Saturday Evening Friends,
Our temperate and generally eco-friendly northwest climate also maintains its right to bite us once in a while with a good windstorm that is inclined to blow down our tall trees onto power lines. When weather forecasts warn of gusts up to sixty miles an hour we know we are likely to have a blackout and lose our electricity for an hour or so, or sometimes for days. And the loss of power introduces us into an alternative universe of no electricity. When this happens until we get reoriented we keep trying to hit the light switch. After we get our candles lit and our flashlights in hand, and hopefully assuming the loss of power will be only temporary, we may have an opportunity to pause and enjoy a reminiscent time of soulful simplicity before the ever-powering capacity of instant electrical access.
However it doesn’t take long to realize we need to check on our computers and cell phones to make sure they are fully charged, and we no longer have that easy access to a cup of tea or a hot meal. And as our accustomed access to all the dozens of ways we depend on electricity are not as available to us, a creeping vulnerability begins to set in as we realize how dependent we are on the electrical grid, and by extension to all our other ways of presumed and accustomed interdependent mutual support.
And then an important additional response to the blackout enters our consciousness. We wonder how our neighbors and friends are coping, especially those most vulnerable and alone. This past week when the blackout lasted from early morning into the winter’s night, we called on our elderly neighbor next door to see if she was all right only to find her coming to the door in a robe, shivering, as she could no longer stay warm in bed. We were able to invite her over to warm by our wood stove and feed her a hot meal which created an opportunity for building a more personal and heartwarming relationship with her. And I know others in our community were also staying close to family and friends to offer mutual support. The reality is that in spite of whatever differences we may have with each other, when there is a crisis our better selves are usually ready to offer all kinds of support and assistance that transcend our differences.
But we seem to hold that sentiment only as long as we recognize our common vulnerable plight. Our world experienced this form of solidarity during the early months of the Covid epidemic. We were all besieged by a common threat. I think we all long for a world of common care and kindness that these experiences elicit. So why are we so inclined to quickly revert to giving primary attention to our own needs, often at the expense of others? For me this is a spiritual question. If it is true that we can be so caring and magnanimous in times of crisis, why are we usually so afraid of practical and political commitments that make mutual care a priority?
I won’t try to answer the issues related to the inclinations of many (Americans especially) to assume our right to personal privilege and entitlements, often in the guise of freedom. But the direction I want to point our common moral compass includes, unfortunately for lack of a better term, the concept of socialism which I must always carefully approach because of my reservations about how it will be received. But I define socialism as "taxpayer funds used collectively to benefit society as a whole, despite income, contribution and ability.” We can layer on all sorts of historical misapplications of that concept depending on whether funds are collected and dispersed through despotic or compassionate systems. But the righteous goal of honoring the need for adopting systems that support our interdependent and mutual aid is deeply embedded in all of our religious traditions and continues to be the high mark of a responsible and moral corporate ethic.
The good news is, whether or not we are willing to acknowledge it, we are already well on our way to realizing this goal, as faulted, of course, as it still may be. For example, to name just a couple of examples that can be cited under my definition of socialism would include our prison, sewer and court systems; snow removal; on Whidbey, free bus service; Medicare; bridges, public parks, highways and roads; 911 workers; the national weather service; social security; FEMA (emergency response organization); the National Guard and the military, and the list goes on.
It may be a presumptuous jump from the loss of electricity in my home this past week to socialism, but my point over and over again is to emphasize the importance of respecting our world of mutual interdependence based on an ethic of nonviolence and kindness. For me honoring interdependency and the interconnection of all of creation is a sacred trust that we must maintain. Recognition of our sacred interdependency may be, in fact, the ethical heart of what it means to sustain life on our planet.