Dear brothers and sisters,
There are many ways to divide up a population into a 1% and a 99%: the 1% who are the tallest and the 99% who are shorter; or the 1% kindest, the 1% bravest, and so on. In a case where any 1% is seen to injure its corresponding 99% persistently, the best medicine to restore health is for both sides to resolve to do no more harm. The next steps are to express and request forgiveness, and then look for the source of the evil, not in designated ‘bad’ individuals, but in the larger system of relationships and the false assumptions that it rests on, which allow some fallible people to do widespread damage. For example, is it a false assumption that evil should be countered with evil? (This justifies war, but is contrary to the express teachings of Jesus and His apostles, as well as those of the Buddha.) Is it false that the common good is adequately served through the competition of separate individual interests? Is it to our interest to accumulate wealth, or to give wealth away and learn to be content with less? Which is worse, to suffer pain or to have a bad conscience? It’s time for us to examine many such fundamental questions together. But in order to stay grounded in the truth, we must remember that we’re all part of a 100%, each of whom is dear to God, who wishes the salvation of all and created us to love one another.
Today it’s claimed that the 1% (and a fortiori the 0.1%) of the people of the United States with the most wealth and power are taking unfair shares of the common burdens and benefits, sometimes using predatory means. If you’re among that 1%, you may wonder, “How can they think of us as cheats or oppressors? We’re almost all philanthropic citizens, faithful believers and good moms and dads, trying to do the right thing.” That’s always been a problem: look up close, see nice folks; look from a distance, see devils. But if any of us, rich or poor, look candidly at ourselves, we will see something devilish: Hypocrisy. Indifference to injustice. A will to keep truth hidden. Addictive acting from fear. The use of threats or lies to control others. In a word, selfishness. All this must go if we want a healthy society, economy, and relationship with the rest of creation. It must go from the hearts of the 99%, and it must go from the hearts of the 1%. And we have no more time to put this housecleaning off, for our old ways are at the point of meltdown.
“By their fruits you shall know them,” said Jesus, and many are now taking a hard look at the fruits of the nation’s richest. Even when we don’t actively will an evil by-product of our activity (for example, the sweatshop conditions under which our clothing may have been made), we are accountable for where we let our shadow fall, and it becomes part of our harvest in due time. It’s time for the 100% of us, and not just our richest, to look at this shadow together. It’s darker than most of us think.
It’s fortunate that the streets of this country are now filled with the people of the Occupy movement, telling us that things in this country are not O.K. and can’t be made O.K. with band-aids and P.R. campaigns. The Occupiers cannot be silenced. They may not have all the answers yet – and they will not have the answers unless they think in terms of the common good, not of the 99%, but of the 100% of the world’s people – but they are testifying that the defenders of the status quo don’t have the answers, either. It would be a great step forward now if the besieged defenders of the status quo and its besieging challengers could now open their hearts to one another in gestures of kindness and humility. Bring an open heart to the nearest Occupy site and talk with the demonstrators. You’ll come away wiser and happier, and so will they.
A well-wisher of your souls,
New York City