An old Irish proverb says:
It is in the shelter of each other
that the people live.
As I become increasingly concerned about things that are happening in government, policy-making, and society in my country and in the world, this proverb is helping me clarify what it is that actually concerns me.
There are many things to be concerned about – the dismantling of democratic structures and principles, the defunding of social safety net programs, reversals in environmental protection policies, political games, power plays…
However, my greater concern is actually the lack of societal attention to a fundamental truth: How we choose to be with one another – the level and quality of respect and care we show for one another – shapes everything about our present and our future. Indeed, it will determine our fate as a species and as a planet.
In today’s common parlance, we define shelter as a place of care, protection, safety, and nurture. As the word shelter is used in this proverb, I interpret it to also mean presence, interconnection, and interdependence. In other words, it is in the presence of each other, or the interdependence or interconnection with each other that the people live. For better or worse, we live in interconnected relationship with one another and with the world around us. That is a fact of life, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it.
And so the societal questions become: How are we treating one another? How are we choosing, consciously or unconsciously, to be in relationship with one another? What kind of shelter are we offering to one another? And do we offer that shelter to all, or only to some? If only to some, what are the conditions?
Who are we becoming as a society?
What most concerns me is who we as a society are becoming through the ways we are treating one another. I’m especially concerned about the lack of respect and decency shown to one another in public ways. I’m troubled by the lack of acknowledgment and protection of our inherent worth as human beings. And by the lack of awe and appreciation for the beauty of the natural world as well as the delicate balance within our eco-systems that allows life to flourish.
I’m concerned that, as a society, we seem to be increasingly accepting these behaviors and attitudes as social norms by not boldly naming them as unacceptable. It’s the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that we choose to look away from what is happening instead of calling things out and taking a stand.
As I look at what is happening in my country, Martin Luther King’s words haunt me:
Our lives begin to end
the day we become silent about
the things that matter.
And another King quote:
In the end, we will remember
not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends.
The silence of each other. The silence of our fellow citizens. Our own silence. What we stand by and watch happen without comment or engagement.
The Great Breaking Open
I’ve written and spoken of our current era as the Great Breaking Open. Day by day, every societal system and structure in my country is cracking open and its core is being revealed. What are those systems and structures built on? What are the intentions and motivations driving those systems?
Somewhere down underneath much of this societal Breaking Open is the breaking open of the human spirit. As a country, we have lost touch with who we are. We’ve lost touch with the soul of our country. We no longer have a sense of direction – a longpath vision and excitement about what we can create together. We are driven by short-termism, where economic growth and corporate profits take precedence over care for the human spirit and care for our earth home.
This way of being together as a society is not sustainable. What we do not love, we will not save. We will not invest in people or things that we don’t feel or sense some kind of relationship with. And they will not invest in us.
The Quality of our Relationships Will Determine Our Fate
The policies and politics of the world are manifestations of the shelter we create and sustain. Demonizing others, their politics, and their policies, in such vicious and disrespectful ways will only bring further division and polarization. The quality of our relationships and the ways we provide shelter for one another, or not, will literally determine our fate.
Instead of attack and focus on the policies and politics we don’t want, we must put our focus, attention, and commitment on who we do want to be together. It’s time to focus on building relationships that truly serve the whole – that serve a greater good. We must create shelter that supports the thriving of the human spirit and the nurture of all living things. Or our quality of life and relationships will continue to deteriorate.
Where the Responsibility Lies
It’s easy to put this responsibility on our leaders and elected officials. Indeed, they do carry big responsibility, and it’s important to hold them accountable.
However, it was the consciousness of our society that put them in those positions of power. Only a shift in the collective consciousness will change that.
That shift in the collective consciousness begins with you and me. The readers of this column are a pretty aware group. You may feel like you are already doing your part to make a difference. Yet look deeper. I’m asking myself anew: What is the shelter I am creating? What is the shelter you are creating? We must hold ourselves accountable.
You and me – we cannot afford to be silent. Our companies, our communities, our leaders, our countries – we cannot afford for them to be silent about what matters. What is the level of integrity for each of us in how we live our lives? What steps do we take to call out that integrity and respect from our leaders – integrity and respect towards the human spirit and the well being of all? How we answer those questions and the shelter we create is the ground on which our future is built.
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