Something Different is Possible

Recently I was speaking at a Gr. 9 retreat, an event geared towards giving them an enthusiastic and positive start to their high school experience. I did the 20 dollar bill exercise with them (which you can find here) and commented, “We, as a society, have done a better job of recognizing the value of money than we have at recognizing the value of the people around us.” Much to my surprise one young man in the group reacted immediately with a loud, “So?!” that could be heard throughout the room. The students in his immediate vicinity were shocked and some gasped. The obvious feeling in the room was, “How could he say that?” I, however, was glad that he did.

We are so often trained to know and say the ‘right answer’ that we often don’t even think about giving the ‘real answer’. It is very rare to have someone actually admit that they value money over people, yet we so often live exactly that way. The choices we make day to day suggest that money, possessions and self-interest take priority over truly valuing those around us and sacrificing our own personal comfort in order to preserve the dignity and honour of those who are exploited all around the world or who feel worthless right here in our own communities.

I am glad when someone can actually articulate the fact that they value money over people, even if it is just with a “So?” Perhaps if most of us were not so quick to respond according to what we think was expected of us then we would be able to really getting into the nitty-gritty of how twisted things really are. As long as we all shake our head or gasp at this young man’s moment of honesty then we will never be able to confront the truth about ourselves. We will put on the mask of, “I would never say that. I would never think that,” and we will hide the truth, maybe even from ourselves, that we too are a product of a society where money is king and compassion is considered secondary at best.

I also liked this mono-syllabic outburst because it gave me an opportunity to address it in more detail. “You don’t have to believe me,” I said, “you can, if you want, go on with your life believing that money is more valuable than people. All I can do is present an alternative view that maybe if we begin to understand the true infinite value and worth of ourselves and each person we meet that we will begin to be able to live in a way that can change everything. Something different is possible and you can choose to be a part of it, or not.” Even as I spoke these words I was again struck by the profoundness of them.

It’s true, we cannot convince anybody to believe or think anything that they refuse to believe. We will save ourselves a lot of stress by realizing this. All we can do is propose the possibility of something different. Consider, if you will, that what you think is important, might not be. Consider, if you will, that there is a different way to live. Consider that we don’t need to spend all our energy just trying to fit in and following all the ‘rules’ that our culture and peer group tell us to follow. Consider that instead we can use our energy creating the community that we want to be a part of; one where inclusiveness, respect and love are the norm and no one need feel lonely or like a loser. You can believe, if you wish, that is impossible and decide that it’s not even worth trying for. Or, you can decide that a dream like that is worth the risk and worth the effort.

Personally I would rather fail trying to prove that this type of community can really exist than resign myself to joining one where bullying, exclusivity, greed, prejudice and loneliness are the norm.

“Without people your nothing,” came out of my mouth as I answered that young man as I proposed to him my alternative way of looking at things. It’s how we are wired. We have an absolute need for healthy community and relationships. Without them we end up very damaged and very broken. I realize that saying it in this way could be viewed as harsh, but I said it that way because I was actually quoting something that I first heard in a documentary film about Joe Strummer, architect of the band The Clash.

The documentary was called; The Future is Unwritten and you can listen to Joe’s words below. I am also including the script. Listen to the passion and emotion in Joe’s voice. This is a place where many of us have journeyed. That place where we just begin to stumble upon these truths;

  1. We can change things.
  2. To change them for the better it has to be about love for one another.

Just listening to Joe again and writing this is almost bringing me to tears. This is our only hope for a better future. It is a future that we are writing, for better or worse, with the lives that we are living. We need to choose; will we continue to pretend that we are people who care first about treating each other with love, dignity and respect while we actually just go with the flow in a culture that does anything but. Or will we choose to fight for the alternative, even if it means tough decisions and not fitting in with the crowd by realizing that we are more like the young man who asked “So?” than we would like to think and deciding to truly learn to love in a new way. Love each person we meet, each one that crosses our path. To create a community that finally “takes humanity back into the centre of the ring.” I have seen glimpses of it at The Dam and other places. I have felt the reality of this type of community, this type of love and I will gladly spend my life trying to show it and share it to everyone I can.

We have learned to recognize the value of money more than we recognize the value of the people around us. It is my belief that we can unlearn it too. And I put to you the possibility that if we do we can begin to change everything.

And so now I'd like to say - people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. People are running about following their little tracks - I am one of them. But we've all got to stop just following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything - this is something that I'm beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other. That's because they've been dehumanised. It's time to take the humanity back into the centre of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed, it ain't going anywhere. They should have that in a big billboard across Times Square. Without people you're nothing.  - Joe Strummer

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