by Rich CohenIn recent opinion editorials I spoke to the necessity of restoring citizen control over our country with a congressional district electoral strategy that gets us the majority numbers needed to actually govern. I outlined how we ought to do it and our capacity to get it done. Yet the most meaningful and precious moments that are central to our happiness are not found in the political system outside our door, but in a deeper longing for a life of meaning and purpose.
Beyond the harsh reality that We The People do not control the country we own, ours is a nation riddled with fear, loneliness, depression, a growing sense of personal insignificance, and a persistent feeling that few can be counted on or trusted. This growing estrangement from ourselves and one another cannot be recovered by today’s empty political promise that all we need do is acquire more power and possessions.
Each day we wake up to our individual pursuit of happiness. We pursue our need to love and be loved, to know I belong, to feel individually significant, to believe that I matter, and to be able to step out into a welcoming world with people we trust and care about. Beyond our material basics, these meaning needs for love, significance and community are just as important as our narrower material needs. Any Movement that claims to care about people beyond simply putting power and money in their lives, must recognize this deeper dimension of human need and give it equal billing with economic entitlements and political rights. Our lives are not just about the paycheck. Happiness depends on a balance between meaning and money. A real people’s movement that aims for true solidarity, felt individually and collectively, can and should make room for both.
Whether face to face at the door, in our Town Hall meetings or in our community projects, the Occupy Movement should devote our efforts toward elevating our regard for self and others by illuminating what Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to as the “imprisoned splendor” in each of us. There is something more and better that we’ve yet to recognize in ourselves and in one another. Although imperfect, we deserve a second opinion about who we believe we are. Our Movement must affirm in tangible ways, our conviction that ll of us are sacred and irreplaceable and that we need each other.
In the end, a real “We” society is more than just passing “We” legislation. It’s about getting to know who the “We” is. I would encourage the Occupy Movement to create an opportunity for authentic face to face conversation where people can make sense of and appreciate their personal and collective experience. This would be a space to tell our stories, how we grew up and learned about love, success, right and wrong, a safe place to share the pivotal moments in our lives both achievements and setbacks, and where we can safely reveal what we fear and dream about. [Editor’s Note: The Feather Circle, a project of Rumorz Cafe held each Saturday at St. Francis Church, is meant to serve this purpose.] This is real conversation allowing us to feel known and cared for. In this way we can recognize the common thread that runs through all of our lives making room for trust by diminishing our fear of one another. Later we can create extended families where members share joys, concerns, meals and much less isolation. If done well this can become a model for our communities
As we take the necessary political steps to recover and remake our country, let us in the same breath speak to our capacities for love, compassion, generosity, kindness and other durable human goods. We need a politics of meaning that speaks simultaneously to both mind and heart and that regenerates our faith in country and in each other.
Rich Cohen is with the Building Community Forum of Occupy Portland and can be reached at [email protected]