the enemy (part 2) – down to size

Journeying Together
tiny half dead plant with a tomato on the vine

Even tiny and pathetic plants can bear fruit.

In my last post, I suggested that the enemy that we should focus on (and which can unite most of us in opposition) is the “global system of dehumanization based on exploitation, fear and violence that co-opts the participation of masses of good people.” You might have noticed that this enemy sounds huge and that this is potentially discouraging.

However, if I might be permitted to twist a brilliant quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Bigness cannot drive out bigness, only small, local persistence can do that.” That requires the ability to face the enemy at a scale that we can cope with.

Before I want to start bringing the enemy down to size, I want to add a caveat, which is that growing larger is obviously not always a bad thing. Growth is appropriate within limits; getting specific about those limits would, I imagine, be an incredibly complex formula, but to simplify I would suggest that growth should be restrained by the ability to respect and pay attention to (one might say “love”) the individual and smaller systems that make up the growing system – guarding their integrity and relative autonomy (sorry if that didn’t turn out all that simple). This kind of growth may well be an important part in fighting the bigness of the enemy, but we should certainly not be tempted to believe that we must create a massive new monster in order to fight the present monster which human greed and hubris have already created (hmm – I wonder why some superhero movies suddenly popped into my head).

In order to begin fighting the enemy at the right level, we might remember the classic words of Soviet dissident and author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who wrote:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The enemy that I am describing is present “in our hearts” in at least two ways: 1) the natural (but not only) tendency to choose self-protection rather than trust and empathy in the face of our fears and insecurities and 2) the societally implanted tendency for us to become our own oppressors.

The first of these two ways should be familiar in one set of language or another since much of the focus of the world’s spiritual practices are aimed at helping to free us from that tendency.

The second is more complicated, and awareness has been popping up more and more in recent decades. This is the kind of insight that Michel Foucault (troubled soul though he was) tried to enlighten us about, and it is a central insight of the recent field of narrative therapy (about which I am more familiar than Foucault).

Narrative therapy is based on the idea that we often find ourselves in “problem-saturated stories” that we have adopted and “believed in,” without realizing that these stories are only one version of truth (or, big fat lies as the case may be). Asking questions about our assumed stories can reveal that we have often accepted oppressive narratives that make us perpetuate our own dehumanization as well our unthinking participation in the dehumanization of others.

In other words, we have been spies for the enemy, sabotaging ourselves and our concern for others.

So the first level of fighting the enemy is seeking our own freedom, shutting down our inner “auto-pilot” that has made us tools of the global system of dehumanization.

We begin fighting the enemy inside by seeking the power and practices that are available to increasingly choose trust and love instead of self-protection and to begin re-narrating our stories, insisting on being the protagonist in stories in which our own human beauty and value, as well as that of all humanity, is highly respected. Sounds a little like “loving our neighbours as ourselves.” Simple right?

In part three, I promise to make this sound more practical.

tiny half dead plant with a tomato on the vine
Even tiny and pathetic plants can bear fruit.

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