A Life Giving Vision

The way we’re operating right now as Americans and as a global society is unsustainable ecologically and for more and more of humanity. How do we make the systemic changes needed so that human and organizational creativity naturally lead toward sustainable and restorative practices instead of destructive ones?

What can ordinary citizens do?..


Our economic system, our government, all these things we think of as fixed, are social constructs – These are stories we’ve created, and we can revise the story.

– Jennifer Atlee

With fewer people controlling more wealth and power, whole economies changing, and our natural world increasingly threatened, we are not without resources. We have technologies, intelligence, and much more at stake to stir our conscience and inspire us to collective action.

At this time, what we need most of all, is a new way of thinking, about ourselves, about each other, and this world we share.

and let us consider together,
studying how we may stir up love,
and helpful deeds, and noble activities..

– Hebrews 10:24

I pay homage to great compassion


We have it in us to conceive of a just world, where people are fed, have housing, and health care, and access to education; we are able to hold the ideal of ourselves as stewards our natural world, and to keep it, flourishing for the enjoyment of future generations; we can envision a day when the rich and the powerful don’t control and manipulate the rest of us; we can see and believe in the possibility of a world that works for all of us.


That these ideas may sound strange, or hard to even bring to mind testifies to the difficult challenges we live with today. From a purchased political class and the embedded media, to the concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people; from a failed economic model, to religions that are ineffectual or disengaged; from a self indulgent educated class, to the shallow narcissism of our consumer culture;

I heard one person talk about our family and communal relationships in these times, not just as our having become isolated from each other, and our groups fragmented, but ‘atomized’ – it’s reached that much of an extreme. And as we look around, most of what we see now is that people are disconnected, distracted, overwhelmed, or indifferent. And in all of this, maybe the biggest problem we can see, is the widespread belief people have, of their being powerless.

Once we reach that condition, all we ever hoped for gets set aside, and living then becomes just a struggle to survive – so far from what we once hoped for, so far from what we can be, and far from the fullness of life we’re made to live. Yet it’s just in times such as these that we need to remember who we are, and the best of what we are capable of as human beings.


We’ve all heard utopian visions before, and of course, the snarling skeptic jumps up and says – ‘what’s different now, that makes any positive world view something other than an escapist fantasy? – look at what human beings are! – little better than animals, with the means to exploit each other and wreck the planet!’ Voices such as these are everywhere.

We may not think of it in these terms, but what we think we’re capable of together is what shapes our personal and collective action. If we think we’re not much more than animals, we’ll lower ourselves to that idea.

Instead, we have to look up. There are inspiring lives we can emulate. There are visions that awaken a renewed sense of possibility. There are methods we can use to realize our deeper aspirations.

I have enough of the skeptic in me to be critical – I’m aware of how dis-jointed things can seem, how unconcerned and in their own worlds people can be, and what a low opinion of themselves and our world they hold. In spite of this, I have reason to be optimistic. I know something of how we can contract down to such low views, and how they can be overcome. I know how we can be lifted up to what is both true and beautiful. I’m also well aware that it’s not enough to say, ‘the human spirit has great potential’ – that would be like saying, ‘the view from the mountain is inspiring’. Better that you see this for yourself, and I suggest some ways, in the essays in this collection that you can do this.


A few things are new about the times we live in, that defy comparison with other times:

– With each passing year, corporate controlled globalized economics shows more of its ruthless, inhumane nature; it ‘works’ for fewer and fewer of us – fixated as it is on short term profit over every other human value. This is a something that has to be stopped if we are to survive and thrive; {remember that there are more of us than there are of them, which means more of the human resources of creativity, and of love} {remember also that even such ideas as ‘fair trade’ are new in our vocabulary. Imagine how much more effective this value will be, in fifty or a hundred years, if it continues to develop in the public consciousness.}

– The political class also shows itself to be more and more corrupt, the lap dogs of the rich – but, the way I’m thinking about it now, this is can become a good thing when it’s brought to light. Change happens when it becomes obvious to enough people that politicians don’t represent them, and in fact are working against their interests;

– And the third new phenomena that has to be highlighted is the technology we now have to communicate with each other. It seems that almost overnight, we’ve taken an inconceivable quantum leap in our ability to learn about, and to share our riches with one another. This has got to make anyone who thinks about it both startled and inspired by the new possibilities. In every way, in our lives here together in these times, there is more for us to gain or to lose, and how we will manage depends in large part in our having a vision of the future we can move towards courageously.


In the past, we turned to religions for meaning and direction. That institutions don’t work for many people these days is undeniable – but we have the same needs as always. We have to find new ways to affirm our deepest human values.

What is your life giving vision?

I like the idea of their being multiple ideals, and of our supporting and encouraging each other to come up with values that express the best we have in us. I can imagine people asking each other, What is your vision?

Looking back on the social movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, ideals have never been made into actuality in a single generation, but have usually taken three or four generations to bear fruit. I’m thinking of the suffragist, abolitionist, labor, and civil rights movements. These all started with people having the thought, not only that we could change, but that we should, and they lived and held onto those values.

Sometimes we don’t dream big enough, so we need these examples of the past that teach us to hold a great vision. Just trying to change one policy, or one small corner of our shared world, many times, doesn’t go far enough. We aim too low, and then, even if we get what we want, it doesn’t satisfy.

Start with a great vision, however, like setting our sights on a far destination, and all those smaller goals are included in that. We may even surprise ourselves, and go farther than we imagined was possible. Such things have been known to happen.

The problems we face – of corporate criminality, a political class in collusion with them, inequity and transgressions against human rights – probably won’t be overcome in our lifetimes. In all likelihood, they will take generations to right. That’s not entirely up us – but what we can and should do is to hold our ideals clearly in our mind, to lift up the principle, and to preserve and spread it, pass it on in letters, and to speak it from the rooftops. This much we can do.

As the poet Kenneth Patchen wrote,

If a poem can be headed into it’s proper current,
someone will take it to heart,
to the beauty and uplift of everyone

From A Buddhism for Progressives – Inspiration for Activists