Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Moral Hierarchy

            Some people are so poor all they have is money.  —Bob Marley

The power grid in Nicole Robinson’s workshop (see last post) is about as real as it gets. Where you are on the grid can determine where you live, how you live, what resources are available, what dreams can be realized and can literally be a matter of life and death when it comes to things like health care. Our determination to re-shuffle the accepted notions of who gets the goodies and aim for more fair, just and equitable distribution is the responsibility of each and every one of us. But it’s not the whole story. 

The above is about political and economic power and once more I say it clearly—this is as real as it gets. Nothing I’m about to say discounts this. It’s a “Yes, and…” not a “Yes, but…” But again I say: “It’s not the whole story.”

Because there is another kind of power that also determines the quality of life and is equally—and sometimes more— important. I’m talking about spiritual power, moral power, the power of integrity and character and comradery and kindness and compassion and artistry. And though it’s not precisely a one-to-one ratio, it seems that those who often have the political/economic outer kind of power are sorely lacking in the inner spiritual/ moral power. Witness the toddler-in-chief and the cronies who surround him. So while the white, Protestant, upper-class male is at the top of one kind of power grid, he often is at the bottom of the other kind. 

Look at the history of jazz. The folks who created the artistic legacy that the world admires and that has brought beauty, comfort and solace to so many couldn’t eat or sleep at the hotel where they played, but played and sang with such joy, passion and artistic truth. They suffered every day of their lives from racism, yet transcended it and generously shared their gifts. Likewise, poor immigrant families are marginalized and insulted, but often the children are surrounded by an extended family network eating convivial meals together and celebrating cultural roots while their privileged counterparts are being raised by appliances. Women everywhere are still struggling to be paid equally and be freed of male-dominant assault both physical and psychological, yet can also enjoy the gifts of nurturing life and not having to hide behind a macho front that is afraid of true emotion. A Buddhist has no clout whatsoever in the political mainstream, but can cultivate the power to connect to the Soul of the World through the simple act of sitting still and following the breath.

No one feels sorry for those who sit at the top of the political/economic grid as they golf their way through their privileged life, but truly, they are often so empty inside and worthy of our deepest compassion. Likewise, even the best of the liberals amongst us tends to feel sorry for and pity the poor people of color, but (again while not naively dismissing their challenges of political marginalization) I often admire their family life and artistic accomplishment and well-earned sense of humor. So as we re-balance the scales, let’s think about both dimensions. If the rich and powerful were able to access some inner richness and power, they wouldn’t have to be so mean-spirited. If the poor and dispossessed had access to the same resources we all have been promised, they wouldn’t have to struggle so hard to receive what the Constitution promised.

Just a thought. 

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