Values and Power in a Changing World
One of my best friends, Jocelyn, whom I left behind in Seattle, sent a friend of hers to me through Facebook messenger today. I have met him a few times – the first time at his birthday party, to which I kind of invited myself. He recognised in me a kind of kindred spirit, someone who greets the world cheerfully and sociably, extending the arms of friendship and compassion; but someone who also becomes worn and weary after too much time without taking a break to process everything. (I love the way this future we live in, to the constant amazement of my older relatives, allows us to communicate across hemispheres). He was looking for some advice about what to do when we find ourselves becoming irritated and annoyed by people.
I told him that, for me, if it’s not something on the “immediate needs” checklist (am I hungry, tired, sick, or is there friction in a key relationship?), then it’s probably a sign that some part of my life does not comport with my values. It takes time to inventory my recent actions, and compare them to the way I want to approach the world, but when I find something I can let go, or realise what I’ve been neglecting, it brings great relief.
After our chat, I checked in on Twitter, and had to confront the latest of the increasingly awful news surrounding the imminent American presidential election. It reminded me that sometimes the aspects of my life that are in conflict with my values are things that I have no power to change. I can tell I’m feeling that lack of control when I start to stockpile hidden caches of chocolate, withdraw from the world, and binge watch Luke Cage, which I wouldn’t exactly classify as “thriving” (okay, I don’t regret the new-and-excellent-superhero-series part at all).
Once I do notice, I turn to meditation and peppermint tea, to walking in the sunshine or finding a new song that makes me feel good. It’s so easy for me to disengage, and slip into despair. I try to hold onto the present through my senses, and bring myself more firmly into this world. Instead of focusing on the part that’s troubling and can tend to hit me deeply, quickly, when I truly look at the world around me, I see goodness and hope. I see people trying to live according to their values, which might differ from mine, but combine to make us whole. I value patience, but we need people who value action. I value imagination, but I love people who value candour. I value nonconformity, but if nobody values efficiency, we might not get very much done.
I also see people who value their family’s wellbeing, good standing in their community, and self-sufficiency, who are struggling to see a place for themselves in this new world we all live in together. I can’t understand how someone can see their position in society as a deserved birthright instead of blind luck, but I do understand that this rate of change is uncomfortable for many people, and I know that most of us act in unhealthy ways when we feel threatened. For those who are used to power, who feel equality as oppressive, I don’t know how to smooth this path. I definitely don’t want to leave the world stuck in the 1950s for their comfort, but I do know it’s hard. I wish our church could help heal those wounds. Not by retrenching and preserving power for a few, but through reminding us that Jesus walked away from earthly power. Through speaking the truth that God loves us all, and showing us how we can love each other and live in Zion together, where all are alike to each other and to God – and where we can all live our values in ways that make the world better for us all.