Plan Be

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’
Panchatantra 3.104
Buddhism
‘Hurt not others with that which hurts yourself.’
Udana 5.18
Zoroastrianism
‘Do not to others what is not well for oneself.’
Shayast-na-shayast 13.29
Jainism
‘One who neglects existence disregards their own existence’
Mahavira
Confucianism
‘Do not impose on others what you do not yourself desire.’
Analects 12.2
Taoism
‘Regard your neighbour’s loss or gain as your own loss or gain.’
Tai Shang Kan Ying Pien
Baha’I
‘Desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.’
Baha’Ullah 66
Judaism
‘What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbour.’
Talmud, Shabbat, 31a
Christianity
‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.
Matthew 7.12
Islam
‘Do unto all people as you would they should do to you.’
Mishkat-el-Masabih
Sikhism
‘Treat others as you would be treated yourself.’
Adi Granth

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 Be-Attitudes

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

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.*

Dave Andrews
for wecan.be


1 Bruce Lincoln Holy Terrors University Of Chicago Press, Chicago 2002

2 Greg Austin, Todd Kranock, Thom Oommen God And War Department of Peace Studies, Bradford 2003

3 Peter Singer One World Text Publishing Melbourne 2002

* Just make sure in posting it you practice what you preach – and don’t damage any property.

2 Comments »

 
  1. John says:

    Dave,
    I love your work, brother.
    I’m in a group using Plan Be book n study guide. got to ‘blessed are the meek’ yesterday. Like your exploration of ‘meek’ as ‘spirited power’, proactive nonviolent self control. Except when we got to your mention of Mtt 5:39-42, three women in the group immediately said they didn’t think those verses matched what you’d been talking about. Those verses sounded like an invitation to be walked over and trampled on – to become a door mat, not to respond with spirited power and righteous indignation. Fortunately, I knew of Walter Wink’s work on this passage and was able to give the historical and cultural background, explaining how being struck on the right cheek indicates a back hand slap, a sign of superiority and given to put someone back in their place. (In ancient society a left hand punch was out of the question as the left hand was only used for unclean tasks – you couldn’t even gesture with the left hand!) Therefore, the situation is one of power – master/slave; parent/child; male/female… – and used to keep one in their place through humiliation. Turning the other cheek means that you are inviting the oppressor to treat you as an equal. In other words you are refusing to be put in your place and taking a stand against this abuse but without retaliation and violence.
    The second example refers to the situation where a person could use their cloak for collateral for a loan (it only happened to the poorest people and the one who offered the loan had to return the cloak each evening so the person wouldn’t be cold at night). The poor were forced into debt by the rich who wanted their land. The courts supported the rich and the poor suffered. Jesus’ suggestion of removing all your clothes and giving them over to the oppressor was another sign of humiliation – for the oppressor. It was humiliating to look upon another’s nakedness and more-so if you were the cause! And the third refers to the situation of Roman soldiers being allowed to enlist a person to carry their pack, but only for one mile; to force them carry it longer was an offence. The carrier, by offering to carry the pack a second mile, was taking back some control of the situation at the same time as placing the soldier in some jeopardy of punishment for having brokn the law. In essence, Jesus is encouraging dispossessed, oppressed or people struggling with injustice to take a stand against the oppressor and the injustice but to do it non-violently. (The literary critics tell us that the forth example is different in its style and is likely a later add-on, not original to Jesus’ sermon on the mount. While a possibly valuable instruction, it is not a context of responding with spirited power to violence or oppression.)
    So, is there a chance of putting on your website reference to Wink’s material on these verses so as to make sense of them for people in the way that you obviously intend them to be taken, but isn’t apparent upon a superficial reading?
    thanks mate.
    John D

 

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