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I lay in bed this morning thinking about some of the alternative paths down which my life might have flowed, several of which would have left me to spend much or all of it abroad. And I thought about the lunacy defining America today, the political irrationality and small-mindedness, the too-widespread commitment to violence and bigotry in an age when many of us had hoped and believed, years ago, that we would have done a better a job by now of leaving such follies in the past. And I realized that there is no escape, that human foibles are everywhere, within and without, across the seas and here at home, and for one brief moment I realized that that’s okay, that that is the nature of our existence, that we are animals flirting with consciousness, and that to expect us immediately to be something that we’re currently not is a folly of its own.

Of course, it is incumbent on each of us to continue to work at the cultivation of our consciousness and humanity, at the improvement of who and what we are, individually and collectively, within and without. But when we are overcome with anger and frustration at the bigotries and irrationalities around us, we are neither transcending that folly as individuals nor helping us to transcend it as a society.

Humans are a part of nature, and nature, for all its wondrous beauty, is full of brutalities. As conscious beings, we have the unique opportunity of being able to strive to transcend those brutalities, to create a world that reflects our god-like potential more than it reflects our primal foundations. But this has to be a loving endeavor, a patient endeavor, an endeavor in which we recognize how much of the challenge rests within each of us rather than in achieving victory in the battles among us. For the tribalistic reflex that divides the world into the good in-group and the bad out-group(s) is a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution to it.

I often forget this, and see many of those around me forgetting it as well. But if we are truly committed to a more peaceful, more compassionate, more life-affirming world, then we must recognize the extent to which we betray that commitment each time we devolve into outrage at the folly of those around us, for when we do so the folly is now within us as well.

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  • JH:

    Steve, your reflection encapsulates pretty well how I feel toward humanity, society,and the seemingly inescapable conflict between our primal beings and what we strive for; that it “has to be a loving endeavor, a patient endeavor, an endeavor in which we recognize how much of the challenge rests within each of us….” I try to articulate (preach) this sort of perspective with friends, family members, and others who are well meaning, but stubbornly “tribalistic” in their attitude. To keep a patient, loving outlook seems about the only sane way to gain ground on these fronts where change of perspective often takes time, like waves lapping a shoreline.

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