We live in interesting times. Contrary to the Chinese saying that uses this as a curse, today it is more like a blessing. The current financial and political upheavals mark the beginning of significant changes happening in our world. Things, as they say, will never be the same. Much as the TV pundits and political talking heads would like to assure us that everything will eventually return to normal as long as we keep on as per usual, they probably won’t. We are at the threshold of a new cycle of human history where different (and better) ways of doing things are going to replace old and worn out patterns of behavior in every area of life-spiritual, political, economical and social. And while there is cause for uncertainty during these days of turbulent transition, there is much more reason for optimism if only we can adjust our perspective to welcome this new reality.
At the heart of this change will be an increased role for the individual within society and for the local community within national and global life. The days of being dominated by this political or national philosophy, that religious view, this government or that corporate interest are ending. The future belongs to creative diversity; strength will be found in the unity of varied interests, cultures and lifestyles. Differences will no longer be the cause for strife and division but instead the reason for celebration. Hatred and intolerance will bow down to acceptance and compassion.
Each individual has a contribution to make to this unfolding process, no matter how small it may seem. This is the time for each one of us to discover our own truth and not rely on the dictates of another; for each of us to find God within our own hearts and not in some stubborn orthodoxy; for each of us to rejoice in our own unique purpose in the universe; and for each of us to find a way to express that purpose for the benefit of others. The sheriff in Cook County, Illinois, who refuses to evict any more of his neighbors from their homes due to foreclosure, the 13 year-old boy who is raising money to build a well in Ethiopia, or the man who grows organic produce in his garden to sell at his local farmer’s market, each one is making a significant gesture. Collectively they have the potential to create a powerful force for good. With global internet communications, even the smallest actions can now provide inspiration for millions of others to improve their lives.
Underneath the radar of political and religious strife and market turmoil, this process has already begun. According to The Giving USA Foundation (quoted in a USA Today article on "The New Face of Giving" on 10/7/08), last year (charitable) donations exceeded $300 billion for the first time and three out of four of those dollars donated came from individuals rather than corporations or foundations. Marshall Burke of the international relief agency CARE, quoted in the same article, believes there has been a "tremendous increase" in awareness of international issues since 9/11, especially among young people who are "aware that the human community is getting smaller and smaller and we have an obligation to reach out beyond ourselves." Charitable causes dealing with international issues and the environment now top the list for donors in their 20s and 30s according to the article.
President Bill Clinton, appearing recently on Larry King Live, spoke of inspiring private citizens to do public good. His Clinton Global Initiative has raised billions of dollars from small contributions for community projects around the world. It’s a new kind of global people power. President John Kennedy once encouraged people to "think not what my country can do for me, but what can I do for my country". Now we must let go of patriotic limitations and think instead "what can I do for my world." The global financial meltdown could end up being a boon rather than a disaster if it forces the citizens of the world to work together for common solutions that benefit everyone, and to disallow their leaders from merely patching up an ailing status quo of narrow-minded interests.
In this light, the forthcoming US election takes on even greater importance. Now is not the time to choose a leader based on xenophobia, small mindedness, prejudice, hatred or fear. Nor should we be voting on a single "hot" issue such as abortion, taxes, or policy towards any particular country. It is not even about which party or faith our future leader belongs to; and it is certainly not about the kind of tribal infighting that is dominating the current headlines. We need to elect someone who is not just aligned with our own selfish or partisan interests but one who will be a positive force for the entire world.
Our new president needs to be a person of deep compassion and understanding. He (or she) needs the flexibility and skills to adapt to the changing circumstances of our world. This will require an open mind, an eagerness to work across divisions of opinion, the ability to see value in everyone’s perspective, and an inner core of calm and stability to ride the roller coaster we are surely facing with equanimity and grace.
There has never been a time when our individual vote has counted for so much.
May you choose wisely.