19 December 2009

Surviving (this version of) America

Next fall will mark the 10-year anniversary of a still-popular "reality" TV series. And 10 months into the reign of our ostensible Deliverer, America remains, I believe, very much a "Survivor" society. Just think of it: we still haven't figured out how to treat each other on a desert island! That is, you and I may work together decently enough (for the time being) to ensure that somebody else's loss is our eventual gain. But in the final count - and I'm told this happens in offices and boardrooms no less than on TV shows - my gain must require some substantial and irrecoverable loss on your part. At the same time, apparently it's not enough that so many of us should find ourselves living the drama five or more days a week; it must also be ours for the viewing. Having both given and received our own quota of stress and humiliation for the day, we must now sit down to relax and enjoy somebody else's.

So. And meanwhile, this is also the Nation - I'm told - whose big banks and Federal Government are suddenly going to listen to the needs not just of large, but of medium- and small-sized businesses. And whose medium- and small-business owners are suddenly going to listen to the needs, not just of their technical and corporate, but of their human components and clientele. Or at least enough to engineer some semblance of a long-term recovery. But how, pray tell?

One more question. Is this the society whose random passers-by are somehow going to wrench ears and eyes away from cell phones and BlackBerries, or at least long enough to re-discover (try not to laugh too hard) each other? Whose everyday folks-you-meet-on-the-street are suddenly going to re-learn how to recognize, and accept, each other's common humanity - each other's residual creaturely goodness, if nothing else? Or at least enough to close ranks against an unprecedented enemy? An enemy, might I add, whose peculiar methods of keeping (his) God unoffended may demand - at any time, in any place - the slaughter of any number of innocent, defenseless men, women and children?

Somehow I don't think so. Those of us who've lived in the US for more than two generations have probably lived in several distinct Americas over the course of one lifetime. I can't say which if any of these previous versions of my country would have been up to the job of our present challenges. But definitely not this version. All evidence to date suggests our "Survivor" society constitutes neither an effective army nor an effective weapon in the real war - the ideological and spiritual war - against Holy Terror. Indeed, if anything, our present, ever-so-productive ways of looking and living past each other may yet prove the ultimate self-sabotage.

I get the feeling we don't know the first thing about survival either. Much less prosperity.

12 December 2009

Exploring the Rooms at the Top

I don't think I've ever heard of a joyful cynic, or a happy misanthrope. Not even one who was enviably rich and successful, and blessed with an uncanny eye for opportunity. And I'm sure I've never met anyone whose happiness - whose joy in living - did not include at least some capacity to enjoy other people, and other people's happiness. At least on some occasions. Why is that, I wonder?

Whatever the reason, may I share with you something I've been suspecting for quite a long time (albeit my manner of suggestion may be a mite too bold and categorical for some tastes)?

There is no human creature we meet in the flesh who is not an opportunity. The most randomly irrelevant individual we meet is a priceless invitation to gain Something hardly any of us seeks expressly or consciously - though there is not one of us who does not long for It in the quieted deeps of our souls, in a secret place, and language, whose music no human words could ever express. The sorriest human being you or I know, then, is much more than an opportunity to exercise patience, or even kindness. The most wretched excuse for man, woman or child you can think of is also an irreplaceable chance: - a golden opportunity, for both you and me, to invest, and grow, and prosper. But in what?

Not necessarily in anything material, though that too may come with time. But, for now, simply in that most exquisitely attentive and appreciative depth of Knowledge, that richly brocaded strand of Wealth, that modest, mostly unapplauded, yet utterly satisfying peak of Success we call love.

A Taste of our own Medicine

I suspect one of the reasons why it's so devilishly hard to "swallow our pride" is that it tastes so plain bloody awful. Then again, if we can barely stomach our own pride, imagine how it must taste to other people.

07 December 2009

A Toast (with belated apologies to Commodore Stephen Decatur)

To my country:
In her domestic and foreign policies may she be ever in the right.
But Right or Left, she is still my country.