Common Values. It’s what’s missing in America today. I’ve tried at various times to believe in Christianity – it was the religion I was exposed to in Catholic schools – but I could never say as an adult, I’m a Christian.
But today, my thought is, all religions are maps, not the territory. In this nonverbal event life of ours, all we can ever do is point at the moon. None of our Narratives are the truth. We all see through a glass darkly. We are all blind people trying to discern what the elephant is.
So, it was very painful for me yesterday to see what rioters had done to a statue of the Virgin Mary (that’s what we called her in Catholic School). How dare, I thought, these rioters deface an icon that has such meaning for some people. Our faith helps us to get out of bed in the morning, and to put up with all the hardship that is in our lives.
No person has the right to destroy what is at the heart of another person’s faith, belief, worldview.
So why do the rioters do that. Obviously, one thing they lack is compassion. We all suffer. Look at a wounded warrior commercial at the soldier who comes back from war with no arms and legs. He suffers. Look at a Saint Jude hospital commercial about the mother asking us to help her two year old with a possibly fatal cancer. She suffers. For almost 40 years I have taken care of my brother with no self-care skills, who needs to be bathed and fed and changed and entertained – who depends on me for all of his needs. It has been really hard. I suffer. And I know he suffers.
We have seen the policeman with his knee on the neck of a black man; we all saw his suffering and the lack of compassion of the policeman who killed him. Blacks have suffered at the hands of the police.
What we need in this age of Repression, this age where some voices are heard, while the vast rest of us remain silent – even intimidated to speak – is to tell our stories, to share our stories of suffering. And then when we see how we all suffer, we need to ask how we can help not adding to the suffering of others.
One way would be to talk about a set of values we might all agree it is good to live by – so we have more cohesiveness to solve our problems.
My proposal is for each religion, each group, anyone who wants to – to look at their beliefs – and to pull from them a set of values they think might have universal application. I intend to do that after finishing (and I’m reading it painfully slowly when I can get some free time) The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh.
For instance, the Buddhist talk about Right View. It reminded me when I read it of Buber’s I-Thou. If I were to articulate a value from it, the value might be to really see each thing in life. The Buddhist talk about it in terms of mindfulness – giving our full attention – to everything, nature, a leaf, a person.
Can we agree when we talk to someone we should not be thinking about what we are going to say, not be thinking about how they differ from us, from what we believe, from our assumptions – but just give them our full attention. Try as Buber says to go over to the other side and to really understand how the other feels, thinks, experiences.
You can’t get Right View with Group Think. It requires an individual self willing to really see for themselves.
I look at people like Kanye West. I want to be President he said. Perhaps, because only Elites are heard in this culture. And he gave a stream of consciousness speech. He’s crazy was the response of some. No, I would say. Freud showed how free association, stream of consciousness could help us make the unconscious conscious. One psychoanalyst said the way we become aware of something is by verbalizing it. Kanye was verbalizing his experience. Now he isn’t an essayist or a writer. He was verbalizing it the way ordinary people do – rambling, filled with emotion, filled with personal meaning, personal experience. But some didn’t really See him. They related to the assumptions in their head, their beliefs, they didn’t listen and try to understand. Which value do we believe in – trying to see – to go over to the other side, or relating to the assumptions in our head and rendering judgment?
The point of this whole discussion is to say we all suffer. We all have our stories. We all have our beliefs. And it is an outrageous act of violence and inhumanity to deface a statue of the Virgin Mary that has great significance, great value for some people. They’re only statures said Nancy Pelosi. No, to some they’re much more. They might have different values than Nancy Pelosi – and that’s my point – we have no common values.
The Buddhist say we must show compassion because we all suffer – not just you, not just Blacks, but Police, Catholics – we all suffer.
And so, in this time of great suffering – can we muster the compassion to try to bridge our differences with common values? Can we distill from our own values, ones that may have universal significance – a set of values we can espouse that can bring us together. There will never be an end to conflict. We are different after all. But there can be an end to violence – if we want it – if we can all muster compassion, if we can search for common values.
I think when God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the Tree of the Fruit of Knowledge, he was telling them - Perception is Deception - in all things you never see but through a glass darkly now. Recently, I have started to read the books of Thich Nhat Hanh. They help.