Friday, October 14, 2011

Civic Engagement as Spiritual Practice

I got a bit of a dressing down early this afternoon. A group of folks were discussing the current tent ban for the plaza we are holding Occupy MN on. At one point, a woman said something about making a large banner claiming the County Commissioners were "freezing" out the protesters. I didn't like the idea. It felt unnecessary. Just this morning, the protests in Denver were cleared out because of tents, and I figured it would be better to put in a sustained, good faith effort with public officials before getting provocative.

It's important to mention here that this sign was in conjunction with a planned tent raising to happen tomorrow afternoon. All of which feels rushed, given that we've only been doing this for a week here in Minnesota. I'm all for civil disobedience, but intelligently and strategically done civil disobedience.

Anyway, in response to the woman's suggestion, I made a comment about being specific in who you're targeting. Apparently, the person I mentioned wasn't to correct target, and this woman went off on me, saying she'd worked for the county for sixteen years and "knew exactly how the system works" and on and on.

I felt anger rise within me, but then also sensed a bit of shame twisted in that anger. Because she was right about the specifics. I had to do a lot of deep breathing, and dropping off of my opinion as she yelled at me. It was a humbling experience because I am often the one who gets the details correct in these kinds of situations. Furthermore, because I'm often the one with the details, I'm used to being a position where I get to spread them, to basically be "a teacher." So, this whole situation was a big, internal flip over for me.

As she started to run out of steam, I broke in and said "Thank you for the information. But you know, this is a good way to drive people out of here."

A few of the others agreed with me, and she looked away saying, sarcastically, "Some people don't like to get dressed down."

And one of the other people standing there said "No. We need to work on all this together. Not everyone will know it all. We need to teach each other."

He then looked at me and said "I could feel the tension there."

I said "Yeah, I really didn't want to listen to her after how she said that."

He shook his head. "See. That's what I thought. This isn't how we build this thing."

Later, I thought to myself She'd rather be right than make a relationship.

And I reflected on a few times I had chosen that route, blasting "the truth" and loosing an opportunity to connect in the process.

This is one of the blessings of active civil engagement with a diverse group of people. You get to practice letting go of everything, even the truth. And when you don't let go, there will probably be someone ready to "help" you - perhaps rudely and without warning.

I bow to everyone in that conversation. Thank you for your wisdom.


K Grey said...

If the level of self awareness vs self promotion (including the pushing of adopted positions - intellectual, moral, whatever) you are expressing here were common, protests would be manned only by clueless reactionaries.

Or maybe, they are...

But then so for holders of offices of government and large businesses.

Being "right" may temporarily satisfy, but the ultimate result of clinging to any position is being left alone with your righteousness.

"Right" vs "right". All spin. Original sin. Delusion. Nothing new. So long as it is so, might will always make "right" when the the accounting is done and the dust settles, except it never does...

Nathan said...

Your comment suggests a low opinion of humans in general. Or perhaps I don't understand it.

Anyway, I'll just leave it be.

Unknown said...

Sounds like practice in action to me. I'm willing to bet that there were people who were inspired by how you handled it who didn't speak up. And others who were affected by the shift in energy whether they realized it or not. An excellent example of why people with some sort of spiritual practice can be very helpful here.

Nathan said...


The guy who spoke about us all working together was a big help to me. I don't know what his background is - in terms of spiritual/religious life - but he also handled things well.

Although some folks are loving to take shots at this movement, and act like it's a bunch of aimless griping, I have experienced and/or witnessed some things that have increased my appreciation for human capacity and potential. We may muddle and muck a lot up, but that's not the whole story, or even most of the story - not by a long shot.