Monday, November 3, 2014

#137 Goodness and Neglect

Dear all,
As my mind turns toward a season of thanksgiving, I find myself thankful for a number of things--
--our dear friend from Northern Uganda, who is here in Philadelphia for the fall,
--the fruits of my intention to act against mass incarceration, with doors opening up that I am able and glad to walk through,
--the chance to visit with local youth as we work together at Mill Creek Farm, providing affordable produce for the neighbors and free gleanings for the local soup kitchen,
--and always, the beauty of our natural world.
I will you rich things to be thankful for as well.   

Goodness and neglect

I neglected my backyard last summer.  There were perfectly good reasons for it, and I’m not second-guessing the choices I made that had it low on my list.  But the longer I neglected it the harder it became to choose to pay attention.  I felt bad about that neglect, and facing the result of it was painful.

When a blessedly open day arrived in October, my feet finally took me out the back door and down the steps.  What an unkempt jungle! The clouds of tiny white flies on the kale in my little kitchen garden were the worst.  How could I have been so irresponsible in tending a living thing for which I was responsible?  I found myself doing everything else except getting out the detergent spray for that tedious job.  I realized that I was mad.

I was mad at the need for all that work—but mostly I was mad at the image of myself that was reflected back to me.  So the flies, and at the kale that had attracted them, got the brunt of it.

Once I could notice that I was directing my anger at that innocent kale, my mind actually got a little space to think about this phenomenon.  I doubt I’m the only one.  Why do I get mad at what (or who) I care about and don’t treat well?  I think it’s because I would choose to believe that I’m a good person, and what is reflected back to me calls that into question.  To protect my goodness, I blame the one I’ve treated badly.

It’s logical, in a twisted kind of way.  And it makes me wonder how much this dynamic underlies neglect and abuse in many other places.  How many people who treat loved ones badly have fallen into a pattern of responding to their own less-than-thoughtful behavior by lashing out at those with whom they have fallen short?  How many people in privileged social positions defend what they haven’t earned by finding fault with those who have less?

I’m happy to say that while there’s still more do to, my backyard looks 100% better.  It reflects well on me, and my eyes can now rest there in pleasure.  I’m no longer mad at the kale, which I did finally get to spraying that afternoon (though I notice that it could use a second treatment now).

Perhaps most important, I have a personal and visceral understanding of how easy it is to try to protect our goodness when we’re in the wrong by projecting that wrong onto others—and how easily that can lead to even more neglectful and hurtful behavior.

It's not right.  But in my heart of hearts, I know that I’m not a bad person.  Perhaps my next step is to go out and just apologize to the kale—then give it another spray.


I thought we were planting
just for beauty--
big bright sunflowers
that call out their glory in August
when others have faded away

Yet here on a busy street
in a front yard smaller than
a double bed, I find
a goldfinch family has found a home,
a perfect place to tweet
and flit and dine on seeds.

The ones I planted in our big common bed
reached for the sun and bloomed
and then grew fat with seeds
Birds came here too, and bees,
and then, first day of fall,
a squirrel had hunkered down
busy with a big seed head
storing up for leaner times.

As one who planted just for beauty
I have learned
that sunflowers
have more to give.

Imagine--A new economy is possible!
Municipal Ownership

This fall, the small city of Somerset, Kentucky, drew national attention when it opened a municipally owned and operated fuel center in an effort to drive down gas prices for local residents.  While Somerset’s publicly owned gas station is the first of its kind in a good many years, it draws upon a rich tradition in the United States of municipal enterprises that reduce costs for local residents, provide services for those underserved or exploited by private operators, and allow for community participation in economic decision-making.

Historically, municipal ownership and operation of strategically important industries and services was commonplace in America’s cities. Often these included subways, trolleys, buses, power plants, power lines, telephone networks, water and sanitation systems, railroads, ice plants, bus and train stations, freight shipping facilities, grocery stores, coal distribution companies, and lodging houses.  One legacy of this approach is represented in the 2,000 municipally owned electric utilities, which, together with co-ops, supply more than 25 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

The new Polish Jewish museum in Warsaw that focuses on 1000 years of vibrant Jewish life and culture in Poland before World War II.

Urban farms, the networks in which they are embedded, and the networks they grow around them.

The persistent, effective, on-the-ground peacemaking that is waged in East Africa by the African Great Lakes Initiative, in conflicts that seem intractable from the outside.

The $18.5 million in personal debt that has been bought and forgiven since 2012 by Debt Jubilee for just $300,000 on the secondary debt market, where lenders sell unpaid bills to collectors for just pennies on the dollar.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:–-deep-outreach-diverse-initiating-groups-–-pace-building-trust

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at