Ken Kesey, renowned author and 1960s counterculture icon, led, in his later years, a quiet life in rural Oregon. When asked by an interviewer during this time what he was doing to make the world a better place, he looked out from his front porch over the fields and said, “This year I’m growing asparagus.”
This morning, someone expressed to me a feeling that I’m sure we can all relate to at least sometimes–a general sense of anxiety and despair over the world situation. If you live in the U.S. you might be feeling this closer to home in the current political climate. What can we do, he asked, to make things better?
Indeed. Just asking the question invites an overwhelming wave of helpless frustration. It is an unanswerable question.
Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.” And therein lies the problem, so to speak. In our current election year, we are trying to solve through politics issues that are inherent in our political process. It won’t work. Nor will we solve through politics issues that are inherently not political.
Am I suggesting that we throw up our hands and go sulk in the corner, or start packing for Canada? Not at all. In fact, I’m not suggesting that we “do” anything in particular. I’m suggesting that we look at things differently. That we look without judgment, without seeking a solution, but rather to seek understanding, not of the world, but of ourselves.
Take me, for example. Like some, I’ve been a little distracted, okay pretty much focused, okay a lot obsessed with the evolving dynamic in this election season. And, as I watch, I see an increasing polarity of us/them separation. And as I watch more deeply, I begin to question how that might be seeping into my own life.
Where have I recently dismissed someone’s opinion, while bemoaning the lack of respect in political debate? Where have I allowed anxious thoughts to spin unchallenged in my mind, while shaking my head at the fear-stoking in speeches? Where have I tried to win, while being disgusted with the whatever-it-takes-to-win campaign strategies? Where have I walked past someone in need, while demonizing policies that seem heartless? Where have I failed to be a good steward of my resources, while I rail at the lack of commitment to environmental and financial reform? Where have I denied someone’s experience, while protesting the insensitivity of political characterizations?
So what am I doing to make the world a better place? This year, I’m growing self-awareness.