Monday, April 27, 2009

Community Action, Esoteric Ideas, and Eavesdropping

I just got back from a meeting of a community action group whose purpose is to train inner city kids in life skills. In attendance were two black muslims, two women, and two community organizers. I was the only white guy. I had previously met with the organization head, one of the woman. I had seen a sign outside her building advertising life counseling. I was cold calling on businesses to introduce my consulting services and decided to check out whether there might be an opportunity for me to get some work. After explaining my background to her (I was a social worker and teacher in the ghettoes of Brooklyn) and giving her a copy of my book she decided that I might be a good addition to her board. She thought I could add diversity so she decided to invite me to the board meeting. In the spirit of not having anything better to do I decided to check out the meeting.

One of the first things I noticed was that I did not feel at all like an outsider. I had spent the entire day at another business discussing the communication and personal problems of the business owners and the employees. The environment at this center seemed a little more upbeat, friendly, and positive much more to my liking than the business I had just left or the average businesses I observe. These people were optimistic and hopeful, opposite of what you might think would be the case in a ghetto business devoted to solving the most difficult of family and children problems

I did notice from the amount of Obama pictures on the wall and from eavesdropping on some of the conversations as I was waiting for the meeting to begin how significant Obama's elections was to the world view and attitude of the members. By the way, I am a professional eavesdropper. After years of practicing this little known art I have perfected it and have learned to eavesdrop on multiple conversations simultaneously. What I have noticed is that most people talk about nothing of relevance.

The easiest and most fruitful places for eavesdropping are restaurants and security lines in airports. These conversations for the most part are nonsensical. Restaurant conversations are mostly about gossip, health problems, or the state of the participants material possessions, especially their homes. Airport conversations are usually boring recounts of places that have been visited or worst of all businessmen checking in with their offices to make sure that assignments are getting done or that arrangments have been made. What annoys me most about these conversations is the urgency and importance that are being attached to these conversations even though most of the products are non-essential and evenly irrelevant. I mean people act like shipments of corkboard or specifications for lampshades are critical to the planets survival.

When the board meeting was actually started one of the Muslims, Juwanda, was asked to present his background and how he felt he could contribute to the board and the organization. He was about my age and told his story about his life on the streets as an activist dealing with prisoners and drug addicts and how he had developed experience in life skills training especially from the prisoners. He mentioned that people in prison have the time, space, and will to actually think about things and because of the this are often in the best position to come up with good ideas about self development and helping the community. The women leader objected a little to this saying that even though she was tremendously busy she found the time, space, and will to come up with good ideas also, and had never been in prison.

I was then asked to tell my story. I explained to the group without the slightest bit of nervousness or even self-consciousness that I had spent the last thirty years working in the business world attempting to bring spiritual values to business. I mentioned that in order to do this I had to understand what were spiritual values. I expressed my view that at the core of all religions was a similar truth, that we were all created from the same source, that we had lost our connection with this source, and that spiritual work in all religions involved returning to the source from which we came. This return began with self-study and getting to see the truth about ourselves and our condition. I said that I believed that all effective self-development programs had to include this element of self-awareness training.

I also expressed the idea that the world was changing and that the old ways of running businesses and becoming successful based on greed, competiveness, and aggression were no longer working. What was needed was a more sincere, sharing, and caring attitude. This leveled the playing field and provided an equal opportunity to motivate ghetto kids and rich kids from white suburbia. They liked this point. One of the muslims pointed out to me, though after I finished my talk that he was not willing to take money from the casinos, no matter how much they were offering. I had no idea why he even said this. For the first time though I had a little self-doubt that he might know about my gambling background, although I had never met him before.

When I got home and reflected on what had happened at the meeting I was happy with the way I presented myself and saw that I can impact people with my ideas, although I wasn't sure that I could really help this group or that I wanted to. I woke up though, in the middle of the night with the idea that a way to help these kids was to create workshops in which the kids are asked to present basic esoteric ideas through art, theater, dance. poetry, song, and story telling. I thought of the Wizard of Oz , the Emperor's New Clothes, and West Side Story as examples of performance and creativity being used as vehicles to express deeper lessons about life. This is not a new idea and has been incorporated within most traditions since the beginning of history. The hard part is to organize it and develop a structure and process through which the kids can be motivated to spend their time creating and expressing themselves in ways that will enable them to get to know themselves better.

I think I'll send an e-mail to the director telling her about this possibility. I'm still not sure whether I want to get involved or not. I'll have to think about it.

1 comment:

  1. You have talked about addiction; such as your addiction to gambling. How do you view such human flaws as addiction? What do you see are solutions to overcoming them? Is an addiction only a negative influence in our lives, as humans, if it has a detrimental outcome? (i.e.) loss of money so that we are financially impacted and therefore unable to afford certain necessities of life. Does not addiction point to a greater human condition which is beyond mere esoteric musings?