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Getting across the mountains

By Catherine Meeks, Ph.D. The Macon Telegraph We have some frightening mountains before us, economic shortfalls, educational woes, environmental challenges, race, class and gender polarization, war, health and too many people filled with rage. he path ahead is not clear and even our effort to find the path has become an additional challenge. Recently I read the following story in Joan Borysenko’s ‘Minding the Mind, Mending the Body,’ which sheds some light on the challenges before us to seek new paths as we trek around on the mountains. ’The story is told that a young aikido student was riding on a subway in Japan when a drunken, foul-mouthed laborer got on the train and promptly cuffed a young woman, sending her sprawling with her baby. Looking around for a fight, he saw only an old man, an elderly couple and the young student. The drunk squared off to fight, but the student knew that he was no match for him. ’Suddenly the little old man tugged at the laborer’s clothes, saying he noticed the laborer’s enjoyment of drink. The laborer swore at the old man, who persisted, remarking how he and his wife sipped a bottle of saki each night in their garden as they watched the slow recovery of a little peach tree injured in a storm. The drunk was so astonished that the old man dared to talk to him that he began to listen. When the old man asked the drunk if he had a wife to share saki with, the drunk began to cry, explaining that his own wife had died in childbirth the year before. ’In his grief he had lost his job and taken to drink. Soon the drunk was resting his head on the frail shoulder of the old man. The old man stroked the drunk’s hair and listened with great compassion to his sorrows.’ We have just witnessed a nasty and mostly unproductive debate about health insurance reform that far exceeded the scope of the issues in its often rage filled discourse that ended with some folks actually yelling racial and other derogatory epithets and spitting on one Congress person. This behavior is unacceptable regardless of who is acting in this way. The issue is not about disagreement or agreement, it is about our nation and its future. Where are they headed, these folks who believe the only way to get where they want to go is by denigrating others? Don’t they understand that rage left unmanaged does not bring positive results? Of course it is clear this rage is not new, but some of the challenges we are facing now make it harder to keep it below the surface. I think that passion and rage are related to one another, and it is quite acceptable to have great passion about ideas and issues and to allow that passion to move us to activism. Of course the passionate person has learned to do something constructive with the energy that is generated by rage. But it is going to take more than passion to get us across the mountains that we have before us. The old man in Borysenko’s story has much to teach us about compassion. The willingness to take a chance on the ‘loud mouth drunk’ being human and having a story that might help make sense of his behavior is a powerful tool. At the moment in our community and in our country the challenge is to find a path to compassionate listening. This is complicated by the enormous amount of noise being made by the voices filled with rage who have no apparent concern for the good of the whole. But those voices are also a part of the challenge. They beg for compassion and hopefully, many will hear them and find the courage to make a response that leads us to becoming a stronger community.

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