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WHAT is ours to do?

Only time will tell what the results of our November election mean to us. But one thing I’m sure it means: Helen Price Johnson, a local politician that I admire and respect, will be serving her third four-year term as one of our three Island County Commissioners. Right after the election, in the midst of hearing sometimes-despairing discussions among fellow-islanders, I reached out to Helen, asking her to join me and a dozen others for tea and conversation. She agreed, and we asked her to consider one question: At the local level, in this current political culture, what is ours to do; how can we make a difference?

Though we talked for over ninety minutes, the conversation boiled down to two words: CIVICS and CIVILITY.

Remember what you learned in sixth grade, about how our government works? Neither do I. In my living room at that afternoon tea there were more college degrees than there were people, but we were grossly uneducated about civics, especially as it plays out at the local level, and most especially in a rural county like ours. Helen offered a quick tutorial, but we realized we need to learn a lot more about how it all works if “what is ours to do” is going to get done.

As for the “civility” part, I’ve personally seen, and marveled, that Helen practices what she preaches: “Disrespectful behavior in the public forum is not okay. Demeaning others is not okay.” These days, social media, even emails, allow senders to hide and impersonalize anger. “The ugliness is coming from a very small number,” Helen says, but it can be made to seem huge in social media. We have to utilize our own social connections well, “by uplifting, not demeaning.”

 

HOW shall we do what is ours to do?

The night of the elections, I had dinner with a dear friend. He told me that “the Pope has officially approved of your book.” This friend is sometimes a jokester, so I waited for the punchline. Instead, he handed me a small clipping from the Wall Street Journal, with the headline, “The Pope Proposes New Set of Beatitudes.” Of the six new Beatitudes the Pope has suggested, the one my friend had circled was: “Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness.” That, my friend said with a twinkle in his eye, was the Pope’s “blurb” for my book, Meeting in the Margins!

But I bring up that news item in this blog because several of the proposed Beatitudes might give us a clue about what attitudes might be helpful as we do what is ours to do. Like “Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.” And “Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.” And “Blessed are those who see God in every person.”

Seems to me these are workable, non-political, civil attitudes for the months to come. Not easy, but necessary if we are to do what is ours to do.

 

WITH WHOM shall we do what is ours to do?

I’m reading a book by J. Michael Gospe, M.D., entitled We Can, But Should We? The book is a collection of stories that revolve around gnarly bioethics dilemmas. All I want to share here from the book is a simple but potent phrase: “COMMUNITY OF CONCERN.” It was coined by ethicist/moral theologian, Jack Glaser, and he used it to replace the more elitest-sounding “medical ethics committee.” A Community of Concern is gathered to bring a wide variety of voices together around a difficult decision, and it need not be a medical decision. The Community of Concern listens to all viewpoints, then works to narrow down the potential solutions, always focused on and respecting the VALUES on which the viewpoints are based. No one person has the “right” answer. A solution requires the wisdom of many.

When I consider my activities in the coming months, I hope to be part of many ad hoc Communities of Concern willing to gather, to listen, to discern, and to act in service to the needs of our local citizens.

At the end of our afternoon tea with Helen, we asked what we could do to support her in her third term. She said, simply, “Keep in touch with me. And help me see whatever I’m not seeing.” That will be my pledge to her, part of what is mine to do for my local government, part of my civic life in these difficult times.

 

In the meantime, next week in Island County Superior Court, our newly re-elected County Commissioner will be sworn in by Judge Alan Hancock. I plan to be there, probably with a lump in my throat as Helen recites her oath of office. I remember just enough civics from sixth grade to recognize the magnitude of her commitment to do what is hers to do with persistence and civility.

 

32 replies
  1. Susanne
    Susanne says:

    Thank you so much for framing our gathering the way you did, Cynthia.

    Here is one answer which Helen spoke In response to a question about hope: “… it is not about how much damage can be done but about how much good can come from many people being energized !”

    I am really trying to redirect my focus in that way.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      I’m already feeling that shift in very small ways. May they continue to grow for us, locally, and from here out into our state, our nation, our world. Thanks for being a part of that growth.

      Reply
  2. Gary
    Gary says:

    Thank you Cynthia for sparking a spontaneous conversation that elicited how we can share our concerns. The details lie waiting in the dialogue that will rise up when we gather together to listen to each other and speak the piece of the story that we each carry in community.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      We simply (but it’s not so easy) must keep speaking those pieces of story – and encouraging others to speak theirs as well!

      Reply
  3. J. Michael Gospe, M.D.
    J. Michael Gospe, M.D. says:

    Cynthia,

    Corrine sent me a link to your Christmas Eve blog, It is a wonderful example of an active, positive response to the psychological trauma that many of us are feeling. I was gratified to see your comments about Jack Glaser’s “community of concern” and its universal importance to the stress of today, far wider than only in bioethics. If any of your readers are interested in delving into “We Can, but Should We? One physician’s reflections on end of life dilemmas,” information can be found on my website: http://gospemedicalethics.wordpress.com. Have a warm and wonderful holiday season.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Thanks, Dr. Gospe, for adding your voice to this particular Community of Concern. Your book, We Can, But Should We?, is such a gift; it makes many difficult (but all-too-common) medical situations approachable, and shows the path through them to the best possible solutions. Remember in the bad old days when we used to believe that there were “right” answers, and that “situational ethics” was anathema? Though our “situations” seem to have gotten more complex, it is comforting to know that we don’t have to settle for some other “expert’s” answers. The wisdom of the collective, like our understanding of God, is our gift to each other.

      Reply
  4. Corrine Bayley
    Corrine Bayley says:

    Your tripartite blog is packed with wisdom, as usual, Cynthia. It has helped me get closer to the balance I’ve been seeking. Rather than the dread and disgust that shakes me when I hear of yet another terrible tweet, I want to “go high” with Michelle Obama, Pope Francis, and the community of concern reading your blog — and beyond. If there was ever a crucial time to let our little light shine, it’s now. May the deepest blessings of Christmas be yours.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Amen, Corrine! Balance, blessings, and light will make the difference – let’s keep reminding each other! (And thanks for giving me Dr. Gospe’s incredibly thoughtful book.)

      Reply
  5. Starr Rohrman
    Starr Rohrman says:

    Merry Christmas morning. Reading your blog was a refreshing start to the day. I’ve said many times this year, I should have done more. I am bone tired from this whole year of incredulity. Feeling the world getting meaner – out of control- fed by the media frenzy to be first to spread the bad news even if it is wrong, unbelievable, and a down right lie. It is called the dumbing of America. I am curious to know if there were any young people at your gathering? Most seem to know little or nothing about history or civics.
    They know everything about entertainers and all the latest gossip. Ask, or even show a picture of say, the vice president or who won the civil war and they are clueless. Scary. They seldom see any reason to vote. Thank you for reminding me to make a difference and I will not stop trying. Must not become a grouchy old person. May our New Year be full of resolution. ox

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      No, there were no “young people” at our rather hastily convened tea (although anyone under 60 is now seeming “young”!). However, just this morning I had a phone conversation with my eldest grandchild, Anna Marie, soon to be 23, just graduated from college and working at her first full-time job in Michigan. It was a deliciously thoughtful discussion, and after 20 minutes I hung up feeling energized, hopeful, and wanting to hear more of her perspectives, some of which are quite different from mine. I take that as a small, and very positive, sign!

      Reply
  6. Katherine Riddle
    Katherine Riddle says:

    What a lovely gift, to hear your words this Christmas morning…Thank you for sharing and reminding us to keep sharing our hopes and our gifts…Happy Winter!

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      You’re welcome, Katherine. Yup, right here and right now, with exactly who we are and exactly what we have, are the only places, times, and offerings we have. And it is enough, and more than enough!

      Reply
  7. Marian Blue
    Marian Blue says:

    Thank you, Cynthia. Thinking globally, acting locally is not an insignificant task. It’s the reverse of the “trickle down” philosophy — local action is where the future is built.

    Meanwhile, I hope you mail a copy of your book to the Pope with the blurb that includes his quote.

    Reply
  8. Mary Jane Fedder
    Mary Jane Fedder says:

    Thank you, Cynthia, for not only giving inspiration but for the hope that even simple small acts of kindness can continue to gird our country and hold it up despite the fearful/angry tenor that has blistered us. We must each find “what is ours to do” and your words here encourage me.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      You’re welcome, Mary Jane. I truly believe that it is in the small pockets of our society (like Pentwater MI, and Freeland WA!) that the “tipping points” exist.

      Reply
  9. Linda Albert
    Linda Albert says:

    Wisdom from you as always, Cynthia. And as always, beautifully articulated. I’m making more effort to be present in general – to this beautiful world, to the special people in my life, to the man who offers to carry my groceries out to the car, to the drivers in the cars sharing the road with me – and trying to remember my point of view is only one of many deeply held ways of thinking no matter that I prefer my own. Thanks for you latest lovely blog and my warmest wishes for a good year – for you and for one and all! Linda

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Great to hear from you, Linda, from the far-diagonal corner of our country! I’m writing a poem based on a profound piece of wisdom you gave me some three decades ago: “You have all the time you need in the time you have.” It has been my mantra for more times than I could count, and it has saved me from many mistakes (and probably freeway accidents as well!). Thank you for that gift, that you probably don’t even remember giving.

      Reply
      • Linda Albert
        Linda Albert says:

        I’m so glad that mantra about time has proven useful to you, Cynthia. I don’t remember specifically passing it on to you, but I do know I’ve passed it on to many along the way and it’s good to be reminded to of it for myself. I learned it thanks to my neuro-linguistic training when we were studying about the subjective nature of time. Those were two years of study that have stood me in good stead to this day and show up in my teaching in many creative ways. I learned a lot from you as well, and a catalogue you gave me had the perfect image in it to help me heal from a nasty bunion-ectomy years ago among other things. Thanks for letting me know! I hope you had a happy Christmas and that the New Year brings you many blessings! Much affection, Linda

        Reply
        • Cynthia Trenshaw
          Cynthia Trenshaw says:

          If you want to have any residual sense of linear time messed with, do go see the movie “Arrival.” Then let me know what you think!

          Reply
  10. Joan Roane
    Joan Roane says:

    Thanks, Cynthia. It is a pleasure to read. I’m hoping a few of us in Bend, OR, can form such a group for lighting candles where we are.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      That would be great! But please don’t sweat the “forming” much – sometimes we get bogged down in thinking we have to create an organization, when all we need is just to remember to welcome all bits of wisdom (all candles) into any spontaneous discussion.

      Reply
  11. Lisa Neulicht
    Lisa Neulicht says:

    Hi Cynthia, Thanks for the community building sentiment and inspiration. I enjoyed reading Meeting in the Margins. Wishes for Happy Holidays and a New Year full of loving and caring.

    Reply
  12. Ruth
    Ruth says:

    As I begin my communication circles in the new year, your piece will be my guide. As always, thank you for being the “synthesizer” and wise person who summarizes and guides. Sending love—the hard kind that requires vigilance and endless discerning practice not to become that which we criticize back to you with rekindled gratitude.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      My dear Ruth, it’s that spirit of gratitude (along with curiosity and tolerance and patience vigilance – but heavy on the dose of gratitude) that will get us through the coming year(s). Thanks for being a connoisseur of all of the above!

      Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Thanks, Diana. It is not my intention to start a “movement” or (heaven forfend) another organization. It is just a suggestion about the wisdom of informally gathering many viewpoints together in the same circle, piecing together answer-fragments to thorny questions. The word is spreading through our community that Healing Circles is a welcoming space for such wisdom to unfold. Thank you for your generous offer.

      Reply
  13. Gail Beck
    Gail Beck says:

    This is so basic and important, it would make a difference in the world if many of us could do it. I recently have heard the argument that “we” need to stop being so civil, that “others” are not playing by the same rules. -If we are to succeed we need to imitate them. Thank you for this wonderful reminder on Christmas Eve day, Cynthia, wishing you the best.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Gail, so long as we remember that anger is always preceded by fear, and that a sense of lack usually underlies fear, I think we can’t go wrong by seeing and acting with kindness. I know that sounds wimpy in our current culture, but I’m willing to bet (my life?) on it.

      Reply

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