From Moments to Movements

Silence becomes cowardice
when occasion demands
speaking out the whole truth
and acting accordingly. 

Mahatma Gandhi

Whoever’s in charge of our spiritual airwaves must be pulling their hair out. The exponential growth in traffic for our thoughts and prayers, moments of silence has long ago exceeded the allotted bandwidth. Moments crashing into prayers and thoughts being obliterated by silence. It’s hard to keep up with the crisis of the moment. Our hearts have whiplash, scar tissue and calluses. And we don’t know what to think or how to feel.

I’m finding these “moments of silence” so meaningless. I believe in silence. I believe in the power of stillness and the ability to reflect on one’s thoughts, one’s behaviors and one’s potential actions. For self-improvement and for contributions to the greater good. Now sporting events, conventions, and meetings have seemingly random and obligatory “moments of silence” for whomever the organizer of the event outlines for you to think about. Recently over the loudspeaker, someone said, “We will have a moment of silence for those that have been killed in the shootings in Texas, in Southern California and in Buffalo, New York.” There have been a lot of shootings in those three large geographic areas. Sure, I knew about whom he was talking. I understood the intent. Was I to be thinking about the perpetrators who were killed also? I assumed so. And all of the casualties including the extended families and friends directly impacted? Wow that was a lot of nameless faceless humans to be thinking about for 30 seconds!

We are so selective, so inconsistent in the way we ask for moments of silence. I’m offended by that. For whom do we devote some of our fleeting silence for? We follow instructions. We bow our heads and perhaps close our eyes. No instructions for the moments of silence are given, so they are DIY moments of silence. Some people, hopefully many people, truly think about the victims as they’re connected to them as fellow human beings. Most of us are thinking about when this moment will end. We just twiddle our mental thumbs and wait until the chore of silence concludes.

Moments of silence can be undistinguishable deja vus that build our muscles of apathy. It’s hard to care. It’s hard to do anything. We just barely have time to take care of ourselves, and get back on the conveyor belt of happiness, the treadmill of materialism and whatever else distracts us from why we are here. 

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. Desmond Tutu

I am all for someone providing their “thoughts and prayers” to others. I imagine real focused thoughts while praying to be a positive healing self-reflective process to reduce harm and suffering by sending love and care to others. But they alone will never be sufficient to change things.

If conversion to Christianity makes no improvement in a man’s outward actions — if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before — then I think we must suspect that his ‘conversion’ was largely imaginary; Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in ‘religion’ mean nothing unless they change our actual behaviour. CS Lewis

Yeah I am pretty cynical. I am cynical about the system that perpetuates caring without action.
I wish the organizers of events who call for a moment of silence would say “Please think about what you can specifically do and who you can work with to relieve the suffering of these people and others in the world.” At least with a little prodding, maybe a few might seriously consider some behavior changes, some ways to engage themselves in the pursuit of reducing suffering.

Yes, I know most people do something or think they do something good. But volunteerism, philanthropic giving, and every measure of “charitable” engagement is down. The reality is real change for the issues that we’re discussing, (not going to name them because there’s just too many), require much longer attention spans and resources. Addressing the root causes of these issues is a marathon.  No one is asking you to become a marathoner. But whatever you can do should be aligned with a strategy, a plan, an existing organization or movement. A momentary transaction will not lead to transformation or change. Cleaning up a beach, painting a wall at a school or giving $100 is all about you. And posting something on social media is only about you.

I just wish the moments of silence could be used as an active attempt to pierce the armor of apathy to awaken our sedated souls with some energy to engage. Moments of silence that move people to the amazing array of ongoing movements of change.

Caring without action is apathy. Expecting more from others than oneself is hypocrisy.

We are bombarded by news that breaks our hearts and rocks our souls. We all have to decide what matters and what doesn’t. That’s our response-ability. Not to react with emotion but to respond with great clarity –to change what we do and how we do it, to engage people in conversation about such changes, to learn and to ask questions. To appreciate the point of view that may be different than our own. It is to embark on a journey of understanding that may the hardest of all. Yes, we must grieve the victims and we must hold the perpetrators accountable. But we need to embark on an exploration of change, the existing movements of change that resonate with us. 
Otherwise, we end up doing what the news does. Short attention span theatre and we drift on. 

We get overwhelmed if we try to address everything– for everything is impossible. It’s always been this idea of prioritization and time management. Our compassion is being crushed. Our attention anesthetized. Our ability to care is comatose. That is why we must find the time, to pause, to reflect with long moments of silence. We need stillness and solitude to read and reconcile our feelings. To quiet our reactions and to know where our heart is. Call it moments of silence, meditation, praying, or thinking. No one cares. But it is a listening process. 

Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live — but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life. Parker Palmer. 

When you only pay attention to the runaway train of tragedy, the cacophony of crises and the howl of the horrific, you will miss all the good going on. There is a whole parallel world of changemakers waiting for you. Extraordinary movements where progress is being made. Where you will find hope, a sense of belonging in communities with the people or organizations that have been doing the marathon of work in every issue and cause. To be shoulder to shoulder with other people who are passionate about what you’re passionate about, is one of the most fulfilling, empowering and purposeful forms of life. 

Take a moment of silence or two. Listen to your heart. See what moves you. And translate your moments to movements.

Thanks for reading. John

I just came across this video of the Buddha of Oakland. One random act of kindness of hope, can be like “tossing the stone in the pond, it just ripples out.”

What stone will you toss out today? 

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