No One Left Behind

“What I am urging you to do is […] instead of striving to become the sort of leaders who say to the rest of us “Follow me! I know!”, to become the sort of leaders who say, in counsel with their peers, “No one left behind.” Not the brown-skinned Mexican, not the Islamic carpenter, not the hapless denizen of Djibouti City, not the woman sleeping in a car, not the transgendered or the gay, not the anchorite, not the billionaire, not the alcoholic or the addict. No one left behind. Because if whatever we find on the other side of democracy or capitalism does not serve us all, it will end up serving no one.” 

-Barry Lopez. “The Education of Barry Lopez.” Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 2017

I do firmly believe that we need to take particular care as we proceed in these hot-headed times. It is all too easy to use our understandable sense of anger and righteous indignation to ‘fight’, to ‘push for change’. There is a lot of energy available in anger, but too often this energy is also blind – it is not the product of a composed and thoughtful mind nor sufficiently educated heart.

If we mean to re-shape our culture in ways that leave no one behind, we must behave our way into transforming the more pernicious, destructive aspects of our culture, not by venting our anger at targets outside ourself, but by attending to the pernicious and destructive habits of our own person. We cannot force others to change, we can only take a more thoughtful, deeper look at our own humanity and make the commitment to bend our own will more firmly in the service of love, courage, humility and the cultivation of wisdom, where the good of all is concerned. What would Martin Luther King Jr. do?

This is a bit of a daunting undertaking, perhaps it even seems grandiose, but so too is much of the rabble-rousing that parades as change-making. I am not convinced that angry demonstrations and very public expressions of outrage are likely to take us where we want to go ultimately.

How can we expect to create a peaceful, stable society if we are actively (perhaps also unwittingly) contributing to unrest and more instability? How can we expect to live happily in more inclusive communities if we are taking positions in response to all the social ills we suffer that only polarize us further creating an even deeper, wider chasm to bridge?

We must be the change we wish to see in the world. And as Gandhi’s efforts revealed, many people are not interested in the possibility of seeing their ‘enemy’ as their potential friend – it’s much easier and sadistically pleasurable to find ways to justify any sense of self-righteous indignation by ‘fighting’ the ‘evil’ in question. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel-too easy. I think we can and must do better than this.

What to do? Practice incremental inclusion, study it, what it means, what it looks and feels like. Practice patience, study it, what it means, what it looks and feels like. Practice love and courage – do not assume you know what these are, what they look like, what they mean or feel like. Better to assume ignorance (the present state of things would seem to suggest we have little real knowledge here, no?). Become curious instead.

Questioning our assumptions and being open to the complexity of reality will, I think, lead us in more productive and innovative directions. Complex problems may have simple solutions, but they won’t often be easy to implement. Baby steps. Experiment with your own life, pay attention to your experiences, take notes, take care and see where it leads.

Above all, be patient and leave no one behind.