My friend and (excellent) pro bono writing coach, Mike Larsen, told me that many readers skim or skip the Preface and Introduction and go straight to Chapter One. So the opening chapter should contain strong material, and the first sentence and opening paragraphs should be particularly strong. With those thoughts in mind, I’ve moved much of the material that was in the Preface to Chapter One, influenced by some of Mike’s suggestions about specific content that he felt was most important and compelling.
Feedback is welcome on the new 2-½ page, 1100 word opening, which follows:
Transform the System with Compassion: A Workbook (Draft)
If we change ourselves, we can more effectively change the world. If we change the world, we can more effectively change ourselves.
It’s not either/or. Neither one of those tasks is more important than the other. One need not come before the other. It’s both/and. Each is equally important. They can be simultaneous. Intertwined, personal and social transformation strengthen each other. One recent example is the #MeToo rebellion against sexual harassment.
James Baldwin said:
A day will come when you trust you more than you do now and you will trust me more than you do now. We will trust each other…. I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous and people are not yet willing to pay.
Accepting death and other inherent limits to the human condition is one price we must pay. Humans can’t do everything they’d like. There’s no guarantee that children can grow up to be whatever they want to be if they work hard enough. Admitting mistakes is another price we must pay to nurture mutual trust. Apologizing can be even more difficult. To become better than we are, we also must overcome many damaging habits that society has embedded in us, such as arrogance, egotism, bias, and the lust for power.
In “Our Elites Still Don’t Get It,” David Brooks wrote:
The branches of individual rights are sprawling, but the roots of common obligation are withering away. Freedom without covenant becomes selfishness. And that’s what we see at the top of society, in our politics and the financial crisis. Freedom without connection becomes alienation. And that’s what we see at the bottom of society — frayed communities, broken families, opiate addiction. Freedom without a unifying national narrative becomes distrust, polarization and permanent political war…. Change has to come at the communal, emotional and moral level.
The problems we face are multiple. Big Money has too much power. Our society is creating rigid classes based on inherited inequality. Wages are stagnant. Technology is displacing workers. We’re losing the battle against global warming. The so-called “free market” is breaking loose from regulations that protect stability and promote the general welfare. Growing individualism isolates individuals and undermines community. More people have fewer friends with whom they discuss personal problems. Our culture is becoming more selfish and materialistic. The war on terror creates terrorists.
Elizabeth Warren brought the crowd to its feet at the 2012 Democratic Convention when she declared, “The system is rigged.” Donald Trump used the phrase to help win the White House. Bernie Sanders almost won the Democratic nomination with his criticisms of “the system.” The term appears frequently in pop culture.
This workbook argues that the System involves all of our institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals. All of those elements are interwoven. They reinforce one another and enable people to climb one social ladder or another. Those higher up look down on those below, and those lower down worship or resent those who are higher.
This rankism is an unjustified assertion of moral superiority. When that assertion is internalized, it affects people at their core, their basic identity. Typically, it’s an acceptance of essential inferiority. Only one person is at the top of each ladder, and they don’t stay there long.
Few individuals treat each other as human beings who are essentially equal. Mutual respect is rare. You dominate or submit.
The comic strip character Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and it is us.” He had a point. Each of us shares responsibility for the state of the world. To deal with the System, we must work on ourselves as well as society.
The Transform the System Network proposes that Americans transform their nation into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of all humanity, the environment, and life itself. If other nations do the same, we’ll be better able to cooperate to serve that purpose.
Whatever your political or religious beliefs, we invite you to participate in this project. We seek common ground, rooted in the belief that if we listen to our conscience and love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we can help each other become better, more engaged, more moral human beings. For most people, this effort involves being in tune with the Great Spirit, God, Creator, Christ, or Higher Power. But words are secondary. Words cannot capture the Mystery. What matters most is compassionate action.
If grassroots activists overcome our personal issues and improve our ability to work together, we can address the many crises we face, help America live up to its highest ideals, and help one another liberate our higher angels. By building a massive grassroots movement able to act together in unison, we can help America cultivate its creative seeds and discard the oppressive ones.
We can restructure our society to make it more democratic, with constructive criticism challenge selfishness, and with firm compassion restrain those who violate the rights of others. We can improve our mental and moral qualities — our character.
In Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World, Tina Rosenberg reports on how “from the affluent suburbs of Chicago to the impoverished shanties of rural India” mutual support teams have helped smokers stop smoking, teens fight AIDS, worshippers deepen their faith, activists overthrow dictators, addicts overcome addictions, and students learn calculus.
Such teams can help activists overcome their activist-related addictions, set aside counter-productive habits, and become more effective. Those teams can also help motivate politically inactive people to become more active.
This workbook offers an easy-to-learn method that small teams can use to support one another in those personal and political change efforts. That method is simple: once a month, when meetings begin, each member briefly reports, in confidence, about their personal and political change efforts. Many groups can easily incorporate that method into their activities.
That reporting can help hold members accountable to their commitment to self-development and political action. Knowing they’ll be asked to report on it, members will be more conscious of their commitment during the month.
Even though such reporting might take only sixty seconds a month, it can be oppressive and folks can resist the idea out of apprehension. To guard against the risk of oppression and alleviate that resistance, we suggest these guidelines:
- Emphasize confidentiality.
- Each member defines their own goals.
- There’s no peer pressure to immediately correct any particular pattern of behavior.
- Each participant can discuss anything.
- Each one merely reports; there’s no “cross-talk.”
- With consent, feedback and advice can be offered after the meeting adjourns.
- Additional meetings can be scheduled to go into matters more deeply.