Living in this World

Thursday, March 31, 2011

#99 Common Ground, Revisited

I had the opportunity this month as part of my job to visit our state capitol and speak with a variety of legislators and policy people about priorities for state spending, and the needs of young children and families in particular. Our state now has a new conservative Republican governor and a majority of Republican legislators, and many people are worried about budget cuts and loss of public services.

In the visits with legislators, it was a surprisingly enjoyable exercise to search for and acknowledge common ground. It was good to see in the flesh people whom I’ve thought of in my mind as the “other” and find them to be warm and distinct human beings. It was interesting to join with them enough to feel comfortable seeing if there were places where I could nudge them a little in the direction of my point of view.

The meeting with the Republican education policy woman, however, was more than enjoyable and interesting--it was like a breath of fresh air! For the last eight years, the state early childhood community has been under the leadership of a brilliant and dedicated progressive civil servant who has built a coherent and comprehensive system, with procedures to shape every last detail and address every contingency. One could say that this is big government at its best--or at its worst. Folks in the field have appreciated the support for quality early education from the state, but chafe under the heavy hand of bureaucracy. So when this woman spoke of flexibility, and streamlining, and respecting people’s ability to do their work, I couldn’t have agreed with her more.

It reminded me of how strongly I identify with many values that are labeled conservative. Live within your means. Don’t waste. Value the virtues of hard work, responsibility, respect and civic engagement. Don’t automatically assume that newer is better. Believe in the ability of individuals to rise above adversity and shape their lives. I too am distrustful of big government, and believe that we do our best when given the space to innovate freely.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t powerful forces at work, way bigger than any human being, that are riding the current wave of energy from the right in order to amass more wealth and power. The small-government, pro-business slant of many individual Republicans is an ideal environment in which giant corporations and Wall Street firms, wired to maximize profits, can grow and consolidate their dominance of our political and economic institutions. Greed is the heart and driving force of our economic system--and this is not benign.

Yet it would be a mistake to lump these powerful and dangerous tendencies with all the good people in our country who honestly believe that we’re on the wrong track and something has to change. I may disagree with their targets. I may define the problem differently and come up with different solutions. I may worry about the forces that feed off their energy and their fears. But so long as I think of such people as “the other”, I can be sure that we will not find our way forward.

Cultivating confidence

I have taken on another infestation
at the point of the 45th St. flowerbed
A nasty weed has taken hold
and now it spreads.

The dirt is soft
I pull out plants
with great long runners
know there will be more
come back in two days
get the ones I missed
come back again to see new sprouts
from hidden roots—
dig out every root
prepare to dig again.

This is a strong resourceful foe
yet I rest in certain confidence
that I will win.
All it takes is patience
decision to take the time
knowing it will not happen
the first time or the tenth
Respecting this weed’s tenacity
and hold on life
but sure that if I hold out
for the flowers long enough
I will prevail

(though other weeds
will come of course—
the larger work is never done).

I like this stand.
Can I transplant it
lend this steady confidence
to other parts of life
where weeds are choking
things I love?
Learn to not succeed
the first ten times
and still go back?

Some things are worth doing
no matter what the odds,
at other points we can’t prevail,
and time is a factor, true—
but with a win on the horizon
it’s not so hard to find the time.

And to see that distant win
requires the confidence
I know the best
when gardening.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

A new movement called US Uncut, inspired by UK Uncut, in which tens of thousands of British citizens have targeted corporations that pay no or very low corporate income taxes--pointing out that the cuts would be unnecessary if only the corporations would pay up.

The friendship that has grown between US Senators Al Franken and Ron Paul despite their radically different political perspectives.

How perennial flowers keep spreading and, as they are shared and planted in barren places, how beauty can grow.

Our Journey to Smile, an Afghani youth movement for peace and reconciliation.