Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Deeper Trust

As a follow-up from my latest posting, I wanted to write more about the deeper trust in people I am trying to learn.

Humans are interdependent beings. We rely on each other in many ways. There is a basic level of interdependency: every individual's very survival depends upon the help and support of others. Even a person who might choose to leave human society and live alone in the wilderness is not truly independent, because that person's survival still depends on all that that person had learned while in human society: how to build a fire, how clothing and shelter provide warmth, how some plants are edible and others are poisonous, etc.

But the survival level is not the only level of human interdependency. There is also the level of defining and accomplishing one's goals in the world. At this level as well, we are interdependent. We cannot do it alone. We need interconnection with each other. And I am not really talking about worldly definitions of "success," here. What matters most to me is efficacy, the capacity to make a difference. The world has serious problems, and one of my burning questions lately is this: how can an individual make a real difference? How is it possible to tap into and change the very sources of power that have created the problems to begin with?

So many of us feel so overwhelmed and powerless today.

The answer is that individuals can make a difference, but never as individuals alone. To tap into that power requires making use of our essential interconnectedness, in the right ways.

So, back to the question of trust: the people who make a difference not only have some very excellent support in their own lives which gives them personal wisdom, courage, and strength, but also their interconnections with others open up access to the world's operative sources of power.

In contrast, people who never quite "make it" (in whatever sense is meaningful to them) are those who get bogged down from lack of support in their lives, and so never quite have the means of summoning the personal strength to be able to step out in new ways very far beyond basic survival. (And for some -- too many -- even basic survival is fragile.) Or, the person's support is adequate enough, but the person just never quite figures out how to extend connections in ways that finally tap into sources of power. Either they never do make the connection to sources of power; or, maybe those connections are in their reach, but not in ways that allow the matching of their own gifts with the world's needs. A person might be friends with someone very influential, but that influential friend is not able to perceive or be affected by the wisdom the person offers. Or the influential friend's range of influence might not be of the kind that can channel the person's wisdom to where that wisdom most needs to be heard.

So many people console themselves when they reach a certain age and realize that their life is not what they had hoped it could be back in their idealistic youth. They console themselves with humility. They cast "ambition" as something to be regarded with suspicion. If they are people of faith, they tell themselves that trying to "save the world," is precariously close to "sin of pride." They tone down what "faithfulness" means in their own lives to something more "realistic," to something that matches the reality of the lives they actually find themselves in. And they hope that in humble ways they still do make a modest difference; even a modest difference really matters. And most of all, they remind themselves that their value as human beings is not contingent on the magnitude of their "accomplishments."

And I say "amen" to all of that.

And yet -- for myself, in my own life, I am raging mad at how powerless I feel.

And I'm finally able to say that out loud and unapologetically.

I am raging mad because I don't care one whit about these questions for myself, but I care enormously for the world.

I don't care if I die unnoticed (having mostly lived unnoticed throughout my life, I am used to this now -- in fact, it's a safe and comfortable place!), or if I achieve enduring fame. After all, I myself won't be around to notice one way or another after I'm gone! This is not about me.

But here I am, a being that notices, and cares, and loves -- and I want nothing more than to know how to take my willing energy and have a healing effect on this wounded world, for the world's sake.

But I don't know how to do this.

Back to trust: I cannot do it alone. I need the help of others.

Here's where I am in life: I have a power that I begin to see. There are times when I talk when suddenly everyone pays attention. I stir a collective energy. An energy rises and fills everyone with new hope, a new vision of what's possible.

But then everyone goes back to their frenetic busy lives, and forgets, and fails to follow through on their promises.

I wake something that then keeps falling back to sleep, or falling back into a certain kind of collective trance.

But I do trust the love and kindness that does surround me. It provides a support that gives me more than mere survival: my friends recognize something special about what I am trying to do. When it stirs, they pay attention and affirm it. In this, I am very fortunate indeed. So many people do not have even this. Instead they have friends who say, "take tobacco, sing psalms" (or today's modern equivalent: "you're all worked up! Take a break: have a beer and watch TV").

It's at the next level of trust that I feel let down. While I understand people's reluctance to fully step onto this path with me in a more real sort of way (they have their own complex lives, etc., etc.), still, I feel disappointed and alone. I push at mighty things thinking that others are with me, and then I feel a strain, and look around, and notice they all have left for the evening, glancing at their watches and scurrying to their next appointments, leaving me bearing the full weight by myself. I'm exhausted.

And yet, and yet -- I reach for a new kind of trust. There's something wrong in what I've been hoping for from others, and yet there is something else that is deeper that is appropriate for me to hope for. I must not blame them. There's a piece of the puzzle here that I'm not getting. I've reached for their help in the wrong way, at the wrong level. I want their hands to help, but it is their hearts I must engage more fully.

That's all I know, at this point. I make my way in the dark. This is the faint glimmer I have.

Everything in my life is about this. In this too, I am fortunate. My life is busy and complex, but through all of this is this overarching simplicity. Really, I have just one problem, and it is this, reflected in myriad ways every way I turn in my life. Each mirror gives me a different angle on the problem.

Sorry if this is obscure and difficult to understand. It is that I am living on (and writing from) the edge of my new emerging understandings.

I write the story of Vision birthing.


  1. CS,

    Actually I understand this all too well. I don't know how often you look at my blog but I've been writing about community and getting beyond individualism and the recovery of vision too. My essays are less personal and more historical in focus but the same themes are all there.

    I think that part of the frustration we both feel at times is due to our discipline. Philosophy really looks like a truck run off the road spinning its wheels in a ditch. Philosophers don't cooperate with each other; they spend way too much time and energy trying to prove to each other whose the smartest. It's all very discouraging and as I'm older than you are I've had more time to get discouraged. But I've also had a bit more time to recover from the outrage and pick myself up and start again.

    I have really felt the emptiness of not finding allies. You seem to at least get people temporarily excited about the possibility of making things better, then they go back to the cave and look at shadows. I have trouble getting them excited in the first place.

    Perhaps if we get together at the Friends in Higher Education meeting we can compare notes and encourage each other a little. Don't lose heart.

    In pondering these exact issues in my own life at meeting a few weeks ago a Friend delivered a message on patience. I took that message to be for me. Don't give up but don't impatiently expect quick results either. Keep your hand to the plow. Rest once in a while but don't turn back. I'm not going to turn back and there are others like me out there.

  2. I feel cheered and encouraged by your words. Thank you so much!

  3. You have tickled my fancy! I put my faith in our common reality, but not in each individual's understanding of that reality! We all make unintentional mistakes. Every perception & every idea we have needs to be confirmed by further experience, whether it be our own further experience or someone else's. But even apparently confirmed perceptions or ideas still need further confirmation. We always have to put our thoughts to the test; as Paul says "Put everything to the test & hold fast [but not too fast] to that which seems/is good!
    Befriend uncertaintly!

  4. Thank you, Rex! Yes, I will meditate further on "putting to the test," and "holding fast to that which seems/is good." Very helpful.

    Normally I am good at being patient and understanding. What is hard right now is that I am under considerable pressure in many dimensions of my life to act on things I am ready to act on, but I cannot act alone. I need to wait for others' decisions, actions, input.

    I still try to be patient and understanding, but pressure still bears down hard on me, and this is just plain hard -- to be under a lot of pressure and yet to feel so powerless to move forward in those very ways I myself am ready and eager to move forward!

    I continue to feel on the verge of a new insight that will help me to manage this kind of stress better than I currently am! I'll keep you all posted...

  5. I don't know whether impatience or lack of trust is your problem, or just that you can't judge your own effectiveness.

    Firstly, if you truly are in the first instance awakening in some people a different way of viewing a issue, then I'm not sure that you are correctly describing them as returning to their old patterns of behavior just because they don't react as you expected they would. Your background in Philosophy provides a clue to this: Socrates, who, afaik, would never have made your complaint. Changing a person's pov is a true achievement. What they do afterwards isn't under your control, nor your responsibility.

    Secondly, you're engaged in a "It takes a village to raise a child" type of venture, so why do you try to isolate your influence from all the other forces in the lives of these people you are refering to?Even if these people you fret over reacted in the way you expected, you'd be unwise to take all the credit for changing their behavior. So why do you take upon yourself all the blame when they don't react in the way that you wish?

    Quakerism is another reason to reject this self-blaming. Quakerism is premised on trust in a transcendent and providential God who is working "behind the scenes" "in mysterious ways". YOu have done your part, let God work through other people.

    And another reason not to blame your self is that people aren't all "surface". What I'm getting at here are the ideas presented in the books Tipping Point(which analyzes the various steps to social change) and Blink(which describes the subliminal thinking people do within seconds of experiencing some stimulis), both by Malcolm Gladwell. I suggest these because what you are attempting to do(which I think of as "changing the zeitgeist" or "paradigm hacking") isn't something that any one person can claim personal credit/blame for.

    James Arnold(I have no blog, sorry)