Chicken Soup for our Broken Society

An Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by David Brooks, “The Broken Society,” caught my attention, primarily because I tend to agree that our society is broken (as for why I think so, see Myth-Maker, Myth-Maker make me a myth).

Brooks outlines the brokenness and then turns to Brit Phillip Blond who “lays out three big areas of reform:  remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor.”

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do those things, and frankly I don’t think my opinion on it matters much; I do, however, feel compelled to write in the service of greater personal consciousness, for myself and my readers, founded on a personal conviction that things will ultimately only change one person at a time, and in then in the context of one relationship at a time.

As a shrink I think that virtually none of us got what we truly needed in order to function optimally in this world, mostly because we and our parents before us are all severely limited to fully fathom the demands of a fast-moving (and arguably collapsing) culture.  As kids, my generation could hardly have prepared for the boom with the cumbersome and slow moving computers of nineteen seventies high school “computer labs.”

In turn we have no clue about the world our kids will actually live in, and whether even our best private, chartered or magnetized educations will have anything to do with what they will be doing.

Thus a few comments on Blond’s calls for reform:  The zeitgeist does what it does, everyone with a good idea or a hunger to lead, serve or rise throws what they have at the wall and what sticks is not the reflection of genius thinkers, but of the genius that is the collective.  The zeitgeist gives a thumbs-up for what it wants and ignores the rest, be it Nazi Germany, social networking or a green movement.

After trends sweep the populace, pundits theorize who started it, but that is forcing nature into a mechanistic paradigm, which still doesn’t make the analysis true.

In this context, I have no great vision for a better world, only an interest in participating, via consciousness, and trying not to be part of the problem (which, I believe, might be understood as unconsciousness—as the failure to recognize everyone else, taken in totality, as our true SELF; somewhere between dangerous group-think and strident individualism lies a better world, but it is in shifting our minds, rather than our social planning, that I intuit the shift occurs… is in fact occurring spontaneously in the relationships we are building, here in the blogosphere, and in our homes and lives, armed with empowered and loving consciousness).

The question at hand might be how to take Blond’s ideas and, whether or not Washington, Wall Street, Madison Avenue or Society as a whole adopts them, live them ourselves, individually in the service of the group and ourselves?

Remoralize: Perhaps we reorient ourselves to the morality of our own hearts.  Humans are big on fairness, children in particular.  We become discouraged when we see cheaters win.  To remoralize is to leap into a faith that we can find success through integrity.

This works particularly well if we trade the metrics of wealth and fame for the metrics of happiness, which is subjective.  If we boldly dare to want what it, embrace what we have, and trust in the greater wisdom of our ultimate consciousness then maybe, just maybe, quantum physics and karma turn out to be greater moral authorities than materialism.   In other words, let the rich have their money and the powerful have their power; if they’re happy they’re playing the world right and if not, not.

After all, if we were all happy, unfairness would subside considerably.  We tend to think we must make it fair and everyone can be happy, but what if by supporting everyone to be happy things will just become more fair?

Thus we remoralize when physicians, teachers, parents, therapists—leaders of all stripes—heal themselves.  If we follow our bliss, do what we think is fair (be that meditation or revolution) and if we feel truly happy, we remoralize.

Our relationships are the “market.”  We remoralize the market when we follow the enlightened self-interest of being in our integrity, and relinquish the fear of being left out or left behind by a herd of frightened lemmings.  Sure, people aught not to be exploited, but let’s start with ourselves.  How sure can we be that we are not part of the problem?  I say, let’s be sure we solve this on the personal level before telling everyone else how to organize things, as if they’ll listen anyway.  That is why I welcome feedback.  If you think I’m smug, wrong or insane, I’m open to trying to take a look at myself in the context of our group so that I can at least not be part of the group’s problem.

Relocalize: We relocalize the economy when we recognize that wherever we are right now, that is the center of our own local economy.  We don’t need centralized government to relocalize the economy; rather we need to realize that space and time are non-local.

Please forgive me for my esoteric flights, but I speak from my heart and my truth.  Intuition, the relationships between parents and children, great friends and lovers are vibrational relationships and they transcend space and time.  Yes we are well served to compost and eat veggies from the farmers market, but in our consciousness, our blogosphere and our deeper SELVES there is an altogether different sort of localization—and that is the realization that everything, and every time, and every place is right here (by which I mean wherever “we” are in the intersection of writing and reading, a shared “space” that is both everywhere and nowhere—that is so “local” as to become universal).

So, as for relocalizing, let’s be green and mindful about not wasting resources by shipping them all over when we can find them on our own block, but it’s equally important to rementalize our sense of locality.  Relocalize is great for vegetables, but it’s a backward concept for the world we’re living in terms of how we think about our world:  localizing creates tribe, myth and conflict with other tribes (this is how we got to Jihad vs. McWorld).

Recapitalize: This must not focus on the “poor,” as the poor are often mislabeled and misunderstood.  The key in recapitalization is to rethink money itself (and to rethink who is “poor”—those short on funds or those short on integrity, authenticity and compassion?).  Yes, people need homes, food, care… they also need love and compassion and recognition… they need the things that money has traditionally (since the industrial revolution) been used to procure… but the poor do not need money per se, they don’t need pretend accounts with symbolic sums (as turned out to be the case with many a poor soul who didn’t realize that their retirement was actually as dead as Bernie in Weekend with Bernie, so apt to foreshadow master Madoff), and they don’t need more pretty words—ultimately “they” are us, and it serves us all to bridge to gap of “other” between whatever we think we are and are not.

If we are to help those who are living in poverty, we need to be sure that they get what they need, and this is much more complex and human than dishing out more Monopoly money and spreading it around while nothing substantive changes in the quality of people’s lives.

As we localize our minds by globally connecting, we can re-think the myth of money and trade personally up to a belief that there truly is enough—food, water, care, love, shelter, education—what is generally lacking is the collective will to share, to realize that we’re all in this together and cannot possibly be fully happy if vast hordes of the human populace are miserable (and I don’t necessarily mean the economically poor, I also mean the rich who still don’t think they have enough, and go on making others miserable—I mean helping out all who feel miserable for whatever reason, as people who feel truly good about themselves are generally kind, and kind people will organically remoralize, relocalize and enrich the world where they live).

I say, let go of the money and the over-rich will fall like someone holding onto a tug-o-war rope if we let loose the other end.  Money will only be re-infused with value when we have restored faith in markets.  When our money becomes like our fingerprint, no longer anonymous, but worth what our personal reputation for integrity is worth, then we will re-capitalize the kind and spiritual wealth will become the currency of the day.

Pie in the sky?  Meet me in the clouds and we’ll have a slice together, or meet me at the farmer’s market or the park and we’ll have a chat.

So, let’s dedicate today to living these ideas, not in my way or in Blond’s way (perhaps he has more fun, being Blond, while I’m just balding through a glass darkly), but in your own authentic manner—all of us doing our best, in the service of ALL our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce


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12 Responses to “Chicken Soup for our Broken Society”

  1. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Thank you, Bruce, for this thoughtful reflection on the David Brooks piece in the NYT. Too often when I read formulas for saving the world, I feel helpless at the enormity and profundity of the problem. My likely reaction, then, is to do nothing. So I especially appreciate your personalization of the issues, the bringing back of the macro to the micro that then is the macro.

    I’ve often suspected that living in a way that respects and values self and others is the necessary starting place for any positive change. Thanks for suggesting that I might just be on the right track.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      And thanks to you, Kristen, for being willing to “talk” with me about this sense of stumbling lostness and smallness that mingles with our sincere wishes to be part of a solution, to craft better lives for ourselves and all our kids while liberating ourselves from the thinking that has oppressed us, even if it is really only us (as a group) “who” is to blame for our world crafted of ideas as much as “facts.”

  2. conniedelavergne Says:

    I like the way you think, again . . . Life begins with a relationship, and if more of us truly measured success through integrity, or regularly remembered to measure it that way, so many more more of us would feel happy. We’d be more concerned about our effects on others and our relationships and not so much about acquiring money and property, or hoarding it. It’s easy to forget that life is about relationships (all different kinds of relationships) and success in that area is what makes most of us happy most of the time. Nobody I’ve ever known dreams of dying alone. I agree it begins with each of us looking inward, honestly seeing what’s inside, and doing the difficult work of change. The problem, I think, is it’s easier to make money, even for the poor.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Yes, and thus we benefit from relationships, such as the one you allow with me, as we employ compassion to risk being that much more real… I know that you help me feel that I’m not simply crazy—and I have great hope that there are many of us out there/here… and I suspect the really smart ones just keep their mouths quiet and live these ideas, but in the meantime, mirroring each other might help some of the rest of us trust in our hearts and grow to a more centered happiness in what just is.

  3. Katrina Kenison Says:

    I thought David Brooks’s piece made some sense when I read it, in a cool and intellectual kind of way. But you are saying something here that is far more practical and profound: start where you are. Your ideas make change seem possible, and remind us that it’s not up to some London economist to make the world a better place, it’s up to each one of us and the choices we make from one moment to the next. Treating people well is the obvious first step. Hope you’ll send this to the NYT!

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      It warms my heart that you resonate to these ideas, and also that I find kindred voices when I speak from my heart. You obviously are living this message as well, inspiring people more broadly than I with your writing, and I only wish to affirm and add to your sense, in the service of those who don’t necessarily speak up but also feel this way, that we really are in this together, each contributing in his or her own manner.

      As for the NYT, that’s a flattering sentiment… (and feel free to forward it), although in my mind they’re like the London economist and perhaps we’re better off to trust that just us talking about, and living, these ideas is more than adequate… of course we can’t help but trust and hope that the ripples of our actions will matter in some broader way—especially since we are the group.

  4. joely Says:

    By nature people are competetive. They want to be the best at something. When that thing is found (be it making a lot of money, playing football, writing, leading people, acting), it can become perverted into a power play. If everything is on a bell curve then there will always be that percent of people that want to take it to the next level. ie Hitler, terrorists, extremists. I try to look at it as a scale and that bell curve because then I do not become frustrated at my own attempts that may seem to go unrecognized. In fact, they are not unrecognized, they are just not part of the polar extremes. Polar extremes get attention. Our individual thoughts and actions, although small, do keep that balance from tipping in one direction. There will always be two sides to a coin, our own personal bodies are trying to keep a balance. No matter how good we try to take care of our own body it has its own wars, with a virus or bacteria or cancer. It is natural to have suffering and happiness, love and war, ups and downs. That being said, you are so on the right track, if we could just focus on keeping the balance in our own lives we can keep the scale from tipping too far in the wrong direction in our world, the direction of being unbalanced and extremist.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      I’ve always been rather extreme in my non-competetiveness. I often did not want to win at sports and games because I hated the other person to feel bad. I’m not saying that this is good, but rather connecting with your competitive spirit and recognizing that I need a bit of that to round myself out (my wife and my older son are much more competitive and so I’ve been working on this lesson for a while now). Ultimately, Joely, we meet in the middle, seeking that personal balance and from there that group or collective balance.

      What you say about extremism is right on target, especially when we start to think in terms of the “other” and lose sight of the inner terrorist, inner competitor, inner altruist. To individuate is to recognize all these aspects and not over-identify with any of them—finding both our unique voices and identities and at the same time finding a nourishing place in the group.

      I find this blogging thing very intriguing in that it seems to allow a sort of discourse all too infrequently encountered in “normal” social relationships… at least in modern life.

  5. Beth K Says:

    Like Kristen, I often feel helpless faced with the size and scope of problems in the world. I have been reading Naomi Klein’s book, “The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” It is so disturbing that I have to put it down for weeks at a time before resuming reading.
    There’s no magical cure for the world’s ills, but reading your blog and being part of this community give me hope and the motivation to be my best self.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      I’ve often found the sort of writing I most need to read highly disturbing—and I’ve also respected the need to put those books down, come back to them, talk, write and dream about what’s being shaken loose within me.

      To the extent that we can support each other to relinquish our fears and desires (or at least move in that direction) we are empowered to both enjoy our situations and also be a more conscious part of the group we wish for.

  6. krk Says:

    I salute all who participated in this blog. It it comforting to know that we are
    not alone.
    Now, more than ever Namaste

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