Friday, January 12, 2018

Artisans of the Common Good

"A Web of Relationship"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

The other day I was driving my car on a busy highway near where we live.  Although I was maintaining the speed limit, the driver behind me apparently thought I was going too slow and so he pulled into the other lane and then cut me off, almost crashing into me. Then, to make matters worse, he did the same thing to the next car in line but that driver decided to strike back. Both cars were now traveling at top speed, honking their horns, cutting each other off, barely missing one another, motioning to one another to pull over so that they could “fight it out.” It was one of the worst cases of “road rage” I had ever witnessed and I cant stop thinking about how unsettling and dangerous that incident was.

A few weeks ago, in his New Year sermon in Vatican City, Pope Francis made an astute observation about how the simple act of driving an automobile can have a major impact on the health of a society. Drivers who treat one another with courtesy and kindness help contribute to how compassionate a society is,  drivers who are rude and who lash out in revenge at other drivers contribute to the overall violence and chaos of a culture. In fact, Pope Francis suggested the simple act of driving a car by everyday ordinary people molds a society as much if not more than the high level politics and posturing of those few who are at the top rungs of a society.

Francis suggested that each and every one of us is an “artisan of the common good.” Every day we each design and craft the nature of the world in which we live.  I totally agree with him.

We make choices every day. We choose what we eat and drink, we choose to sit quietly and meditate or we choose to be so constantly busy that we have no have no time for reflection. We choose to forgive an injury or we chose to lash out in anger. We choose to reconcile or we choose to hold grudges and yes, we choose how we will drive our cars.

We are, after all, an interconnected web of relationship, and so whatever we choose to say or do not only effects our small circle but it inevitably resonates and reverberates far beyond our own individual selves. An act of kindness is infectious and so is a word of anger or act of revenge.

I remember coming across an op-ed column a while back in the New York Times:

Everywhere there are tiny, 
seemingly inconsequential circumstances in life
that, if explored, provide great meaning 
- everyday chances to be generous and kind.
The big decisions we make
 turn out to have much less impact on life as a whole
than the myriad of small and seemingly insignificant ones.

I find great wisdom in this observation.

Jesus talked about building a just and compassionate society and suggested that every time we engage in a single act of generosity we are planting a tiny little mustard seed that ultimately grows into a large tree:

The Kingdom of God is like
a mustard seed that someone sowed in the field;
it is the smallest of seeds, but when it has grown
 it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree.

The Buddha taught something fairly similar when he said:

Do not underestimate good.
Drop by drop the water pot is filled.
Likewise, one who is wise is filled with good,
gathering it little by little

The simple act of showing another driver courtesy and kindness on the road is a mustard seed that becomes a tree, a drop of water that fills the pot of “good.”  We are indeed all “artisans of the common good.”

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