The World Where We Live - Part 2 (Randy Best - April 19, 2008)
latform Address Part 2 of 3 by Randy Best
Co-presented by Kate Lovelady, Randy Best, and Tony Hileman
American Ethical Union Assembly, Austin, TX, April 19, 2008
In addressing the theme of this Assembly, I am going to follow the example of Barack Obama's minister, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
It’s not my job to make you comfortable.
As you know, this year's theme is:
Where We Live... An exploration of issues and ideas that affect where and how we live.
Our experience of the world creates our values which influence our decisions about where and how we live.
As a humanist, I experience the world as lacking inherent meaning -- it is therefore up to me to discover values through my life experience and make meaning.
Jennifer Michael Hecht wrote in her book Doubt:
We live between two divergent realities: On one side there is the world in our heads -- and in our lives… and that is the world of reason and plans, love, and purpose. On the other side there is the world beyond our human life -- an equally real world in which there is no sign of caring or value, planning or judgment, love, or joy. We live in a meaning rupture because we are human and the universe is not.
Felix Adler believed that within each of us are deep spiritual/existential longings that must be addressed in our search to create meaning in our lives. He identified three main struggles; they ring true for me. Adler wrote that:
We experience overwhelming awe at the vastness of the cosmos -- and become aware of our insignificance -- do we matter in this world?
We see seemingly limitless suffering in the world -- so many are poor, hungry, and sick -- what can we possibly do that will make any difference?
We seek to create lives of value and meaning in order to answer the question "How should I live?"
Adler saw Inherent human Worth and Dignity as the foundation for our life's quest for meaning and purpose. I agree.
To recognize worth and dignity, I choose not to use others as merely a means to achieve my ends.
I want everyone to have the opportunity to develop their unique potential.
The Ethical Culture project is about relationships.
An ethical life is lived in relationships that bring out the unique best in others and our selves.
I carry these Ethical Culture values in my relations to others and in my engagement with the world.
My Ethical Humanist values lead me to genuine concern for others.
I once worked for a guy named Rudy. He told me that there are two kinds of people in the world:
Those who give a damn and those who don't.
I had always thought that the two kinds of people in the world were those who divide people into two kinds and those who don't.
I see myself as someone who gives a damn. My Ethical Humanism values cause me to give a damn for others.
This concern leads me to embrace what are often called "Liberal" positions -- and I am proud to claim those positions and that term.
I feel the existential longing that Felix Adler identified:
The limitless suffering and injustice in the world – and I am driven to do what I can to change it.
My values compel me to engage the world.
In striving to better the world, I may transform the world in small ways, but the self-transformation that occurs from working for something outside of and greater than myself is the true pay-off.
This is why Ethical Action is an essential part of Ethical Humanism.
Unfortunately, in American Culture today, I don't see much concern about helping others.
Much of America is about selfishness.
Today we hear about self-help. Not helping others, self-help. I walk into a bookstore and I see countless books and videos by self-help gurus all devoted our obsession with our selves.
Television also exhibits this self-absorption. An example is Oprah endorsement of The Secret, a book by Rhonda Byrne.
The secret of The Secret is that you need only visualize what you want in order to get it.
If you believe badly enough, it will happen.
Some quick quotes from The Secret:
"You cannot 'catch' anything unless you think you can, and thinking you can is inviting it to you with your thought."
"The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts."
"Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus were not only prosperity teachers, but also millionaires themselves, with more affluent lifestyles than many present-day millionaires could conceive of."
Just open your mind and let the money flow to you.
Open your mind to more stuff. Look out for number one.
How credulous. How crass. How sad.
I view The Secret as an example of how far we come from how we should live our lives.
Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living.
Examining our motivations and actions are what’s important.
Self-reflection, not visualizing wealth, is what is needed.
Perhaps we are tempted to avoid self-reflection because it takes work -- but this work is necessary to know who we are, to find purpose, and to determine how to live.
How do we live?
In contrast to the magical philosophy of The Secret, Ethical Humanism strives to better the world, to help others and thereby transform the world and ourselves.
Recently, I have been giving a platform on "Forgiveness." Many of you may have been subjected to it.
In my Forgiveness Platform I address the benefits of releasing the anger that we hold inside -- anger that can cause us harm.
After I gave this talk in North Carolina, Vivian Plonsey, the chair of our Ethical Action Committee, pointed out the benefits of anger as a motivator to get out there and do something about what is pissing you off.
Anger can come from a sense of "Unresolved Injustice."
We can experience an "injustice gap" -- the difference between the current state of affairs and what we think just resolution would be.
The greater this gap, the larger the anger. This anger motivates us to try to resolve the injustice.
Vaclav Havel wrote:
Genuine politics -- even politics worthy of the name -- the only politics I am willing to devote myself to -- is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole.
There is a time and place for place for moral outrage.
That time is long past due. It is here, now, today in these United States.
As the bumper sticker says: If you're not outraged by now, you're not paying attention.
So pay attention!
We're at war.
Wages are stagnant.
Pensions are disappearing.
Health coverage is slipping out of reach.
In American there still is grinding poverty in the midst of record corporate profits and increased tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
Our government bails out Wall Street while millions loose their homes.
There is a global climate crisis.
Beyond our boarders there is genocidal war and mass hunger.
Did I mention that we are involved in futile, wasteful, corrupt and purposeless War.
If you're not outraged by now, you're not paying attention.
What does my anger and outrage motivate me to do?
My outrage is not impotent because there things that I can do -- things that I am doing.
I speak out for peace and justice.
I write my elected officials.
I move to replace those who have supported war and the diversion of our countries bounty to the rich.
I will financially support candidates who work for peace and economic justice.
I will vote. I will persuade others to vote.
I am outraged because I have been paying attention. And I am not alone.
Join me in bringing your Ethical Values to the world and living them.