In listening to the speakers interviewed for your series "Repossessing Virtue" I am struck by certain recurring themes: one is the importance of trust - in ourselves, our relationships, and our institutions - and the consequences of its absence. I think our current crisis provides myriads of examples, not the least of which is currency itself. Without a general belief in the value of monetary currency, our economic system could not exist. We continue to cling to these beliefs because we have no alternative at the moment, but our faith in the institutions that have preached this value to us for as long as most of us can remember has been shaken to the core. In fact, the institutions themselves no longer believe in their own tenets. Thus, the inability of the credit system to right itself despite the zillions of dollars being poured into it.
Another recurring theme: the importance of community and the consequences of this loss as well. We have become so estranged from each other that we no longer believe (trust) that anyone will be there to help us when we fall. Strident voices and a world beset by violence have led us to fear each other on many levels. There it is again - a lack of trust. We point fingers. We identify "enemies". We can no longer talk to each other. We no longer believe in common humanity. Maybe we never really did.
For me, personally, I have coincidentally been on a year-long spiritual quest. I did not know this when I started out. But discovering your program and sampling the archives have led me to recognize that this is, in fact, where I am. Approximately a year and a half ago my husband and I sold our house 20 miles south of Boston along with everything in it. We paid off all of our debts, moved into an RV and set off to see America. I had worked for the state and became eligible for a (very) small pension - sufficient to pay for health insurance. My husband - already retired - receives social security and we had sufficient savings that we felt if we could minimize our expenses we would be able to travel until we figured out where we wanted to land. We did some research and learned that we could volunteer in state and national parks in exchange for camp space, often including utilities. This allowed us time off the road (saving gas and where-and-tear on our vehicle and our psyches) as well as keeping our living expenses low. We had been on RV excursions in the past and looked forward to re-experiencing this type of journey without the time limits enforced by working life.
The experience has been nothing short of a marvel. This is a huge country. There are so many people living in a myriad of circumstances. The strident voices and frantic pace of the East and West Coasts seems so irrelevant to the immense spaces in the middle of this amazing and beautiful land of ours. During the presidential campaign we were struck by how different urban areas are from rural areas, East and West Coast from the vast "center", north from south, east from west. We lived through sky-high gas prices and skyrocketing food prices. Through it all we were continually looking for the right place to land. We finally found it in Custer, South Dakota. A small town (1,800 people) with pretty old-fashioned values. It is located in the center of the breathtakingly beautiful Black Hills National Forest and is close enough to a reasonably good sized (60,000 people) urban area, Rapid City, that any amenities we need are reasonably accessible. Cost of living here is low enough for our meager income to accommodate us. We decided to put down roots. Then the financial crisis hit. I feel so fortunate that we were able to liquidate our savings and put it into a house here. We had already simplified our lives so it is no problem at this point to opt out of the consumerism that is plaguing our society. It has been fascinating to learn how little we really need to be comfortable. This area has so far been relatively insulated from the turmoil of other regions since the extreme highs and lows of some other markets (Las Vegas, Florida and California) have not been as pronounced here. Again, though, we have been struck by the hand-wringing, gloom and doom that has been evident in the national media. It seems that most people here are simply going on with their lives. The more that I learn about the Great Depression, the more it seems that that was also the case then - most people managed somehow to go on with their lives. I am really appreciative of my local community, though. The culture of helping each other is alive and well here.
In listening to your interview with Parker Palmer, I was particularly taken by his description of human longing for a connection with something outside of our own ego. I have come to realize that I have been very much in search of community. I am uncomfortable with religious groups since to me they seem more exclusionary than inclusionary. But I do believe in God and I am completed distressed by the violence in our world today and the inability of human beings to communicate with each other on the most basic levels. Just this morning I listened to Israel's leaders expressing their need to "punish" Hamas for breaking of the cease fire agreement. Contrast this with your segment featuring the Israeli woman and Palestinian man both of whom experienced extreme losses due to the conflict but still manage to find common ground on a very human level.
I realize that I have rambled on here somewhat so let me end with a suggestion. Once congress comes back in session and our new President is inaugurated, I am certain there will be calls for recriminations against those in the financial institutions (both public and private) who are perceived as having caused this crisis. It will be an opportunity for our illustrious elected officials to express their self-righteousness for the benefit of their angry constituencies. Instead of endless useless congressional hearings, I think a better solution would be to take a lesson from Africa and conduct "Truth and Reconcilation" sessions. Let those who feel victimized confront their perceived oppressors. Let those "oppressors" explain themselves. It was enlightening to hear Parker Palmer describe the financial leaders in his retreat group. They, too, are human beings with their own anxieties. Let them see the real consequences of their actions, greed and preoccupation with self. Let these hearings not only be completely public but allow for a wide range of testimonials - even if the process takes years to complete. In fact, a lengthy process might keep the whole concept in the public eye even after the economy begins to recover. We who are so fixated on instant gratification and short-term results need a lessen in patience. Perhaps, then, we might not be so prone to forget. Establish a commission to convene these hearings that will be charged in the end with recommendations for rebuilding trust in our institutions and proceeding from here. I think we all have to learn how to talk to each other again, how to recognize our similarities as human beings instead of fearing our differences.
Finally, I would just like to mention how much I appreciate your podcasts. They have become a necessary part of my week.
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