Sunday, December 18, 2016

My Christmas Wish for 2016

Christmas is a week from today. It's supposed to be a time of peace on earth, good will toward all. This year seems in many ways more like poor old Ebenezer before he met the ghosts. "Are there no prisons?...And the union workhouses - are they still in operation?"

I wish I could remember which of my long ago college courses raised the issue of trust. It did so in a way that has stayed with me over many years. Each time we enter a high-rise building and enter an elevator, we place astounding amounts of trust in the skill and education and training and knowledge and capability of those who designed and constructed the building and the elevator shafts; and in those who built and installed the elevators; and in the inspectors who checked the original building's designs met code and the construction met the design blue prints. If we didn't trust all those people, why would we ever trust our lives to going up 10 or 20 or 30 or more stories in a conveyance? Apparently, this year, we've decided politics, diplomacy, the economy, our children, are less important than our buildings. We have now "trusted" them to those with little or no training and experience in the governance of a democracy.

not all Christmas wishes fit under the tree
not all Christmas wishes fit under the tree
Photo by J. Harrington

I once worked for a government organization that, for a time, had a developer as its chairperson. That developer had a personality much like the one I see exhibited by the president-elect. If yelling didn't accomplish what he wanted, his solution was to yell louder at more people. One of his basic problems was that he didn't know what he wanted, only what he didn't want. That meant he kept changing his mind, his course, his priorities and his expressed wishes. Those who worked for him started to spend more time and effort documenting communications than executing them. This became a bit of a death spiral. It doesn't require a lot of imagination to foresee a similar pattern emerging in Washington, D.C. in the very near future. As a Christmas present, I'd like to see some national organizations, that we think we can trust (that currently leaves out all political parties) form a coalition or an umbrella organization that, in addition to functioning as "loyal opposition," will also be ready to pick up the pieces and restore functionality to governance at least at the federal level.

The water debacle in Flint, Michigan represents a failure at all levels of government, federal, state and local. The Dakota Access Pile Line, from what I've read, failed responsible, trustworthy environmental review processes in several major ways. Volkswagen (and others?) lied to governments and consumers about their diesel engine performances. I could put together a list of both government and corporate failures to be trustworthy that would be dismayingly long, including growing levels of gridlock for purely political reasons.

sometimes we must depend on the better angels of our nature
sometimes we must depend on the better angels of our nature
Photo by J. Harrington

Fortunately, and unsurprisingly, an example of the kind of effort I believe we need is emerging from none other than poetry organizations across the US. Respect for words will be essential for our future. There is no "post-truth" society worth a damn. The Poetry Coalition members "believe that poetry has a positive role to play in our country. It is through reading, writing, and discussing poems that we learn about one another on our most human level, inspiring empathy, compassion, and greater understanding of one another." We could also a similar effort from folks like the NRDC, EDF, Sierra Club, and other environmental and sustainable development organizations, who believe that environmental protection and sustainable development create jobs more than cost them. We seem to have again come to a time, similar to that at the founding of this country, when Ben Franklin noted "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." If we who believe in science, truth and justice do learn to hang together, there may be peace on earth to those of good will this Christmas. That's my Christmas wish for this year. After all, we are the ones we have been waiting for.

Trust


By Thomas R. Smith


It’s like so many other things in life   
to which you must say no or yes.                                    
So you take your car to the new mechanic.   
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.   

The package left with the disreputable-looking   
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,   
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—   
all show up at their intended destinations.   

The theft that could have happened doesn’t.   
Wind finally gets where it was going   
through the snowy trees, and the river, even               
when frozen, arrives at the right place.                        

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life   
is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.


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