I've been thinking lately of circles radiating outward, like ripples on a pond.
The great poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
My friend Jon Young writes of circles, or zones, as well. Jon is a brilliant naturalist who can stand at the edge of the woods and tell you that there is a person coming up the trail in, say, ten minutes. Or that a dog will be coming from around the other side of the farmhouse nearby. Or that it’s a cat, not a dog, that’s coming. How does he do this?
Jon talks about two kinds of zones. The zone of disturbance is the degree to which we set off alarms among birds and other animals as we walk through the woods. Most of us are clumsy and noisy in our journey through the world. That’s why we might walk in the forest and see nothing: the creatures heard us from way off and simply moved out of our path before we ever knew they were there.
But we can learn to reduce our zone of disturbance by tuning into the natural world, slowing down, and paying attention. When we do that, our energy changes and the birds and animals can sense that we present no danger.
At the same time, we can expand our zone of awareness, which is our ability to take in and process the information available to us. At first, the behavior of the birds in the backyard might seem random, but when we become more aware, we can understand what the birds are doing and why.
Circles of Empathy
I like the image of these radiating zones. They've helped me think of another kind of circle that radiates out from us. You could call it a circle of empathy.
Imagine that each one of us has a circle of empathy that radiates outward. The process of growing up is largely one of extending our empathy beyond the ego to others — and, in fact, seeing the other as connected to ourselves.
But for some, even in adulthood, the circle of empathy remains quite small. Trump and his supporters, for example, have empathy that doesn't radiate very far, and that has very strong borders. Inside the zone is "people like me," which is to say, white Americans who share similar beliefs. Outside that is "the other:" people of color, people who have different beliefs, immigrants.
It looks something like this.
It's easy to criticize Trump supporters, of course, but it's a lot harder to find voters whose circle of empathy extends as far as it might. We're told to vote our own-self interest, but that's not nearly good enough anymore. We live in the wealthiest, most powerful country on earth, and there's not a person on the planet not affected by those we elect into office.
Many years ago, Wendell Berry wrote:
“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.”
This is what I believe: that we are far too limited in how we view and use our political power as the most privileged people on earth.
This election will affect the global climate for centuries. It will determine whether or not the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. It will determine whether or not our children leave college burdened with debt. It will determine whether or not the corrupting influence of multinational corporations continues to undermine the independence, safety, and health of people in other countries.
There is only one candidate who speaks to these things, who speaks for all of us. Listen to this man.
Just watch that man speak. He believes in this to his core:
This is what I believe. Every great religion in the world — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism — essentially comes down to: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." And what I have believed in my whole life — I believed it when I was a 22-year-old kid getting arrested in Chicago fighting segregation — I’ve believed it in my whole life.
That we are in this together — not just, not words. The truth is at some level when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt. And it’s very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry, or veterans who are sleeping out on the street, and we can develop a psyche, a psychology which is "I don’t have to worry about them; all I’m gonna worry about is myself; I need to make another 5 billion dollars."
But I believe that what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can’t even understand. It’s beyond intellect. It’s a spiritual, emotional thing.
What does this look like? I think it looks something like this. No barriers, no borders, just radiating empathy for others that translates into action.
There is only one candidate running with this worldview.
Only one candidate who has spent his life fighting against injustice, against sending our children to die in illegal wars, against discrimination of all types.
There is only one candidate running who has rejected the lure of corporate money.
Only one who fights the criminals on Wall St. who cost millions of Americans our homes.
Who is against fracking because it poisons our water and harms our climate.
Who has spent his entire career fighting for the middle class, not the corporate class.
Who believes access to health care is a basic human right.
Who wants our kids to be able to go to public university without sinking into debt.
There is only one candidate whose life's work reflects the belief that "When you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt."
There is only one candidate with rock solid, unimpeachable integrity. And only one candidate whose campaign is funded entirely by we, the people.
This is about more than Bernie Sanders. This is about all of us and how we choose to use our power as citizens. We can choose business as usual. But can we not, given this rare opportunity, elect a man who believes we can do much, much better?
Please consider voting for this remarkable man at this critical moment in our history. Let us, in this moment, live our lives in widening circles that reach out across the world.