A 5-step Program for What Ails Us – First Installment

 Many people acknowledge a range of modern afflictions that ail us and challenges that face us.  Malaise, lack of meaning and dysfunction at the personal, family, community and national level.  Topsoil loss, habitat loss, even climate change.  Economic challenges.  Social injustices of all sorts.   I, personally, think most of these are real and dangerous conditions and trends.   Many already affect people all over the world and, even in the well-insulated and prosperous U.S., we are starting to feel the pain associated with ecological impacts devastating other parts of the world.  More serious crap is coming down the pike if things don’t change.

I offer a 5-step program to adjust our approach and do things differently.     I’ll address each of these steps in separate “musings” (blogs).  The present musing has to do with the way we interact with each other.   The other four are listed at the conclusion of this essay and will be elaborated upon in subsequent musings.

If you agree we face at least some of these individual and collective challenges, let’s start a discussion . . .  comment on this blog and pass on to others.    If you don’t agree that any or all of these challenges are real, that’s fine, too.   I’d still welcome your input and wonder if you might still agree that Step 1 is necessary no matter what.  And, in keeping with Step 1, I ask that all exchanges be respectful, honest, and as clear as possible.

Step 1)  Yes, No or Maybe – be proactively honest, clear and respectful with ourselves and each other.

I believe that this step is currently the biggest limiting factor to our being able to address or solve anything at any level; even to simply live reasonably happy lives on a day to day basis.   Without attention to being more proactively honest, clear and respectful with each other, we’ll remain largely unable to focus on what needs our attention, let alone be able to proceed in healthy directions as families, communities or a nation.   We’ll continue to be more polarized and less trusting.  So, I begin with a poem for your consideration:

“A Ritual to Read to Each Other:”

If you don’t know the kind of person I am

and I don’t know the kind of person you are

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world

and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.


For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,

a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break

sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood

storming out to play through the broken dike.


And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,

but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,

I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty

to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.


And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,

a remote important region in all who talk:

though we could fool each other, we should consider—

lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.


For it is important that awake people be awake,

or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;

the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.


This is a gentle, poetic warning as to why we need to be honest, clear and respectful with each other.   The concluding phrase, “the darkness around us is deep,” is a clear-eyed assessment of consequences we face if we don’t address troublesome trends all around us in honest, clear and respectful ways.

We’re getting really good at fooling each other and ourselves these days and that’s placing us in great peril.    Personal relationships, health, communities and even life as we know it all stand to unravel if we “know what occurs but [do] not recognize the fact.”  Conversely, though, if our signals are clear, if we take it upon ourselves not to fool each other, and mutually recognize the facts, our lives can be more healthy, vibrant and meaningful.  Proactive honesty and clarity are not the only requirements, of course – that’s why I am suggesting the other 4 steps, too.   But this first step . . . well, its step one!

Consider the polarization that we lament in current American society.  We humans are seemingly (and increasingly) prone to blindly advocating or even insisting on things we may or may not actually believe in or find valuable in the final analysis!   If our egos, tribalism or group-think kick in, it then becomes incredibly hard to analyze the positions we hold and we cannot admit that we’re being obstinate!   That’s why I often joke with my kids that “the mind is a terrible thing.”   Period.   Watch out for it.

To be clear, at least part of our hyper-polarization could rest in reality.   People sometimes do truly want different things from life, and want them even more than the benefits that compromise and civility can bring.   Such true differences have led to schisms and wars and could do so in the future.  But . . .  what about when our differences are not that great?   Or, what if we don’t even know the true nature of our own wants and needs enough to hold a clear position yet still vehemently disagree with others?   In these cases, if we were honest, clear and respectful with ourselves and others, it’s very possible that we could be quite happy with compromise.   Compromise on many matters – especially those that are not really part of our central being  – results in peace, stability, and extra time that make our lives better.   We can only sort out which things really matter to us and then commence the work of compromise if we are honest with ourselves and with each other.

Groupthink and tribalism have disrupted our communities and country and severely hamper our ability to address real, serious challenges.   The same kind of entrenchment often occurs in personal and family relationships.  Stafford’s poem is reflective of the dynamics between individuals (“I” and “you”), but it just as easily applies to groups of people.  ‘If we don’t know the kind of people you all are,’ we’re likely to miss our collective star as well.     And, if we – individually or collectively – don’t want to truly know each other, there’s little to chance of finding our stars at all!   Can we recognize the facts in front of us and deal respectfully and responsibly in our interactions with each other at all levels?


One last thought.   The poem, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” does not directly address the need for respect as it does for honesty and clarity.   But, I suggest that honesty and clarity are a form of respect in and of themselves and that respect may not be possible without them.   Think about it . . . if you get the “run-around” from a contractor or false promises from a leader or someone close to you, how does that make you feel?  Probably disrespected.   Some say that respect has to be earned.   If so, the minimal price must be honesty and clarity.*    If you believe that respect should be afforded to all, you may have observed that respect – and, along with it, trust – can easily be eroded.   On the flip side, even if you disagree strongly with someone, it is often possible to have heartfelt respect for them if you are honest with each other about your disagreements and can trust each other over things you have agreed on.  If we are not clear with our signals – yes, no or maybe – we spawn disrespect and mistrust.

So, Step 1 in addressing the real challenges that face us at all levels:  let’s be proactively honest, clear and respectful with ourselves and each other.

Steps 2-5

Step 2 – Slow down and simplify

Step 3 – Spend more time outside, mostly nearby, including more physical exertion and labor.

Step 4 – Help envision and create an economy based on human well-being directly, not on growth for its own sake

Step 5 – Quickly empower youth create a new economy, not replicate the present one