Thursday, December 11, 2014

#138 Big enough

Dear all,
From a pre-Thanksgiving dinner with our oldest son Paul and some of his friends, to holiday time with Chuck's extended family, to a long lovely afternoon and evening yesterday with old friends (another extended family), to today's anticipation of the arrival of our son Tim and his wife and toddler for a month's visit from Nicaragua, I am feeling richly blessed by human connection.  And my walk this morning reminded me, as always, of my connection with the natural world around me.
How good it is to be embedded in community!

Big enough

I was having one of my—not uncommon—moments of feeling just too little.  The world was looking pretty bleak and its problems pretty big.  Economic inequality, racism, climate change—how could I possibly hope to make any difference in the face of enormous forces like these?

A friend was listening to me, and as I shared my sense of helplessness and hopelessness, my wish to not even turn my head in the direction of these big painful wrongs that I could do nothing about, I was able to hear myself in a new way.  I sounded like a very little girl.  The voice inside me that was speaking was a voice from my childhood.

It makes perfect sense.  I was too little then.  The forces that governed my life were way beyond my control.  I saw the things that weren’t working right—for me, for my family—and had no way of making them better.  In my particular situation, I didn’t even see a way to complain.  So I did my best, learned my own set of survival skills, put my head down, and found my way, for better or for worse, into adulthood.

Now this isn’t to say that my life has been bleak.  Far from it.  I’ve experienced love in a variety of wonderful forms, found many meaningful ways to spend my time, gotten pleasure from the talents of countless people on this earth, been nurtured by the richness of the natural world.  As an adult, I’ve discovered that I’m not helpless, that I can make things happen in the circles around me.  I’ve continued to look for ways to address these big evils, but through all those years I’ve still carried that image of myself as just not big enough.

I remember my pivotal “aha moment” about the relationship between climate change and despair:  the feelings of despair that come up so quickly around climate change are not its creation. Those feelings were with us long before we had ever imagined the possibility of the end of life on earth as we know it.  They are old feelings from our childhood—when things were that scary, and we felt that small.  I find the concept so refreshing:  the feelings of despair that come up in the face of climate change are not inevitable.  They are ours to change.  Climate change is just an irresistible magnet for those old fears—which are always looking for a convenient place to attach in the present.

This is not to say that we don’t have a problem, or that the challenges we face are insignificant.  As the big international forces that have brought us to this point grow in their interconnections and global impact, the threats are very real and significant—to say the least!  But what if we are big enough?

I’m helped by recognizing a similar trajectory behind climate change, economic inequality and racism. It starts with an assumption of separation and a goal of mastery—in relation to both other human beings and the environment. Those who have more justify their right to it, then they work to protect what they have.  Those assumptions and goals lead to injustice and trauma on a massive scale—for both people and the earth.  The systems that have been built on these foundations are enormous and complex, but underlying them are human dynamics that can be understood, faced and changed.  Systems that have been built can be dismantled, and people who have done damage and been damaged can be healed.

What if this is just the right sized challenge for grown-ups like us?  What if each of us gets to be our own full loving human self in relation to these big issues?  What if we assumed that we were big enough?  Big enough to look at what’s wrong; to understand; to say what we think; to apply what we know to our personal choices; to engage with our friends, colleagues and neighbors, and gather others around good programs; to be players on the public stage?

In the process, we’ll have to get good at teasing out the sticky old voices of despair from the reality of interesting and important challenges in the present.  Those voices from our childhood may be the biggest thing that’s holding back our world.  It was true back then:  we were too little.  What good news that we’re now big enough!

Bread and life

You would think that I of all people
do-it yourselfer
would be a baker of bread.

And yet I’m not
that is, I wasn’t.

Mixing together
stuff from a store
has never drawn me.

Then I was transformed by a
sourdough starter
given by a friend.

Putting flour, salt and water
in the service of
this wild life form
I became a partner in creation,
the flavor of the bread
a wonder
beyond my control.

Imagine--A new economy is possible!

Postal banking

Physical and operational structures already exist that could help USPS offer basic financial services: prepaid debit cards, mobile transactions, new check cashing services, savings accounts, and even simple, small-dollar loans.  A successful U.S. Postal Saving System existed from 1911-1967.  Every money order you deliver confirms this heritage—postal banking is as American as apple pie—and similar schemes operate overseas today, including in Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the UK.

According to a Pew survey, 38 percent of the US population—88 million people—either have no bank accounts (the “unbanked”) or are at least partially dependent upon high-cost services like payday lending (the “underbanked”).   In 2012, underbanked households spent almost 10% of their annual income solely on interest and fees for alternative financial services like payday lending.

Thirty-one percent of the unbanked said they would open an account at their local post office branch. Eighty-one percent of the underbanked said they would use USPS to cash checks, 79 percent percent to pay bills, and 71 percent would choose postal loans over payday loans.   The U.S. Conference of Mayors has endorsed the idea, and legislation is pending in Congress.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently

How the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has pressured Florida’s tomato growers, through enlisting the might of major restaurant chains and retailers, to increase wages for their 30,000 workers and follow strict standards that mandate rest breaks and forbid sexual harassment and verbal abuse.

Learning that 85,000 trees have been planted by one women's agricultural cooperative in Nicaragua, and knowing that this is just one of many such efforts around the world.

The New Economy movement--a diverse set of communities (native climate justice activists, union leaders, coop leaders from the deep South, urban farmers, small businesses, sustainability activists) coming together in shared recognition that our economic structures are the root cause of many different crises.

How one person's story of humanity in a conflict-ridden far-away place (Gaza, Iraqi Kurdistan) can allow those who hear to open their minds and hearts to that place.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:


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.  NOTE THE NEW URL--should be live soon. 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