Creating a World That Works for All

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"We are in deep trouble," writes Sharif Abdullah. "We live a world that works for only a few." The problem, Abdullah asserts, is exlusivity: "I am separate." By practicing exclusivity, he maintains, we have created a soul-starved society. We suffer, both personally and as a society, from complex, interlocking so intense that they create a deep sense of emptiness in all of us. But there is hope. Abdullah shows how we can change our world by changing our consciousness. We can actually put an end these complex problems if we reject exclusivity in favor of inclusivity. We must turn from a mentality that disconnects us and instead embrace the goals of restoring balance to the earth and building community with all other people. In Creating a World That Works for All, Abdullah provides a practical blueprint for that change. Abdullah makes it clear that there are no bad guys to blame: we are all equally responsible for the current state of our world. We each have created it, and we each have equal power to change it. Abdullah offers three criteria for creating a world that works for all: 1. The Criteria of Enoughness: Everyone has enough, even though not everyone shares resources equally 2. The Criteria of Exchangeability: Trading places would be okay 3. The Criteria of Common Benefit: The system is designed and intended to benefit all In order to meet these criteria, Abdullah shows us how to let go of old theories and ideas, so we can clearly see our current problems and possible solutions. And he shows us how to create new stories that explain and define the new behaviors that make cultural changes possible.

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1 THE VISION

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[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 EASWARAN 4

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

 

2 THE NIGHTMARE—A WORLD ON THE BRINK

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I can remember staring at the golden goblet, the one with the huge jewels encrusting its fluted base. Holding it in my hand as first acolyte during Sunday services at St. John’s Episcopal Church, I was surprised at how heavy it was. From matching gold pitchers I would pour the wine and water for the Sacrament.

I can remember my first reaction to handling the hardware of Communion. I felt neither awe nor envy—just a cool calculation of exactly how many poor people could be housed and fed with the money that the church had invested in a glorified wineglass.

Every day, I got to wake up to the bedroom I shared with my older brother, the room with the partially collapsed wall, the one that took in water when it rained. We put up plastic sheets to keep the moisture and the smells from aggravating my already severe asthma.

Four of us lived in a two-bedroom row house a few blocks from the church. My younger sister slept with our mother. (Although this may sound crowded to you, we had just moved from a studio apartment, all of us sharing one room.) Once a week, for less than an hour, I got to be near a cup that would have paid for a fully rehabilitated house for us—and about twenty of our neighbors.28

 

3 Inclusivity—Spirit and Practice

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MY WORK IS my spiritual path, a spiritual calling dressed in the language of the practical. I don’t wear special robes, speak in foreign tongues, or have a solemn expression. Lord knows I’m not celibate.

Like any path, at times its course is clear for miles ahead, and at other times it takes a sharp curve around a bend and I have to work hard not to wind up in a ditch. There are times when my work elevates me to heights of ecstasy. Generally, these are not the times when the fax machine gets stuck, the phone rings incessantly, and yet another report is due.Whether elevation or excavation, it’s still my path.

My work is my spiritual practice, and Commonway Institute is my principal vehicle for that practice. The institute’s focus is inclusivity—teaching the theory, philosophy, and practice of the inextricable linkage between our individual lives and The Other.

The links already exist; we just help people become conscious of them. We conduct classes and projects that bring people together across the boundaries that seem to separate them. We humans have much more that unites us than separates us; Commonway helps people see that. We encourage people to see what they have in common and to build on that common ground. We work with blue-collar workers and university professors, farmers and farmworkers, management and labor, and many more who see themselves as being in conflict. We believe that this practice of inclusivity is the essence of virtually every spiritual tradition.64

 

Breaking Down, Breaking Through—or Both?

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AS DISCUSSED IN Chapter 1, conditions can force us to change and can become the impetus for growth. But how can we tell the difference between negative conditions that are precursors of a positive new reality and those that are precursors of a major catastrophe?

While having lunch with Michael Dowd, the author of Earthspirit, I said something about “the problem.” He stopped me immediately. “Sharif, what if there is no problem? What if everything is just in process? A child who can’t tie her shoes or another child who can’t ride his bike doesn’t have a problem—they just haven’t grown up yet. Maybe our species just hasn’t grown up yet.”

There was much deep truth in what Michael said. My response came after a few moments of reflection.

“We are in agreement that the issue for a three-year-old trying to ride a two-wheeler is evolutionary. He will eventually develop both balance and strength to ride the bike.

“A sixteen-year-old on crack cocaine, a thirty-year-old exposed to nuclear radiation, or a society consuming resources faster than they can ever be replaced has different issues. They are not on a path of evolution but on a path of destruction. There is a difference.86

 

4 STOP BLAMING OTHERS—YOU ARE THE PROBLEM!

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TOGETHER, WE ARE writing the script for a new society. To develop this new story, we must be ready to receive new ideas, new insights, new information. The only way we can be open to the new is to empty ourselves of the old, the outmoded, the inappropriate. Zen teachers remind us that just as an already full teacup cannot hold any more tea, a person already full of concepts cannot hold wisdom.

The problem is that some of our limiting thoughts have been with us for so long, they have become our “sacred cows,” and as cows do in India, they block the traffic—of ideas. But unlike India’s cattle, these thought-cows have no life independent of our consciousness. Slaughtering them will only make the world better for all.

We must root out the fallacies and illusions that create, support, and sustain Breaker society. Before European explorers could cross the ocean, they had to see through the fallacy that the earth was flat and that they would fall off the edge, to be devoured by monsters. We are subject to similar illusions, ones that block our manifestation of a better world. Like the explorers, we have to get over our fear of falling off the edge.

 

5 THE STORY — HOW THINGS GOT TO BE THIS WAY

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It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we are in-between stories. The Old Story—the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it—sustained us for a long time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purpose, energized action, consecrated suffering, integrated knowledge, and guided education. We awoke in the morning and knew where we were. We could answer the questions of our children. But now it is no longer functioning properly, and we have not yet learned the New Story.

—THOMAS BERRY 23

CHANGING OUR STORY is the fastest and most effective way to change our world.With a changed story, we can move rapidly to change our toxic relationships with the Earth and each other. Once the story changes, the old paradigm becomes unthinkable.

In order to understand how things got to be the way they are in the human world, let’s look at how things got to be the way they were on Rabbit Island.

On Christmas Day, 1776, British explorer Captain Cook arrived on Kerguelen Island, a Connecticut-sized land mass covered with grass in the Indian Ocean.24 One of the things Cook did while he was there was release a few rabbits. He thought the rabbits would provide fresh meat for any sailors who followed.110

 

6 HOW THE BREAKER STORY MAINTAINS ITSELF

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IF IT IS SO EASY to write a new story, why hasn’t someone done this before? Why has the Breaker story been in the driver’s seat for over one hundred centuries? What keeps this consciousness in place?

A story represents a group’s long-term survival strategy. If a particular story helps the next generation to make it in the world, the story is repeated, refined, and enhanced.

Because we have survived as humans for over one million years and can trace our lineage back to the dawn of life on this planet, the preservation of our survival strategies, including our story, is embedded within our system.

The strong survival story of one species may, unfortunately, be a mixed blessing to others when the favored species is introduced into a new ecological system. The following are just a few examples:

In the Pacific Northwest, the logger story, “Cut down as many trees as you can,” may have been appropriate when it took twenty men and teams of mules more than a week to cut down and transport one tree.With a technology that allows one person to cut and move twenty trees in an hour, the logger story has led to the decimation of the old-growth-forest ecosystems.

 

7 THE INTERNAL REVOLUTION—FEEDING YOUR INTERNAL HUNGER

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HOW DO WE GET to the bottom of our delusions of separation? How do we tame the Breaker story within? How do we develop the courage to face The Other—within ourselves? How can we learn to be compassionate with ourselves, and then extend that compassion to others?

For Menders, there is a dual purpose in our activism: to transform ourselves and to transform our world. Either one, by itself, is not enough.

I can work on myself by attending a continual round of selfhelp workshops and seminars. This is egocentric, self-indulgent, and an example of “New Age” Breaker thinking. Or I can work on myself by working to help others. Putting the needs of others (including the Earth) first is the way I can heal the worst effects of Breaker culture, both within myself and in the world at large. However, working for others, without clarifying the limitations and boundaries of my heart, can also be egocentric and selfindulgent.

The people of a mythical Olde Towne find it necessary to cut a path to a New Town. Some residents are sharpening their long swords. Each edge is already finely sharpened, but still they hone them. Each day, they are at their wheels, grinding away at their blades, refining their swords ever further. After they get their blades to a microscopic sharpness, they sharpen even further. To the suggestion that they actually use their swords to cut a path to the New Town, they reply: “We’re not ready. Our swords are not sharp enough yet!”

 

8 THE EXTERNAL REVOLUTION—PRACTICING INCLUSIVITY WITH OTHERS

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It’s not by anything we think, not by something we figure out in our heads. We’re transformed by what we do.

—CHARLOTTE JOKO BECK 47

MENDERS ARE ALREADY active in the world, creating the consciousness, cultures, and institutions of a new society. The actions of Menders are not generally visible to mainstream media. We are “flying below the radar” of Breaker culture. In a society obsessed with overconsumption and the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Menders are plain boring. The goal of Menders is not to appear on a talk show or to have a thirty-second sound bite on a television news program. Their goal is to transform themselves and to contribute to the transformation of their society.

The Mender society will be built on the ordinary actions of ordinary people. It will consist of people eating, sleeping, working, washing clothes, finding each other, celebrating victories, and grieving together. The Mender society will parallel the world of the Breakers.186

Not all of us are going to walk on the Moon or expand our consciousness or become one with the Divine or find true community (or even true love). And even if we do, we will still find that we have to “chop wood, carry water.” Not all of us are going to commune with extraterrestrials or climb Mount Everest, but we will all, in the words of Buddhist scholar Charlotte Joko Beck, “make love, drive freeway.”48 In our focus on the peak, sublime experiences, we tend to ignore or take for granted the mundane experiences that make up most of our lives.

 

Flying Below the Radar

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It’s not by anything we think, not by something we figure out in our heads. We’re transformed by what we do.

—CHARLOTTE JOKO BECK 47

MENDERS ARE ALREADY active in the world, creating the consciousness, cultures, and institutions of a new society. The actions of Menders are not generally visible to mainstream media. We are “flying below the radar” of Breaker culture. In a society obsessed with overconsumption and the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Menders are plain boring. The goal of Menders is not to appear on a talk show or to have a thirty-second sound bite on a television news program. Their goal is to transform themselves and to contribute to the transformation of their society.

The Mender society will be built on the ordinary actions of ordinary people. It will consist of people eating, sleeping, working, washing clothes, finding each other, celebrating victories, and grieving together. The Mender society will parallel the world of the Breakers.186

Not all of us are going to walk on the Moon or expand our consciousness or become one with the Divine or find true community (or even true love). And even if we do, we will still find that we have to “chop wood, carry water.” Not all of us are going to commune with extraterrestrials or climb Mount Everest, but we will all, in the words of Buddhist scholar Charlotte Joko Beck, “make love, drive freeway.”48 In our focus on the peak, sublime experiences, we tend to ignore or take for granted the mundane experiences that make up most of our lives.

 

What People Are Doing to Catalyze an Inclusive Society

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It’s not by anything we think, not by something we figure out in our heads. We’re transformed by what we do.

—CHARLOTTE JOKO BECK 47

MENDERS ARE ALREADY active in the world, creating the consciousness, cultures, and institutions of a new society. The actions of Menders are not generally visible to mainstream media. We are “flying below the radar” of Breaker culture. In a society obsessed with overconsumption and the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Menders are plain boring. The goal of Menders is not to appear on a talk show or to have a thirty-second sound bite on a television news program. Their goal is to transform themselves and to contribute to the transformation of their society.

The Mender society will be built on the ordinary actions of ordinary people. It will consist of people eating, sleeping, working, washing clothes, finding each other, celebrating victories, and grieving together. The Mender society will parallel the world of the Breakers.186

Not all of us are going to walk on the Moon or expand our consciousness or become one with the Divine or find true community (or even true love). And even if we do, we will still find that we have to “chop wood, carry water.” Not all of us are going to commune with extraterrestrials or climb Mount Everest, but we will all, in the words of Buddhist scholar Charlotte Joko Beck, “make love, drive freeway.”48 In our focus on the peak, sublime experiences, we tend to ignore or take for granted the mundane experiences that make up most of our lives.

 

The Longer Struggle: Creating a Soul-Filled Society

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It’s not by anything we think, not by something we figure out in our heads. We’re transformed by what we do.

—CHARLOTTE JOKO BECK 47

MENDERS ARE ALREADY active in the world, creating the consciousness, cultures, and institutions of a new society. The actions of Menders are not generally visible to mainstream media. We are “flying below the radar” of Breaker culture. In a society obsessed with overconsumption and the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Menders are plain boring. The goal of Menders is not to appear on a talk show or to have a thirty-second sound bite on a television news program. Their goal is to transform themselves and to contribute to the transformation of their society.

The Mender society will be built on the ordinary actions of ordinary people. It will consist of people eating, sleeping, working, washing clothes, finding each other, celebrating victories, and grieving together. The Mender society will parallel the world of the Breakers.186

Not all of us are going to walk on the Moon or expand our consciousness or become one with the Divine or find true community (or even true love). And even if we do, we will still find that we have to “chop wood, carry water.” Not all of us are going to commune with extraterrestrials or climb Mount Everest, but we will all, in the words of Buddhist scholar Charlotte Joko Beck, “make love, drive freeway.”48 In our focus on the peak, sublime experiences, we tend to ignore or take for granted the mundane experiences that make up most of our lives.

 

CONCLUSION MAKING THE COMMITMENT

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YOU HAVE COME to the end of this book. You have read about our societal problems, collectively dubbed The Mess.You have read about what holds us back from effective action for a new society.You have read about the spirit, consciousness, values, and actions it will take to make a world that works for all.You have read about what that world could look like.

Now, what are you going to do?

If you are like me, you get stirred up by something that you have read or heard, decide you want to take action, then get bogged down by the immensity and logistics of the task.You may fall prey to procrastination: “Maybe I can get started next week.” Or you may find that your Breaker lifestyle simply does not support your desire for change.

You are not alone. But somehow you must rally your will to overcome these apparent obstacles. Now is the time to make a commitment. Now is the time to make your life matter. Now is the time to take the Mender Pledge.

Remember, years ago, standing beside your school desk, hand over your heart, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in unison with your fellow students?204

 

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