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The Inner Tug

It really does seem hopeless sometimes. Everyday, I open the door, pick up the paper, open it and think, “What are we going to do”? The stories keep coming, and they keep getting worse. There is intractable conflict in every area on every level – from our devastating and deadly crisis in the rule of law, to the deep and dangerous polarization in politics, to the depletion and degradation of the everglades and the icebergs. I feel so low sometimes. I feel like there is nothing to be done, nothing to say, nothing to strive for – it all seems hopeless….And then, gratefully, I am reminded that there are very good reasons to keep my head up and to keep hoping – to keep working for what I think is right and just and good. 

First of all, there is hope in numbers: There are a lot of people who care about liberty, justice, and happiness for all people. I am continuously struck by how many people I know, encounter, read about and witness who continue to work for justice and peace. A prime example for me is the TE’A Company of artists, who for years now, have continued to commit themselves – their time, energy, talents and their vision – to creating art that asks the artists and the audiences to wonder instead of assume, to ask a question rather than to grandstand, to be curious about the very things that make us certain we are right, and to do the hard and rewarding work of self reflection.

Another inspiring example for me was the hundred or so people that gathered just last week for the Micah Faith Table lunch at Riverside Church on the Upper west side in Manhattan. These individuals came together to continue their active work on the issues of community safety and police reform, economic justice and a real living wage, Immigration in NYC, and educational reform. The participants were from different faith communities and traditions, and to a person there was an urgency of spirit and will to come together and organize on behalf of making policies and procedures equitable for everybody.

And finally, each and every day I encounter the most dedicated and caring group of individuals at Intersections, all of whom share the collective mission to be attentive to conflicts and dedicated to finding creative and lasting ways to transform even the most pressing contemporary conflicts.  

Secondly, there is my deep experience of the normative flow of our minds and hearts. When all is said and done, our minds and spirits bend towards truth and justice and love. It is my experience of myself – and my experience of others – that spontaneously, we would rather be attentive rather than inattentive; we would rather understand something than be confused about it; we would rather verify that our understanding is correct than hastily assume it is so; we would rather be mindful in responding to people than reactive, and conscientious rather than rash in the decisions we make. Time and again I have experienced this inner tug, this normative pull to be more mindful and more imaginative. And I experience it others – in the members of the TE’A Company, in the people gathered around the Micah Faith Table, and my colleagues at Intersections.

I admit it: I experience a certain pleasure and vitality in responding reactively to feeling threatened or wronged. I experience a momentary rush of comfort and security when I feel certain that I am right and when I feel righteous about the aggressive decisions I make as a result. But the normative tug does not go away. When the grip of threat is loosened and my internal horizon broadens before and within me, I become aware again of my spontaneous desire to be attentive, to understand, to be conscientious in my responses to people. And I repent.

It is this inner tug toward a more expensive, inclusive, imaginative place that actually feels right. And it is the example of others committed to this inner tug within themselves that gives me the strength to keep my head up and to keep going in a world that otherwise would be just too sad and too hard and too broken to believe we should carry on.