Birthday Reflections

At Harbin Hot Springs on my 71st birthday looking forward to my future, I feel relaxed, confident, and clear: for the first time in my life, my priority is to make money.

Thanks to Uber, which has hurt the San Francisco taxi industry enormously, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sell my taxi medallion, or how much I’ll get if I do. And because I lived on “movement wages” my whole life, Social Security is far from adequate.

So, facing a reality I can neither change nor escape, I resolve to drive taxi as much as possible, write less, cut back on organizing, limit my spending, and save as much as I can for my old age.

What to do about vacations remains open. An old friend and I are going to New Orleans April 7-10 for the 2016 French Quarter Festival (if you want to go, get a room immediately, for hotels in the Quarter are already almost sold out for that fantastic, free event that presents all kinds of music on 23 outdoor stages.) After that vacation, I don’t know.

In about five years, I should move to the top of the waiting list for a Section 8 subsidy, which will lower my rent substantially. If I’m able to sell my medallion for a net of $160,000 (the current price) by then, I’ll probably be able to live comfortably and travel extensively. If not, I’ll keep driving taxi as long as I can and if necessary rely on the Food Bank and cheap meals at Senior Centers.

With regard to my commitment to social transformation, I may have found what I’ve been looking for: a community of political activists dedicated to transforming our social system into a truly compassionate society, while supporting one another in their personal growth by setting aside special time for that purpose. The Purpose-Driven Community project is headed in that direction.

The responses to my volunteer-interest form and subsequent emails have been encouraging. The organizers and I are on the same wavelength. Their success with Generation Waking Up reflects their competence. And I’m particularly encouraged by their commitment to maintain diversity by growing deliberately.  I look forward to their first exploratory event. This development makes it easier for me to shift to full-time cab driving. Rather than being a lead organizer, I can play a support role.

Pulling back from the Western Park Residents’ Council also eases my transition. Though challenging and time-consuming, serving as President was rewarding. I helped to revive the moribund Council and establish policies and procedures that will hopefully enable it to continue with new leadership. The Council has been much more active than it was for at least ten years and we eventually established a cooperative relationship with management.

Unfortunately, several residents are prone to impulsively attack the nearest authority figure, whether it’s the Building Manager or the Council President. At times I let those attacks get under my skin. More seriously, that negativity steadily discouraged participation in meetings. Hopefully after the August election, the Council’s new leadership can establish a more positive tone at meetings.

Regardless, I anticipate engaging in rewarding activities with residents with whom I have established a good rapport through my work with the Council. In order to avoid wasting time with “poisonous playmates,” to organize those activities we may form self-perpetuating teams by invitation only, rather than formal “committees” open to all residents (though others may continue to organize such committees). In this way, perhaps we can help the Council with its primary mission: to nurture compassionate community among our 200 residents.

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Looking back on my 71 years, Mother comes to mind first. I wish she’d lived longer so we could’ve overcome the gap she created by smothering me with her love, which undermined my autonomy. She even tried to stop me from reading the “wrong” books. More deeply, her judgmental moralism led me to see humans, myself included, as essentially bad. To find myself and my essential goodness, I had to fight her overbearing protectiveness.

But from her, I learned to pursue Truth, Justice, and Beauty and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.

Though it seems longer, it was only a year ago that I distributed My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography. One reason I did so was to enable friends and acquaintances who want to do so to know me more fully. Another reason was to liberate myself from shame by being open about matters about which I had been secretive. On those counts, the project was successful.

I also wanted feedback that might help me re-work the book to make it more marketable to the general public. And I did receive lots of valuable feedback, which I very much appreciate. But I’ll probably be unable to re-write it so long as I drive taxi full-time.

The major event of the last year, however, was the death of Leonard Roy Frank, my dear friend for more than 40 years. After the manager of his building let me into his apartment and I found him dead, draped over the bathtub, I sat down on the stairs and cried. For the next month thereafter, while dealing with his affairs, I cried every day, often convulsively. After I gave the manager his keys, I cried more than I had for the whole month. I haven’t cried since.

Fortunately, the memorial service at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peopleswas very healing. Every word spoken by the ministers, Dr. Dorsey Blake and Dr. Kathryn Benton, was perfect. The speakers and the music were beautiful. Wanting to do Leonard justice, I worked hard on the eulogy, which was well received. But I still think about Leonard often, especially when I have something to tell someone (he was almost always home and available). I doubt that any soul mate will ever replace him.

Two other highlights from last year stand out. The first was an early August sermon on “intimate direct action” at Fellowship Church by Rev. Yielbonzie Charles Johnson, who called for “uncircumscribed engagement in the world” without fear.  This appeal rang a bell for me. It amazes me how rarely people ask one another, “How do you feel about that?” or “Would you like to say more about that?” I understand some of the reasons people are reluctant to be more open or more inquisitive. We often have good reason to be afraid. But if we shut down too much, it becomes a habit and we become frozen. It seems we need to find safe places where we can be intimate with at least a few trusted friends.

Even more inspiring were the exhortations offered by the Lawson brothers at a day-long intergenerational teach-in honoring Vincent Harding. First Rev. James Lawson urged activists to promote personal nonviolent struggle in order to become more fully nonviolent as individuals and more effective as activists. He called on the audience to work on “how we treat each other and ourselves and how we work together” so that we better “learn how to respect each other.”
Later, Rev. Phil Lawson echoed that theme when he asked, “Who is the enemy?” and answered that it is “a spiritual power that has captured everyone” and fosters a wide variety of destructive “addictions.” To counter that force, he said we need a new spiritual power of our own: a profound commitment to nonviolence as a way of life, not as a tactic. “Everyone is an addict and we need to be in some program of recovery from the addictions of our society. We need a long-term, disciplined project.”

Those words were music to my ears.

The most liberating event of the year, however, was reading the transcript to “The Power of Vulnerability,” the fourth most popular TED Talk ever. After struggling at length with my mother’s “you will be a great man” programming, this talk prompted me to affirm, “I am good enough (to be better).” .

The benefits of that insight persist. I feel much less need to prove myself, to others or myself. I look back on my efforts with modest pride. I planted some seeds and achieved some success, along with numerous failures. But I would rather have tried and failed than not have tried at all.

Now I need to save some money. So, if you don’t hear from me for a while, wish me luck.

Bernie for America

Dan Brook has created a Bernie for America website presenting 14 things people can do to support the Bernie Sanders campaign for President.

Dan, a Sociology instructor at San Jose State University, has also created the following websites:

Food for Thought—and Action 

Eco-Eating

The Vegetarian Mitzvah

No Smoking?

I’m Good Enough to be Better

While struggling with my mother’s “you will be a great man” programming (see “On Being ‘Great,’”) my therapist, Rebecca Crabb, Ph.D., suggested I check out a TED Talk on vulnerability. Weeks later, a Google search led me to “The Power of Vulnerability”  by Brene Brown. When I noted that it had received 21 million views since it was posted in June 2010 (the fourth most popular TED Talk of all time), my hopes increased. While reading the transcript, I sensed my timing was fortuitous.

I had one or two disagreements with some of her statements, including “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” Connection is not our only purpose. It’s also a means to other, deeper ends.

But overall the talk rang true. While reading it, I copied the following excerpts:

• Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?
• What underpinned this shame, this “I’m not good enough…”?
• In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.
• The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.
• Whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness.
• What they had in common was a sense of courage.
• The courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others.
• And the last was they had connection, and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were.
• The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
• They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.
• Stop controlling and predicting.
• We numb vulnerability.
• You cannot selectively numb emotion.
• The other thing we do is we make everything that’s uncertain certain.
• To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee.
• And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough.

The next day I posted to Facebook:

I went to sleep saying to myself, “I am good enough,” and woke up after a good eight-hour sleep with the same thought on my mind. If I can maintain that attitude, I will be like a new person, transformed, evolved to a higher level. As I argued in “On Being ‘Great,” I’ve concluded that we cannot rank people in terms of how good they are, because we can’t totally put ourselves in others’ shoes, read their minds, or see their souls. I can only say, “I am a good person, and I can be a better person.” (None of us are perfect.) Also, I cannot rank people because I grew up in a dysfunctional family and tend to circulate with others who did as well. Undoing, partially, the damage that my family and our society inflicted on me has required great effort. How much more progress I can achieve remains to be seen.

In my taxi, I’ve encountered many families and couples who appear to be remarkably healthy. My impression is that people who’ve been raised in healthy families associate with others who’ve had the same experience. This segregation makes it even harder to compare and rank people in terms of how evolved they are.

But the bottom line is that any such differences, even if we could measure them, would be relatively insignificant, for what we have in common, our humanity, is much more important.

That post received 17 “likes” (many times more than my posts normally receive), one share (which is unusual), and comments from Steven Pak, “Wow! What’ a great thought with great impression and admiration…,” and Justice St Rain, “I’m a big fan of affirmations. Paraphrasing the sacred text is a good way to super-charge an affirmation. For example ‘I was created Noble.’”

Later, I posted:

If I am “good enough,” I need not worry about what others think about me. I can trust that I will act compassionately, doing the best I can, for good reasons…. I may want others to do something and ask them to do it, in which case I will be careful about what I say and try to be effective. But I need not NEED them to do what I want for the sake of my own self-validation. So if they say no, I need not take it personally and feel hurt. I can trust they are doing what they need to do…. And if they have something to say to me, I will try to listen and respond compassionately and learn from their feedback how to be more effective. But if they are silent, I need not pull their comments out of them in order to reassure myself. I can relax and trust myself…. And if I end up without a soulful face-to-face connection, then I will be alone but not lonely.

Several days later, I reported on these reflections to a friend who resonated with them and told me that when she was growing up, her mother often told her, “What others think of you is none of your business.”

When I posted that comment, one friend commented, “True, unless one is being a total jerk. Then it SHOULD be your business. Saw this first-hand on a Muni bus the other night.”

I replied, “If another is violating the rights of another, an intervention to stop it is justified. Whether that requires trying to analyze why they are doing it or what they think about me is another matter. I tend to think not.”

Another friend responded, “Sounds like words of great wisdom to me. Do you think she was talking about psychiatrists?” Thinking that therapy tends to involve trying to read others’ minds (it’s hard enough to know my own), I replied, “It may well undermine the typical therapy dynamic.”

It’s only been a week, but the “I am good enough” insight prompted by that TED Talk seems to be holding. My mood has been more consistently positive, and I do seek constancy. Feeling less pressure to prove myself (to myself and others) and worrying less what others think about me has been liberating.

I still believe in personal growth, however, and see no contradiction between the two perspectives. So, believing it’s possible to hold both at the same time, I’ve modified the maxim to read, “I’m good enough to be better.”

Transforming the World

By dedicating ourselves to the pursuit of Truth, Justice, and Beauty, we human beings can steadily improve ourselves, our cultures, and our institutions. We are good enough to be better.

Eventually, those efforts can transform our society into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of the Earth Community. We are a great country that can more fully live up to its ideals.

Working with other nations to enable all people to have access to basic necessities so they can live happy, meaningful, and productive lives, we can build a more peaceful and just world.

That is our purpose.

The future is unpredictable. How successful we’ll be remains to be seen. All we know is that our conscience calls us to do what we can.

Possible Purpose-Driven Community Projects

Dear Steve and Joshua:

Concerning the “purpose-driven community,” here are some additional ideas about possible projects that would interest me:

1) A writing team — compose content collaboratively and distribute it publicly under a pseudonym.

2) Writing workshops – compose drafts of content collaboratively (perhaps including the community’s initial manifesto), post it online for review and comment, convene a day-long workshop to discuss and perhaps work collaboratively on refining it (if folks support the thrust of the work). The workshop could open with a panel of individuals whose prominence would help attract participation and then form breakout groups whose members would agree on proposed amendments to the content and present their proposals for consideration to a plenary session. A tally of support for each proposal would be recorded. Subsequently, the ultimate decision-making team (perhaps a second workshop, or the founding conference) could incorporate input from the workshop.

3) A resource catalog – A website that would compile and present resources — such as essays, books, advocacy organizations, activist organizations, quotes, etc. – in each aspect of society – such as personal/spiritual, community, education, media, government, economy, etc., as well as a section that would present a systemic overview. Community members might rate the resources online to highlight top ones, or an editorial team could do the rating with broad input. Occasionally, a hard copy of the catalog could be published, as was the Whole Earth Catalog.

Carry it on,

Wade

Purpose-Driven Community Dialog

In response to the concerns I expressed in Purpose-Driven Community Survey Responses and the Postscript, Steve Ma replied:

Thanks so much for your interest and thoughtful comments. Speaking personally, this community will indeed have both an outside and inside strategy. It feels very much like we are building a new model that is outside the norm, but at the same time, we are working to build power so we can influence existing structures and institutions. And when I think of “systemic transformation,” I think of policies, economic systems, schools, community infrastructure, how we interact with each other as fellow humans, how we impact our environment, and more. That said, big transformations don’t happen easily which is why we want to build a model that has power and sustainable resources to make big changes a reality.

If you’re willing to lend some help, it would be great if you could fill out this very simple volunteer interest form. It will help us plug people in based on their interest and experience.

Peace,
Steve

I replied:

Hello Steve,

Great to hear. Thanks much for your comments. Though they did not surprise me, they are reassuring.

I just submitted my volunteer interest form.

I wonder, what is your structure thus far? Are you and Joshua making the key decisions as a two-person team? And what do you envision for the future? Will a new, independent organization emerge?

Keep up the great work! I look forward to contributing as best I can. I could easily participate in meetings near a BART station.

Carry on,

Wade Hudson

Following are the questions and my responses on the volunteer interest form.

What calls to you about this proposed purpose-driven community?

I desire to help transform the world into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good. To achieve that goal, I believe it would be helpful to develop new user-friendly ways for political activists to support one another in their ongoing self-development efforts.

If people take time to examine themselves and their actions honestly, they tend to tap deep feelings of love and want to treat others respectfully as full human beings, rather than reduce them to instruments. So I believe that a project rooted in “holistic politics” and “deep nonviolence” could be more effective than traditional organizing methods and contribute to what Gandhi called “evolutionary revolution.”

This transformation could be enhanced by a network of semi-autonomous small groups that share a common worldview and use the same or similar methods to conduct their activities. Sharing those experiences could nurture deep community. If those methods were simple and easy to learn, they could be rapidly replicated and spread spontaneously. As the community grew and became larger, the sense of community could deepen.

My interaction with Generation Waking Up inspires me to believe that the “purpose-driven community” could achieve those goals. For years, sensing that those ideas were widely percolating in the culture, I’ve hoped they would someday bear fruit and I would find a community of that sort to join. It seems I may have found what I was looking for.

Are there things that you are particularly interested in helping with as we build this purpose-driven community (check all that apply)?

Strategic Planning
Group facilitation
Other: help develop one or more formats, or structures, for self-governing, easily replicated groups that would facilitate political activists supporting one another in their personal-growth efforts – somewhat similar to 12-step groups.

Please list any specific skills/experience that you have that you think might be helpful as we build this purpose driven community.

Concerning experience, in 1967, I dedicated my life to “organizing communities of faith, love, and action,” which has since been my primary commitment. Over the years, I’ve worked on various issues with various communities. In 2005, I pulled back from organizing and, while working part-time as a cab driver, convened the first in a series of Strategy Workshops to evaluate how the progressive movement might be more effective. Later, I organized two Compassionate Politics Workshops and a Gandhi-King Three-Fold Path Workshop, which was co-sponsored by the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. I also participated in workshops and events convened by organizations such as stone circles, the Center for Spiritual and Social Transformation, Generation Waking Up, and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. I’ve also read related books and reports circulated by others (especially the Movement Strategy Center), initiated the Occupy Be the Change Caucus, and currently serve as President of the Western Park Residents’ Council. I’ve circulated a number of online questionnaires on related issues, written about my conclusions on my Wade’s Weekly blog, and self-published two books, Global Transformation: Strategy for Action and My Search for Deep Community.

Concerning skills, I’ve been told, “You bring people together.” I believe I facilitate meetings skillfully, write fairly well, enjoy research, and listen carefully. I am reliable, work hard, and enjoy life.

 

The Dead Pass On

Over the years, I took many people to their first Grateful Dead concert. Without exception, they were all blown away. It wasn’t just the music. It was also the spirit in the air, how people treated each other, the pop-up village in the parking lot with folks selling arts and crafts, the vibrant sense of community. Watching their final two shows streamed live into the Century 9 movie theater was a bittersweet experience. Though there was no substitute for Jerry’s evocative voice, the band was tight and Trey’s guitar was tight. On the final night, they performed their more political songs, such as “Samson and Delilah,” “Ashes to Ashes,” and “Touch of Grey,” which I appreciated. When Bob sang about how big money can “buy the whole damn government,” he shouted it at the top of his lungs. And through it all, spiritual affirmations stood out. Someday I’d like to go online and review lyrics that I missed, for their substance and beauty are stellar. My only regret is that they did not do a Bob Dylan song, as they did every concert I attended for as far back as I can remember. I think if Jerry were still here, they would have. Saying good-bye, Bob urged everyone to carry the energy manifest that night at the concert into their lives, Phil declared “God bless the Terrapin Nation,” and the last words from the stage were from Micky Hart: “Be kind.”

Connection and Solitude

If I am “good enough,” I need not worry about what others think about me. I can trust that I will act compassionately, doing the best I can, for good reasons…. I may want others to do something and ask them to do it, in which case I will be careful about what I say and try to be effective. But I need not NEED them to do what I want for the sake of my own self-validation. So if they say no, I need not take it personally and feel hurt. I can trust they are doing what they need to do….  And if they have something to say to me, I will try to listen and respond compassionately and learn from their feedback how to be more effective. But if they are silent, I need not pull their comments out of them in order to reassure myself. I can relax and trust myself…. And if I end up without a soulful face-to-face connection, then I will be alone but not lonely.

Desolation Row and Vulnerability

Yesterday I read “The Power of Vulnerability” and posted the link to Facebook with the comment: “This TED Talk has garnered more than 20 million views. Reminds me of Dylan’s ‘Don’t send me no more letters, no. Not unless you send them from Desolation Row.’ She makes many good points, but I disagree that ‘connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.’ Connection is also a means to other ends, which provide deeper meaning. Also, I would say, “We are good enough, and can be better,” rather than merely saying, “We are good enough.””

Last night, I went to sleep saying to myself, “I am good enough,” and woke up after a good eight-hour sleep with the same thought on my mind. If I can maintain that attitude, I will be like a new person, transformed, evolved to a higher level. As I argued in “On Being ‘Great,’” I’ve concluded that we cannot rank people in terms of how good they are, because we can’t totally put ourselves in others’ shoes, read their minds, or see their souls. I can only say, “I am a good person, and I can be a better person.” (None of us are perfect.) Also, I cannot rank people because I grew up in a dysfunctional family and tend to circulate with others who did as well. Undoing, partially, the damage that my family and our society inflicted on me has required great effort. How much more progress I can achieve remains to be seen.

In my taxi, I’ve encountered many families and couples who appear to be remarkably healthy. My impression is that people who’ve been raised in healthy families associate with others who’ve had the same experience. This segregation makes it even harder to compare and rank people in terms of how evolved they are.

But the bottom line is that any such differences, even if we could measure them, would be relatively insignificant, for what we have in common, our humanity, is much more important.