Living in this World

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

#104 Protection and Safety

In a buzz of public conversation not long ago about the danger of contact sports and the long-term health impact of concussions, one comment leapt out at me: football players would be safer from concussion if they didn’t wear so much protective head gear. Back in the early days of the game, with thin leather helmets and everyone’s face exposed, people took more care about how they treated each other. All the padding and grills make players fair game for anything.

I was reminded of how obsessed our culture is with protection. I have a friend who talks about the “protection racket”—and I have to ask, how much of the energy that we put into protection, both physical and emotional, actually ends up making us less safe?

I think of the parents who hover over their children, trying to shield them from all danger--and the children who grow up never having developed their ability to judge risk or respond to danger. Or there are the rules in early childhood program, set up to keep children safe: bleach the toys, sanitize the table tops, eliminate exposure to dirt. Well it turns out that bleach and sanitizers bring their own safety hazards, and without access to dirt, children can’t build up critical antibodies.

Or we wall ourselves into gated communities and become targets, losing access to the connections and relationships that might actually increase our safety in the long run. Or we drill into our children’s psyches the danger of trusting any stranger even a little bit. Their capacity to trust is damaged forever, and many of them end up getting abused anyway by some someone they know--a far more common scenario.

Some of us fear danger and do everything we can to avoid it. Others put all our attention to developing foolproof protections so we can court danger without negative consequences. Both are problematic.

Fear of danger actually increases it. Yellow jackets and dogs, for example, can smell fear and go straight toward it. More generally, when we’re afraid, we’re not likely to be thinking at our best, which makes us more vulnerable. And the quest to develop “foolproof” protections leads us to the irrationalities of fancy headgear and increased concussions, guns in the home and increased gun-shot accidents, an out-of-control arms race and increased global insecurity.

Our urge to protect ourselves and our loved ones is natural, and there are real dangers, but somehow we need to find a third way. I think it will have to be grounded in judgment, engagement and connection. This third way would provide opportunities to take all kinds of (small-sized) risks, where we can build our judgment and confidence. It would include lots of practice in how to defang danger by moving toward it with curiosity and respect. The ultimate goal of any endeavor would be not safety but connection and meaning (with safety taken into consideration along the way). In this third way, good relationships would be recognized as the bedrock of our common security.

If the rules were adjusted so that football could be played again without helmets, my guess is that it would be safer, and just as interesting to play and watch--maybe even more so, since some of the lost blunt force would have to be made up for by added flexibility, intelligence and skill. It seems like a good trade-off in general: fewer fear-based rules and protections, less blunt force, more flexibility and connection, and more real safety.


Weighed down
with excess from my pantry
on my back

(Word had gone out
the food bank in a local church
was out of staples for the month)

Find the neighbor’s porch
and the big cardboard box

straighten, stretch
walk home
much lighter now.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

A Greenpeace boycott campaign which has succeeded in convincing the largest palm oil producer in Indonesia to announce a plan to protect forests and carbon-rich peat lands across all of its operations.

The enactment this year by Connecticut of the first state-wide law guaranteeing workers the right to earn paid sick days (SB 913).

Wiser Earth, the Social Network for Sustainability (, which has created a database of over 2 million non-governmental organizations world wide working on the challenges we face (check out their short video at:

The on-going protest against social and economic injustice in Israel, with many tents in central places all over the country as focal points for gathering and discussion, and mass demonstrations--initiated and led by young adults and women, and including in one week 3% of Israel, or the equivalent of 9.2 million people in the US.

Monday, August 01, 2011

#103 Eco-vision

The ecology movement has made remarkable progress over the last several decades in challenging the illusion, driven by the scientific and industrial revolutions, that we are separate from and masters over an external environment. We have not been so successful, however, in challenging the illusion that growing our economy is the solution to all our problems. Yet this economy is exploiting the natural world beyond its ability to sustain itself, while delivering prosperity to an ever-smaller percentage of the population.

By any religious, moral, or ethical standard, our economy should serve all our people, the children who come after us, and the commonwealth of life on which our existence depends. Surely it should not be just to give the wealthiest more wealth and power; to maximize profits by eliminating jobs that people need; to convince us we need things that we are better off without; to strip the earth of its resources, pollute it with our wastes, and make life untenable for the most vulnerable.

I can hardly stand it when people cede all these issues to the economists, and assume that we have no alternatives. It makes me crazy to see us lured to worship a heartless god of materialism when our religious traditions are so much richer. We are imprisoned in a false consciousness, in a framework of beliefs that has no future. More than anything, we need word that there is life outside these prison walls--that another economy is possible.

We need a way to be better informed, enlightened, invigorated and connected. We need to be armed not just with facts, but with an understanding of the flawed foundations of our present failed economic system and the essential building blocks of one with a future. It’s all out there. There’s incredibly exciting thinking and work going on. Most of us just don’t know.

After participating recently on a call of a group of interfaith ecology/economy activists, listening to people pondering what we are capable of pulling off, I had a vision. It’s a vision of an electronic resource/blog/conversation that could become a go-to place for people who have figured out that something is wrong, but don’t know how to take the next step. It would start with the religious community because they have some organization and a constituency that can be called to question false gods and debased values, and to have a heart for justice and God’s creation.

We call it something like ECO-VISION; An Interfaith Voice on Economy and Ecology. New material goes up every day in brief accessible form, focused on finding/creating a way forward. It is organized thematically by days of the week, i.e.
Monday: grounding/philosophy/concepts/ecology-economy links
Tuesday: alternative models that people are trying out
Wednesday: facts, breaking news
Thursday: the next generation; voices of youth and young adults
Friday: policy and action implications
Saturday: reflections/sermons
Sunday: Sabbath rest--no posts

People, or teams, who take responsibility for the content choose the threads they are most interested in (for me, it might be the alternative models), and only have to post once a week. Readers might be initially attracted to just one of the six threads, but then get drawn into others.

I’m excited about this idea--though the voice of my fears keeps insisting that it’s too pretentious or impossible or lame, and that others will just roll their eyes. But I’m trying to listen to my hopes and not my fears. One thing is obvious--that my old habitual mode of sticking to what I can pull off all by myself has to be abandoned right from the start. So I’m asking for your help.

Some questions that come to my mind:
What would improve/strengthen the concept?
Where would such a voice best be housed?
Who else might want to participate?
Who would need to be involved from the beginning to make it effective in reaching broadly?

If you have thoughts, please respond (just to me). I have enormous respect for the power of the stories we tell each other, and see an opportunity here for us to learn new stories and share them in bold hope for the future.

Heat wave

Saturday morning
in the garden
at the crack of dawn—
finesse the heat wave
(watch the sunrise)

Others come
to water, weed and harvest
bend and sweat
all sturdy urban gardeners
who know
you can’t avoid the weather
if you want the food
but you can be smart
about when you’re out.

We chat
just neighbors
tied close this morning
by the choices we have made
about the weather
and the earth.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

The decision by city leaders of Cleveland, faced with massive deindustrialization, skyrocketing unemployment and urban blight, to rebuild their local economy by focusing on “anchor industries” like hospitals and universities, and establishing local worker-owned businesses to supply these anchor industries.

A recent vote in Italy, where an overwhelming number of people (96 percent of the 57 percent of the population that voted) cast their ballots for a peaceful future based on shared ownership of water, overturning a law which would have encouraged private companies to buy up public water utilities and have guaranteed them a profit.

The response to tragedy in Norway, where leaders cried publicly and encouraged the enormous crowds who thronged to streets to be close and listen to each other with love and respect and where, rather than demanding revenge against the anti-Islamic offender, a collective agreement was reached to embrace the values that he wished to destroy, by creating an even more open, friendly and inclusive society.

The growing momentum all over the world to mark September 24 as a day to move beyond fossil fuels:

Check out:, a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years.

Also: START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to
(If the background is too dark to read, I hope you can get a computer whiz
to help--and let me know what you figured out! When I go there on my Mac
via Safari, it's fine.)

And I've joined Facebook! We'll see if I can use it as a communications
tool and not get sucked into all the rest...