Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Reflection: A Force for Healing

I read Time's excerpt from Al Gore's new book, The Assault on Reason, and my eyes filled with tears of fury, so lucid and wise is his voice. He was supposed to be our President: we elected him. So I say to every one of those Supreme Court justices who voted Bush into office against the will of the American people, and to every mass media pundit and faux-journalist who cheerleaded for Bush (you'll find them listed here): history will condemn you far more than I can here. You have the blood of countless human lives and the stench of a corrupted democracy on your hands. Simply because you refused to do your jobs.

Here's a small slice of the excerpt from Gore's book:

Our Founders' faith in the viability of representative democracy rested on their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry, their ingenious design for checks and balances, and their belief that the rule of reason is the natural sovereign of a free people. The Founders took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas so that knowledge could flow freely. Thus they not only protected freedom of assembly, they made a special point—in the First Amendment—of protecting the freedom of the printing press. And yet today, almost 45 years have passed since the majority of Americans received their news and information from the printed word. Newspapers are hemorrhaging readers. Reading itself is in decline. The Republic of Letters has been invaded and occupied by the empire of television.

Radio, the Internet, movies, cell phones, iPods, computers, instant messaging, video games and personal digital assistants all now vie for our attention—but it is television that still dominates the flow of information. According to an authoritative global study, Americans now watch television an average of 4 hours and 35 minutes every day—90 minutes more than the world average. When you assume eight hours of work a day, six to eight hours of sleep and a couple of hours to bathe, dress, eat and commute, that is almost three-quarters of all the discretionary time the average American has.

In the world of television, the massive flows of information are largely in only one direction, which makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation. Individuals receive, but they cannot send. They hear, but they do not speak. The "well-informed citizenry" is in danger of becoming the "well-amused audience." Moreover, the high capital investment required for the ownership and operation of a television station and the centralized nature of broadcast, cable and satellite networks have led to the increasing concentration of ownership by an ever smaller number of larger corporations that now effectively control the majority of television programming in America.

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Friday Reflection: A Force for Healing

The source of this week's banner quote would be completely opaque to all but a few specialists, so it may have been a bit unfair to put it up there. The writer is Cheng Yi, an 11th century commentator on the ancient Chinese oracle book, the I Ching. It's proof again that, millennium to millennium, human folly is so constant as to be thoroughly predictable.

The quote in our banner is from Cheng Yi's commentary to Hexagram 7, "The Army":

The course pursued by the army basically should be correct; if you raise an army and mobilize troops in a cause that is not right but just causes the country trouble, the people do not really obey, they are just coerced. Therefore, the guiding principle of the army should be uprightness. But even if the army acts in the right way, the leaders must be mature to obtain good results...If those who are to lead a group are not respected, can they get the people to follow willingly? (from Cheng Yi, The Tao of Organization, translated by Thomas Cleary).

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The reason that such a message resonates today goes beyond the obvious reference to the misuse of military force. Cheng Yi's warning is a call to every kind of leader--corporate leaders, heads of government, mass media pundits, and of course, military officers. It is a reminder to each of these that, as a leader—whether of people, institutions, or opinion—you are responsible for more than your in-group--your staff, your squad, your stockholders, your advertisers, or your political base or party. You are responsible to a whole that includes and surpasses you, your group, and its mission, however expansive and noble that mission may appear.

There is also a message within the I Ching about a personal use of its insight. The army, for example, can be conceived and felt as a principle of protection within the living personality, distinct to each individual. The best leaders are able to inspire such a personal meaning of their vision, a meaning that is unique to every person who hears it. This, indeed, is how true unity and real motivation are achieved in an organization: through the freedom that is given to the individual to respond to a group message with his unique understanding, and thus add vibrancy and energy to the whole. In my book, Drinking From the Darkness: Living Completely in a Time of Estrangement, I offered two examples of such a message--one from the I Ching, and another from one of the great teachers of modern times.


A Cry in the Wilderness: Ancient and Modern

[The healing of our society] cannot be done all at once—to even entertain such an expectation would be to open the door to despair. Our generation must begin the work of recovery with a resolute cry in the wilderness—the kind of firm and clarion call that induces the sanity of silence. The ancient Chinese oracle, the I Ching, contains a description of such a cry for the freezing of ignorance in its 43rd hexagram, titled “Resoluteness/Breakthrough”:

BREAKTHROUGH. One must resolutely make the matter known
At the court of the king.
It must be announced truthfully. Danger.
It is necessary to notify one’s own city.
It does not further to resort to arms.
It furthers one to undertake something.
(from the Richard Wilhem/Carey Baynes translation)

There is a beautiful sense of urgency in this poem, written some five thousand years ago, which can be read at both the societal and the personal level. At the societal level, the cry of “Danger!” and the need for truthfulness in “notifying one’s own city” while avoiding the impulse to opposition or violence (“it does not further to resort to arms”) remind me of the message of another eloquent writer of more recent times:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

These are the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., written from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. He and his ancient counterpart, King Wu of China (the man traditionally credited with having written the I Ching), both endured personal danger and frequent imprisonment for their resolute cries of truth “at the court of the king.” Both were men of spiritual insight and teachers of mindfulness in living; both believed that violence was a resort that “does not further”—as Dr. King said in accepting his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, “nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.”

Less than five years after writing the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered—perhaps, it must be said, executed—and his voice was stilled. But not silenced: others have, and will, “resolutely make the matter known” before the court of Institutional Authority—in the presence of the world and to all the people who are awake enough to hear and respond. Dr. King’s life and message will enduringly have the deepest, most resonant meaning to people living amid estrangement, because he chose to speak and to act from his heart—his true and undying spark from the fire of the Universe—with the force of insight and clarity, rather than of weaponry and oppression. This, too, is where we can begin, where we must begin.

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