If you are not part of the solution,
you are part of the problem.
—Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice
I read these words when I was 20, and they have always stayed with me. In the current cultural environment, polarization in one form or another rears its ugly head no matter where you look. I do not want to contribute to this problem, but what is the solution?
The only way that I can see to be part of the solution is to stay in touch with the practice of compassion and meet what life brings to me. By compassion I do not mean the well-meaning but questionable compassion of pity, or the self-serving compassion of those who seek to feel better about themselves by cultivating a practice of compassion, or the materialistic compassion of those who aim to “do well by doing good.” No, I mean compassion that sees clearly what is happening yet does not contract into self-protection; compassion that sees through the cultural projections that hide inconvenient truths or unpleasant ironies; and compassion that understands that it is not so much about making a perfect or even a better world but about being present in the suffering of the world, the conflicts that produce that suffering, and the tensions that produce those conflicts, and then seeing what can evolve from there.
Many years ago I came across a paragraph in one of John Le Carré’s novels. These novels are set in the middle of the Cold War, the ideological battle between communism and capitalism that occupied much of the 20th century. George Smiley is a master spy who appears in many of Le Carré’s stories, and here he is speaking on the occasion of his retirement from the British Secret Service.
I only ever cared about the man. I never gave a fig for the ideologies, unless they were mad or evil. I ne