagine that Mother Teresa was a compassionate, loving, committed, and well-intentioned person AND that her motivations were shaped by the systems and institutions of her society- particularly the Catholic church- which skewed the focus and impact of her work. She was compelled to objectify the people she served by the cultural forces around her. There were few, if any, countervailing opinions at the time about the operations of the church. Missionary work was seen as virtuous and necessary- demanded by God and expected of the faithful. I wonder if she could have seen any other options for being purposeful in her life as a young, Albanian woman in the 1920s? If she had been born in my time and place, would she have thought as a teenager, like I did, that her purpose and power could be expressed by rejecting antiquated social and sexual norms? Could Mother Teresa have been a slut?

Though we have numerous lenses through which to view and contextualize society and culture today, our primary worldview hasn’t really changed. Various forms of media have overtaken the church as the key purveyors of cultural messaging but the main message, itself, is remarkably similar- you are not good enough but ‘others’ are worse.

This is expressed through the marketing of products and services intended to signal elevated status. It is expressed through the punditry and commentary of “experts” who belittle the positions of opponents by attacking their appearance, lifestyle, or affiliations instead of refuting the substance of their arguments. It is expressed through reality shows and sporting events that glorify mean-spirited competition, violence, and shaming of “losers.” It is expressed through social media memes and tweets that revel in bashing or canceling people for any perceived transgression. It is expressed through hashtag movements and cancel culture. It is expressed through the normalization of disconnection, trauma, and pathologization of human emotion. It is expressed through Fox News identity politics and YouTube culture wars. It is expressed through the proliferation of exclusionary, micro-niche, virtual and IRL (in real life) groups, designed to ensure that no dissenting opinions will find their way in without harsh and immediate rejection.

All of these expressions (and many others) have been made more stark and severe as the we cope with a global pandemic, increasingly intolerable economic and environmental exploitation, and the ongoing social upheaval that is inevitable in a society designed and built for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. The only way I can see for humanity to survive and, ultimately, thrive into the future is to reject the worldview that has brought us to this point and replace it with one that accepts our individual and collective complexity, embraces the idea of interconnection of all beings, and is centered in love and justice.

How do we do this? The first step, I think, is to recognize the ways that we contribute to the objectification of ourselves and others, as this is what leads to dehumanization, exploitation, and trauma. Next, we should question the systems and institutions that taught and teach us to judge and rank everything as “good” or “bad,” “better” or “worse.” In so doing, we may imagine ways to create alternative systems and social institutions that don’t require the subjugation of anyone in order to define our value.

I am not Mother Teresa. I am Mama Sara. Flawed and learning. Hurting and healing. Brilliant and with blind spots. Alone and connected. Sacred and profane. I refuse to be objectified and I refuse to objectify others. I will continue, as Mother Teresa said, to “do small things with great love.” Whether the things I do will be recognized by others as worthwhile doesn’t really matter. I have no aspiration for sainthood- only integrity and healthy relationships. I am certain that is good enough.

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Why Do We Choose Servitude in the “Land of the Free?”

It’s a controversial question, I know, but please hear me out.

The most pressing issues of our time have a single common denominator- power. Who has it? How do they use (or, more often, abuse) it? What needs to be done to alleviate the suffering it causes?

Upon reflecting on my own life, I have come to understand that nearly every choice I’ve made has been forced or coerced through power dynamics and I think this is true for nearly all of us. As children, we are dependent on our caregivers for survival and this sets up patterns of power that become internalized. If we are raised by people who have, themselves, internalized unhealthy or abusive conceptions of power, we are most likely going to repeat the patterns we’ve learned unless and until there are countervailing interventions of various kinds.

It is also the case that we are raised not only within families, but within social institutions with cultural norms that are also internalized. Schools, faith communities, media, acquaintances, and other influences exert power in our lives when we are still developing our cognitive and emotional capacities and are vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation. It is no wonder, then, that so many young people experience some form of identity crisis and/or emotional instability as their brains develop greater executive function and are compelled both internally and externally to become more independent. What does it mean, though, to be independent in our culture?

In the United States, freedom and independence are so deeply engrained in our ethos that we often don’t interrogate the meaning of the words or the ideas they represent in any meaningful way- we just assume we have freedom because we are American. We are taught that this is the ‘Land of the Free’ and are expected to glorify the symbols of liberty that our “Founding Fathers” enshrined in the construction of our country- the flag, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and all of the institutions and positions of power that were created out of their ideas. Challenges to these ideas and the constructed reality they produced are typically dismissed or vilified automatically by most of us. The status quo is stubbornly persistent because our entire culture is built around a framework of resistance to change and we are, as a society, in deep denial that there may be flaws in the original design.

We are, collectively, choosing to serve these systems and institutions regardless of the overwhelming evidence that they do not serve us and are, in fact, causing irreparable harm to all life on Earth. Are we capable of thinking bigger?

What do you think?

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A Poem for The People

I weep each day

and search for what to say

to soothe the pain

of we, the people

I do my part

by leading with my heart

create more space

for we, the people

I dream of love

within, between, above

to heal the wounds

of we, the people

I speak and sing

of wholeness, interbeing

to join the souls

of we, the people

We have a choice

with our collective voice

to live as one

yes, we the people

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An Open Letter to All Educators

I am writing to all educators- not merely to the teachers, administrators, and other institutional personnel- but to all parents, caregivers, adults and older youth who are responsible for sharing knowledge and skills with children. I have an uncomfortable, but necessary, truth to share with you.

The United States’ education system is failing BY DESIGN and ON PURPOSE.

Please allow me to elaborate.

Our public and even private schools are not and have never been built for the benefit of our kids. Schooling was created to train children to be useful within the dominant social structure, particularly “the economy.” In the United States, our economy is one in which the vast majority of people have been working in jobs that are mind-numbing, soul-sucking, thankless, and/or physically debilitating with little to no financial security, recognition of our social-emotional needs, or care for our well-being. As the ultra-wealthy “masters of the universe” have gradually manipulated all of the levers of power at their disposal to eliminate the need for “workers,” it naturally follows that the benefits of employment would become less and less available to the masses. Well prior to the recent global pandemic and environmental disasters, work was not working for most of us!

Schools are increasingly being exposed as tools to perpetuate cycles of poverty, punishment, privilege, and power. Rather than focusing on the lack of resources provided by the government to our society’s most vulnerable and exploited communities of children and families, I’d like to focus instead on contemporary and historical patterns that may (hopefully) lead us to engage in a meaningful re-imagining of the purpose of education.

Wealth inequality and concentration of financial and political power has become so extreme in recent years that the majority of Americans have no personal or institutional “safety net.” This is tragic and undeniable. Treating the Earth and it’s inhabitants as “natural resources” for extraction, production, and consumption has led us to the brink of environmental collapse and spawned wars, famines, fires, floods, and subsequent despair and social unrest. Do we really want to continue training our children to perpetuate this destructive and unsustainable cycle?

It is not surprising to me that some people look back nostalgically to some point in America’s past when a single wage earner- typically a white male- could earn enough to support a family- buy a home in the suburbs or “good” city neighborhood with all the amenities (including quality schools), own and maintain a vehicle, acquire major appliances, go on vacations, remain employed with the same company for 40 years and retire with a decent pension. We know that this idyllic time of middle-class normality was not as “great” as many would like to believe, especially since it deliberately left out most Black and Brown people, unmarried women or women who wanted to work outside of the home, folks with disabilities, recent immigrants, and others who were outside of the White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant-designed power structure established at the founding of the country. For those who grew up with fathers who were alcoholic, abusive, and/or absent because of the stresses and pressures of being successful providers and mothers who seemed more concerned with impressing the neighbors than being emotionally available to their children, it’s not too hard to see that this lifestyle was not really working for those ostensibly benefiting, either.

Prior to industrialization, education was designed to provide landowners with labor that would be just literate enough in English and math to manage and farm the land efficiently, typically exploiting the bodies of those in the underclasses (determined mainly by constructed racial categories) who had no formal schooling at all- and who were often, in fact, punished for learning. Most students in those days completed their formal schooling by the age of 12 and went to work full-time in the fields, fully dependent on those who “owned” the land and the means of production. Those who pursued higher levels of education were the children of the wealthy, whose “educational achievement” would maintain their social status by preparing them to hold professional or leadership positions in administration and government. The rules they imposed on the country, including those related to education, were created within a framework of class distinction and holding people in their place on the economic and social ladder.

If we go back even further, prior to the colonization of the Americas, we know that there were people living here already who had no formal education system yet had managed to survive for millennia, living in relative harmony with each other within the natural world. Children learned the ways of their people by observing and imitating- through intergenerational continuity. We now call these groups aboriginal, indigenous, or first-nations people: defined as “produced, growing, living, or occurring natively or naturally in a particular region or environment.”

Recent scholarship in philosophy, anthropology, sociology, history, environmental sciences, and even astronomy and cosmology point to the inherent “workability,” if you will, of indigenous understanding of the world and humanity’s role within it. If we truly hope to address the catastrophic impacts of our civilization’s mythological worldview relative to the purpose of human labor and the educational needs of our children, we must seriously consider abandoning the entire system and creating one that centers the actual needs of people and the planet.

What would this look like? Well, to start, we should interrogate the some of narratives we have learned that have been proven inaccurate. Here are a few that I have recognized and reevaluated, personally:

  1. Formal schooling is necessary for children to be prepared for adult life.

I was taught and once believed that all kids need to go to school in order to have opportunities to be productive members of society. Education is the great equalizer and leads to engagement in civic life, gainful employment, and healthy families- this is the narrative we’re taught, right? I no longer believe this is true because, well, it’s demonstrably untrue. Quantifiable data and the lived experience of most of us show that regardless of educational attainment, most people are likely to stay within the same level of social hierarchy that they are born into or, as is more frequently the case of late, to drop into a lower caste category. The entire premise of equity/equalization is predicated on their being strata of social class and it is impossible, within this framework, for equity to be achieved within any of the systems designed to keep this framework in place.

2. It’s important to measure innate intelligence/acquired learning/achievement through standardized metrics and place students in “tracks” that are determined by the resultant data.

As a child who scored exceptionally well on standardized tests and in-class assessments of my comprehension, retention, and capability for higher order thinking skills, I am living proof that these things do not determine “success” as our society defines it. I was tracked into the “gifted & talented” programs in school and encouraged to pursue the most respected and esteemed professions in our culture- specifically, medicine or law. My aspirations were expected to be aligned with these tracks and the fact that they weren’t was seen as a lack of motivation on my part. I was labeled “disorganized,” “lazy/unmotivated,” and “troubled.”

As a young person, my mental/emotional health and subsequent behavior was impacted by specific, personal trauma from which I have healed through a long process of formal and informal therapeutic relationships. Having resolved my past pain while simultaneously broadening my perspective to understand the ways that the underlying cultural frameworks of our society influenced the behaviors of those who harmed me, I am now able to see the ways that the systems in which we are forced to operate are, themselves, inherently designed to perpetuate harm.

There is no measurement that can adequately describe the power of self-awareness and caring relationships to transform our culture and society in the ways our current situation demands. There have been valiant attempts to collect and communicate data in these areas through social science research, popular books, and various other forms of “thought-leadership” but since they are at odds with the system, they cannot effectively penetrate the structural force-field. I am still troubled- not because of what happened to me anymore but because of what has happened to all of us. We’ve become so invested in keeping the structures we’re used to in place, our imaginations have been collectively limited to think only in terms of ways to “reform” them, rather than dream of entirely different ways to live that are restorative, fulfilling, and future-minded.

3. Students are subordinate to adult authority and require educators to impart knowledge to them through structured, linear rules and processes.

Whether you are a parent or not, you’ve likely had occasion to observe small children at play. At the very least, you must remember some elements of your own childhood when you were just filled with wonder and connection. Remember…? When kids are allowed the space and time to explore the world around them, they learn not what to think but how to think. I remember sitting in the field near my childhood home watching insects and other animals crawl, jump, and fly and being so driven by curiosity I just had to find out more about them. My sisters, friends, and I would spend hours playing together- telling stories, singing songs, dancing, skating, rolling down hills, staring at clouds, making snow-angels, drawing/painting pictures, being silly and laughing at each other and at ourselves. This is the core of how I learned about empathy, compassion, joy, and social connection among peers. My best memories of my parents and other adults are the moments when they let their guard down and just enjoyed being with me- when they saw me, heard me, and showed me their love. Most of these experiences occurred prior to my starting formal schooling and I don’t think that is an accident. Once I became a student of the dominant culture with the subsequent expectations of conformity, competition, and comparison as the primary drivers, my connected, carefree days were effectively over. Internal and external conflicts naturally followed.

As an adult, I have formed and maintained relationships with many young people. In my experience, they have been invariably curious, passionate, creative, engaged, and motivated- NOT BY SCHOOL-but by authentic experiences in relationship with others who care about them. If anything, the imposition of rules and processes that are unnatural and counter to the way we actually learn have been major barriers to their education and fruition of their unique and collective gifts and talents. I believe the only way we will move in the direction of a world that works for all of us is by truly listening to our kids and recognizing the value of their idealistic imaginations in co-creating the world we want- the world our hearts know is possible. Our children and future generations of all species deserve no less.

I’ll close with a quote from Albert Einstein, who is regarded by many as one of the most intelligent and accomplished human beings ever:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed…”

Thank you for your consideration.

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Mama in the Middle- Reflections on Building A Just World

In the past few weeks I’ve seen and read a lot more articles and social media posts and had dozens of new conversations about the concept of antiracism. Having spent my entire adult life learning about and working for peace THROUGH justice, understanding power dynamics is deeply embedded in my approach to building relationships, communicating effectively, and resisting oppression in all of its forms.

Over the last 20+ years, I have formally studied conflict, peace, and justice; participated in countless book groups and restorative circle sessions; organized and facilitated dialogues and workshops about racial and social inequity; designed and managed educational programs promoting cross-cultural relationships and coalition-building; supported dozens of progressive organizations with my time, energy, and money; founded and managed youth leadership and social change organizations; and mentored, taught, and co-created with hundreds of young people from every background and identity group. I have immeasurable love for my Black and Brown students and youth program participants and they have been the primary source of my understanding and commitment to all forms of anti-oppression and pro-justice movements.

When the flash-point events: stories and videos exposing continued anti-Black violence (murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and Amy Cooper’s calling police to threaten Black “birdwatcher,” Christian Cooper) reached a critical mass of people already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic (disproportionately affecting poor Black and Brown people) and decades of cumulative rage and despair from hearing, seeing, knowing, and living the experiences of oppression in our culture, mass demonstrations and civil unrest predictably ensued. What was/is unpredictable is how quickly the coordinated actions that started in Minneapolis (Where police officer, Derek Chauvin, murdered Mr. Floyd) spread around the country and the world and how many white people have become active in the Black Lives Matter movement.

My first thought when rebellion erupted was, “I need to make sure my ‘kids’ are okay.” Of course, they were not and are not okay. I needed to accept their not okay-ness and the discomfort that caused me. I needed to listen and really hear them. I needed to demonstrate my love and stand with them and for them. I needed to continue having a LOT of difficult conversations with my white colleagues, friends, and family members. I needed to reflect, think, and consider the best ways to apply my skills and experience to ongoing resistance to oppression AND demonstrating alternative, pro-justice principles.

Most of the young people I’ve worked with were participants in The Possibility Project-Rochester (formerly City at Peace-Rochester). They are young adults now, aged 22-30, and a lot of them are parents or soon-to-be. Their lives are full of the daily stresses and expectations we all experience and on top of those, Black and Brown alumni are also dealing with the structural and institutional oppression of our racist culture and the long-term impacts of serious childhood neglect, abuse, and community violence.

A significant number of our alumni are members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Some are living in homes and neighborhoods where material resources are scarce. Others have more than enough material resources but are still seen by society, at large, as inherently suspect because of the color of their skin and/or their gender, sexuality, religion, IDENTITY. All are dealing with various manifestations of emotional and mental health challenges that are a direct result of their experiences of individual and collective trauma. All are dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 and other existential effects of global climate disruption.

Our young people are not okay. Our society is not okay. Our planet is not okay.

Initially, there was consensus among our active City at Peace/The Possibility Project-Rochester alumni group that they wanted to take action. We began discussing options for ways we could collaborate and create projects and demonstrations aligned with the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement. Through our Facebook group and Messenger threads and a number of Zoom meetings, various ideas emerged and started to develop. Soon, however, conflicts began to erupt- mainly around racial lines. Some of our white alumni were feeling pressured to “show up” more and protest alongside their Black peers, despite very significant health concerns and inability to leave their homes during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. Other alumni of all backgrounds were overwhelmed by everything that has happened and dealing with personal and family emotional and mental health crises. Others were just trying to make ends meet and needed to focus on work and home commitments.

I was and am “Mama in the middle,” trying to keep everyone focused on the justice-building and conflict resolution principles of our program, while juggling my full-time job, home, family, and community commitments. Some of our Black alumni felt hurt and angry that I wasn’t demonstrating enough loyalty to them. They perceived my attempts to reinforce constructive communication and acceptance of each member’s unique role in the group as being defensive on behalf of the white people. I felt stuck. I agreed with our most vocal Black members that this moment requires solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement and its demands. The means and methods for demonstrating solidarity, however, cannot realistically be homogeneous- we have different roles to play and different perspectives to offer and each has value. This is the heart of the work I’ve committed my life to doing.

I read and listen to a lot of Brene’ Brown’s work. She had this to say about the myth of ‘comparative suffering:’

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past decade, it’s that fear and scarcity immediately trigger comparison, and even pain and hurt are not immune to being assessed and ranked. My husband died and that grief is worse than your grief over an empty nest. I’m not allowed to feel disappointed about being passed over for promotion when my friend just found out that his wife has cancer…The refugee in Syria doesn’t benefit more if you conserve your kindness only for her and withhold it from your neighbor who’s going through a divorce.”

In much the same way, what we are going through individually and collectively with the conditions of the pandemic, economic/social and environmental crises has created fear and scarcity and we are all triggered in some way. I don’t believe that I am giving any of the young people I love what they deserve from me if I am dismissing any of their very real feelings and concerns in order to demonstrate my solidarity with a particular, identity-based movement and those who are most impacted by structural racism.

To reiterate, I have been and continue to be committed to dismantling all structures of oppression and I accept that I have benefited from systems of cis-gender and white privilege, while experiencing negative impacts of patriarchy and antisemitism as a woman of Jewish heritage. I cannot prioritize my hardships over anyone else’s because we are all subject to the negative impacts of our imbalanced structures of social/political/economic power. There is no doubt in my mind that our collective future is imperiled by the design of our civilization because it is abundantly evident that power is always concentrated, corruption is always rampant, and abuses are pervasive and inevitable wherever hierarchy is the structural framework of our systems.

The way forward may be uncertain for many of us and that’s difficult to accept. I hope we can agree that complex systems can’t be dismantled with simple solutions. It’s going to be messy and very, very difficult. I believe that centering and keeping relationships, empathy, and love at the core of any strategy as we move through our local and global community transformation, however, will lead us to real, lasting, compassionate alternatives for ourselves and future generations of life on this fragile planet.

What do you think? Please comment or send me a message through the contact form on this site.

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“Human, We Have a Problem”

Even if you haven’t seen the movie, Apollo 13, most of us know the most famous line from the film, and the situation on which it was based; a NASA mission intended to continue lunar exploration. The ship’s commanding officer, Jim Lovell, (played by beloved actor, Tom Hanks) was reporting to Mission Control about potentially disastrous malfunctions of the spacecraft and (slightly misquoted in the movie) said, “Houston- we have a problem.” A dramatic series of events ensued, culminating in the safe return of the ship and its crew to the Earth. They got home! A perfect Hollywood ending… roll credits.

Friday morning, as I was considering the state of my personal life, the world, and my place in it (all before having even a single sip of coffee, mind you) I heard myself think, “Humanity, we have a problem,” and started composing this post. I decided to change the title to “Human, we have a problem” because it is a more direct play on the original quote but I mean to communicate to the whole of humanity.

We are, collectively, experiencing a critical mass of disastrous malfunctions of our “spacecraft,” Planet Earth, that is- at the same time- similar to and entirely different from those experienced by Lovell and his crew on that fated lunar landing mission in April of 1970. We are, metaphorically, in a “dark side of the moon” moment as we are forced to seriously weigh the consequences of decades of environmental and social degradation and injustice. The global COVID-19 pandemic, real-time catastrophic impacts of industrial processes and global climate disruptions, and massive sociopolitical unrest are cascading and compounding existential threats to our individual and interpersonal well-being. We are, as a species, being overwhelmed with fear and stress. We are breaking down. Our only home is breaking down. Hope is fading.

Can we right this ship, break through, and get our happy ending?

Clearly, the myriad complex and intersectional issues we face as human beings in this time are not as easily resolved as a movie plot. I think there is value in thinking about our lives, circumstances, and the way forward as a narrative, however. This is our story to write. We choose what to do next. What if we choose hope and possibility rather than believing we are doomed? The crew and support team of Apollo 13 chose to create solutions rather than getting stuck in despair. They were, like us, hurtling through space, with limited resources, but rather than focusing on lack and being victims of circumstance, they focused on what truly mattered to them, chose ingenuity & imagination, and adjusted their expectations in order to survive and rejoin their human family on this beautiful, blue planet.

What we face is overwhelming when we perceive ourselves as small, alone, and insignificant. Each of us has immense power that is obscured by all of the false stories we learn as children. We are told we are not enough. We are told we are not worthy of love and belonging. We are told to follow arbitrary rules we had no part in making. We are told what to want. We are told not to feel. We are told there is one right way. We are told to obey. Fit in. Shrink. Forget.

Unlearning all of the lies we have been taught is painful and disruptive and we feel ill-equipped to consider new ways of being within our selves, with others, and in the world.

We have become “addicted” to our hidden shame and isolation- in as much as we know on some deep level it is killing us but we continue to cling to it because it is familiar and we think we need it. As with any addiction, admitting we have a problem is the most important step. The next step is admitting we need support from others to break the attachment to that which is killing us. In connecting with those who have been there too, broken through, and found new paths toward truly being and belonging in the world as healed, whole, thriving, and creative members of our human family, we are able to envision- then enact- new lives based on Truth.

The good news is that there is a significant and growing global movement of people who are writing and living new stories for humanity. This movement is difficult to see when we only recognize small parts of the larger whole. Wherever and however individuals and groups are committing themselves to challenging the status quo and demonstrating alternatives to our political, social, economic, and cultural norms- that is the movement. As the challenges we face accelerate and aggregate, so too our collective shift toward justice, renewal, and regeneration accelerates and grows. Observe. Listen. Feel. Know. Be. Connect.

Human, we have a problem. We are also the solution.

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If I should die, before WE wake…

If you have managed to avoid seriously contemplating your own mortality in the midst of a global pandemic, well, good for you, I guess…? I’m a philosopher and, as such, contemplation of my own mortality is a thing I’ve done for years. Our collective “situation” has merely made my interrogation of the topic somewhat more urgent, however. Here are some of my reflections:

  1. We are all temporary, individually. This is not a new idea and I’m certainly not claiming the insight as original to me. What has become clearer to me through this time in relative isolation is a more visceral understanding of the concept. My life is a blip on the radar screen of space & time and I’ve been compelled to reflect upon my impact which is, admittedly, difficult to assess from a purely individual perspective. One thing is abundantly obvious to me, however- my life’s meaning is found in my relationships to and influence on others.
  2. Our actions have significant impact on other people and our entire living environment. Again, this is not an original concept but one that is important to examine and evaluate. I have spent most of my adult life committed to causes in pursuit of peace and justice. I started out focusing on finding personal peace. Dysfunction and trauma in my childhood led to certain distortions of my thinking and behavior that did not serve me or those around me well. Therapy, motherhood, studying social sciences and philosophy, and focusing my career toward service to and with others led me to a broader perspective and I realized that my talents, knowledge, and experiences have made me a valuable resource to others who’ve suffered similar pain and trauma. Hurt people hurt the world AND healed people heal the world.
  3. Our cultural stories shape our worldview and impact everything we do. Once I moved beyond the focus on myself as an individual, I was able to more accurately recognize the narratives that shape our human societies and how we perpetuate stories that are harmful to ourselves, each other, and the entire world of Life. In the United States, our cultural stories have been particularly harmful due to the normalization of exploitation, alienation, and abuse of power that are inherent to our nation’s formation, expansion, and hegemony around the globe. Most notably, our economic system, subsidized market capitalism or crony capitalism, goes largely unquestioned in the public discourse and, when it is interrogated, those seeking to expand our understanding of what an economy is actually for (the ability of people to make a sustainable living) are marginalized and attacked personally so their ideas won’t be seriously considered. We, as a people, are the most militaristic, materialistic, and narcissistic society in human history and we’ve exported our way of life to other “developed and developing” countries, while imposing the worst impacts of our lifestyles on those who’ve maintained much less harmful ways of living. The remaining indigenous/First People in the world represent fewer than 5% of our global population, despite the success of their cultures for many millennia prior to the development of modern civilization. We have almost wiped out our most effective models for how to live in harmony, integrated with the natural world! We must learn from their stories and their success.
  4. We rationalize harm to others and the planet as necessary for “growth & progress.” I’ve written more extensively on the Myth of Perpetual Growth in Flattening the Pyramids and invite you to read my longer-form thoughts on the subject there. I’m confident that you likely understand the idea since it is apparent in every news report, every discussion of economics, and every social studies class we took as kids. Growth is the standard for progress in our culture and the more the better! Even while acknowledging that unchecked growth is akin to a social and ecological cancer that depletes life-sustaining resources in service of making wealthy people wealthier, we continue to accept the measurement of GDP and the direction of Wall Street numbers as primary indicators of how we’re doing as a society. We must re-frame this narrative and bring attention to alternative ways of being and living in our world- especially those of indigenous tribes and other folks who have successfully maintained or restored ecological balance. Eco-villages, intentional communities, and worker-owned cooperative businesses are some modern forms of sustainable socioeconomic models.
  5. Once “awakened” to our true nature as inter-dependent, inter-connected members of the universal Web of Life, it is impossible to return to complacency and mindless participation in systems of harm. As my worldview has expanded to include caring for all living species of our fragile planet, I have found it increasingly intolerable to go through the motions of living in ways that ignore my negative impacts as an individual and the collective damage our culture has wrought. Though I appreciate technology as a means of communication and connection, especially in this time when we are unable to gather in person, I am painfully aware that more and “better” technologies will not save us from impending extinction. We will not outsmart biological pathogens released through our unchecked destruction of wild spaces, we will not artificially increase the carrying capacity of the Earth, and we will not escape to another planet once our only home has been rendered uninhabitable. “Green Tech” will not help us if we don’t abandon the death cult of “growth at all costs.”
  6. Humanity’s time is very short unless we shift rapidly & collectively toward true sustainability. Despite my seemingly negative outlook on our situation, I am actually optimistic about the potential of our culture to shift, especially in light of the fact that we’ve (largely) accepted our relative powerlessness in the face of the current global pandemic and stopped many of our harmful practices out of necessity. There are more crises coming and there will be no return to our prior “normal.” This is a scary but hopeful place to be. This is a place that allows us to imagine new possibilities and make decisions with the future of all generations in mind. True sustainability requires us to understand ourselves and our relationships within a different, but not entirely new, cultural framework. We have great examples and, I believe, deep longing for other ways of being and living- ways that celebrate the best of who we are as humans- loving, connected, joyous, caretakers of life.

If I should die before our species wakes up to our true nature and makes its way toward the world we want, I’ll leave knowing I’ve said my piece.

Will you say yours?

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Welcome!

It is mid-March of 2020 as I begin this project and the entire world is in the midst of a profound shift in thinking, working, and living. Global climate change, pandemic disease, and social disintegration have coalesced at once, making humanity’s future devastatingly uncertain. My aim is to gather and share some of the most promising resources and information for those who are able to see past this moment and envision new possibilities that have not yet been realized in the modern age. I seek collaboration and invite your imagination and your willingness to hope and act for change. Ideas, stories, and relationships have always been the foundation of our species’ interactions with each other and have always influenced our ability to rebuild after catastrophic events. The question I am desperate to answer is this- will we continue to build structures and systems that lead to ever more catastrophe or will we learn how to accept The Law of Life and adapt in ways that ensure humanity’s survival for millennia to come?

“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles; Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances. Courage breeds creativity.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Who I am…

My name is Sara Hughes. I am 47 years old and live in Rochester, NY. I have one biological child, Jacob, who is 22 years old and am also “Mama Sara” to hundreds of young people I’ve met and come to know and love through my volunteer and professional work as a mentor, educator, program manager, and youth development specialist.

I began my intentional life’s work journey in 1999, after the tragic mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. I realized then that I had a responsibility to participate in the world as though all kids are my kids and all life is connected. In the 21 years since I came to that realization, my understanding of my place within this complicated, messy, beautiful universe has broadened and deepened significantly. Subsequent revelations have led me to begin this project, which I expect to evolve through connections with and contributions from you.

The content I plan to post includes: essays, stories, poetry, artwork, video messages, memes, links, and other resources- all of which will promote thinking, acting, and connecting in ways that promote healthy and sustainable options for living with one another and all life on Earth. It’s ambitious, I know! You may ask yourself, as I have, “who are you to think you can change anything?” My answer is this- I am someone who has felt powerless and isolated for many years of my life. Through a series of awakenings- realizations of certain truths- I came to understand that we are all, inexorably and inextricably connected. This is The Law of Life. This transformed everything for me, personally, so it stands to reason that it can be transformational for others, too.

I have studied ideas and practices that have successfully shifted humanity toward interconnection and wholeness and also those that have led us astray, as a species. I have built and maintained myriad relationships with others from all walks of life and listened to them deeply- leading to an understanding how our lived experience shapes our perception of ourselves and each other. I am acutely self-aware and know that the lens through which I see the world is uniquely mine and, therefore, understand that this is true of all of us. I do not believe I have “the answers” for everyone but I’m confident that each of us is capable of contributing significantly to the world and, together, we may create new narratives and demonstrate new ways to preserve and protect our fragile ecological and social networks into the future, informed by sources of wisdom, both ancient and contemporary.

There is no way to know what the impact of my efforts will be. In a time of almost universal uncertainty, I’m content to know that I’m doing what I can. For those of you who read these words and think it’s foolhardy to hope that my vision of the future may be advanced through the sharing of ideas and information online, I welcome your suggestions for better ways to do it!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

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