Recently, the US Department of Transportation sent me two dollars as a way of thanking me for filling out, or for even considering filling out, a survey about my transportation needs. Actually, though, the survey wasn’t addressed to me; it was addressed to any resident of my city who lives (or stays) where I live or who collects mail from my box and reads it.
While two dollars is not twenty dollars or two hundred dollars or two thousand dollars, two dollars is not nothing. Sure, I have received other incentives to take an action I might not otherwise take: free stamps, free Christmas stickers, free return address labels, and free quarters taped to the mailers they accompanied. But pocketing two unearned bucks places me more squarely on the road to Shame City than does nabbing address labels, say. If I took the two dollars without responding to the survey, I would have a difficult time seeing this as anything other than a theft, if only on a karmic level. If, however, I took the labels without doing what had been asked of me, I am pretty certain I would escape God’s wrath because God knows I could never find in myself any interest in using such things.
Were I a member of the other political party, I might take the money, crumple up the survey, and rant about big government wasting my hard-earned cash. I might not even recycle the paper it was printed on because I could see myself thinking that God has put a never-ending supply of trees on this green earth for my benefit alone, and I might also think that if I recycle I am just supporting another one of those government scams designed to bilk me out of even more of my dough.
But me, I feel gratitude for the money not only because two bucks is not nothing but also because I can well imagine the drama surrounding any decision made to stuff fistfuls of dollars into envelopes addressed to no one in particular and to send these out into the world with the knowledge that much of the cash could end up in the trash bin with the rest of the unopened junk mail. To be sure it was a gamble, but, at a time when data dictates who gets funding, it was a good one. I might not complete the survey today or tomorrow, but each day I lollygag the good angel sitting on my shoulder will be whispering into my ear that I need to get it done if I want to make it through those Pearly Gates.
The following was written yesterday by Dan Rather, hours before the tragic events in Dallas. His words seem fitting and perhaps even more powerful in the aftermath of those events:
In light of recent and certainly controversial police-involved shootings and other recent news events I feel the need to address something…
I remember hearing from a scientist once that the universe tends towards chaos. It’s a sobering reality that underpins the laws which we now know govern our planet and the vastness of space. But it is also intuitively a concept that is readily apparent to any of us who has tidied up a child’s scattered toys or struggled to untangle a ball of string. It takes work to clean things up. And these days, it certainly seems that the world is a mess, that chaos is reigning, in our country, and beyond our shores.
It is sometimes hard to stare at snapshots of time and clearly see the trend lines, but the deaths of more African Americans at the hands of white police officers, the unapologetic use of anti-Semitic imagery culled from extremist groups by a presidential candidate (the latest in a series of bigoted rhetoric), gun violence in our streets, the multiple terror attacks against civilians, even the dissolution of the European order, all point to a level of disorder that poisons the stability of society. We must recognize that this is the powerful drift of the status quo that threatens to get worse if left unchecked.
It is perhaps ironic to feel this way so recently after celebrating our nation’s independence. To be sure, that event marked a certain chaos for the British Empire, but our founding principal was one of bringing order to disparate parts. Our original national motto E Pluribus Unum (from many one) spoke to an ideal of stability that we now understand goes against, in some real sense, the laws of nature. The Founding Fathers tried to paper over some of the forces that were pulling their great experiment apart, most notably the blood-stained legacy of slavery and race. It nearly proved fatal to our national story through civil war and it is an issue on which we have never fully atoned. As the headlines continue to show us almost daily, it is a debt that still haunts us.
However, it would too pessimistic and fatalistic to think that we are powerless in the face of chaos. Maybe we cannot change the equation at the level of the universe, but we can in our own lives and to the betterment of our community. The heroes we laud today in our history books are mostly men and women who stood up and said, the work may be hard, the personal rewards uncertain, but we refuse to accept that the world cannot be made a better place through our toil. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his own equation for seeing our journey through time and space – ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’
I choose today to embrace Dr. King’s hopeful vision and ask you to do the same. Stating this publicly is only a start. What we need is engagement, work, to turn back the tides of chaos. It can be as simple an act as voting, or a more sustained effort, like joining and supporting groups that are doing the real lifting, in the trenches, to build a more peaceful and equitable world. What is not acceptable is to ignore the realities and challenges we face.
Perhaps it is best to end with a quote from the Nobel Peace Prize speech of the late Elie Wiesel. Like his laureate predecessor Dr. King, Wiesel found it fitting to draw his own map of the moral universe and each of our individual responsibility to confront chaos.
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
I am a big fan of British crime shows and will watch just about anything produced by the BBC. The mayhem I get to see allows me to exercise the darker side of my nature so I don’t actually have to go out and commit a homicide. I admit, though, that I have given it thought.
After watching all eight episodes of the British crime series Marcella, which just came out on Netflix, I am persuaded that I need to be more selective about my viewing choices.
Throughout, I kept wondering what an innocent who accidentally landed on this planet would think about the human race if this show were its only exposure to people on Earth. Perhaps it would think that
- Nowhere is one human safe from the inevitable treachery and betrayal of every other human.
- Most humans want to kill or maim other humans.
- Humans, especially men, prefer to harm others with knives and guns, but glass shards will suffice when these are not available.
- Most men are sadistic, and violence is as natural to them as breathing.
- Immigrant men are especially brutal and remorseless, particularly if they are from Eastern Europe.
- Among humans, there is one asexual, shy man who is made the butt of every joke.
- Most men are murderers, but a scattering also are adulterers.
- Most women and gay men are mentally ill, some extremely and violently so.
- Women who are not mentally ill are cold, cruel, and aloof.
- Humans appear to die prematurely and preternaturally.
- A human has psychic powers (or access to CCTV footage) and knows exactly where all other humans have been or are going to be at each moment.
- A man who marries an older woman would actually rather have sex with her beautiful daughter’s dresses.
- One must steer clear of the thin human wearing a hoodie.
- Every human being is inextricably connected to every other human being.
On this last point I would have to agree.