I want a leader who…

I want a leader that will inspire without anger.

I want to live in a world where disagreements are sparks for explorative conversations, where every side is willing to listen fully before formulating a retort, where there is space between words.

People are complicated.  Politics makes people more complicated.

I want the space for complication to be okay.  I want the space for the changing of minds, for the willingness to converse and to discuss and to examine the ways in which we have changed and the ways we haven’t.

I want a leader who knows her or his heart and who knows how to hear another’s heart.  I want a leader who understands that hearts are wider than religion or race or gender, and also understands that experience is shaped by religion and race and gender.

I’m thinking in terms of government, but I don’t know that this type of leader can be found in government.

I hope it can, though it feels unsafe to question deeply in public forums.  The anger is so much that the risk of posing a question begins to feel too great, and I see how questioning is met with condemnation by those who have made up their minds.  We have grown so far apart that the meeting of “other” threatens our very existence.  We have grown so far apart that “other” becomes anyone with a  different soundbite.

I want to go beyond the soundbite.  I want to sit and look at each other and hear each other and feel the way our words fumble like ice cubes in our mouths even as fire ignites in our bellies and screams up the narrow tunnels of our throats.

I want you to know that you are allowed this.  This fire and ice.  This knowing and questioning.  This anger and love.

I want you to know that everyone is allowed this.

Anger has its place.  Anger can trigger us to wake up.  Its spark can create an opening to another way.  If anger is the only way to shake your eyes open, then let them open, but know that what we do when we wake up matters.  Wake up and root back in love.

I want a leader who will root themselves in love.  The expansive, forgiving, rolling kind of love.  The kind of love like air, like a breeze, like a gust of wind: willing to let us breathe, and willing to tug at our shirts when something needs to shift, and willing to blow our hats off when our haze becomes too thick, before calming into stillness again to let us be with ourselves and each other, stopped after the hurricane to meet the hearts of our neighbors.

I want a leader who knows that we all have this power of air and wind.  That we all breathe every moment.  That we all have this power to wake each other up.

Mostly, I want us all to know we have this power, and I want us to know we can use it with tenderness and care and deep, deep love.

 

Your Voice

Today I heard a news reporter say that the Democratic and Republican parties are fighting for the “crucial women’s vote.”  With so much happening politically with women’s health care and rights issues, we do indeed have a crucial role to play in the upcoming election.  The popular slogan “Your Vote is Your Voice” is true, but I believe your voice becomes even more powerful when spoken aloud and written down.  It is the job of politicians to listen to people, and though corporations may have more money, there is a tipping point when the number of people speaking up becomes more powerful than the number of dollars silently trading hands.

I invite you to speak, so your voice can be heard.

I urge you to write, so your words can be read.

There are many issues to be concerned with, and at times it can feel overwhelming, but identify what is most important to you, focus on that and be active.  For me, it is food.  I support many other causes with my signature on petitions and my vote on ballots, but I focus my political energy on food because everything comes back to it: we all need to eat, and how we eat directly affects the food industry, which affects the chemical industry, which affects the health care industry, all of which is linked to social justice issues and climate change.  You see, it is all connected, and we are all part of it.  To separate ourselves is to ignore the inextricable ties we have to all life, and though we face struggle, we also face beauty.  Let us work toward that beauty.  Let us listen to each other; let us speak and be heard.  I am here, and I am writing, and I want to read as well.  Share with me your voice, and I will share mine, for each connection made creates a stronger whole.

Message From A Stop Sign

There is a stop sign that makes me smile.  I pass it every day as I drive to work.  The first time I noticed its message I caught my breath and stopped for an extra moment, looking at it with wonder.  Two words have been spray-painted on the sign, transforming it from a street signal to a simple command that people seem to so easily forget:

NEVER STOP LOVING

In my hometown there are other spray-painted stop signs.  In high school I’d feel strangely justified when I’d pass the ones that read STOP BUSH.  Now that he is out of office, I’ve seen another sign that says STOP OBAMA, and I felt perplexed and a little sad.  It seems that whoever is President, someone wants to stop them.  There are those who put all there energy toward the things they do not want in this world, but I have found this practice only magnifies the problems at hand.

Edward Abbey, a great environmental writer, said in an interview with Mother Earth News that “No one should be a full-time crusader for anything.  I’ve found that it’s best to be a half-time crusader, a part-time fanatic, and to save the rest of the time to try to maintain my sense of humor and my emotional balance.”  He believed in enjoying what it is you are fighting for–if you want to save the wilderness, don’t forget to go out and enjoy it while you can; if you want to change the policies of the US, take time to enjoy the pieces that you love right now.  If nothing else, you will find a peace that comes with joy and the celebration of a thing you love.

This stop sign message is simpler than that, though.  It does not tell what to love, or how much to love, but just to continue to love.  It is the most powerful thing one person can do.

Losing and Finding Compassion

My political consciousness began to develop at age 13, when my middle school held a mock presidential election during the campaigns of George W. Bush and Al Gore.  Though it was a close race, if it had been up to the eighth graders at Barre Town Elementary and Middle School, Gore would have won.  The next fall, as I worried about braces, boys and being cool, two planes flew into the World Trade Center and began a cycle of fear that has fought to control the US political climate since.

Now, at 23, I am still learning the repercussions of 9/11, still trying to understand the massive shift it caused, still trying to comprehend the fear, hatred, and loss that has ensued as a result.  Because of both this act of terror and my country’s reactions, which have caused more terror, I have grown up in a time of fragmentation that would have us believe that conversation and compromise are for the weak, and the “other side” (whether it be republican or democrat or any religion that we are not) is inherently wrong or evil or both.

My personal experience holds a different truth.  Despite my encounters with division, more often I have found connection.

In the fall of 2006, when the newspapers were filled with threats of North Korea and battles in Iraq, I found peace in the Adirondack State Park’s Massawepie Lake and forest trails lined with red and white pine, tamarack, hemlock, maple, birch and spruce.  As a few people prepared for war in one place, a few more people prepared for ecology lessons in another.  When the weight of the media began to push me down with sorrow, I’d paddle into the middle of the lake and sit quietly, listening to the chickadees, squirrels, osprey and insects.  In these moments, there was no doubt that this part of the world was in harmony and kept alive by the interconnections of species.

Who is to say that war outweighs ecology?  Who is to say that violence and division trumps happiness and harmony?  Why must the news of our world be filled with the negative extreme?

Looking back at all the moments in my life that held confusion, anger and sadness, I see that the places I escaped to are what brought me back to peace.  I wonder how this world might be different if everyone had a place of wildness to retreat to with enough space to breathe clean air and hear the rhythms of nature.

When I was in Hobart, Tasmania last December, I saw the Dalai Lama speak.  The University of Tasmania hosted him, but the Chinese government prohibited the University from bestowing an honorary degree to the Dalai Lama, and since such a large population of its students are Chinese, the University complied.  When His Holiness sat in his chair on stage, he smiled and laughed, and to a group of 2,000 people this joyful being who lives in exile from his country said, “It is a very serious danger to lose compassion.”  What happens when we lose it ?  Hate, anger, and all those emotions that arise out of fear take hold and build walls to keep out any voice that may offer something different.

The news this week showed us what happens when one has lost compassion.  The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her staff, and bystanders is a consequence of extreme fear.  A commentator on the BBC World News Report on NPR said that this act of violence differs from those of the 1960s, a time of multiple political assassinations and violent riots, because the American people do not have a promise of hope to balance it out, like the promises of equality or money or jobs that the 1960s held.  This comment may weigh us down more.  I see hope.  I see hope for Giffords, for the families of the victims to heal, for the political climate to shift towards communication and bi-partisanship, for finding space to grieve and forgive, and for transforming fragmentation into connection.

In her book Finding Beauty In A Broken World, Terry Tempest Williams writes, “Social change depends on love.”  Let us look for love as we heal.  Let us change not with blame or fear, but with love and consideration.  This event offers us the chance to reunite our country as a community—not necessarily one that agrees on every bill passed by congress, but one that is willing to truly listen and communicate openly.  As the healing process begins, I offer this:

Standing quietly by ourselves may help us remember the sanctity of silence, the power of unity, and the strength of compassion in the midst of an ever-changing world.