Updated: Sep 16
There is great suffering in the world.
There is great oppression, and injustice.
Everywhere we look there is war, poverty, genocide, depression, anxiety, abuse, racism, sexism, inequality, human trafficking and human rights abuses.
In his “Song to Woody”, Bob Dylan sums up this idea,
Hey, hey Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song.
‘Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a-comin’ along.
Seems sick and it’s hungry, it’s tired and it’s torn.
It looks like it’s a-dyin’ and it’s hardly been born.
The world in which we live often looks tired and torn, like it’s dying before our very eyes, and we’re dying with it. Can we not see the vital importance of positive change on a global scale, for the sake of every human alive, and for future generations?
But what are we to do?
How can we do anything to change the current tide of hate and negativity in the world? We can see so small and insignificant. Is there anything we can do?
Is there any hope for change, and any change we can make as a small part of so large a system that will help to change that broken system? I believe so. I believe even one positive, healthy, and healing person can make a difference.
But what does that change look like, and how do we step into it individually and communally.
What can we do?
The Contemplative stance in the world is never founded in what we know, or can do, but in who we are. Being and becoming have everything to do with how we can be agents of transformation in the world around us.
We often see change and dysfunction as an issue of knowing. The truth, we imagine, will set us free. What we don’t realize is that truth is about who we are, not what we know or profess to be true.
How we live is what matters.
We live not out of what we know, but who we are.
We can sometimes suffer from disconnection between our ideas and our lives. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we can espouse good ideas about how others should be treated, all the while treating others badly when they don’t agree with our good ideas. What is the disconnect? How can we have good ideals and yet such a bad application of them? The problem stems from not connecting the dots between ideas and behaviors, between knowing and being.
We fit what we believe with who we are. The point is to work, not on what we believe as much as on who we are.
That kind of “believing” comes from a place deeper than our minds. It comes from the place of being. It comes from the congruence of our mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit. It is an embodied truth, not a mental truth. Embodied truth comes out through our bodies. Mental truth merely comes out of our mouths. We can say all kinds of good truth, but how we live out that truth is what really matters. When we begin to work on the truth of how we live, then even the truth we speak has more merit and weight. Truth is the place we hold in the world, not the ideas we hold in our minds. Therefore, the combating of bad ideas and wrong truth has more to do with how we act towards others, and not what we say to others.
Love knows how to hold the space of freedom, equality, and fairness without forcing its way. To destroy oppressive systems, we must step out of them. Broken systems will fall apart when we stop operating within them, and giving them power. But, when our current world is dominated by those system, stepping out of them requires great restraint, strength, and resistance.
In his song titled “The Resistance”, Josh Garrels puts it this way;
My rest is a weapon
against the oppression
of man’s obsession
to control things.
He completes this thought with the line,
How do good men become a part of the regime?
They don’t believe in resistance.
Resistance is not the same as reciprocity. Reciprocity attempts to answer energy with the same or greater energy. Equal and opposite oppression as a response to oppression doesn’t reverse oppression, it ramps it up. The opposite of oppression isn’t reciprocity, it’s resistance. That’s why Garrels can say that “rest” is our weapon against oppression, because we are stepping back from the urge to try and control those who are trying to control us.
The energy of trying to control others for our own benefit is the essence of oppression. Learning to recognize and quiet that energy within ourselves is the solution, because we can only control ourselves. The opposite of struggling to control others is learning to control ourselves.
Contemplation points us to the work we need to do in our hearts, to reveal the relationship we have with the power structures of our day. Are we feeding into those power structures, even in our attempt to oppose them, or are we pulling our power out of them by operating in a completely different way? Only you can evaluate your own relationship to those power structures, and begin to do the work to make it right. Only you can peer inside yourself, see how you are reacting to that wrong power structure, and make the necessary changes within yourself to help change the world without.
Each one of us has the power to change the world.
Each one of us is feeding the power of the world in which we live.
The question is, how are we empowering the world?
How we empower the world creates the power of the world we live in. No matter how detached we may think we are from the power structures acting upon us, we always have a choice, and a role to play. So, what role are you playing? Are you playing into those abusive and oppressive power structures, or are you resisting them by living out of a different power structure altogether?
It comes down to how we interact and treat others in the world around us. Are we giving up the power we could have over others, and not giving in to the power others could have over us?
That is the power of love.
To treat others as equals is a loving stance. To treat the powerless as our equals gives them power in our lives. To treat the powerful as our equals gives us power in their lives.
Love is not a taking power.
We can never determine how others treat us. We can only determine how we will treat others. We cannot control the world around us. We can only control how we act and interact with that world, but how we do that does shape our world. Everyone just continuing to operate in an unhealthy power structure, even if they see it for what it is, even if they protest it, will not change it. This is not a matter of words and speeches, of memes and Facebook posts. This is a matter of how we choose to carry ourselves every day, in the world in which we live.
The greatest protest to oppressive power we could ever make is to simply love others well. Love equals the playing field by loving all others equally.
I was recently completing a carpentry job in a home remodel for another company. I built out three fireplaces, did some basic framing, built a few access doors, and installed some wainscoting on the second story staircase. On the last day there, I was working late to finish up when the homeowner stopped by. He was doing some work outside, while I was working inside. We both worked for about an hour with hardly a word between us, but as I was cleaning up, he stopped to say hi and we struck up a conversation.
Keep in mind, this guy was like the boss of my boss, the guy who was paying the people who were paying me. He was also a big mover and shaker in the construction world of my city. He was getting ready to build a large apartment complex. He liked my work and expressed an interest in using me in that project. I had every incentive to cow to his power and influence, especially in my field of work. But I choose a different stance. I choose to simply treat him as a person.
As we conversed, I talked about my approach as a small business owner. “I don’t want to create a monster with my business that gets so big it ends up controlling me,” I said. I talked about how my business was not my life, or identity. I enjoy the freedom my work gives me to earn a decent living while still doing what I really love. I love spending time with family and friends, and making time to invest in and mentor others. After I shared my approach, he shared his story.
In a different town, in another state, he’d created a huge construction company that did become a monster, that consumed his time and energy and took him away from his family. He sold it right before the 2008 housing market crash. Now, he was building it back, but what I said spoke to him. He agreed with my approach. He didn’t want to create another monster that took him away from his family, and the things he really loved. I could tell by the end of the conversation how much he appreciated my perspective towards business, because it affirmed what he’d been wrestling with, and wanting to do. In a way, I spoke truth to power for this one individual wresting with that power himself. I affirmed that the power of love is worth more than the power of money, influence, or personal prestige through outward success. And I did that by simply being myself. I chose to speak openly with this stranger as I would have with any friend. I did not speak against his power, or cater to it. I simply spoke from the place of my power, to the power of loving others well.
An honest, loving heart towards others empowers them to love in the same way.