I have felt so much heartbreak these past few years, seeing the suffering of immigrants and asylum seekers at our borders; the rise of white nationalism; gun violence; the ever-more obvious impacts of climate change. I need solace. I also need hope that we can turn this around. This blog is about both solace and hope, with some practical thoughts about action.
A memory that brings me comfort: At NVC family camp many years ago, my then eight year-old son and I stretched a 450 yard piece of twine down a trail, mapping onto the twine the 4.5 billion year history of the earth. In the beginning, the earth bubbled with volcanos and crazy weather, but no life. At 100 yards, single-celled creatures appeared. No other life for another 300 yards. Then, at 400 yards, multi-celled plants and fungi appeared. With a mere 20 yards to go, amidst the dinosaurs, the first mammals came along.
If we walked too fast, we’d miss the arrival of homo sapiens, just one inch before the end of the string. Human history, from the first cave drawings until now, spans less than 1/10 of an inch. On this scale, we could see that our individual lives are immeasurably small. The walk made clear to me: I am a speck in a vast drama that I cannot comprehend. I find the thought strangely comforting.
If you, too, find comfort there, I invite you to join me in taking in our smallness amidst the vastness: Look at the stars this evening; stop to see a vista from a hill; spend some moments in meditation, breathing in our connection to the infinite. Take it in.
The Power of Collective Action
Contemplating my smallness amidst the vastness, I know that my life, as the Jewish liturgy for the High Holidays says, “is but a passing shadow.” On the other hand, as the Jewish tradition also teaches, and as we say in the world of Nonviolent Communication, each human being’s life is infinitely important and precious, beyond what we can easily conceive.
I struggle with this paradox: Though infinitesimal, our existence matters.
One of many aspects of why and how our existence matters lies in our nature as creatures-who-collaborate. The historian Yuval Harari explains that Homo sapiens were once unremarkable among the animals. We were middle-of-the-food-chain apes, scared of the truly powerful animals, sucking nutrition from bones they left behind. Then, mysteriously, through changes in our brain, we developed a capacity that changed everything: we developed the language to collaborate with people whom we did not personally know. Our vast power as a species arises from our ability to plan and coordinate.
Individually, we are passing shadows, specks of dust. Collectively, we are immensely powerful. What if we embraced the idea that together, we have vast power? How then would we choose, individually and collectively, to step into the power we possess?
My Commitment to Political Action and an Invitation
How will I choose to step into my power? It’s a challenging question, which unfolds over time, but which I take seriously and practically. A key answer has emerged for me: though I’m an introvert with a strong inclination toward connecting mostly with those closest to me, I want to reach out to rally people to join me in working for what matters most to me.
In this context, I am clear that as we head toward 2020, I will be involved as deeply as I can in election-related activity and in getting others involved and active in the U.S. elections. As I see it, our future depends on a government that is aligned with the values of social justice, compassion, and sustainability, and I will put time and money on the line for those things.
It’s not that I like politics. I’d much rather be hiking. But I’m willing to face the work, the messiness, uncertainty, inconvenience, and angst of political processes, because it is my best hope for how I can have some power in this moment in a way that fits me and my circumstances. I’m not running for office, and I’m not starting a non-profit, though these may be in reach for you. I am committed to doing the things that are in reach for me.
Along these lines, in the run-up to the 2016 election, I started asking myself: how can I, a “regular person" with no particular following, but hundreds of family, friends, colleagues, and students, amplify my power to help shape a world I want to live in?
My main thought was to connect with friends and organizations who have gotten smart about activities that have leverage. I’ve both pitched in and tried to spread the word about the work. I started writing an occasional email with political action ideas for anyone who was interested, focusing on actions that I myself was taking. People told me that my action emails inspired them and helped them find meaningful ways to contribute. Together and individually, we’ve called and texted voters and politicians, connected with local clergy and other leaders to help them organize, donated money, knocked on doors, and gotten more friends involved.
I plan to continue writing these occasional suggestions in 2020. If you are interested in joining my “action suggestion” list, please sign up here. Perhaps, instead, you will sign up with one of the many organizations helping people get involved in political work, or start a circle of your own. I hope that you will choose actions that work for you, that are within your reach. Most of all, I hope that we will all expand our circles of power and do what we need to do so that we can look back on this year as one in which our actions made a difference.
Skills for Collaboration and Power-Sharing — and Another Invitation
Given that the capacity to collaborate seems to be human beings’ greatest strength, it’s notable that it does not necessarily come easily to us. I believe we can do better at building systems that empower all of us, so we can live and work together with more justice and joy, in ways that invite and celebrate power-sharing. I’m committed to helping us lean into our birthright as Homo sapiens — our amazing collaborative power.
I have launched a website to help me share these values and skills more broadly. To receive my blog posts, hear about events I’m offering, and get resources I’ll regularly add to the site, please check out the website and sign up for my newsletter,
How Will You Seize the Moment?
If, like me, you see this moment as extraordinarily important, I want to invite you to think about how you will amplify your power. I don’t mean to be grandiose. I mean quite simply, how will you seize this moment? I hope that you’ll join me in a sense of urgency, a sense of hope in the power of collective action; and most particularly, in this moment, in the necessity of action.
A postscript: We held the camp where we made the geologic timeline at a lovely retreat space in Sonoma County, California, the Mountain Home Ranch. All but one of the buildings of Mountain Home burned down in the fires of 2017; a heartbreaking loss, and a sign of how urgent our climate change work is.
A final note: That same NVC Family Camp where we charted the history of the earth was founded by my wife, Inbal Kashtan, of blessed memory, who died in 2014. At the time, it was the first and only NVC Family Camp. Now there are nearly a dozen NVC Family camps around the world, started by people she taught or inspired. I run into people who have been to camp who assume that these camps have always been “a thing.” Not so. They were created by someone whose life, like all of ours, was a passing shadow. She stepped into her power. Her work, I am so grateful to say, lives on. So may all of ours.
This comes with love,
Comments: If you have ideas and feelings in response to this entry, I would love to hear them; please feel free to share them in the comments.