Danger and Opportunity

I have addressed my concerns to the American people for two reasons.  I believe we have entered a period of severe, successive and interacting crises.  Serious threats involving economic instability, a disintegrating social order, and the deterioration of physical infrastructure have clearly emerged.  Disruptions promise to be long-lasting.

Most of all, the bitter divisiveness and disunity current among Americans will limit our ability to respond effectively to the dangers before us.  Indeed, our ability to govern ourselves is already impaired.

This is not simply the result of recent political conflict.  Many of you are aware that social and economic disorder has been escalating for decades.

We now find ourselves with a pervasive loss of respect for civility and moral responsibility, (both public and private), a frightening loss of social stability, and a broad deterioration of economic well-being for all ordinary Americans.

We stand at an extraordinary turning point.  Do we want the United States to be preserved as a constitutional republic?  Are we personally prepared to rise above our differences to make this possible?

There are pragmatic solutions to these questions, but they will require us to rise to the challenge.  I have never said it would be easy.  I have said I do not think we have a choice.

We face a formidable array of complex crises.  The problems are profound, diverse, and mutually reinforcing.  Some will impose themselves suddenly, others gradually, but all will ultimately converge to impact our lives.  What is most extraordinary is the multitude and diversity of crises emerging into view simultaneously: social and economic, moral and material.

I will offer several examples.

Political instability has constrained civil dialog.  Undisciplined verbal hostility cripples the possibility for constructive collaboration.

Massive indebtedness – government, corporate, and private – is suffocating the economy and threatens resolve itself in another banking collapse and a significant devaluation of the dollar.

The banking and monetary systems have been abused, favoring the financial elite rather than the American people.  This has nothing to do with free markets.  Indeed, it is a direct threat to free markets.

The financial world is dominated by self-serving individuals who appear incapable of recognizing that their foolishness threatens the well-being of everyone, including themselves.

Deteriorating infrastructure, which we depend on every day, includes bridges, municipal water and sewage systems, and the electrical grid.  These cannot be upgraded or repaired by governments that are hobbled by indebtedness and shrinking revenues.

The rapid development of advanced technologies has vastly increased the complexity of the world around us.  Systemic complexity is now far beyond the capacity of even the most intelligent human minds to understand or control.

Furthermore, technology has advanced far more rapidly than the ethical maturity of decision-makers.  A commitment to moral responsibility is severely lacking.

The degradation of the natural environment, which provides us with clean air and water, is the consequence of population pressures and the long-term build-up of toxic chemistry derived from motor vehicles, household products, and industrial pollution.

Most significantly, the loss of ethical integrity and moral responsibility on so massive a scale is overwhelming the values and norms upon which civilization depends.  And. this weakens our ability to respond to every challenge.

However, I suggest to you that we have a hidden and unexpected opportunity here.  A disruption so severe and disturbing has the potential to alter our perspective.  It will challenge our assumptions and our courage.

Such conditions have the potential to awaken us finally to the requirements of responsibility, cooperation, and maturity.  It will be necessary to think differently, both to survive and to build a positive future.  How well do we actually know our neighbors?

Is the United States worth saving as a constitutional republic?  Is it worth the effort to collaborate with those who see things differently, but who share our loyalty and commitment to this great nation?

Local problem-solving will become essential.  Safety and food security will depend on a diversity of local knowledge, skills and experience – regardless of politics or religion or the color of our skin.

If we can build dependable local communities we can also begin to talk – to identify shared needs and shared values, and to develop a shared vision of the future that we can respect and believe in.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about October 23.

Freedom in Crisis

Big corporations often show little regard for local communities or the people who live in them.  Geared for profit-making, not moral responsibility or citizenship, giant business organizations dominate our lives today.  They are neither human nor humane.

Living in a society dominated by corporate culture, we find ourselves perceived as economic units, “consumers” pressed into service by a materialist mindset.

It should not be surprising that we find ourselves alienated and irritable at a time of crisis, isolated from one another and struggling to make sense out of chaotic circumstances.

The interconnected web of relationships that civil society depends on has evaporated.

Americans need not submit to such a destiny.  Ours is a nation of people, not machines.  We are prepared to work, but not to be used.  We are social beings, but independent in mind and spirit.

In reality independence is relative, but always an attitude and a choice.  The independence that leads to self-sufficiency could actually become a matter of life or death.  It can mean financial stability or food security or being a good parent.

The meaning of independence takes on new dimensions when crises strike.  But there is much more to this than survival.

It is in communities and in the quality of active human relationships that we form the matrix of a free society.  Freedom is realized in serving a principled purpose as autonomous individuals, and in the vitality of lives that are engaged, responsible, and in motion.

Constructive relationships with other people allow ideas to be shared and understood.  Our ability to solve problems improves.  In trustworthy relationships, our self-sufficiency gains strength.

Are we willing to take this on?

We might not want to put up with community-building.  It’s hard work.  Some try to avoid it all together.  A few might prefer to take snowshoes, an axe and a rifle, and walk into the wilderness.

I know how attractive solitude can be.  But I also know it would limit my opportunities to grow as an individual, as well as the honor of dedication to the country I love.

Historically, the basic building blocks of the American Republic have been communities. There was a time when the bonds that held everything together were the personal relationships that made communities real.

Communities are made functional by the inspiration and determination of individuals and families, interwoven into mutually supportive networks, and networks of networks.

It will not be easy to regain what came to us more naturally in the past.  Yet, our future depends on loyalty to the “American Idea”, a vision that embraces unity in diversity, trustworthiness and dependability.

Americans are accustomed to contentious politics and unconstrained partisanship.  There will always be value in the clash of differing opinions.

However, we have entered a dangerous period of instability.  This is a time to rise above our differences, to repair and protect the interwoven fabric of the Republic.

We face unprecedented complexity, deteriorating institutions, and a growing scarcity of resources.

Things are not working as we expect they should.  And there is no one to resolve the problems except ourselves.

If we are to rebuild a society in which the foolishness of the past is not repeated, we must think constructively about the principles and human qualities that are needed.

Generosity and good will are essential human virtues, but they are only the beginning.

Finding solutions to local problems will require consultation, collaboration, foresight and creative imagination.  All of these call for a diversity of practical skills, knowledge, and perspective, and therefore a diversity of membership.

This might sound idealistic, but we can no longer depend on outside help.

Learning how to do it will be difficult, requiring learned skills and determination.  Those with steadfast patience and vision – who can see the end in the beginning – will carry through and prevail.

Resolving differences of opinion or non-core values is not necessary for stabilizing a crisis.  While giving each other space to have differences can be uncomfortable, holding ourselves apart over disagreements while hurling insults can only reap destruction.

Rising above our differences is a serious challenge.  But there is no other way.

Tom

Note to regular readers:  Please look for the next post on or about October 9.

Freedom and Limitation

While we might think of freedom as the opportunity to do as we please, some say it is the opportunity to do what is right.  But, why not do as we please?  And, who decides what is right?

Freedom is a deep and compelling need felt by everyone.  What is it about us that we feel the longing for freedom at the very core of our being?  Why the emotional intensity of these questions?

The awareness of personal freedom is a felt-need, an essential aspect of human consciousness, and we yearn to act on it.  The perception of freedom is a human capacity that transcends the physical senses.

Animals are tied unalterably to the requirements of nature, environment, and species; but not people.  The horizons of the human mind – perception, introspection, imagination and memory – extend in every direction without apparent limitation.

This is a consciousness that provides us with boundless creative power.  Creativity is intrinsic to our character, and together with free will it defines our humanity.

However, the feeling of freedom comes into immediate conflict with the finite limitations of the world around us, and, indeed, with the finiteness of our own being.

We have been given free will and are yet confronted with a physical universe and constrained by the limits of nature and social necessity.

Free will is all about choice.  Whatever we choose to do, we could just as well choose not to do.  Yet we find free will colliding with the limits and necessities of a finite existence, both physical and social.

Our responses to the challenges of limitation determine the quality and integrity of our lives.  The conflict between our capacity for freedom and the world in which we find ourselves has purpose.

Without choice in the encounter with limitation, there could be no morality and no civilized order.  Without the capacity for freedom there would be no need for personal responsibility or discipline.

Creativity and productivity require self-conscious discipline.  Personal growth and maturity require responsibility, problem-solving, and the tests of hardship.

We understand that the constraints imposed on us by society are mostly necessary, if not always fair, and provide order and predictability in an otherwise chaotic world.  The limits of the natural world impose themselves even more exactly.

Yet, we do not feel fully human if we are prevented from seeking our own way.   Every limitation chafes against our yearning and our dreams.

As human beings, we possess the distinctive ability to step outside ourselves to perceive ourselves and our relationships in context.  So it is that we can recognize and interpret our relationships to family, society, and the physical environment.

Further, we are able to perceive and judge the personal qualities of spirit and character that make us who we are as individuals.

This ability allows us to explore the mysteries and majesties of the human spirit both inwardly and outwardly, such that our personal perspective transcends ourselves and our condition.

When the dimensions of valid action are violated, the errors of pride, self-righteousness and illusory obsessions take control.  And in the end, neither our finite qualities as human beings nor the necessities of the world around us will yield to arrogance or poor judgment.

This fact is a given when we enter the world, and it is a unique distinction of the human condition.  The collision of free will with necessity defines character and integrity – personally, socially, historically.

Our freedom opens worlds of potentiality to us, but without moral responsibility and discipline it will spell trouble.  We must choose: either to accept the reality embedded in the implicate order, or to disrupt the equilibrium and invite disorder.

I submit to you that true justice is determined by an unrelenting order in the world we are given.  It is the necessity embedded in the way things are.

Yes, we can violate the boundaries, but only at our peril.

Tom#define

Finding Courage in Crisis

The courage to step forward in a time of crisis often means responding to pain and frustration with a commitment to moral responsibility.  This can be especially challenging when it feels like the world is unraveling.

To persevere through disruptions and turmoil we need a vision of the future that embodies constructive purpose.  Personal values and sense of integrity become vitally important.

However, thoughts and ideas are useless without action.

What is to be done?

We must never forget that there can be no freedom without responsibility.  This is the backbone of a free society and an inescapable requirement of the human soul.

Civilization itself cannot exist without the committed responsibility of citizens.  This is our country and our world, and the problems we face belong to us.

In my view, a commitment to the foundations of civil order is a commitment to our own personal integrity.

We would do well to consider our sense of belonging, who we are and what integrity means to us.  This will strengthen self-sufficiency and sense of purpose.

Self-sufficiency and purpose give us self-confidence; both are important.  Self-sufficiency concerns practical matters and will-power.  But purpose has to do with ideas, and ideas can be problematic.

So, let’s think about this.

Sense of purpose is a personal matter, yet it would be useless in a vacuum.  Each of us is a member of the society in which we live.  And. being truly alive places us in motion.

We learn to live with life’s fluid nature and to adapt to change.  If we are not engaged, thinking and responding, we are not paying attention.

Purpose implies a future.  It would be easy to attach ourselves unwittingly to ideas or expectations that are based solely on the past.

There is both strength and danger here.

Most of us attach ourselves to long-held assumptions.  This lends itself to stability, as long as we keep our minds open.  We need consistency to follow through with plans.  Otherwise nothing would get done.

But, at a time of extraordinary disruption and change, when the future is dark or hard to imagine, expectations need to be flexible and purpose must depend on a strong spirit and time-tested values.

We know what kind of world we wish to live in, at least in general terms, but expectations will have no ground to stand on during a long crisis.

In the coming years we can expect to be bombarded by sequential crises.

Safety will depend on dependable community, despite our differences.  A readiness to rise above our differences is a necessity in genuine community.  Survival may depend on it.

However, a vision for the future can only be built upon mutual respect and understanding, rather than on the assumptions of a crumbling past.

In the midst of chaos, “constructive action” can be understood as the means by which we unite and advance toward intended goals, not away from them.

So, let’s keep two priorities in mind:  First, to identify values that are capable of guiding us through turmoil.  Second, to stay alert, allowing flexibility of judgment and readiness to adjust our thinking as conditions change.

If we believe in freedom, we cannot allow presuppositions to control the future.  That is not what freedom is about.

Assumptions carried with us from the past are dinosaurs that threaten our ability to build the future.  Principle must be permitted to guide our way, always responding to the realities at hand.

We may dislike the conditions in which we find ourselves at any particular moment.  We may determine to alter them.  But, to be rigid and inflexible will court disaster.

Our independence as free people depends on engaging effectively with ever-changing circumstances.

We are challenged to keep our balance at the vortex of historic change, to uphold the spirit of liberty, and remain ever resistant to absolutism and bigotry.

Personal integrity, trustworthiness and responsibility, will keep us on track through the storm.

To survive and to serve, we must summon the courage to spread our wings and soar on the wind.

Tom

Please look for the next blog post on or about September 10.

Note to new readers:  A project description, an introduction to the book, and several chapter drafts are linked at the top of this page.

Cooperation or Collapse?

And what about our differences?  The hostility and divisiveness that currently separates Americans is unquestionably the most intense since the Civil War.

Our differences are based on many things, among them ethical and religious values, social philosophy, electoral politics, and our understanding of history, as well as economic disparities and personal experiences with hardship.

Many at both extremes have distorted perceptions of the views and intentions of the other, and remain unwilling to seriously investigate actual differences.

These are dangerous times.

The vitality of the American Republic has always been energized by the clash of differing opinions.  The national character is rooted in the fertile engagement of divergent ideas that test and expand a rich national diversity.

Our opinions, values, perceptions all deserve respect; yet we disagree vehemently today on matters of fundamental importance.

In addition to these differences, America also faces a broad range of growing practical problems.  As material crises take hold, will the security of our families and communities be important enough to encourage cooperation and loyal dependability?

Effective problem-solving and meeting life-sustaining needs with our neighbors – many of whom we disagree with – may soon be essential.

Are we prepared to work shoulder-to-shoulder in our local communities for the sake of safety and relative comfort?  Can we be loyal to one another as neighbors – and as Americans?

The survival of the Republic will require virtues that Americans are no longer generally known for: moral responsibility, dependability, steadfast loyalty.

What gives?

Our greatest challenge will be learning to view problems and people – especially people who are different from us – in essentially ethical rather than political terms.

This is not about charity.  Civilization requires a level of civility that goes far beyond kindness and common decency.  If Americans are to turn the corner, it can only be with a responsible and inquiring attitude that is unfamiliar at present.

Genuine communication does not require compromising principles.

Indeed, opportunities for influencing others will proliferate when we work together, addressing urgent common needs.

Times of danger tend to open minds and alter perspective.  We begin to see with new eyes and to recognize the dynamics of cause and effect.

It is neither practical nor civilized to go to war with one another when our common interests depend on our ability to communicate effectively and engage in rational problem-solving.

What is most urgent is not that we agree on religion or politics, but that we seek dependable cooperation in the face of material threats.

Practical tools are needed to make acceptable decisions in small groups.  Skills will be required to ensure food security, to make consultative decisions and manage conflict, to organize projects and start small businesses.

We each can develop needed skills.

Under the present conditions of social disintegration, strident divisiveness, and dysfunctional institutions, I have encouraged Americans to turn aside from partisan politics temporarily to focus attention on the practical needs in our local communities.

I am not opposed to effecting change by traditional means.  As the crisis deepens, however, I suggest we will gain more immediate control over our lives through collaboration and community building.

And, dependable community is the ground of civilization.

Our values, principles, and ideals need a stable forum in which to be communicated, cultivated, and spread.  This will never happen by force.

The present crisis will be long and the challenges extremely difficult. We must prevail for the sake of our children and the future of America.  Failure would be catastrophic.

Ultimately we are confronted by a single simple question: Will we accept the destruction of civilized society, a rending of the fabric of the American Republic, and retreat into a state of siege?

Or, will we have the courage and the will to do the real work?

Tom

A note to readers:  An introduction to this project and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are available on this page.  Please watch for the next blog post on or about July 17.

Values in a Deepening Crisis

Once again I want to ask readers to consider the values and principles we should rely on during the long crisis ahead.  We want to survive tough times and come out the other side better than when we started.  And surely this means doing so with moral integrity and self-respect.

This is a crisis that has been a long time coming.  The many challenges we face are complex, fluid, and unpredictable.  At times it will feel like the ground is shifting beneath our feet.

Perspective is easily distorted in a crisis.  The horizon we depend on to stabilize our vision and judge progress may be veiled.  Decisions we are forced to make on the fly will depend on the attitudes, principles and courage we have already internalized in our mind and soul.

These are our most precious possessions.  There may be times when they are all we can count on.

We have entered a great turning point, a crucible in which the strength of the American identity will re-emerge in clearer focus.

I would like you to distinguish between moral values that guide our personal lives, and the broader principles that can guide a stumbling nation back to stability and take Americans forward into a future we can respect and believe in.

Certainly, these are closely related, but how do we prioritize in the interests of the nation?

Let’s keep some basic realities in mind as we do this.

First, at the present time our local communities are the only place where we have the freedom and the immediate opportunity to stabilize our lives.  Here we can seek safety and security by working together.

However, we can only succeed if we are willing to join forces despite our differences.

How do we feel about conflicting values?  What principles do we need to agree on to allow local collaboration and problem-solving?

Second, this nation was founded on the basis of principles that are represented by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  These are not in question here.  One of those principles is freedom of religion.  Americans have the precious freedom to practice our own religion unhindered, but are discouraged from imposing our beliefs on one another.

There are some who view religious principles as limiting to their principles of personal freedom.  Others believe that true freedom is only possible when guided by the constraints of moral integrity taught by religion.

There also happen to be a number of religious concerns that have significant social implications.

One familiar example would be the importance of honesty, trustworthiness and good will in politics, as well as in personal and business relationships.

Another would be the termination of human life before physical birth.

Still another would be the enforced imposition of principles of social responsibility on those of libertarian inclination who have not agreed to such principles.

I could go on.  Many Americans do not believe that such questions have anything to do with religion despite their metaphysical qualities.

So, again, let’s distinguish between 1) those religious or philosophical values that can best ensure a good and responsible personal life, and 2) those broader principles necessary to knit the social and economic fabric of the United States back together.

And, let’s remember that the pluralistic tradition in American history and culture allows us to grow, change, and influence one another of our own free will rather than by force.

We can only attract interested consideration of our own views when we treat one another with dignity and respect.

The bottom line is both simple and challenging.  We know we will never agree on many things.  Americans have always been a contentious lot.  Yet, we have chosen on many occasions to unite, to defend the Constitution and the inclusive character of the nation when these have been threatened.

And so I ask:  What is required to allow us to pull together as a nation now, while yet allowing each to remain comfortable in his or her own views and beliefs?

I expect your comments to be wide ranging.  Please be direct and to the point, which will be helpful as my book progresses.

Tom

A note to regular readers:  I have returned from my travels and intend to post regularly.  Please remember to check in!  A project description and an introduction to the book are available on this page, as well as full drafts of several chapters.

A Deepening Crisis

There is trouble in the land.  The signs that things are not right confront us daily.  The mainstream media focuses on conflict, politics and the economy, but we know the disintegration goes far deeper.

The illness reveals itself in hostility and bitterness, in material deprivations, in the degradation of human dignity and loss of moral responsibility.  Many of us share a sinking feeling.  We are afraid of the future and, increasingly, we fear one another.

Numerous oncoming crises rise like storm clouds above a darkening horizon.

I have surveyed some of these threats in Chapter Two of the coming book: “A Confluence of Crises.”  Many are interrelated.  I have argued that we must pull ourselves together despite our differences, both for self-preservation and to ensure the endurance of the America we value and believe in.

The broad themes running through this blog (and the book) are the survival of this constitutional republic and the necessity for Americans to work together, shoulder-to-shoulder in the coming years to meet local needs and resolve local problems.

As challenging as this may be, we really do not have a choice.

My purpose here is to reach out to my fellow Americans, to propose practical tools, and with a positive spirit, to get us through a dark chaotic time and out the other side.

I believe our greatest challenge will be to recognize the love and hope for this country we all share despite our many differences.  This can only happen when we determine to inquire and listen to one another with a genuine interest in finding a shared understanding.

We are called upon to rebuild the foundations of the nation in preparation for a future we can respect and believe in.  This will require courage, patience, determination.

The negativity and hopelessness we sometimes feel are caused by the crises around us and must not be permitted to define our future.  Even when we cannot see our way clearly, we must ensure that our actions are consistent with the ends we seek.

The dangers of internal conflict and disunity are especially great in a degrading social order.  We have arrived at an historic turning point, both as Americans and as human beings.

The world is undergoing massive structural change, a process taking place outside the realm of our normal experience and expectations.  This is caused by events that are beyond our control, but we have to deal with it.

What do I mean by structural change?

Examples include the uncontrolled advance of technology that threatens life and liberty, the unprecedented complexity of economic relationships and fiscal distortions, the overwhelming dominance of the very wealthy, and the threats of terrorism, bankrupt governments, and a large aging population with insufficient savings.

All of these have little to do with partisan politics.  That mistakes have been made and illusions foolishly pursued is undeniable.  But, very big changes are coming that are actually not anyone’s fault.

This blog has focused on values, principles, and learning to live in community – because we are entering new territory.  We have passed beyond the limits of our understanding and experience.

To think of the future in terms of recovering the past will not be helpful.  We must pick ourselves up, hit the reset button, and move forward with a spirit that is congruent with a rapidly changing reality.

Tom

Important note for regular readers:  This blog normally posts every two weeks.  However, I will be traveling in late March and April, and hope to begin posting again in May.  You may register for emailed alerts by clicking the “Follow” button on this page.

Please note that a full draft of Chapter Six, “Confronted by the Past”, has recently been added to others at the top of the page.

Security Begins at Home

If local communities are to serve as the foundation for reclaiming the American spirit and sense of purpose, we must learn how to make them strong, dependable, and resilient.

Many of us do not know our immediate neighbors, much less those around the corner or down the road.  If we want good people to depend on in a serious crisis, this has to change.

Good neighbors are earned.

Intractable problems can be resolved with access to a diversity of knowledge and skills — when we team up with others.  Food security is going to be a concern, and we need people we can trust when the banks close or the power goes out for days or weeks.

Whatever the details, most can see that we are hovering on the edge of extreme conditions.  A wide variety of impending crises are coming into view almost simultaneously.

I have shared my thinking with you about the essential role of local communities.  I have explained why I believe communities, and networks of communities, will become the platform Americans depend on to meet local needs and move forward with common purpose.

Community will be the only place in the extreme days ahead where we have the ability and ready-made opportunity to control our destiny.  We would do well to look around and assesses our circumstances.

Those of you who are naturally outgoing will find the following discussion simplistic.  But for others the challenge of reaching out to strangers and proposing a common endeavor will be more imposing.

It will take courage to accept responsibility for the future.

There are several aspects to consider: 1) getting acquainted with strangers, 2) identifying unmet needs in your neighborhood, 3) explaining our ideas effectively and motives honestly, and 4) organizing cooperation to address common practical needs.

Community-wide efforts can involve lots of things.  These might include local security, growing and preserving food, attracting youth to constructive pursuits, initiating small business enterprises, and troubleshooting technical problems that require creative thinking or specialized skills – such as electrical power, safe drinking water, and waste disposal.

Any of these possibilities can be placed on the table when we are getting acquainted.  Hearing a range of possible benefits for engaging in mutual assistance can jump-start resistant minds.

Unless we already know someone well, the first step will be getting acquainted and thinking together about improving our circumstances.  A warm, friendly exchange of simple ideas can be the basis for more substantive engagement down the road.

Try to begin by inviting people to share their feelings and views before you do.  This will provide you with helpful information, and it will make it easier for them to listen to you.  Do not pry or press.  If, however, you can get another person talking, you will then find them far more open to hearing from you.

Once new acquaintances begin to warm to you, invite them to think with you about ways the community can be improved.  Invite ideas and suggest some of your own. If you find an opening, share your hopes for the future.

It is best to downplay the more serious political or emotional issues until we have built a stronger positive connection.  If you meet unreceptive people, don’t push.  Be friendly and useful; stay in touch.

As relationships grow, watch for ways to demonstrate the practical benefits of a supportive community.

Soon we can begin to introduce people to each other.  Small social gatherings can get us better acquainted.  While remaining informal, we can introduce ideas by floating questions.  How can we assist one another?

What problems or unmet needs do we know of? Who has skills?  What skills would be we like to learn?

As we come to know one another better, we can begin to discuss our willingness to rise above our differences when needs are great or the stakes are high.

First we are human, then we are neighbors, and, finally, we are Americans who care.  As individuals we can be none of these things in isolation.

The future of the United States is of immense importance – but the foundations of our reality are at home.

Tom

A note to readers:  This blog posts every two weeks. Watch for the next post on or about March 14.

An introduction to the forthcoming book and several chapter drafts are posted on this site.  Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.

 

Yes, Americans Do Have Differences

I wrote recently of the value of teamwork in meeting local needs and making our communities safe (January 15).  I argued that faced with oncoming crises we would do well to respond in a constructive spirit – yet prepare for frustrations.

Working with neighbors can make a big difference in security and comfort. Agreement about practical needs and a willingness to focus on common purpose will make it easier to make things work.

This means rising above our differences to connect as allies and collaborators.  But, it will not be necessary to compromise our personal views and beliefs.  It is essential that we maintain our personal dignity and self-respect.

As we take on local problem-solving the challenge is to be both self-confident within ourselves – and respectful of others.

It can certainly be difficult to work with people.  Some difficulties are easier to overcome than others.  We can often make interpersonal connections with thoughtfulness and sensitivity, but sometimes it takes great patience and determination.

Why should we make this effort?

The coming days and years will redefine the meaning of crisis for everyone.  Safety will require that we can depend on our neighbors.  Learning how to listen well and understand one another will become an important part of learning how to survive and prevail in the face of great challenges.

The science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein once commented, “I never learned from a man who agreed with me.”

Coming to understand the personality and perspective of another person can be useful in itself, even if no possibility of agreement exists.

This can be the means for crystallizing our own thinking and beliefs.  And, if we approach it as a learning experience we will have much to gain, including knowledge, skills, and perspective.

Aristotle is believed to have said that “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Well, Aristotle did not attend high school, and neither have some of us.  But, it is our job to figure out what he meant and learn how to do it.

Aggravation aside, we are all capable of respecting the sincerity and intrinsic integrity of every human being, allowing our differences to exist freely in their own space, distinct from the roles of community-member, teammate, or friend.

Suppose we find ourselves dealing with a person who presents us with special challenges – perhaps someone who does not believe effective community is possible, or who values their privacy to an extreme, or is just unreceptive?

It is almost always possible to work with someone who we find difficult if we are determined to find a way.

It is prudent to remember, however, that in such circumstances we cannot allow ourselves be emotionally needy or easily disheartened.  Such an effort calls for backbone as well as a positive attitude and a generous spirit.

The wise do not impose themselves until they obtain a hearing.

If, however, we are able to plant the seeds of community in the fertile soil of the human heart, and water them gently with compassion and kindness, we may not have to wait long before the green shoots spring forth.

Often it is impossible to know why someone remains unresponsive despite our best efforts.  Pain is often hidden there, whether or not it is conscious.  And, caring will always give solace, however silently it is received.

When we make ourselves present in the life of another without expectation or demand, healing can take place even without our knowing – until the dam breaks and the words flow.

It might take days, weeks, or years.  But it will come.

In a little book called “The Miracle of Dialogue” (1963), the Christian theologian Dr. Reuel L. Howe wrote that “every man is a potential adversary, even those whom we love.  Only through dialogue are we saved from this enmity toward one another. Dialogue is to love what blood is to the body…. When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born.

Tom

Note to readers: Watch for the next post on or about February 28.

A new chapter (in draft), “Confronted by the Past,” was posted on this page last weekend.  A project description and introduction to the coming book can also be found with the links above.  Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.

The Price of Freedom

Living or working with other people may be the most difficult thing we ever do.  Even a marriage can be hard work.  And yet, if we choose to rebuild the foundations of the American Republic this is our core mission.

To regain the free and fully engaged civil society of the American past, and renew the strength of America that sustains both vision and spirit, we must find common purpose.  Without dependable communities there can be no real safety or security.  And, without trust nothing is dependable.

These are prizes to be fought for and gained through consistent and determined effort.  Where do we start?  How can we navigate the inevitable bumps and bruises of working relationships in a time of crisis?

When we are working with someone who is emotionally mature and relatively open-minded it might not be hard to develop an understanding.  If, however, we need to work with someone who is anxious or has wounds from the past, (or is convinced they already know everything), then building a constructive relationship will take time and patience.

Rising above our differences is almost always possible, if we have the patience and will to persist.

There are two basic requirements.  The first is to get our motives straight – to have a positive attitude and clearly formed intentions.  The second is to gain practical interpersonal skills.  Both will be addressed in the coming book.

When in any potentially sensitive interpersonal relationship it is wise to look beyond superficial impressions.  We need to recognize the free personhood and integrity of other individuals, regardless of their experience or perceptions.

Relatively new acquaintances may not seem attractive at first, or might actually seem more attractive than they deserve.  We must try patiently to discover who they really are.

Each of us is a complex mystery.  We can only come to genuinely know one another if we have the generosity of spirit to inquire and take interest.  This takes time, but can be a rich and meaningful experience.

Stephen Covey has written that “every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom…, the power to choose, to respond, to change.”

If we seek to build trust, and if we believe in freedom, all of these endowments must be recognized and actualized.

Many of us are unaware of our own endowments, our own potential to grow and mature.  And the surest way to learn and grow is in the effort to build functional relationships.

Many people will not share our personal vision or sense of purpose.  They may not understand what we are inviting them to do, and may be distrustful until we prove ourselves.  We need to communicate clearly, making sure we are understood, and find ways to work together.

We cannot wait for others to take the lead.  The initiative is ours to take.  This is how we test our skills and put rubber to the road.

Elbert Hubbard said, “Responsibility is the price of freedom.”  And Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

Understanding comes through relationship, and the best way to build strong relationships is to team up to meet community needs.  It is in working together to address felt-needs and resolve practical problems that we really come to know one another.

Now, suppose we need to join forces with people who are very different from us.  Perhaps our politics are at odds, or someone has religious or philosophical views that we find strange or unpleasant.

How can we get along – and actually trust others in difficult or dangerous circumstances? We will touch on this in the next post.

Again, I believe the bottom line is this: In every matter our concern must be to preserve and deepen the level of trust, because we can expect to remain under the pressures of disrupted lives and deteriorating social conditions for a long time.

Americans are a resourceful people.  We will get through this and come out on the other side as better people.

Tom

Note to readers:  Please look for the next post on or about February 14.

The introduction and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are posted at this page; see above.  Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.

The Problem of Trust and the Future of Humanity

Trustworthiness and dependability are usually thought of as admirable aspects of personal character.  But as we witness the continuing deterioration of social order it becomes increasingly clear that these priceless attributes are pillars of civilization.

Fear of crime or violence will cripple any society, but the greatest insecurity comes with the loss of trust between friends or neighbors or fellow workers – those we depend on and thought we understood.

Have we found ourselves unexpectedly questioning whether someone we trusted is actually who we thought they were?  When such questions arise, how can we be sure?  How does one keep body and soul together?  It is hard to recover.

Distrust makes the world precarious.  Uncertainties spread; confidence vanishes.

Things fall apart.

Businesses are particularly vulnerable to loss of trust.  Without dependability in governance and consistency in economic policy businesses are hobbled by unpredictability.  Business owners cannot plan.  And a market economy abhors uncertainty.

This is not the way any of us wish to live our lives.  If constant uncertainty makes things feel out of control, it can get scary.

What can we do as responsible people when we live in a society dominated by distrust and a general lack of personal integrity?

The benefits can be great when we choose to be trustworthy ourselves – in spite of everything.  We can be consciously determined to demonstrate what moral integrity means.  But this is not easy.  If America is to turn the corner it will take time and extraordinary patience.

We will have to keep the necessity of dependability in focus at all times.

Nothing will change unless we establish the effectiveness of trustworthiness to those around us and draw attention to its’ value.

In so doing, it will be important that we not fool ourselves into imagining that we are better than others who are failing to meet our standards.  Moral pride can be obvious, and it will push people away.

How can we assist others to understand and value integrity?  Self-righteousness fails to acknowledge that everyone has the capacity to recognize their mistakes.  So, if we would help America move on to a better future we need to be self-disciplined in our contacts and relationships.  Kindness attracts; arrogance offends.

Moral pride,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, “is revealed in all ‘self-righteous’ judgments in which the other is condemned because he fails to conform to the highly arbitrary standards of the self.  Since the self judges itself by its own standards it finds itself good. It judges others by its own standards and finds them evil when their standards fail to conform to its own.  This is the secret of the relationship between cruelty and self-righteousness.” (The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. I, p. 199.)

Readers who profess their belief in the Christian Faith may recall the admonition of St. Paul when he wrote: “For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things….” (Romans 2:1)

Those of other faiths, or those who do not consider themselves religious, will never-the-less recognize this compelling logic.

Integrity is a personal choice.  We must never assume that others are incapable of cleaning up their act.  It is an intrinsic capacity we are given at birth.

A word of warning before we finish: When we recognize a consistent pattern of dishonesty and deceptiveness, it can become necessary to distance ourselves from it.  Such destructiveness permeates and subverts everything around it.

We must be practical, but also ready, if possible, to care for people who are troubled in this way. The greatest forgiveness is the least deserved.

However, forgiveness and trust are two entirely different things.  Once trust is lost, it can be very difficult to recover.

So it is that the restoration of trust and dependability in all our endeavors must be championed by every American as we enter a new day.

Without trust the future is lost.

Tom

A note to readers:  This blog posts regularly.  The next post is due on or about January 31. However, it will be less predictable than usual as I will be traveling.

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The Promise and Reward in Teamwork

Readers are quite right to question how I can expect the intense hostilities and incivility current among the American people to allow any dialog or cooperation at all.

I have never said it would be easy.  It will be extremely difficult.  But I believe we have no choice.  Our failure saps our spirit, undermines our strength and impedes governance.  It could actually lead to the loss of the American Republic and everything it stands for.

I think it interesting that our young people can commit themselves to discipline, teamwork, and decisive action in the armed forces – while the rest of us appear unwilling to exercise even basic civility, much less the loyalty and generosity that have characterized the American tradition.

Faced with an oncoming series of major crises, it will be necessary to renew our spirits and brace ourselves for frustrations.  Working with our neighbors to resolve local problems will bring us together.  Collaborating to meet shared needs will steady our course.

The success of communities in developing shared purpose and strategies for coping, will be critically important.  This can only happen when we rise above our differences and begin to understand and trust one another as friends, neighbors, and allies.

It is not necessary to compromise our personal views and beliefs.  The challenge is to be both self-confident within ourselves and respectful of others as we engage in local problem-solving.

This might require that we adjust our attitudes.  Can we come to terms with one another as teammates and compatriots committed to the fundamental integrity of the nation?

No cohesive effort can be mounted, much less succeed, if we cannot get ourselves onto the same page.  This will not be possible if we cannot communicate with civility and listen with understanding.

The way we handle working relationships and resolve local problem-solving will be the first stage in preparing for the future.  A right attitude for dealing with an immediate crisis, as I suggested in an earlier post, will probably be the right attitude for working with one another to build a better future.

There will inevitably be confusion at times, and difficulties comprehending problems.  The American people are under immense pressure.  Many of us are already demoralized.

Those who have the presence of mind to engage in problem-solving will need to step forward and pull their neighbors together.

Working with people can be one of our greatest tests.  This is a fundamental aspect of the life we have been given in this world.

I will continue to offer practical perspectives and tools for building trust and dependability when working with people in our communities, including those who are especially difficult to work with.

Assistance will be available in my forthcoming book, and more detailed guidance will follow in a handbook for communities.

A variety of topics will include:  1) Rising above personal differences to build dependable relationships; 2) local decision-making in small groups; 3) planning and managing community gardens and other local projects; and, 4) responding to conflict with an approach called conflict transformation.

You might wonder what I mean by “conflict transformation”.

This is a practical approach to serious conflict, which is described most clearly by John Paul Lederach in “The Little Book of Conflict Transformation”.  The book is inexpensive and available from major booksellers.

Conflict transformation looks beyond immediate surface issues to recognize and respond to the personal or group experiences that led to the conflict.  It seeks first to reach a shared understanding of perceptions and underlying causes, and then to address the actual human needs relating to the conflict.  Finally, participants are invited to join in seeking satisfying solutions.

When the going gets tough, we would do well to remember that user-friendly tools are available for group collaboration and problem-solving, online and from booksellers.

No one can do this for us.  Each of us can learn – if we have the will to stand up, take responsibility for the future, and refuse to give up.

Tom

Notes to new readers:  Please watch for the next post on or about January 17.  A project description and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are linked on this page (see above).  Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.