Imagine the world without anger, without greed. We have the power, the tools, the skills and the resources right now to build a peaceful world, where people live in harmony with the Earth and each other. This blog explores ways we are doing just that, one post, one change, one day at a time. Join me. Tell your stories. Ask for help. Spread your ideas for making the vision real and, well, ordinary.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Grabbing the dragon's tail and hanging on as if our lives depended on it

GA National Fair 2006 by peachyqueen
A morgueFile Free Photo
Sometimes living consciously and being informed feels like trying to ride a dragon's tail.

I don't know about you, but every single day I get dozens of appeals for money, to sign petitions, to call my representatives and senators, to write to this company or that, and always again for more money. Take a look at the first six emails in my inbox this morning.
  • Greenpeace - "Dear Kathryn, Kill more mother whales? That’s what the Japanese government wants to do." This opening gambit is followed by lurid pictures and graphic details that break my heart.
  • People for the American Way - Michael Keegan wants me to take a survey on the 2012 presidential election. It's important because "if we are not fully engaged this year, we could actually end up with a far-right Tea Party extremist President [sic] who supports" almost everything that puts fear in my heart and curdles my blood.
  • Alliance for a Healthier Generation - I don't know who these people are or how I got on their list. They want me to help reduce the rate of childhood obesity--a noble cause. In addition to asking for donations, they want me to buy their branded products and gift them to my friends and family this season.
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) - It's their year-end rapid-response fundraiser and they need money right this minute because "people count on you and the ACLU. And lately they've really needed us. That's because there's been an all-out assault on civil liberties — in Congress, and in statehouses and courtrooms all across the country." How well I know.
  • Grameen Foundation - "This holiday season, Grameen Foundation is making it easy to honor the special people in your life and help us empower the world's poorest at the same time." They want money too.
  • Earthjustice - Their president is giving me a chance to help them help the president make history: "President Obama is stuffing America's stocking on Friday with the first-ever limits on deadly toxics [sic] from coal-fired power plants. This can be a truly historic moment for Obama—if he goes far enough." They need money to up the pressure.

Grabbing the dragon's tail

This morning, before sitting down to the inevitable tales of atrocities, miscarriages of justice and desperate, shameless, sometimes heartbreaking appeals for money, I opened again the book that gave me such courage this fall: William Powers' Twelve by Twelve.

On this page, he tells of his first conversation with Jackie, the owner of the tiny cabin in which unexpectedly and very soon he will live for forty days.

Powers is just back from ten years working overseas to mitigate poverty and save the rainforest. His dad is in the hospital, recovering from a life-threatening illness. Deep in culture shock upon his return to the US, he is at odds with his work. Futility and despair lurk between the lines.

Jackie, a medical doctor, could have chosen a lucrative practice and retired anywhere. Instead, she served her community's poorest. After her children went to college, she asked for and received a reduction in salary. She lives on $11,000 a year, below the tax threshold.

Jackie explains her choice to "live like a Bangladeshi," in a tiny cabin without electricity or plumbing and grow her own food. She is "part of a more durable future," her life "tied into the growing slow food, environmental, and antiwar movements." Inexplicably, she tells Powers, "'It all centers around a question ... Where do you grab the dragon's tail?'"

The question puzzles me. Apparently Powers is as puzzled as I. They talk more, then he asks her, "'Where do you grab the dragon's tail?'"

"'Where the suffering grabs you the most.'"

So I do. Each day, I respond to those appeals I can and delete the rest. Not without a sigh, not without regret, but delete them I do.

Each day I try to become a little better informed, a little more aware of what is wrong in the world, and what is right! (That last does not fill up my inbox.)

And each day, [insert rude expletive here], I do what tiny bit I can to build that more durable world. Whether it is buying organic cotton and fair trade products, standing for peace, going 'pooless, kicking my paper towel habit, or taking a walk to strengthen my aging bones, I do what I can.

Hanging on as if our lives depended on it

That dragon's tail whips about ferociously. Day after day, I grab it and hang on for dear life, crawl up the dragon's back and whisper in its ear:
I know you have a human heart. I know you are capable of compassion and love. You, too, would benefit from a better world, a more durable world. Heck, imagine the joy if you used your might and power to build a truly good world, one more like the Village of Ordinary.
Most of you who read me have blogs that I read as well. What gives me strength to hang on is your persistence in grabbing your dragons' tails. Thank you for continuing to write your truth, whatever it may be.

Your voices matter. They give me courage. Sometimes you make me laugh. Sometimes you make me cry. Thank you for writing. Thank you for your persistence. Thank you for hanging on.

Disclosure: Should you click on the Amazon link in this post and make a purchase, it is possible I might make a few pennies on the sale. Wouldn't that be a thrill.


We make peace in a million small ways every day.
All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.


Paul said...

Kathryn, I get your posts via email but don't comment often. Perhaps that's a mistake.

I've subscribed to emails similar to your list (ACLU, ecological justice, organic gardening, sierra, etc) but most time I don't open or read them. They've become too negative, too overwhelming, too hopeless.

I try to support financially a few organizations like ACLU and respond to their appeals to get involved but I've drawn the line. I rarely respond to new appeals for money or help. I've selected my causes for the moment.

I think we might do more good by focusing on the positive rather than the negative. For example, don't appeal to me to get outraged for Monsanto's latest bad deed; rather appeal to me to get involved in promoting something worthy, something constructive.

Perhaps my mistake in not commenting more on your posts is that we all need affirmation, support and encouragement. Positive affirmation can offset much of "the inevitable tales of atrocities, miscarriages of justice" that we encounter.

Your blog is my favorite.

Kathryn Grace said...

Paul, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your thoughtful comments. I welcome them whenever you can take the time.

Like you, I pick the causes I am willing to support financially and ignore all other appeals. Though I'm more generous with my time, I also pick the causes to which I lend verbal support (signing petitions, promoting on networks, calling and writing my legislators, congressional reps).

That one's tougher, though. Having worked as a volunteer in politics and non-profits for many years, I know how important those tick marks for or against an issue can be in the halls of Congress and in our statehouses, even on the local level; how they can influence votes and behind-the-scenes action. I am always mindful that every vote, every voice counts.

Thank you for suggesting the more upbeat focus. I agree that a positive perspective is better in many ways. I continue to search for good-news channels and the people who are making a difference. Thank goodness, it is not hard to find the people. They--we--are everywhere!

On the other hand, I struggle constantly with the tension between needing to be conscious--mindful of my impact in the world, how my choices affect lives far removed from mine--and my desire to focus only on the positive and what's going right. Just this week I considered ignoring all the bad and making this blog only about the good.

Paul, am I correct in understanding that you feel such a step might actually help create the change so many of us crave? I have given serious thought to experimenting with that as a model.

Perhaps there is a middle ground. Take human sex trafficking, for example. There are a few organizations that work to rescue children and women from slavery and who also offer skills and job training so they can earn a living when freed. Bringing such organizations to light may serve a useful purpose, yes?

Your thoughts are valuable, Paul. Thank you again for sharing them. I hope you will continue to do so, even in this thread, should you have the time. Thank you too for your sweet comment about my blog. It is amazing how much encouragement those few words generate.

Paul said...

Kathryn, I used to work in fund raising at a university. The research indicated the need to project a positive, successful image and appeal. This appeal may be true but it's not the most productive: "we serve first generation college students from poor homes and we deperately need money for scholarships". A better and more successful appeal focuses not on the need but on the positive outcome: "we serve first generation college students from poor homes and we're changing lives by giving them an education that will enable them to live longer, healthier lives, have more lasting marriages, be better parents and be leaders in their community".

While in graduate school I happened to see a book that caught my interest. I stood in the aisle of the library and quickly read a good portion of it. The subject of the book was motivation and the basic thesis was "success inspires and motivates people". One example, in a Jewish community near a mailbox researchers dropped an unsealed envelope containing a check and a letter of support to a fake anti-Jewish organization. A researcher watch people find the envelope and interviewed them after they read the letter and either mailed the letter and check or tossed them in a trash can. If the letter said "this is my eighteenth of twenty payments in support of your cause" Jewish persons were likely to mail the envelope. If the letter said "this is my third of twenty payments" then the letter and check were less likely to be mailed. It appears we humans respond to success, to accomplishing goals, to nearing a goal with realistic hope of accomplishing a goal. If someone is being successful we want to help.

I agree we can't ignore the negative but, in my opinion, we should phase our messages in a positive context. Rather than "we must stop those responsible for human trafficking" I think it would be more productive to say "we've rescued thousands of women and children, we've given them hope and opportunity, we've made a tremendous difference; join us, support us as we continue making miracles happen. You can help by...".

There is something strange about the way our brains work. We have the ability to be influenced by small negative thoughts. African-American students score lower on standardized tests when they are ask to identify their ethnic group. They are just as intelligent and knowledgeable but asking the question and reminding them of stereotypes causes them to score lower than control groups taking the same test with the ethnicity question. I find this amazing.

Yes, let's address the negative but let's do it in a way that communicates hope; let's turn the focus from the problem to the solution.

Kathryn Grace said...

Paul, thank you again for your well-considered comment and your time. That study with the African-American students does not surprise me.

As my 7th grade teacher handed out the spatial cognition section of our standardized achievement tests, he told the class that girls would have a poor showing because we can't read and interpret diagrams.

I remember staring at the images of unfolded geometric objects, trying to calm my pulsing brain, to silence the now blaring words, "girls can't do this." My eyes blurred, not with tears, but with the throbbing of my heart beat. I wish I'd known how to meditate then!

All that you say about appeals is true in my experience as well.

As a one-time marketer for a non-profit whose work literally saved lives, I too was responsible for appeal letters, as well as scripts and storyboards for videos to assist our speakers bureau. Telling our success stories--real live people who not only survived but went on to make a difference--was the key to winning the support we counted on to keep our doors open year after year.

Sure, we had statistics, the good and the bad, to support our appeals, but we led and closed with success.

Last night, I attended a meeting which I will write a bit about today, and the topic was similar. In fact, the message so echoed yours that I realized it, too, was an affirmation to focus more on what is working and good and let the fear-mongering fall away. Not that I will be blind to injustice, but that as you say, people respond more to success than to failure.

You have given me much to consider, Paul--brain nourishing food. I thank you and welcome continued dialogue with you, as well any readers who choose to join us.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

You are so brave, kind and inspiring! I'm so glad people like you are in this world.

I need to read "Twelve by Twelve." :0)

Wanda said...

We do what we can. That has to be enough.

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