“Meanwhile, remember that attitude is everything. Live simply, be kinder than necessary, offer compassion, for everyone is fighting some kind of battle. Love generously, care deeply, speak kindly. Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain.”Jyoti Chrystal, 2008
These words, written by a founder of a “yoga and healing” center in Montclair, NJ, have been prominently displayed in the kitchen of our house for many years. They may have been put there in 2009 by my wife, a yoga practitioner, when Jyoti passed on at the age of 64. I’ve read them probably hundreds of times, and when I do I take a minute to reflect on them.
They are literally words to live by, not just for individuals but for the internal life of the progressive organizations which are so essential, and whose ultimate working unity is so necessary if we are to prevent worldwide climate catastrophe and the breakdown of ecosystems and human societies; bring into being a truly different world.
Attitude is everything
For much of humankind’s patriarchal and warring history going back thousands of years, the most prevalent “attitude” of those with political and economic power has been all about control and domination: men over women, Europeans over everyone else, those with wealth over people working and struggling to survive. And that’s still, on the surface, predominantly the way it is. But over the past 70 or so years there have been major and successful challenges to the worst aspects of this imperialistic, arrogant attitude and set of practices:
- the overthrow of racist European and US colonialism in Africa, Asia and South and Central America;
- the rise of an international women’s movement advancing women’s rights and leadership and a more cooperative way of organizational decision-making; and,
- the challenge to deeply-rooted heterosexist and homophobic ideas and practices by a broadly based movement for the rights of lgbtq+ people.
Increasingly, as I observe and experience it, progressive groups in the United States have a very different attitude when it comes to ways of work. One example is from a group, Beyond Extreme Energy, which I work with. Here’s some of what we say in our organizational principles document:
“BXE is committed to the liberation of all people of the world, and therefore embraces anti-oppression action and opportunities for restorative justice. Power and privilege are omnipresent in our group dynamics and we must continually struggle with how we challenge them in our collaborative work. We strive to acknowledge privilege and domination when they appear and work to actively counter them as they manifest in our work in everything we do, in and outside of organizing spaces. The privileged need to keep other privileged people accountable and not rely on the oppressed to raise the issue. Listening happens first in our anti-oppression practices.”
Offer compassion for everyone is fighting some kind of battle
On a personal level, both inside organizations and in our daily interactions with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and people we pass on the street, we must practice compassion. It is true that “everyone is fighting some kind of battle.” All of us will die. All of us will get sick. All of us have disagreements and fights with others that can be very difficult. All of us have fears and anxieties of one kind or another.
Knowing this, internalizing this knowledge, we need to be able to connect with other people even if we’ve never before met them, or even if we’ve known them a long time and have had more than a few serious disagreements. We need to develop our listening skills. We need to do unto others as we would like to have done unto us. We have to be willing to forgive. With this attitude, positive personal changes and, over time, political changes can come about.
Life is about learning to dance in the rain
Right now “the rain” we’re experiencing includes the climate emergency, the MAGA neo-fascist threat, war and militarism with the possibility of nuclear war, and widespread poverty and economic insecurity amidst increasing economic and racial inequality. But by building a loving, cooperative mass movement for systemic change, we can help one another stay strong individually.
Frankly, down through history, most of those who have come before us have faced worse challenges. They didn’t face the realistic possibility that ecosystems and societies all over the world would unravel, but the lived experience of many of them was much harder: Indigenous nations devastated by the European onslaught, Africans subjected to vile, debilitating chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation, workers forced to endure 60 hours or more work weeks with subsistence wages, and more.
So what should our attitude be? I believe it should be one of appreciation that we are living at a decisive time in the history of the human race and the planet. We collectively have the opportunity to make a very big difference not just for our children and grandchildren but for many generations to come. Si, se puede!
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist, organizer and writer since 1968. He is the author of the recently published books, Burglar for Peace and 21st Century Revolution. More info can be found at https://tedglick.com.
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