The older I get, the more grateful I am for people whose individual choices have led to widespread movements of hope and creativity today.
Much spiritual wisdom today comes from how people dealt with war, racism and other pain decades ago.
In July 1942 when I was born, the world was at war. Now many who went through the worst of that war are guiding us to a more peaceful and meaningful humanity, like Auschwitz survivor and Nobel peace prize winner Elie Weisel and Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor and peace activist Takashi Tanemori.
In 1950, I was just discovering the ugliness of racism. Then in 1952, photos of Albert Schweitzer getting a Nobel peace prize for his “Reverence for Life” philosophy and free service as a doctor in Africa provided many pictures of the humanity and dignity of black people. In 1955, Emmett Till’s mama had the courage to expose the wrong done to her murdered son, whose only crime was allegedly daring to whistle at a white woman. Rosa Parks’ memory of Emmett Till’s death helped her gain the courage not to move to the back of the bus later that year, which launched the Birmingham, Alabama bus boycott that helped Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders move forward.
Racism may not be gone in the South or anywhere else, but today I can smile freely at a black man without causing him trouble. Today the playing field for jobs, housing and even the White House is becoming more level every day.
In the 50’s, the public was obsessed with technology and big cars, fueled by cheap gas. Rachel Carson’s publication in 1962 of Silent Spring, dedicated only to Albert Schweitzer, sparked the environmental movement.
Today there is a growing recognition of our interdependence not just with other humans but also with animals, plants, the water, and the air.
In 1964, when I graduated from college, spirituality was rarely discussed in the context of work. Today, “work” increasingly includes ways to integrate spirituality and creativity into all work — paid or unpaid. Money itself recently has come openly to the spirit and work table, bringing with it a call to create an economy that works well for all of us — in body, mind and soul.
These are just a few of the sweeping movements that began with one or more committed people who chose to meet a challenge with love and courage, then work with others until gradually ideas that once seemed radical have become the norm.
If I had to pick one person whose spiritually-based work is most relevant to our crises today, it’s Viktor Frankl.
He turned his concentration camp experiences in World War II into a psychological laboratory on the nature and power of meaning in human lives. Here are just a few of his tips:
- Whatever our situation, we always can choose how we meet the situation.
- Despair is suffering without meaning. The moment you see meaning in your suffering, you can see how to turn tragedies into personal triumph
- You can’t find happiness by making it a target. Happiness in the form of love, laughter, even orgasm, installs itself by itself when you are engaged in life.
Frankl quotes Jesus’ contemporary Rabbi Hillel (30 BS-9 AD), who is often reported to have said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” Frankl notes that we all have a task or mission, to be done just by us and no one else. “If I am not doing it, who will do it?” If we were immortal, we could postpone this mission. But since we are mortals who are designed to care about more than just discharging tension or satisfying our egos, then our fundamental reality is, “If I am not doing it right now, when shall I do it? If I am doing it only for my own sake, what am I?”
Right now, many of us are hurting spiritually, physically and economically. Many of us hurt from not knowing our work or seeing the means to do it. Fortunately, we’ve got lots of role models who can show us that in healing ourselves, we can help heal others, and vice versa.
What work calls you now, spiritually, economically or otherwise? What can you learn from these role models to take at least one step along your own best path?
As always, many blessings, Pat McHenry Sullivan