Thursday, May 14, 2015


One of my favorite authors is Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit Priest who wrote books about mysticism and awareness.

When I first encountered his writings in books like One Minute Wisdom, he was synthesizing Christianity with the other mystic traditions, and it fascinated me. He adapts the stories about Buddha, Nasrullah, and Baal Shem Tov to fit his theology. In a world where we discuss culture appropriation, I'm beginning to question whether his syncretic approach is okay. Okay or not, it is part of my spiritual journey.

In Awareness, he writes about letting go of expectations of ourselves, expectations of others, and seeing reality. A month or more ago, I tweeted about a comment from this book. He writes about "I'm Okay, You're Okay," and says that if he were to write a book, he'd write "I'm an Ass, You're an Ass," because it disarms us. Chapters include (but are not limited to):

  • Listen and Unlearn
  • Good, Bad, or Lucky
  • Our Illusion About Others
  • Negative Feelings Toward Others
  • Fear--The Root of Violence
  • Change as Greed
  • Cultural Conditioning
  • Listening to Life.

Heart of the Enlightened has an entire chapter of story-meditations about Service. Here's one:
A commuter hopped on to a train at New York and told the conductor he was going to Fordham. "We don't stop at Fordham on Saturdays," said the conductor, "but I'll tell you what I'll do. As we slow down at Fordham station, I shall open the door and you jump off. Make sure you're running along with the train when you hit the ground or you'll fall flat on your face."
At Fordham the door opened and the commuter hit the ground running forward. Another conductor, seeing him, opened the door and pulled him in as the train resumed speed. "You're mighty lucky, buddy," said the conductor. "This train doesn't stop at Fordham on Saturdays!"
de Mello comments on this story:
In your own small way you can be of service to people--by getting out of their way. [p. 135]

Susan Silk and Barry Goldman have written an article, "How not to say the wrong thing," which discusses the Ring Theory of Kvetching: Comfort in, dump out.

I think this also can be applied to social justice efforts. Too often, our toxic culture teaches us to dump in, which is where bullying and harassment usually occur.

A related concept is applied to comedy, that jokes should "punch up" rather than "punch down". But instead of discussing punching, or dumping, I think we need to discuss support.

The idea of focusing ones support on the weakest and most vulnerable is not my own. It is stated by the Activist women of color who are working in that space. Similar thoughts can be traced back to Christian teachings, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me," and also to Jewish traditions that have often favored the underdog.

What I propose, just combines these two ideas, is the Ring Theory of Social Justice. Support goes in. Kvetching goes out.

Now, we sometimes need to be careful about where the center is, which direction is "in" for anti-oppression. It's very similar to Joseph Campbell's concept of a circle or sphere, whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.

We don't want to get into the Oppression Olympics. Different spaces may focus on different aspects of oppressions, like race, gender and gender identity, orientation, class, ability, and in that space it may be derailing to change the conversation to a different type of oppression.

Which circles back around to Anthony de Mello. His chapter on Service frequently reiterates the ways that when we try to help, we may inadvertently make things worse. Excuse me while I go re-read for a while.