Cover image for Creating a world that works for all
Title:
Creating a world that works for all
Author:
Abdullah, Sharif M.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
San Francisco : Berrett-Koehler Publishers, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
xiv, 226 pages ; 23 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781576750629
Format :
Book

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Central Library BJ1595 .A23 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

The world is a mess. The privileged few prosper. The masses suffer. And everyone feels spiritually empty. Most people would blame capitalism, racism, or some other ""ism."" But according to Sharif M. Abdullah, the problem is not ideology. It's exclusivity -- our desire to stay separate from other people.

In Creating a World That Works for All, Abdullah takes a look at the mess we live in -- and presents a way out. To restore balance to the earth and build community, he says, people must stop blaming others, embrace inclusivity, and become ""menders."" He outlines three simple tests -- for ""enoughness,"" exchangeability, and common benefit -- to guide people as they transform themselves and the world.


Excerpts

Excerpts

THE VISION 11 [O]ur greatest strength lies not in how much we differ from each other but in how much--how very much--we are the same. --EKNATH EASWARAN4 WHEN YOU WOKE UP this morning, you had a series of goals. Some were as simple as turning off the alarm clock, brushing your teeth, making sure you got to work on time. Other goals may have been more ambitious--writing the résumé that would land the perfect job, buying the right food for an important dinner, sitting in meditation for the sake of enlightenment. Your goals include the ordinary, the sublime, and everything in between. Like people, societies also have goals. Some are as simple as making sure everyone has decent water to drink; others may be as complex as landing an astronaut on Mars. Our goal used to be simple--stop Soviet expansion. The implosion of the Soviet Union also imploded our goal. Now, at the turn of the millennium, we must ask ourselves:What are we trying to achieve as a society? Without defining what we are against, what are we for? Goal setting is important: without a clear vision of an achievable goal, and an understanding of the philosophy and values behind that goal, we run the risk of becoming sidetracked, confused, burned out, or cynical.12 The Essence of Inclusivity Simply put, the Mender goal is an inclusive human society on a habitable planet, a society that works for all humans and for all nonhumans. This means fulfillment both for those who are at the top of the society and for those at the bottom.Work, resources, responsibilities, spiritual gifts, and material goods may not be evenly spread, but everyone has "enough"; anyone could trade places with anyone else without feeling deprived or oppressed. Such a society is essentially benign and healing to both the human and the morethan-human world.5 All beings, all things, are One. Our lives are inextricably linked one to another. Because of this, we cannot wage war against anything or anyone without waging war against ourselves. Therefore, we are obliged to treat all beings the way we want to be treated. There are no "enemies"--all beings are expressions of the Sacred and must be treated as such. Some beings cause pain to others; this does not mean that they are enemies. Some beings are food for others; this is all the more reason to treat them as sacred. Once we understand that we are interconnected, we have the responsibility to create a world that works for all. With this as our goal, the next question is obvious: how do we achieve it? How do we avoid sinking into despair or cynicism? And how do we avoid dabbling in utopian fantasies or engaging in "pie-in-the-sky" religiosity? In fact, we can change this world right now by shifting our consciousness and our values from a foundation of exclusivity to one of inclusivity. This shift in consciousness is the core of the world's major religions. The essence of the moral code they urge upon us is inclusivity. What is hateful to you, do not do to others.13 --RABBI HILLEL Do not hurt others with that which hurts yourself. --BUDDHA Do unto others whatever you would have them do unto you. --JESUS None of you is a believer until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself. --MUHAMMAD Considering the clarity, simplicity, and consistency of these statements, one has to wonder what it is about the message of inclusivity that makes it nearly impossible for people to either comprehend or implement.Why are there Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and many others around the world who are killing their fellow men and women when their traditions call for peace, nonviolence, and inclusivity? We will face these questions as we explore inclusivity in the following chapters. A Turning Point Do you feel the promise in these perilous times? Despite our many challenges, do these times feel hopeful to you in some way? Does it seem to you that something is ready to change? How are we going to capture the promise that lies within our present predicament as we stand on the brink of the twenty-first century? The hard fact is that getting to a world that works for all will take a more rigorous analysis and more sophisticated actions, both internal and external, than our current political, social, and even spiritual leaders are advocating. It will take fundamental change that must originate with you, as an emerging leader of the new millennium. If our current leadership were capable of it, they would have done it by now.14 Such change does not take place at the surface, but deep within. It is already at work. We are all a part of it. The ice breaking on a frozen river is an indication of warming trends and currents that have been at work for a long time. The breakup at the surface is the culmination of a process, not its beginning. The breakup of ice on a river, the emergence of a butterfly from its chrysalis, a Declaration of Independence, each culminates a process that has preceded it by days or decades. Prerequisites of Change One of the mistakes many of us made in the Sixties was thinking we all just had to love each other and the evil system would go away. Despite our good intentions and hard work, we did not understand the processes of societal change. And we were at the mercy of those who did understand. Systemic change does not miraculously bubble up from a change of heart. It is intentional, stemming from a precise and rigorous examination of present conditions and an understanding of the consciousness and spirit from which those conditions have emerged. When Karl Marx analyzed capitalism, he did so with the same consciousness that created capitalism in the first place. Marx, as a Breaker scientist, saw an "I am separate" world, a world of limited resources, a world in dire need of human domination and control. This is what his consciousness was trained to see, and the system of communism was built upon that consciousness. He and Friedrich Engels inspired the creation of a political structure controlled by a small elite, an industrial empire that ecologically devastated the land, sea, and air in its never-ending quest for more resources. The system created by Marx's disciples Lenin and Stalin killed, jailed, tortured, and oppressed millions while being blind to its own contradictions or the aspirations of its people.15 Communism was merely another manifestation of Breaker consciousness.What looked like a different system was only a different way of looking at the same system. Marx analyzed the conditions but not the consciousness. Same wine in a slightly different bottle. What Is Exclusivity? Exclusivity is the notion that "I" am separate from "you" (or any "Other"). This notion is what Einstein called a delusion of consciousness, a delusion that imprisons us. No beings other than humans suffer this delusion. And not all humans see themselves as separated entities. As we shall explore further, indigenous people see themselves as an integral part of their local ecology, making the notion of selling land as absurd to them as selling parts of their bodies. In itself, exclusivity is not bad; the problem is being imprisoned in this myopic way of viewing self and world. A surgeon operates on her patient from an "I am separate" perspective, having the objectivity to cut open and manipulate the patient's body. From the patient's point of view, objectivity is a good thing. Exclusivity is the root of all of our human maladies. It allows us not only to separate from others but also to oppress them. Racism, sexism, homophobia, slavery, all forms of hatred and bigotry, stem from the notion "I am separate from you--by virtue of skin color, ethnicity, behavior, belief..." It is exclusivity that allows a bomber to kill unarmed civilians--whether a suicide bomber on a bus in Sri Lanka or an Air Force bomber dropping an atomic weapon on a city. Of the 110 million deaths from wars in this century, two-thirds of them, 73 million, have been of civilians.6 For the proponents of exclusivity, this has been a very active century. According to the teachings of exclusivity, a society that works for all is impossible. The Breaker story holds that a restructuring of our priorities and our consciousness is impossible. The status quo is called "human nature." Everything we have learned in formal education and in our culture reinforces the notion that the world can work for only a few. History, anthropology, psychology, politics, economics--and our fathers and mothers--strengthen the idea that the world cannot work for all.16 Think back to your first economics course. On the first day, the teacher or professor said something like, "Economics is the allocation of limited resources." You didn't question it, you dutifully wrote it down--it fit your world picture. That laid the groundwork for all the later explanations of why some were millionaires while others were permanently unemployed. Both winners and losers tend to believe that the world is limited and can work only for a few. Those on the bottom seek to make someone else lose rather than questioning the assumptions built into the system. As Menders, we believe that an inclusive society is not only possible but is achievable right now, with the resources presently available to us. We don't have to wait for more resources or better technology. For example, we know that every year, America produces enough grain to feed every hungry person in the world, and has the means to distribute it. We do not need more technological advances to feed starving people; we need a change of heart that leads to changes in our priorities and systems. A world that works for all is not achievable without restructuring our priorities, our attitudes, and our culture. We cannot tinker with this; the change must be fundamental--an evolutionary shift toward spiritual compassion, and corresponding shifts in our actions. In short, a transformation of head, heart, and hand. We must work on ourselves first, and then be prepared to do the work on our culture and institutions. As we will see in Chapter 3, the essence of this work is spiritual, part of our quest for the reality that transcends our ordinary experience. The Three Criteria of a World That Works for All 17 How can we tell when we have reached our goal? How do we know when we've "won"? In the realm of personal goals, the point of achievement is usually clear: you sign your name to a finished canvas, count your winnings from a slot machine. Some of our societal goals are also easy to measure. For example, America's goal was to put a man on the Moon. Ten years later, Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. Goal achieved. However, other societal goals are impossible to measure. If we choose a goal like "absolute equality," we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, despair, burnout, and the illnesses associated with long-term frustration. A more reasonable goal than absolute equality is "full voting and civil rights for all Americans." Conversely, setting goals too narrowly leads us to slip into a "quick win" syndrome and can be a precursor to cynicism, shallowness, and hollow achievements. "Defeat House Bill 2931-6B" does nothing to rouse our spirits to action. Is "a world that works for all" an unmeasurable goal? What would such a world look like? The proverbial "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage"? Universal color television for the world? Everybody with a job? Internet access for all? Clean water and decent food? In fact, none of these achievements would, in itself, indicate that we were living in a world that works for all. For years, I knew intuitively that the world could work for all but did not know the criteria for such a state of affairs. Nor did I have any concrete examples of how such a world would operate, especially in a multicultural setting. I was particularly troubled that neither the implied meritocracy of capitalism nor the professed egalitarian ideals of communism were sufficient, on their own, to create a world that works for all. In order to discover the criteria for inclusivity, it was necessary to move beyond the confines of exclusive thinking. Then, in 1997, on the other side of the planet, I witnessed a practical demonstration of a world that works for all.18 The Sarvodaya Canteen Twice in 1997 I visited the beautiful but war-torn island of Sri Lanka, to work with and learn from Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, founder and president of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement. Sarvodaya began humbly forty years ago, when "Ari," as a young high school teacher, took some of his students to poor villages to donate their labor. Since that time, Sarvodaya has become a large self-help development movement based on Buddhist and Gandhian principles, whose undertakings include orphanages for battered children, rural water and solar energy projects, legal services, women's projects, economic development, Grameen-style micro-lending banks, and more. I learned much from the little man with the warm smile who is widely regarded as "the living Gandhi." It was in the Sarvodaya canteen that I could see a microcosm of a world that worked for all. For Sarvodaya workers and the foreign volunteers that the organization attracts from around the world, the canteen is a meeting place. They gather there for their meals and, twice a day, for supersweet British-style tea. Lunch is the grand confluence, with hundreds of workers, volunteers, and visitors sharing a meal. In the canteen, foreigners are treated differently from the native Sri Lankans. To summarize the differences: Foreigners (visitors and workers) eat from china plates; Sri Lankans eat from wide, shallow bowls made of metal. Foreigners get served at a special table reserved for them; Sri Lankans eat at all the other tables. Foreigners are served "family style" from platters of food. Generally, they have twice as much food available as any human being could possibly eat. (If eating alone, a person is served enough food for two on the platters; a group of six is served enough for twelve.) Sri Lankans get their food by going to the kitchen door, where they are given a plate heaped with rice and all of the same curries that are found on the foreigners' table. If they are still hungry after eating their first serving, they simply go back to the kitchen door for another plate of food. 19 After observing this system carefully, I came to the conclusion that it provided the best way to serve a large group of people representing different cultures, different gastronomic capacities and tastes, and different eating styles and habits. Some Westerners, especially Americans who have been through "diversity training," see things differently. They loudly protest the "privileges" of having "more food," china plates, and table service. A few, totally disregarding Sri Lankan culture and courtesy, will try to get their food in the kitchen line, which confuses everybody. (Because it is a Sri Lankan custom to offer abundant food and hospitality to guests, the Americans who try to be "culturally correct" will still find a china plate and generous servings waiting for them after they have stood in line for a Sri Lankan plate!) I remind the Western guests who want to reject their perceived "privileges" in food distribution that the system works for the Sri Lankans. It works because of three principal factors: Criterion 1: Enoughness. Everyone has enough, even though resources are not shared equally. No one in the Sarvodaya canteen walks out hungry. Any Sri Lankan who wants more can easily get more. But in fact the initial portions are very generous and few people go back for seconds. Ask any Sri Lankan Sarvodaya worker, "Do you have enough food?" The answer is invariably "Oh, yes!" Criterion 2: Exchangeability. Trading places would be okay. If foreigners and Sri Lankans swapped places in the canteen, no one would feel deprived. The Sri Lankans, "forced" to eat from china plates, would be okay about it. The Westerners, "compelled" to line up at the kitchen door for their food, would make no complaint. (Exchangeability does not mean everyone would like or prefer the change. It means people would not feel they were being punished or stigmatized--or unjustly rewarded--by the change.)20 Criterion 3: Common Benefit. The system is designed and intended to benefit all. No one is harmed by the Sarvodaya system; everyone benefits, even though some of the Westerners may not grasp this. The Sri Lankans came up with the system for good, practical reasons, not because they are subservient or need to suck up to Westerners. Putting food on someone's plate that they cannot or will not eat is a waste; putting it on platters lets the Westerners take as much or as little as they want. Offering guests abundant food is a cultural trait. Sri Lankans do this with each other in the villages. Why change the courtesy just because the guest is from another country? If everyone has enough, if trading places would be okay, and if the system has been designed to benefit everyone, we have created something powerful: a world that works for all! Applying the Criteria Apply the three criteria to any of our current domestic or foreign issues and see how you judge them: Does the world work for a welfare mother? Does she have enough? Would you trade places with her? Was the welfare system designed to benefit her? (If you are inclined to answer yes to the last question, think again. No person in need of assistance would ever have designed a system that institutionalized poverty and despair for generations.) Does the world work for all the residents of your city? Would you be willing to trade places with someone on the other side of town? Would it be "safe" for you to do so? Do the residents of your city have enough security? Were your city's institutions designed to benefit every citizen? Does the world work for a teenager who just attempted suicide? Does he have enough--in this case, enough love, understanding, respect or self-esteem? Would you trade places with him? Were local social and psychiatric services designed to benefit all age groups? Does the world work for a tree in an old growth forest, about to be cut down to feed the insatiable appetites of Breakers for more things? Does it have enough... life? Would you trade places and offer yourself for sacrifice to satisfy someone's greed? Was the system designed to benefit this tree, or any tree? Does the world work for the average Iraqi citizen, oppressed on the ground by a ruthless regime and oppressed from above by U.S. warplanes dropping "smart" bombs? Does she have enough security? Is any part of her political life designed to benefit her? Would you trade places with her? Does this world work for our children? Do they have enough future? Would you trade places with them, given the risks, dangers, and uncertainties of the twenty-first century? Was the system through which we squandered their inheritance of resources while saddling them with our debts designed to benefit them? 21 We can apply the three criteria as we consider whether our current institutions or our proposed solutions are actually capable of reaching our goals. A Paradoxical Moment 22 We find ourselves at a confusing crossroads: we know the old Breaker society does not work, but we have not yet created a new Mender society with which to replace it. As a result, paradoxes abound. Almost every major college in the United States now has a department or school of ecology, environmental studies, or earth sciences, yet major timber companies are still legally clearcutting forests at the rate of 16 million hectares per year.7 While the U.S. government spends money to discourage people from smoking and to treat those suffering from tobacco-related diseases, it also devotes millions of public dollars to the artificial support of tobacco prices. At a transitional point such as this, it is all too easy to lose your sense of direction or lose heart. The imperative is to keep your fundamental intention clearly in mind and to doggedly pursue it. Over time, the old will yield to the new. Our Problems Are Blessings The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophes. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive. --ALBERT EINSTEIN8 Our problems are blessings in disguise, because they are leading us to think about solving our problems in very different ways. The complexity of The Mess is the impetus to search for more fundamental solutions.23 Tumbleweed Dream Recently I had a "teaching dream." Most of my dreams are personal, but others are meant to be shared with those who appear in them, and still others are clearly intended as teaching tools. This is one of the teaching dreams. THE DREAM In this dream, I am both Observer and Participant. I am on a road, blindfolded. As the Observer, I can see myself from above, standing on the road. As the Participant, I feel myself blindfolded and helpless. I am in a place like Kansas, with broad horizons and wide open spaces. Behind me there's a huge tumbleweed, rolling down the road. The scraping sound of this tumbleweed coming my way scares me, so I start running, still blindfolded. As I run faster, the tumbleweed picks up speed. I (the Participant) don't know what it is, or whether it can hurt me. I run off a high cliff, the tumbleweed still in pursuit. I am in the air, falling. I am still trying to avoid the tumbleweed; I am afraid of being smashed on the ground. I am still blindfolded, so I don't know how far away the ground is. As I am falling, I hear voices calling out to me: "Take off your blindfold and fly along with us!" I am afraid to take off the blindfold. I don't trust the voices. I don't believe people can fly. I know I am going to die; the blindfold protects me from the certainty of the moment of my death. Even though I know I will die, I still want to pretend that my death will be a surprise. Although I am afraid, I remove the blindfold. I see people, thousands upon thousands of people, dressed in strange clothes, slowly flying around me. I am the only one falling. They say to me: "Follow our ways and you too will fly!" Their ways are foreign to me, but I do not see the alternative. As I follow them, the road, the blindfold, the tumbleweed are left behind, forgotten. The fear of crashing is a vague memory. I am flying. This dream is worth pondering. What would have happened if I had taken off the blindfold on the road? Before the cliff? I would have avoided the tumbleweed and the cliff edge, but never learned that I could fly. Paradoxically, if I had resolved my problems too soon, I would never have experienced transformation. My problems really were a blessing.24 I see the Tumbleweed Dream as a powerful metaphor for the state of our society. We are blessed with our problems--blessed with poverty, with social decay, with The Mess. These conditions impel us to new, inclusive ways to connect ourselves with others. We are, in our "blind" state, being impelled to change, to grow. What was the tumbleweed in the dream? The tumbleweed represented fear. This powerful image of impending doom was necessary to get me to jump off the cliff. Our fear leads us to take actions of which we have previously believed ourselves incapable. The blindfold represented ignorance. Who put that blindfold on me? Perhaps it was self-imposed; or perhaps someone did it for my own good. Perhaps the blindfold is a form of divine intervention, a process (like childbirth) outside of my conscious control that is for the good of life.Whatever it was, it got me to fly. Baby Bird in the Nest Our interlocking personal, environmental, and social crises are like a mother bird pushing her young out of the nest when it is ready to fly. Is this forcible ejection from the nest an act of cruelty or an act of love? It depends on which bird you talk to. From the point of view of the chick clinging to the side of the nest, or on her way down to the ground, being pushed is cruel. The baby bird detests this disruption of her cozy life. However, we know that the mother bird is acting out of the depths of her love for the chick. She knows the capacity of her offspring, knows when it is time for the chick to fully mature. She cannot talk the chick into flying:" Cindy, those things hanging at your sides are wings, like mine. Just flap them and you'll fly like me!" Yeah, sure.25 The mother bird built her nest far enough from the ground that the baby would have plenty of time to figure out flying before impact. Building the nest up high, along with pushing the chick out, are acts of love. The baby bird has to be high enough to do three things: Recognize that she is facing imminent death. Quickly learn some basic principles of aerodynamics. Apply the principles before she hits the ground. Our problems, like those of the falling chick, are so overwhelming that we are forced to find a new way of acting, to spread wings that we did not know we had. We've got a little way to go before impact--just enough time to figure out what we must do to avert a terminal splat. Remembering that our problems provide the impetus for fundamental change allows us to remain optimistic about our future, despite The Mess. Things can and will get better, for us all. Excerpted from Creating a World That Works for All by Sharif M. Abdullah All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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