Saturday Evening Post

Do the Right Thing

Friends,

A common phrase these days is “Do the right thing,” whether directed to politicians, co-workers, family or ourselves. I’ve been pondering how we go about deciding what the “right thing” may be. Of course, there are situations where rightness or wrongness are clear, but most of the time decisions about how we are to decide the rightness and wrongness of a behavior is more complex. We all have various lens through which we screen our behavior: moral precepts, self-interest, expediency, or compromise, for example. Or the most complex arbiter of all, our conscience, that “inner feeling or voice viewed as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior.”

  Photo by  Joost J. Bakker

I have been thinking expressly about what “doing the right thing” politically means today. Many people who are still so impressed by Bernie Sander’s campaign or Jill Stein’s progressive platform are struggling about whether or not to vote for Hillary Clinton. On the one hand there is a sense that Hillary’s status quo declarations, as strong and worthy as many are, fall short of what excited us about Bernie’s message and Jill’s more appealing progressive clarity. On the other hand, the practical reality is that any vote not for for Hillary is a default vote for Trump.

Conscience/compromise/expediency/moral precepts play out in our minds and hearts. “Do the right thing.” Maybe the best we can say about the "right thing” in terms of our vote is, as someone has suggested, to put a clothespin on your nose and just vote for Hillary. 

I am trying to take a higher path than that on behalf of my conscience and all that guides my behavior. I believe the way forward is to assume the coming years will be challenging beyond my imagination, that we probably have not yet seen the bottom of some of the economic, racial, and cultural divisions in our society. But I am confident that under duress humanity and the planet have a profound capacity for adaptation, and I am setting my compass in the direction of supporting our capacity to sustain life..

These past couple of weeks, for example, I was fortunate to have several in-depth opportunities to share in the lives of young men and women a couple of generations behind mine, those in their 20’s and 30’s. I am not quite sure I can capture the impression these conversations have left on me. I did not feel there was particular clarity about their personal lives or the direction of their professional lives. Nor did I sense a cheap optimism or a glib “whatever” of cynicism lite. It wasn’t like that at all. Instead, I had the sense that their lives were somehow in touch with a kind of deeply resourced, clear, artesian well of spring water that was supporting new life. A quiet bubbling of intrinsic hope and commitment. Maybe i was just lucky to meet the best of this generation, but I want to believe there are hundreds of thousands more like them across the globe who are in touch with an ancient, spiritual source of intrinsic hope that will eventually resource and transform the sustainability of our planet. When I read Yes! magazine, for example, and the creative, often courageous, ways young people are addressing climate, economic and cultural problems, or I read of the young people around the world being honored by the Giraffe Project for their commitment to solving problems in their communities, I am so inspired, grateful and filled with encouragement and hope for our planet. (And I want to make sure I add, with a huge grateful smile, that I could say I get the same encouragement and inspiration from many in my own generation as well!)

Maybe Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein will provide strong political inspiration and leadership for these next generations, and the young will simply follow. But more likely the next generations will actually provide a new strength of  leadership and vision themselves. I am watching a whole new generation of leadership, for example, transforming the restorative justice work that I have been supporting for the past twenty five years. The next generations will receive some inspiration, no doubt, from our cultural heroes such as the Dalai Lama or Pope Francis and many of us from the previous generations, but they are as likely to receive as much inspiration from each other. My generation’s job, it seems to me, is to offer what we can from our hard earned experience juggling our personal, social, economic and cultural lives over the years trying to “do the right thing.” But we are not to presume to have any final answers, certainly not to pass on any of own tired discouragements, or suggest the struggle is too big or already lost. Instead, what I plan to try to do is to commit to listening as often and as deeply as I can to my inspiring junior generation, whether personally or through their writing or witness. I long for that mutual opportunity to mutually listen and learn.

I’m voting a solid yes for Hillary because I truly believe she has the strong, admirable capacity and political experience to help her govern and lead us through these difficult times., I believe she will be open to be guided and encouraged by her own conscience - and by ours! - to “do the right thing” as she also weights her decisions against the real politik of her presidential role. I fully expect that I will vehemently disagree with her on many decisions, as I have with Obama. But I expect to help the next generations use and transform her presidency to build toward the world worthy of our next generations - my grandchildren in particular - as we continue to forge a consensus of conscience and behavior that moves us closer to “doing the right thing” to sustain and encourage each other and the life we share with the environment and the planet itself

Peace,
Tom

World Without War

Friends,

I have spent the better part of this weekend streaming a World Without War conference on war abolition being held in Washington, DC. (For those interested, the conference will continue to be re-streamed here). We heard speaker after speaker give accounts of the enormous negative impact of war our planet - the suffering of people killed and injured, the hundreds of thousands of refugees created, the economic and environmental cost of preparing for and executing war, the immorality of the arms trade, the failure of the US Congress to audit and control the Pentagon budget, the complete insanity of preparing for a nuclear war, the failure of the US to observe international law like the Geneva conventions and the UN Declaration of Human Rights - the list goes on -  but these accounts were balanced by inspiring alternative nonviolent efforts to address conflict and war, a much needed positive appeal of the event.

My interest in this conference, and my commitment to war abolition, have a very personal beginning, an epiphany, if you will, that has changed my life.

Several years ago I went to the movie Amazing Grace about the 20 year struggle to abolish the slave trade in Great Britain. In spite of the horrendous suffering inflicted on the slaves, efforts to abolish slavery were defeated time and again by the combined support of Parliament and the powerful economic interests that depended on slave labor in the American colonies and the Caribbean. Finally in 1807, with the heroic efforts of William Wilberforce and others, the slave trade was finally abolished. At the dramatic conclusion of the film I found myself unexpectedly weeping so hard I couldn’t leave my seat. When I gained my composure I realized that if slavery could be abolished against such heavy odds we could also abolish war. And I came to believe that deeply. From that night on I have made it a priority in my life to work for the abolition of war.

It's indeed a big jump from abolishing slavery to ending war, but in my mind the inconceivable suffering caused by war is so much more egregious than even the immense suffering of the slave trade. When war is supported by the power of the military-industrial-political forces that so immorally support and profit from it - as did the collusion of political and economic interests in Great Britain that supported slavery - the abolition of war is obviously a considerable challenge. But I truly believe it is doable, even in my lifetime.

Most would assume that the cause of war abolition is too big to attempt, I know. The strategy means that we not only need to condemn the atrocities and injustice of war, we need to provide alternatives to validate our efforts. Fortunately, increasingly peace studies use the phrase “peace science” because the research has so conclusively shown the effectiveness of nonviolent intervention over the violence of war. I find this profoundly encouraging. Two weeks ago I wrote about the millions and millions of people across the entire globe who went to the streets on the same day of February 15, 2003, to oppose the Iraq war, and then in 2012, when given the opportunity to address the Obama administration’s intention of carrying out a “surgical strike” against Syria, thousands of the American people rallied to say no, and the bombing was called off (with the help of some timely diplomacy). In spite of the numbed acceptance of the normalization of perpetual war by many Americans, the public is beginning to realize that the lies that were used to justify the Iraq war - and many wars before and since - and their general failure to achieve any lasting positive results - only disaster upon disaster - are all making war increasingly impossible to justify and support. As former Marine Smedley Butler wrote in 1933, “War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.” What a tragic and true assessment of war this is!

War is but one of the considerable threats facing our planet, and solutions are never simple, but we need to address them. Perhaps we need to start the task with the awareness that our impending environmental crisis and war are caused in large part by the harm done over years of rapacious greed and abuse of human life and our natural environment. In the field of restorative justice we ask not what law is broken but what harm has been done, and how are we to heal the harm and restore relationships. The healing process usually includes a sense of acceptance of responsibility, remorse, a willingness to make restitution, and a commitment to not continue the harm. 

War is the epitome of harm and the failure of the human enterprise to create alternative means of addressing conflict nonviolently. The challenge we face regarding war is whether we have the courage to face the truth about the unspeakable harm caused by war and the tragedy of our false, socially constructed belief that war and violence are the most effective means to address conflict - what theologian Walter Wink calls the “myth of violent redemption." We now know a whole array of alternatives to conflict resolution and the prevention of deadly conflict, both at the international and national level and in our own communities and lives. The excitement during the conference was that we now have the “peace science” about how to deal with conflict and abuse in creative, nonviolent, and life sustaining ways. It is reasonable to believe that war abolition is possible if we can implement those strategies, of course, before it is too late. Momentum is on the side of possible implementation. Because of the growing interest in “peace science” tåhere are now over 600 colleges across the globe with peace studies programs, and many of us know of promising young people who are engaged in or who have completed these studies. How can we not find this encouraging?

All of us need to examine our understanding of the role of war in today’s world. Is war ever truly justified, particularly nuclear war? What are the alternatives? What are we willing to do to engage in an war abolition movement? Join me in believing the abolition of war is possible and support all those working in so many, many ways to create and implement alternatives to violence and war, in spite of, and in the midst of, this often violent world. We can abolish war. We must abolish war. 

Peace,
Tom

Chief Seattle, 1854

Friends, 

I am thinking this evening about the prophetic voice of Chief Seattle, the great leader of the Suquamish people here in the state of Washington. In 1854 he delivered a moving and sadly prophetic speech to mark the transferral of ancestral Indian lands to the U.S. federal government. He spoke eloquently about the interconnection of all creation and the crucial importance of treating the earth, the beasts and each other with reverence and dignity. But he also warned the U.S. government that the land would not tolerate abuse and crass exploitation that he had observed [edited]: “This we know: The earth does not belong to humankind; humankind belongs to the earth. This we know: All things are connected like the blood which unites one family.” And he goes on: " Whatever humans do to the web of life, we do to ourselves…Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.” His words come from a holy place, and it is worth reading the whole speech.

  Tombstone of Chief Seattle in Suquamish, WA -  Photo by Daniel M. Short

Tombstone of Chief Seattle in Suquamish, WA - Photo by Daniel M. Short

Historically the “prophetic voice” is not so much about predicting the future as it is about naming the present with its blatant injustices and exploitation of the poor and the land. And the line of thought in the prophetic voice is that unless the deep harm being done is addressed there will be consequences. The prophetic voice is usually not a comfortable or welcome one. But it is the faithful voice of integrity, hope and profound love of Life. And it has the capacity to inspire and even compel us to act. It’s message consistently predicts that a failure to act will result in the impending and real cultural and planetary catastrophe we are facing today, for example, because of our rapacious exploitation of the earth’s resources and the oppression of the poor. 

  The only known photo of Chief Seattle, 1864 - Src: Wikipedia

The only known photo of Chief Seattle, 1864 - Src: Wikipedia

Most importantly the prophetic voice not only offers a warning, it also calls us to change our ways, to stop the self/life-defeating behavior that is “suffocating us in our own waste.” I have been so moved these past couple of weeks by the Sioux Tribe and the solidarity of thousands of other tribes and supporters at the Standing Rock demonstrations as they resist the oil pipe line and seek to protect their water supply. I see ordinary people courageously, nonviolently confronting the dogs and clubs that remind us of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. I see a world coming to understand not only the immediate injustices of the pipeline henchmen and their bosses but the centuries old exploitation and neglect of the First Nation people. I have no way of knowing whether Chief Seattle would be pleased, but I believe he would. His prophesy about the impact of the exploitation of the land and the poor has sadly been largely confirmed. But his steadfast conviction that we are of one blood is also being played out as the Standing Rock event becomes a national movement to protect the earth and honor the dignity of all creation, including all of us "connected like the blood that unites one family." 

The dramatic levels of change called for at Standing Rock will be resisted as they challenge the privilege and power of the aligned forces of money and political control. But what we are seeing is a surge of a depth of commitment to the earth and to the survival of humankind in opposition to the culture of exploitation and greed. Love for life itself impels the prophetic voice. Let us honor the historical prophetic voices of Chief Seattle and all those whose courage and love of life have inspired and encouraged us to believe a more just world is possible and to act toward that end.

Peace,
Tom

P.S. I have now established wider social media contacts. I am on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tomewellwriter.  I also have a twitter account @tomewellwriter. My Saturday Evening Posts are now archived on my website if you want to refer back to them. 

And finally, to brighten your day, enjoy this lovely three minute Ad Council award winning video of the affirmation of the loving connectedness of our diverse human family: http://www.commondreams.org/further/2016/09/16/anything-else-we-are-all-human

Interdependence Day

Interdependence Day

Please join me next Monday in the world-wide movement to commemorate Interdependence Day, September 12, the day after memorializing 9/11. I assume most of you have never heard of Interdependence Day, but if you are not familiar with it please welcome the opportunity to join with others throughout the world to celebrate the spirit and reality of our planetary interconnectedness.

Technical Difficulties

Technical Difficulties

Although I had written a post for last Saturday evening my computer refused to send it out - just refused; like the proverbial mule, it just sat there. I assumed, of course, it was my bad, some key I had hit wrong, or I had offended my computer’s personal sense of political or moral correctness. I had to go to bed defeated thinking all would be well in the morning, being the optimist I am. 

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice

I am increasingly excited about the restorative justice movement in our country, not just in our prisons but in our every day lives. Many of you already know about restorative justice and perhaps already use it in your family or work life. In its simplest terms a restorative justice response to a crime or wrong doing asks not what rule or law was broken (as in "zero tolerance" in school jargon), but what harm has been done.

Indifference

I have been troubled this week about the word “indifference.” 

It’s a "two-faced” and unreliable word, really, and thus not very welcome in usage. One face connotes blame and accusation, with a side profile of guilt. It is very uncomfortable to be accused of indifference, of not carrying at all, or not caring enough, about an injustice or the sad plight of someone or whole groups of people. I thought of that word this week when I saw the heart-wrenching photo and video of a small Syrian boy named Omran who had had just been dug out of bomb rubble and, in shock, was wiping the blood from his face. I asked myself, “How can I possibly be indifferent to this child, to the bombing, to war in general, when I see such a sight.” The problem, of course, is that I didn’t really know how to respond. I can often be left with only a sadness, a sense of impotence to do anything, in the face of suffering. The more I have these feelings, it seems, and don’t know how to respond, the more susceptible I am to becoming emotionally and empathetically numb and, yes, increasingly indifferent.

Coincidence

I’ve just had a remarkable coincidence I want to share.

Each of us probably has our list of coincidences in our lives. The dictionary calls a coincidence a “remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.” (You have to read that twice!) With our scientific, cause-effect mindsets it is difficult to explain a “coincidence" in our life, and, of course, that’s the point: we almost never can. But these coincidences do happen, they're real; maybe they are related to divine intervention; maybe they are just some sort of randomness that can only ultimately be explained by chaos theory; maybe they are just simply part of the Grand Mystery of life. But whatever happens “without apparent causal connection” the experiences almost always inspire a feeling of inexplicable wonder that goes with them.

August 6, 2014

The top current event this week is the Olympic games in Brazil. Beyond the extravaganza of opening night showcasing the international spectrum of participants; the dramatic personal stories of so many of the participants; the exciting competitions themselves; and the compilation of who wins the most medals, I am wondering how much do the Olympics contribute to a vision of world solidarity and peace?

July 30, 2016

Two timeless backyard events captured my imagination this week.

I was watering the garden last Monday when I heard a young man’s voice count to five…one, two, three, four, five; one, two, three, four, five, over and over. At first I thought it was a neighbor doing calisthenics. Then I realized the count was coming from a series of First Nation/Native American traditional canoes paddling in the Puget Sound below our home. The sight was stunning. Yes, I had read that canoes would be converging in our area as they headed to a gathering of the Northwest tribal canoeists near Seattle. But as I looked out over the water to the beautiful, colorful canoes paddled in rhythm by six or so canoeists of various ages I experienced a strange feeling for which I had no word. I had been transported back perhaps thousands of years when these native people and their canoes plied these waters, counting, perhaps singing, chanting. I could only imagine the intimacy of the experience of working in union for miles at a time, focused, bonded. I don’t believe I am not romanticizing the impact the canoeists had on me. I was in fact witnessing a contemporary version of a way of life that was sustained for hundreds or thousands of years - the intimacy of deep purpose, using the water in unison, and sharing a sense of ancient solidarity within their community.