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Currents and Futures

 [This article is adapted from a talk given to Portland’s “Coordinating Committee to End Homelessness” on 17 October, 2012, at First Methodist Church.]Greetings;My theme today is “Healing Our Damaged Hearts”. I want to talk to you about Heart damage. Not damage to our physical blood pumps, but how our Hearts are injured in our everyday interactions with each other. How our Hearts are injured by our society.In going around the world, I’ve been to more refugee camps than I can count, in Africa and in South Asia. Refugee camps are pockets of despair. I go as a witness.

I remember in one refugee camp in Sri Lanka, a woman came up to me with a simple question: “When can I go home?” She stopped me in my tracks.  I didn’t know how to answer her. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her home was probably destroyed, or was taken over by the Tamil Tigers. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that in all likelihood, she could never go home.  I had no response to her despair.

I’ve also been to two refugee camps right here in the United States. In fact, here in Portland, Oregon. One’s called Dignity Village, and the other “Right to Dream, Too (R2DToo). You don’t have to go thousands of miles away to see the conditions of a refugee camp. You can see the same thing, right here in your own cities.

With tens of thousands of people in domestic refugee camps, we have to start asking the question:  WHERE’S THE WAR?

Service Providers and Damaged Hearts

In these refugee camps, both international and domestic, I’ve seen conditions of despair. I’ve seen damaged people. Those of you who are direct service providers see those conditions every day. If someone is talking to you, it’s pretty sure that, for them, you are their last resort. And, for many of you, you don’t have a solution for them. You don’t have a way to ease their despair. You may give them a bed for a night, or a week.  You may refer them to another agency or another organization, passing them along… but you know that will not solve their problem, either.

We see destitute people seeking services as having damaged Hearts. But, it’s time for us to acknowledge that their damage hits you – right in the heart. If you’re really doing your job, you cannot help but pick up their energy of hopelessness and despair. This is especially true when you do not have solutions for them; when you’re filling out paperwork, but not solving problems.

My question is, how can we heal OUR damaged Hearts, not just “those people over there”.

We as Heart damaged people go on to create a Heart damaged society. We don’t want to do this – but it becomes our default position, our status quo.

Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve the problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Many of us know that quote, but we still ignore it! We keep doing the same things over and over again, expecting things to change, expecting new solutions to miraculously appear!  It’s like we’re stuck on stupid.

When will we start doing things differently?

Inclusivity as the Cure for Homelessness

The goal of Commonway is to create a world that works for all beings. The primary value of Commonway is INCLUSIVITY, the notion that my life is inextricably linked to yours, and to all other beings.

“Inclusivity” is not “inclusion” or “inclusiveness” or any of the other wishy-washy ways of saying it. (I can be very firm about this, since I did write a book about it!) Inclusivity is about being connected to each other – whether we know each other or not, whether we LIKE each other or not, and whether or not it is comfortable or “politically correct” to do so.

If we actually believe in inclusivity, if we actually PRACTICED inclusivity, the things that we see as problems in our society today, problems like poverty and homelessness, would simply disappear. If we practiced inclusivity, we would stop seeing homelessness as a “problem”, and start seeing it as an “opportunity”.

The Death of Assumptions

Homelessness can be resolved, in the blink of an eye, by changing our assumptions. Most of the time, we go about our work, without questioning the assumptions that lie behind that work. One of Commonway’s teachings is that we should always question all of the underpinnings, especially when we see that things aren’t working.

To keep this in mind, I created a new word: MAPS-2. That stands for:

  • Materials
  • Methodologies
  • Attitudes
  • Assumptions
  • Principles
  • Paradigms
  • Systems
  • Structures

In short MAPS-2, stands for all of the things that exist as the underpinnings in how we see our work, and even how we see reality. By actually questioning these things, we can begin to see the places where our societal problems exist solely because of outdated, outmoded, or in some cases, outlandish attitudes and assumptions.

MAPS-2 stands for everything that you must change, if you honestly want to end homelessness. Everything that you must change, if you honestly want to end poverty. Not someone else – you.

It’s Time for “Plan B”

We have to start looking at the death of assumptions – killing those assumptions that lead to an increase in despair and Heart damage. In the movie “The Untouchables”, Malone (played by Sean Connery) says to Eliot Ness (played by Kevin Costner), “What are you prepared to do to get Al Capone?” Ness says, “Everything within the law.” Malone then says, “And THEN what are you prepared to do?”

Each one of you, as service providers to homeless people, is at that “… And then?” moment. Because, each one of you is at Year Seven of a ten-year mandate to end all homelessness in the city of Portland. And, if you are being honest with yourself, you will realize that you won’t make it. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you will NEVER make it.

Unlike in the movie, you won’t have to kill any people to reach your goal! You WILL, however, have to kill more than a few assumptions. (You may find that is a pretty hard task.)

Lessons from Dignity Village

I spent some time this spring working in Dignity Village. I did eight Commonway workshops there, and, in addition, spent time in daily meditation with some of the residents. I learned a LOT about our society from my interactions there. More than a few of my assumptions were laid to rest right there.

Of the four or five major lessons I learned while working in Dignity Village, I’ll share one with you: Homelessness is not a problem. Homelessness is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to see societal transformation from the inside out. As Dignity Village is on the leading edge of societal transformation, each one of you has the opportunity to become midwives to the birth of a society that works for all.

This approach requires that you stop looking at the immediacy of each person who does not have a home, and look at the system as a whole.

Homelessness, people living on the streets, Dignity Village, R2DToo… these elements make up the leading edge of a wave that requires a transformation of our entire society. If your goal is to have homeless people enter the “mainstream”, you really need to check your assumptions.

Commonway helps organizations see, understand and adopt the values and visions of a 21st Century society that works for all.  Together, we can establish totally new ways of thinking about ourselves, thinking about “the Other” and thinking about our society. Together, operating from a new set of assumptions, we can transform our city, and serve as a model to the entire nation.

We’re all doing the same work. I wish us all well.



PS: I will be offering an all-day workshop on “Healing Our Damaged Hearts on Saturday, 3 November 2012.  For more information, click here:  Healing Our Damaged Hearts.

PPS:  Feel free to share this widely.

[NOTE:  While I welcome your comments, I do not post comments from “Anonymous”, or from bogus email addresses.  That is not the kind of society that we should support.  The next society will be based on love and community, not snarkiness and anonymity.]

[On the other hand: there may be valid reasons why you don’t want your name used.  (For example: job-related issues.  It’s happened before.)  Send me an email and let’s discuss it.]


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