For the last seven weeks a group of people at the church have been reading and discussing Parker Palmer’s book, “Healing the Heart of Democracy.” I think this book has worked on my inner being, changing me completely in this anxious pre-election time. While not offering anything I haven’t already through about (practice active listening, learn to respond with thoughtfulness not react with emotion, and so forth), it is a steady hand of profound reflection.
The conversations we have had have been engaging, insightful. I am most delighted by a woman who is in her 80’s. She comes to most every book discussion and Bible Study class that I offer. She is very articulate and clear thinking, frequently astonishing me with the degree to which she pushes the idea’s presented and makes connections that expand all of our thinking on any subject. She is simply brilliant. The other night she came to out discussion and brought a friend with her, a neighbor. These two women are profoundly engaged, and have been for years, in the social, religious, political world around them. Speaking from their long history, making references from meetings, coffees, women’s groups, and other activities they have participated in over the last 50 years, these women were the center of the discussion. We talked about the Presidential candidates, prejudice, race, women, the two political platforms, and what is at stake. They consistently brought in a level of awareness that reflected their intelligence and awareness, couched in the experience of old women looking back across their lives, and all that has changed since their birth in the late 1920’s.
These women stand in sharp contrast to most of the women and men I knew at a former parish, even though they are the same age. Reminding me to be careful about “lumping together” people of any generation.
One woman brought in an article from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (a New York State newspaper). It was published on December 13, 2011 titled, Benchmarking taxpayer expectations – which is a response to an op-ed that apparently stated that rich Americans are paying their share of the nation’s tax burden.
Here is the most startling statistic: In 2010 the U.S. had the second largest budget deficit as a percentage of GDP among the world’s 24 richest nations. It also had the second lowest tax revenue as a percent of GDP and was last for public social spending as a percentage of GDP. Fifty years ago, the ratio of U.S. total taxes to GDP was the same as European nations, but since 1965 the European nations has increased; the U.S> ratio has remained constant and is now among the lowest among the richest 22 nations. Accordingly, from 1965 to 2009, 21 nations devoted a larger percentage of national productivity to taxes and to public social spending than the U.S.
The U.S. ranked second highest in income inequality and the worst in health and social problems. The ratio of income inequality is the ration of income (after taxes and benefits) of the richest 20 percent of the population relative to the poorest 20 percent.
Specific U.S. rankings include:
- fourth lowest UNICEF index for child well-being
- Second lowest percent of national income spent on foreign aid
- Last in infant deaths per 1,000 live births
- Fourth lowest life expectancy
- Highest adult obesity
- Sixth worst math and literacy scores for 15 year olds
- Highest births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 (how many of these are from rape and incest I wonder?)
- First in the number of prisoners per 100,000 of population
Importantly, nations with greater income equality consistently had higher rankings of citizen well-being, as measured by health and social problems, across their total populations and for a diversity of problem categories.
I could go on. But you can read the article from the link above, if you are interested. My point is that these women, relatively wealthy, upper middle class, educated women, are fully engaged in the world around them. And they support President Obama. They reflect to me the very heart that Parker Palmer is talking about in this book – the need for people to have honest, compassionate, civil conversations. To learn and grow from one another.
One woman said, “I use to be quiet and shy. I’d never speak up about anything. Now I talk to everyone. I am never afraid to share my opinion. I want to hear what others have to say as well. I learn something from everyone.”
These last few weeks before the election I am praying for us all, may the heart of democracy, this brave experiment in equality, be healed. May it be healed because we learn to listen to one another and care, truly, about the lives of everyone and not just our own bank accounts. (Mine is empty anyway, and has been for four years, and will be, most likely for the rest of my life).
I know. I keep harping on this idea of learning to listen to one another. I feel like a silly Polly-Anna. There are so many of us who simply can’t or won’t do this. But my life experience tells me that everything is different when we are able too. From the intense, emotional reactivity of the people I knew in Arizona (the birth of the “Tea-Party”), people of the same age, race, and religious denomination as these two women, but for whom listening was impossible – to these thoughtful women who came to the discussion group.
Listening is key. The key to forming a compassionate heart.There are many aspects of the past that I do not wish to restore – we have made many strides toward full equality of every human being – but healing this income equality is crucial to the well-being of all. There will never really be equality for all until we do that.
I truly hope Obama wins this election. I truly fear for us if he does not. And I remain completely astonished that the race is as close as it is. Seriously. Some of us are drinking the Kool-aid of deception, participating in our own demise and projecting the blame on someone else.