Monday, July 27, 2015

Birthday Reflections

At Harbin Hot Springs on my 71st birthday looking forward to my future, I feel relaxed, confident, and clear: for the first time in my life, my priority is to make money.

Thanks to Uber, which has hurt the San Francisco taxi industry enormously, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sell my taxi medallion, or how much I’ll get if I do. And because I lived on “movement wages” my whole life, Social Security is far from adequate.

So, facing a reality I can neither change nor escape, I resolve to drive taxi as much as possible, write less, cut back on organizing, limit my spending, and save as much as I can for my old age.

What to do about vacations remains open. An old friend and I are going to New Orleans April 7-10 for the 2016 French Quarter Festival (if you want to go, get a room immediately, for hotels in the Quarter are already almost sold out for that fantastic, free event that presents all kinds of music on 23 outdoor stages.) After that vacation, I don’t know.

In about five years, I should move to the top of the waiting list for a Section 8 subsidy, which will lower my rent substantially. If I’m able to sell my medallion for a net of $160,000 (the current price) by then, I’ll probably be able to live comfortably and travel extensively. If not, I’ll keep driving taxi as long as I can and if necessary rely on the Food Bank and cheap meals at Senior Centers.

With regard to my commitment to social transformation, I may have found what I’ve been looking for: a community of political activists dedicated to transforming our social system into a truly compassionate society, while supporting one another in their personal growth by setting aside special time for that purpose. The Purpose-Driven Community project is headed in that direction.

The responses to my volunteer-interest form and subsequent emails have been encouraging. The organizers and I are on the same wavelength. Their success with Generation Waking Up reflects their competence. And I’m particularly encouraged by their commitment to maintain diversity by growing deliberately.  I look forward to their first exploratory event. This development makes it easier for me to shift to full-time cab driving. Rather than being a lead organizer, I can play a support role.

Pulling back from the Western Park Residents’ Council also eases my transition. Though challenging and time-consuming, serving as President was rewarding. I helped to revive the moribund Council and establish policies and procedures that will hopefully enable it to continue with new leadership. The Council has been much more active than it was for at least ten years and we eventually established a cooperative relationship with management.

Unfortunately, several residents are prone to impulsively attack the nearest authority figure, whether it’s the Building Manager or the Council President. At times I let those attacks get under my skin. More seriously, that negativity steadily discouraged participation in meetings. Hopefully after the August election, the Council’s new leadership can establish a more positive tone at meetings.

Regardless, I anticipate engaging in rewarding activities with residents with whom I have established a good rapport through my work with the Council. In order to avoid wasting time with “poisonous playmates,” to organize those activities we may form self-perpetuating teams by invitation only, rather than formal “committees” open to all residents (though others may continue to organize such committees). In this way, perhaps we can help the Council with its primary mission: to nurture compassionate community among our 200 residents.


Looking back on my 71 years, Mother comes to mind first. I wish she’d lived longer so we could’ve overcome the gap she created by smothering me with her love, which undermined my autonomy. She even tried to stop me from reading the “wrong” books. More deeply, her judgmental moralism led me to see humans, myself included, as essentially bad. To find myself and my essential goodness, I had to fight her overbearing protectiveness.

But from her, I learned to pursue Truth, Justice, and Beauty and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.

Though it seems longer, it was only a year ago that I distributed My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography. One reason I did so was to enable friends and acquaintances who want to do so to know me more fully. Another reason was to liberate myself from shame by being open about matters about which I had been secretive. On those counts, the project was successful.

I also wanted feedback that might help me re-work the book to make it more marketable to the general public. And I did receive lots of valuable feedback, which I very much appreciate. But I’ll probably be unable to re-write it so long as I drive taxi full-time.

The major event of the last year, however, was the death of Leonard Roy Frank, my dear friend for more than 40 years. After the manager of his building let me into his apartment and I found him dead, draped over the bathtub, I sat down on the stairs and cried. For the next month thereafter, while dealing with his affairs, I cried every day, often convulsively. After I gave the manager his keys, I cried more than I had for the whole month. I haven’t cried since.

Fortunately, the memorial service at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples was very healing. Every word spoken by the ministers, Dr. Dorsey Blake and Dr. Kathryn Benton, was perfect. The speakers and the music were beautiful. Wanting to do Leonard justice, I worked hard on the eulogy, which was well received. But I still think about Leonard often, especially when I have something to tell someone (he was almost always home and available). I doubt that any soul mate will ever replace him.

Two other highlights from last year stand out. The first was an early August sermon on “intimate direct action” at Fellowship Church by Rev. Yielbonzie Charles Johnson, who called for “uncircumscribed engagement in the world” without fear.  This appeal rang a bell for me. It amazes me how rarely people ask one another, “How do you feel about that?” or “Would you like to say more about that?” I understand some of the reasons people are reluctant to be more open or more inquisitive. We often have good reason to be afraid. But if we shut down too much, it becomes a habit and we become frozen. It seems we need to find safe places where we can be intimate with at least a few trusted friends.

Even more inspiring were the exhortations offered by the Lawson brothers at a day-long intergenerational teach-in honoring Vincent Harding. First Rev. James Lawson urged activists to promote personal nonviolent struggle in order to become more fully nonviolent as individuals and more effective as activists. He called on the audience to work on “how we treat each other and ourselves and how we work together” so that we better “learn how to respect each other.”
Later, Rev. Phil Lawson echoed that theme when he asked, “Who is the enemy?” and answered that it is “a spiritual power that has captured everyone” and fosters a wide variety of destructive “addictions.” To counter that force, he said we need a new spiritual power of our own: a profound commitment to nonviolence as a way of life, not as a tactic. “Everyone is an addict and we need to be in some program of recovery from the addictions of our society. We need a long-term, disciplined project.”

Those words were music to my ears.

The most liberating event of the year, however, was reading the transcript to “The Power of Vulnerability,” the fourth most popular TED Talk ever. After struggling at length with my mother’s “you will be a great man” programming, this talk prompted me to affirm, “I am good enough (to be better).” .

The benefits of that insight persist. I feel much less need to prove myself, to others or myself. I look back on my efforts with modest pride. I planted some seeds and achieved some success, along with numerous failures. But I would rather have tried and failed than not have tried at all.

Now I need to save some money. So, if you don’t hear from me for a while, wish me luck.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

I'm Good Enough to Be Better

While struggling with my mother’s “you will be a great man” programming (see “OnBeing ‘Great,’”) my therapist, Rebecca Crabb, Ph.D., suggested I check out a TED Talk on vulnerability. Weeks later, a Google search led me to “The Power ofVulnerability” by Brene Brown. When I noted that it had received 21 million views since it was posted in June 2010 (the fourth most popular TED Talk of all time), my hopes increased. While reading the transcript, I sensed my timing was fortuitous.

I had one or two disagreements with some of her statements, including “Connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” Connection is not our only purpose. It’s also a means to other, deeper ends.

But overall the talk rang true. While reading it, I copied the following excerpts:

·       Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won't be worthy of connection?
·       What underpinned this shame, this "I'm not good enough…"?
·       In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.
·       The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they're worthy of love and belonging.
·       Whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness.
·       What they had in common was a sense of courage.
·       The courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others.
·       And the last was they had connection, and -- this was the hard part -- as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were.
·       The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
·       They're willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.
·       Stop controlling and predicting.
·       We numb vulnerability.
·       You cannot selectively numb emotion.
·       The other thing we do is we make everything that's uncertain certain.
·       To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee.
·       And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we're enough.

The next day I posted to Facebook:

I went to sleep saying to myself, “I am good enough,” and woke up after a good eight-hour sleep with the same thought on my mind. If I can maintain that attitude, I will be like a new person, transformed, evolved to a higher level. As I argued in “On Being ‘Great,” I’ve concluded that we cannot rank people in terms of how good they are, because we can’t totally put ourselves in others’ shoes, read their minds, or see their souls. I can only say, “I am a good person, and I can be a better person.” (None of us are perfect.) Also, I cannot rank people because I grew up in a dysfunctional family and tend to circulate with others who did as well. Undoing, partially, the damage that my family and our society inflicted on me has required great effort. How much more progress I can achieve remains to be seen.

In my taxi, I’ve encountered many families and couples who appear to be remarkably healthy. My impression is that people who’ve been raised in healthy families associate with others who’ve had the same experience. This segregation makes it even harder to compare and rank people in terms of how evolved they are.

But the bottom line is that any such differences, even if we could measure them, would be relatively insignificant, for what we have in common, our humanity, is much more important.

That post received 17 “likes” (many times more than my posts normally receive), one share (which is unusual), and comments from Steven Pak, “Wow! What' a great thought with great impression and admiration...,” and Justice St Rain, “I'm a big fan of affirmations. Paraphrasing the sacred text is a good way to super-charge an affirmation. For example ‘I was created Noble.’”

Later, I posted:

If I am “good enough,” I need not worry about what others think about me. I can trust that I will act compassionately, doing the best I can, for good reasons…. I may want others to do something and ask them to do it, in which case I will be careful about what I say and try to be effective. But I need not NEED them to do what I want for the sake of my own self-validation. So if they say no, I need not take it personally and feel hurt. I can trust they are doing what they need to do…. And if they have something to say to me, I will try to listen and respond compassionately and learn from their feedback how to be more effective. But if they are silent, I need not pull their comments out of them in order to reassure myself. I can relax and trust myself…. And if I end up without a soulful face-to-face connection, then I will be alone but not lonely.

Several days later, I reported on these reflections to a friend who resonated with them and told me that when she was growing up, her mother often told her, “What others think of you is none of your business.”

When I posted that comment, one friend commented, “True, unless one is being a total jerk. Then it SHOULD be your business. Saw this first-hand on a Muni bus the other night.”

I replied, “If another is violating the rights of another, an intervention to stop it is justified. Whether that requires trying to analyze why they are doing it or what they think about me is another matter. I tend to think not.”

Another friend responded, “Sounds like words of great wisdom to me. Do you think she was talking about psychiatrists?” Thinking that therapy tends to involve trying to read others’ minds (it’s hard enough to know my own), I replied, “It may well undermine the typical therapy dynamic.”

It’s only been a week, but the “I am good enough” insight prompted by that TED Talk seems to be holding. My mood has been more consistently positive, and I do seek constancy. Feeling less pressure to prove myself (to myself and others) and worrying less what others think about me has been liberating.

I still believe in personal growth, however, and see no contradiction between the two perspectives. So, believing it’s possible to hold both at the same time, I’ve modified the maxim to read, “I’m good enough to be better.”

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Postscript to Purpose-Driven Community Survey Responses

Concerning Purpose-Driven Community Survey Responses, I also consider it essential to be clear that “the system” includes ourselves as individuals and our dominant culture as well as our major institutions. When most people talk about “systemic transformation,” they refer only to politics and economics. What you’ve written thus far implies a deeper analysis. Being more explicit could help clarify the point.

Purpose-Driven Community Survey Responses

Joshua Gorman and Steve Ma recently circulated a report on the responses to their “purpose-driven community” survey. They concluded:
Given the positive responses we’ve received, we are very committed to moving this process forward beginning with some pilots in the East Bay (California). We’re still in the early planning stages but if you’re interested in volunteering, helping us launch, attending one of our first events, providing additional feedback, etc., please let us know at stevejamesmaATgmailDOTcom and joshuaATgenerationwakingupDOTorg.
They attached a summary of the answers and offered these highlights:
1) Out of the 204 people who answered the questions about their interest in the proposed purpose-driven community, 64 (or 31.4%) said they were extremely interested (5 out of 5), and 63 (30.9%) ranked it a 4 out of 5. Only 17 people ranked it a 1, and 14 people ranked it a 2. Our sense from these numbers that there a pretty broad level of interest, and for a good number of people, there is a very deep level of interest. The group with the strongest interest was folks in a ‘spiritual community but not very active.’ However, there was strong interest with a host of others including people of color, young people, and people along the spectrum of spirituality. 
2) The offerings that came out the strongest were: ‘Uniting with others to create systemic change,’ and ‘Connecting and engaging with a community of diverse people.’ 
3) In terms of names, ‘Thrive’ came out the strongest, and ‘circle’ and ‘gathering’ were the front-runners for a name referring to the Sunday event.
In their postscript, Gorman and Ma commented:
In case you’re wondering who we are, we are East Bay (California) residents who have a long history in working for social justice with non-profits and social enterprises. We both have a great interest in building a model for people to come together in community to support one another for personal and societal transformation. We began planning for this purpose-driven community recently and are eager to take the next steps to make it a reality.
I replied:
Thanks much for the report. I am heartened by the strong interest in “integrating the personal and the political,” a long-time interest of mine. From the summary, I took particular note of the fact that only 8% of the respondents said that they were not at all interested in a community that would help them “overcome personal challenges and injustices.” 
I am interested in further participation. However, one element of the Generation Waking Up event I attended causes me some concern. That event affirmed a Buckminster Fuller quote with which I strongly disagree: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 
I favor instead an outside-inside strategy. Building alternative communities is important. At the same time, reforming existing public policies to alleviate suffering and environmental damage is also critical. It is not either/or. Each can reinforce the other. 
If this new project is committed to the Fuller perspective, it would diminish my interest. Otherwise, I am very definitely interested. 
Regardless, I want to stay informed about your efforts, especially with regard to designing one or more user-friendly models that political activists could use to support one another in their self-development.