Putting Out the Flames: A Frightening Letter to Awaken the Conscience of Senators

 

A reader of my blogs shared with me a frightening letter. He felt something must be done, or that he must do something. He wrote by hand, to two Senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and sent the correspondence to the Senator’s offices. He also sent copies to a few media outlets hoping to motivate thousands of similar letters. Making a phone call, he thought, was ok. But a handwritten one is so old school and personal.

 

Here is the letter:

Dear Senators Sinema and Manchin,

Please vote for the voting rights bills now in Congress. Donald Trump is supported by people who call themselves Nazis. They praise Adolf Hitler and glorify war. If Trump wins again he will declare himself dictator, ending democracy forever. We must assume this because they will kill people we love.  

Senators Manchin and Sinema, when they start killing Democrats and minorities, the Republicans will let you join their party. You and your loved ones will be safe. For the love of my family and millions of families worldwide, please pass the voting rights bills.

Thank you,

 

His letter certainly expresses the fear he is feeling, not only for himself and his family, but for all of us. He sent it to awaken the conscience of these Senators, so they’d finally help put out the flames that are burning this nation and our world ⎼ or so they’d at least stop fueling the fires with their opposition to crucial legislation.

 

There is no doubt our nation and world are on fire. We know this, or many of us do. I think secretly we all know this. It’s hard to miss the fires that burned forests and homes in much of the western part of our nation this year and the recent past. It’s hard to miss sidewalks and roads that melted this past summer, record droughts, record windstorms and tornadoes that struck just a few weeks ago. Unless maybe we think they will only happen to someone else. They happen to all of us, one way or another, one disaster or another.

 

It is hard to miss the hate that too often walks our streets, or even our schools and workplaces. People shot or attacked. For being Black, Brown, Asian, HGBTQ, Jewish, Muslim, Native American ⎼ or a woman. They attack women who just want a choice as to what happens with their own body, or who want healthcare and rights equal to men. In Texas, the GOP passed a bill that could lead to mob violence against women and those who support them….

 

*To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Remembering What It Is to Laugh: The Importance of Good, Honest Conversations

Being together this Thanksgiving with good friends reminded me of the importance of friendship, honest conversations, and laughter. It led to a powerful discussion about our fright and despair over climate change and new COVID variants⎼ and over our need to act politically to save democracy and our world. But I can’t say we totally agreed.

 

Many other people showed up in the discussion. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, novelist Ben Okri, Buddhist teacher and author David Loy, environmentalists Joanna Macy and Paul Hawken, Gandhi, John Lewis, George Floyd, and others.

 

Michelle Goldberg wrote an opinion piece in the NYT on 11/22 called The Problem of Political Despair. She said “marinating in the news is part of my job, but doing so lately is a source of full-body horror.” She writes about obvious GOP efforts to undermine voting rights and end democracy, to lie and attack anyone who opposes their efforts at tyranny or who support anything that might make Democrats or democracy look good.

 

It’s natural, she says, that democrats pull back, take a break, after such a contentious election, the traumatic previous 4 years of DJT and almost 2 years of a pandemic. But there’s more going on. A burn-out, a sense that the relief from autocracy or tyranny that we now have is just temporary. We cannot assume that things will one day become ok. Things are not ok. And she worries that progressives and others will retreat from active participation in the fight for democracy.

 

In our discussion, I shared what I wrote in previous blogs about Joanna Macy and Paul Hawken’s  books, about the despair over the inability, so far, of this nation and our species to do what’s needed to slow down, or end global warming. To end global warming would mean each of us helping not only to save our world but convince others about what is needed to do so. This is not an exaggeration, not a doomsday fantasy, just reality.

 

Hawken said we need to digest the fact that passing voting rights protections, improving health care, promoting equity in law, education, and the economy, ending warfare is saving the earth. We must get Democrats to pass legislation that makes people’s lives better so the mass of people will support efforts to increase democracy and fight climate change.

 

Buddhist teacher David Loy introduced me to the writing of both Joanna Macy and Ben Okri. Okri recently wrote a piece for the Guardian about the need to find new forms of creativity and imagination to face the crisis we are in. He called for “existential creativity”, creativity at the end of time. We are facing the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced, and we must adjust our philosophy and way of life to fit these times. Artists must not waste a single breath or word or tube of paint but focus their work entirely on making people aware of what we face and of actions we can take.

 

We are not wired to grasp long-term changes and threats as easily as short term ones. And many of us live so much in our ideas, stories, personal dramas we don’t feel present in our bodies or at home in the natural world and so don’t digest deeply enough the threat of climate change….

 

**To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

How Do We Face What We Believe is Unfaceable?

How do we face a fact or situation we believe we cannot face? Or respond skillfully to a personal or collective crisis?

 

In the Winter 2021 issue of Tricycle Magazine: The Buddhist Review, there is an article by environmentalist Paul Hawken adapted from his new book Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation. Hawken says we live on a planet dying due to severed connections between human beings and the natural world that sustains and contains us. The decline of the earth is its’ adaptation to what we are doing to it.

 

72% of Americans know that the consensus of scientists is that climate change is human caused. A U. N. panel recently labeled the situation a climate emergency. But Hawken says that if we stop making the mistakes we’re making, if we end the disconnection, if we cease the production of fossil fuels, redirect the economy to stop overconsumption, deforestation, wars, etc. the earth will come back to life. This is difficult but possible. But many don’t, won’t or can’t allow this to even be a possibility in their mind.

 

Many have come to think we have already gone too far, or it would take generations to stop catastrophic global warming. But Hawken says, if we can reduce carbon gain and achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050, we can regenerate the planet in one or two decades.

 

It is easier to not-think about it. To not consider the possibility that the planet, or human life on it, can be saved. For some of us, to bring the earth’s future back to life inside our heart and mind brings the hurt back to life. Pain. It can feel easier to fashion scabs of anger or ig-norance than face pain.

 

I think of two friends and neighbors who say they have given up. They usually vote. Maybe this is a sign that vestiges of hope or commitment remain⎼ or of love. But they won’t do anything more. Won’t help get out the vote or call politicians or take to the streets. They say it will do no good. Maybe the grief they feel over the dying earth has immobilized them.

 

And I understand this response. I too feel the grief for what and whom we’ve lost, for the losses from the pandemic, for an easier time when I did not feel the earth itself was on the way to the emergency room, or that white nationalists might once again inhabit the White House like they did just a year ago. I, too, yearn for comfort.

 

In a recent blog, I described how it’s less the situation we face, or the sensations we feel, that determine our emotional state, but our response to the situation and feelings. We often think of fear as what readies us to act to protect ourselves. But as psychologist William James pointed out over a hundred years ago, we don’t have an emotion and then act. We don’t see a bear in the woods, or maybe a domestic terrorist on the street, and then feel fear, and run.

 

Instead, our response is constructed in stages. We feel fear as our body begins to sweat, our heartbeat speeds up, our legs twitch. Fear is an interpretation added to sensations. The sensations themselves are the same as a stress response or emotions like excitement. The interpretation includes thoughts such as labeling a threat as unmanageable as well as an inclination to act, for example, by hiding….

 

**To read the whole article, please click on the link for the Good Men Project, who first published the piece.