Rev. angel Kyodo williams | Beyond idiot compassion

Rev. angel: First of all, understanding that would be huge. It’s a vast chasm for most of us. Our belief in separation is profoundly deep, and even many of us who endeavor to close the gap are still operating through the lens of trying to maintain our privilege; which means that others become less entitled. But if we can deeply connect into a felt experience of our interdependence, our commonality, our fundamental oneness and equality—then we have a chance.

If I say in progressive circles that we are all equally worthy, most people will nod their heads.  But to actually act on it is mind-blowing because it shuts down the way we have grown our culture for millennia. We’re really put to the test of creativity when we have to operate from the fundamental truth that we’re all equally worthy, inherently.

In theory that’s the belief this country was built on, right?  But then, right in the document that created the country’s basic operating instructions we find that, in terms of participating in the government, only white male landowners are equal. That we could actually accept this document without noticing the discrepancies is a testament to the power of our disconnection.

Ironically, religious institutions have been among the greatest perpetrators of disconnection. So the chasm between our so-called ideals and our reality is wide. If we can close it up, if we can have the lived experience of equality, we will be forced to reach into a creativity that will challenge us immensely as a culture. But the fruit of it will be a society that is organized around entirely different premises, which is how social inequality would get redressed—not on the policy or advocacy level, but through dramatic reorganization of society around radically different beliefs. We would be called upon to create a differently oriented society, which would redress the social issues.

The MOON: So it’s not just a matter of having a good feeling in your heart, or an egalitarian thought in your head, but a matter of living a radically different…communalism.

Rev. angel: Right. Because the society is currently built on capitalizing on the resources of the planet and its people. When that’s no longer fundamentally OK, we’ll have to totally reorganize society to equally value everyone’s contributions and make sure that there’s a place for everyone in the society. It will become society’s responsibility to ensure that there’s a place for everyone—because everyone is equally valuable. We don’t have that in our current society.

The MOON: What would it look like to push for that without getting attached?

Rev. angel: We live in a tender balance between the relative and the absolute. Working for this change without getting attached requires a fundamental trust in the unfolding of things, the passage of time, and our own learning process. We’ve had many, many millennia to create the conditions we live in now. Given that—and the tendency of humans to cling to the status quo—it’s not likely that things will change overnight. So from the relative perspective we have to do everything we can to advance this systemic change—both external and internal—and then we have to recognize that we are evolutionary creatures and that evolution takes place on an incremental level.

The best we can do is move as far forward as we possibly can. That’s how the opportunity for the next generation gets created—the possibility of seeing the world differently, through a different lens. That’s the balance we have to hold within ourselves.

Plus we have to balance our work with enjoying our lives, so that we’re not recreating a pattern of pain and destruction from taking things so seriously that we’re tired, sick, and miserable.

The MOON: Van Jones talks about the need for activists to take care of themselves before they burn out. He tells the story of waiting in his mechanic’s waiting room for his broken-down car to be fixed and noticing that there were others waiting who appeared to have a practice of bringing their cars in for regular servicing to prevent them from breaking down.

Rev. angel: So much of the energy being expressed in our culture—particularly the anger that has taken over our politics—has become so negative that more than anything we need to express an exuberant joy and a confidence in and love for life. It goes back to being the change we want to see. If we want to create a joyful, jubilant society in which there’s opportunity and access for everyone, we have to embody that joyfulness. We have to recognize and participate in the things that nurture us in life; we can’t postpone them until after we’ve accomplished whatever it is we hope to accomplish—because we don’t know when or if we’ll get there. This is it: this is the life we have. A good Buddhist might say we have another life, as well; to which I say, “This the one we remember. So let’s make the most of it. Let’s be exemplars of the life we hope for on behalf of all beings.”

That’s where a lot of change movements get stuck. They’ve become destructive themselves in many ways—and their actions have become transactional rather than transformative, which is really the change we’re after.

The MOON: What do you mean “transactional rather than transformative”?



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