We Need To Be The Change
Many of us desperately want to change our world.
But is an illusion to think we can change anybody else but ourselves. The truth is that we cannot change them - we can only change ourselves. We need to remember the alternate version of the Serenity Prayer, and repeat it regularly: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it is me!”
Even when we realize we need to change ourselves, our aspirations are often too grandiose.
Big people can do big things. But we can only ever be big people in our own minds. In global terms, we will only ever really be little people. And, as little people, we can only do little things. Great things can happen. Not as a result of little people trying to do impossibly big things; but as result of the cumulative effect of lots of little people doing lots of the little things we can do.
As little people, we all know that there is nothing big we can do to change the world. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do. We can be the change we want to see in the worldby simply persistently doing all the little things we wish they would do, but don’t do, ourselves.
And, when a majority of us in each country, persistently do all the little things we wish they would do, ourselves, then it will be in the self-interest of those politicians, who want to ensure their own political survival, to develop policies that better reflect our concerns for the world.
Forget Plan A, Try Plan Be!
‘Plan A’ has been to ‘treat others like they treat us’. On 9-11-2001, Osama Bin Laden ordered an attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center at the heart of the American Empire. As the world looked on in astonishment Bin Laden cried ‘Here is America struck by God Almighty in one of its vital organs, so that its greatest buildings are destroyed.’1 In retaliation George Bush ordered an attack on Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan – and also an attack on Saddam Hussein in Iraq (who did not have any weapons of mass destruction, or anything to do with the 9-11attack, although he had tried to kill Bush senior.) Bush claimed ‘God told me to strike al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.’2 As a result, so far over 100,000 innocent civilians have been killed – and we are still counting. The trouble with an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ policy is that in the end it makes us ‘blind’ – we are no longer able to see – let alone do – the sort of things that make for peace and love and justice.
‘Plan Be’ is to ‘treat others like we would like to be treated’. In 1993, the Parliament of the World’s Religions was convened in Chicago, with 8,000 people from all over the world coming together to see if they could find a common ethic in their religious traditions that they could use to address the issue of violence. And they came up with the Golden Rule. Not the new materialistic version of the Golden Rule – ‘that those with the gold rule,’ but the old spiritual version of the Golden Rule – ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. It’s a call for all people – regardless of religion – ‘to be the change we want to see in the world’- the ‘people-that-be’ over against ‘the-powers-that-be’.
|The Golden Rule||Hinduism
‘Never do to others what would pain you’
‘Hurt not others with that which hurts yourself.’
‘Do not to others what is not well for oneself.’
‘One who neglects existence disregards their own existence’
‘Do not impose on others what you do not yourself desire.’
‘Regard your neighbour’s loss or gain as your own loss or gain.’
Tai Shang Kan Ying Pien
‘Desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.’
‘What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbour.’
Talmud, Shabbat, 31a
‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.
‘Do unto all people as you would they should do to you.’
‘Treat others as you would be treated yourself.’
The great value of the Golden Rule is that it is acceptable not only to religious, but also to secular people. General reciprocity seems to be ‘common to ethical systems everywhere.’ 3
The strength of the Golden Rule is that everybody agrees that it is great place to start. Its weakness is that though its nice and warm and fuzzy people find it a bit vague as guideline.
Which is why Jesus of Nazareth spent so much time unpacking the specific implications of the Golden Rule in his Sermon on the Mount – summarising his suggestions in his Beatitudes.
But the trouble is, few people who would claim to be admirers of Jesus – even among those who would call themselves “believers” – take the Be-Attitudes seriously as ethical guidelines.
There are two or three reasons for this. The first reason is that the Beatitudes are not generally taught as ethical guidelines. They are seen as spiritual promises, not operating principles. The second reason is that the Sermon on the Mount, which the Beatitudes serve as an introduction, hasn’t been taught as framework for ethics ever since the church chose to align itself with the state (under the Emperor Constantine). At that point it became necessary to set aside the operating principles of the Sermon, (like ‘turning the other cheek’) in order to support the imperial demand to do otherwise. The third reason is that when people, from time to time, have tried to reclaim the Sermon on the Mount as a framework for ethics, they have totally misrepresented the content, turning it into a set of idealistic, but totally unrealistic guidelines (like ‘no anger’). And none of our examples of perfection in the bible practiced ‘no anger’ as a principle. Jesus often got angry – and rightly so.
If we are to take the Beatitudes seriously as a set of ethical guidelines, then we need to re-acquaint ourselves with the Be-Attitudes and re-discover the workable virtues they embody. For an exciting detailed exploration of the workable virtues embodied in the Beatitudes you can study my series of meditations on “The Be-Attitudes For Today’s World”
We can see the workable virtues advocated in the values that are blessed in the Be-Attitudes
1. Blessed are the poor – or poor in spirit – who do not trust in status or riches
2. Blessed are those who mourn – who grieve over the injustice in the world
3. Blessed are the meek – who get angry but who never get aggressive
4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – who seek justice
5. Blessed are the merciful – who are compassionate to everyone in need
6. Blessed are the pure in heart – who are whole-hearted in desire to do right
7. Blessed are the peacemakers – who work for peace in a world at war
8. Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness – who suffer for just causes
Mahatma Gandhi once famously said: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” If we commit to practice the Be-Attitudes, we can be the change we want to see in the world.
Wecan.be is a global web-based campaign to encourage people to sign on to ‘Plan Be’, to practice the Be-Attitudes and be ‘The-People-That-Be’ over against ‘The-Powers-That-Be’.
You can sign up and start to ‘be involved’ right now …
In an article called Cold Turkey, Kurt Vonnegut, the famous satirical American author, wrote:
“For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the beatitudes. But – often with tears in their eyes – they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes, be posted anywhere.”
Well, I think its time we took up Kurt’s challenge and posted the Be-attitudes up everywhere.
After you have signed up to practice the Be-Attitudes I’d encourage you to post a copy of the Be-Attitudes in your own private space – like on the wall of your bedroom – and in a public space – like on the door of your church, or of your city council, or your state government or, of course, your blog.*
1 Bruce Lincoln Holy Terrors University Of Chicago Press, Chicago 2002