The Silver Lining of These Dark Days

These are wildly encouraging times. (No, really, they are.)

So many of us have been horrified to realize the extent to which bigotry and intolerance still exist – and currently drive the national agenda – in the US and elsewhere. And yet, the ugliness that has been brought to the surface is like an abscess that needed to be cut open, allowing the infection to drain out and be cleaned and healed. This contamination has festered all these years, probably even in the best of us. Better to get it out in the open so it can be addressed with care and compassion, so reparations can be made, and so systemic responses can be introduced to prevent the root causes of the disease. We are in the midst of a good and necessary collective practice of community health.

In this practice, I am especially encouraged by the moral clarity and solidarity I see emerging. In movements like Black Lives Matter, Idle No More and Standing Rock, native and black leadership is acknowledged – and, at the same time, there is broad recognition that their cause is everyone’s cause. Millions are heeding the aboriginal sentiment that, “[i]f you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” We have seen this same sense of solidarity extended to Muslims, immigrants, the trans-gendered and others. This is cause for great hope for humanity.

What remains is to find solidarity even with those who are most intolerant. There are real feelings behind their attitudes – primarily fear and resentment – and those can only be met productively with compassion (which isn’t to say tolerance for harmful behaviors).

In an unlikely twist, the growing climate crisis might help. When catastrophe strikes, differences fade into the background. In the many stories of heroism reported in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, for example, there were none in which helpers stopped to ask, “Who did you vote for in the last election?” or “What’s your legal status here?” From one account:

[T]he Dreamers who volunteered in the aftermath of Harvey are unfazed at the idea that they may be helping people who want them to go back to where they came from. “Honestly, that’s besides the point,” says Omar Perez. “At the end of the day we’re all human beings. I don’t care what you believe in.”

The more that the changing climate forces us to help each other and to heed “the better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln once said, the less relevant our differences may become. The more that nature demonstrates its undeniable power, the more reverence and responsibility we may feel for all life.

I won’t deny that these are challenging times. Nevertheless, I believe that many of our struggles may be necessary preparation for better days – indeed, for an Age of Thrivability – to arise.

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