November 27, 2015

Same Boat

I have spent almost two decades in outspoken support of immigrants and refugees -advocating for immigration reform, for compassionate and generous responses to those that fling themselves on the water in search of a better life. Migration makes us strong and more connected and I believe the future belongs to the most connected countries and people. National boundaries are strange squiggly lines falsely advertising divisions where none exist. We are living in the most migratory period in human history. Currently there are an estimated 60 million people not in their own homes because of climate change and civil disruption. These disruptions will continue. We are in desperate need of a complete revival of the international settlement house movement of the late 1800’s — the movement that gave birth to Neighborhood Centers, where I work. The world is being reorganized rapidly and we have a front row seat in my hometown, Houston, Texas. Despite what our governor says, Texans are welcoming immigrants and helping Syrian refugees. You can’t outlaw compassion and “welcome to stranger” seems to be a universal aspiration.

Our real divisions are not national boundaries. Our real divides have to do with beliefs about sufficiency and safety.

Many of us believe there is enough to go around — and therefore we see a distribution problem, not yet solved, but with the potential for answers. We stand in opposition to those who believe that we do not live in an abundant world. People who believe that we must be prepared to fight for survival. For those people the problem is one of power and control over resources. They want to prevail in the short term (of their own lifetimes). For them it’s not a question of “is the glass half full or half empty?” It’s a question of “How do I secure the glass for myself and those I care about, and justify doing so?”

Our search for safety reveals another divide: how we see the journey of life. I grew up understanding that there was no safety here on earth. This is not heaven, whatever heaven might be. This is a perilous journey. We are all already dying and we will be dead for a very long time. We are vulnerable creatures and what meaning is found here, we must largely make. We drive ourselves mad and commit horrible crimes trying to guarantee safety, trying to create predictability, trying to control the uncontrollable. Until we are all willing to believe that we are all in this together — all in the same boat — we will continue to try to purchase our comfort, safety and security at too high a price and in the wrong way. We will continue to give death a face and a name — the way children name the monster in the closet — and continue to fight the embodiment of our own mortality and vulnerability.

There are only two things we can do for one another really. We can share knowledge and teach one another so that we may all be able to realize our potential, to make our meaning in some way. And we can work to eliminate unnecessary suffering. All help falls into one of those two categories. I’ve been surprised by the number of people speaking out and saying — “even if it does make us more likely to be hurt, even if we risk what is most precious in our lives, we don’t want to give up our humanity, our responsiveness, our generosity.” I believe that this is what it means to be a warrior for the human spirit.

Now, that’s a battle worth fighting.

Angela Blanchard

❤ Much appreciation to Whitney Johnson for encouraging me and asking the question that prompted the post. And to lizadonnelly for so perfectly capturing (as she often does) the human predicament and for permission to post her drawing. Margaret Wheatley — warrior for the human spirit who asks the bravest questions of herself and everyone else.

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