Employer, priest, pastor, director, manager and teacherall are positions of power. There are other powerful positions as well. Abuse of that power is what much of the conversation revolves around today. Here are just some of the less sensational charges:
• Substitute teacher accused of bedding teen allegedly sent him nudes on Snapchat
• High school girls’ softball coach quits after allegations of sex with student; Principal who had sex ‘dungeon’ in office gets prison
• HIV-positive hairdresser allegedly cut tips off condoms to infect his Grindr dates
• High-ranking Cardinal accused of sex offenses heckled outside court
• Anti-abortion congressman resigns amid sex scandal
Our Community is experienced with the abuse of power. It has only been recently and only in some states that “homosexuality” was “legal.” It is still within living memory when African Americans in some states were factually prohibited from voting. Not too long ago it was against the law in some states for mixed race marriage. But the abuse of power is not only manifested in the law but in our culture.
I believe that life, in a general sort of way, is being demeaned and becoming less important. I believe that individual “rights” and privileges are displacing what we can call the social contract. The social contract should be an unspoken culture where each person can and should expect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness not at the expense of others. It is accomplished by individual:
• humility against pride
• kindnessagainst envy
• abstinence against gluttony
• chastity against lust
• patience against anger
• liberality against greed
• diligence against sloth
If the foregoing sound familiar they are Christian in origin and were written in the 5th century as a sort of guide to a good soul. Even more on point is a list of “virtues” written in the 13th century and they are derivative directly from that Jesus guy:
• feed the hungry
• give drink to the thirsty
• give shelter to strangers
• clothe the naked
• visit the sick
• minister to prisoners
• and bury the dead.
The challenge for us is to give new meaning to these very old and apparently out dated lists that would purported insure and clean heart and give you a ticket to heaven. So what might a contemporary list look like? So many things are changing and our collective attention spans are shrinking. So, what might work?
Maybe we can start with another old saying, “Do no harm.” In that simple phrase is packaged a statement that stands against bullies, misogynists, homophobes, and those that are greedy and would deprive people of a right to live, to work, and to love. “Do no harm.” Perhaps that is a starting place. But it cannot be the end because “Do no harm” is a state of passivity in some cases. Passivity can be a way to avoid and to accept unacceptable behaviors. So what might be next?
Perhaps we can ease into the active voice. How about “Respect the dignity of every human being.” Such a phrase implies at least some degree of activity. We have to check ourselves and our prejudices; we have to demonstrate our respect in everyday engagements. But this doesn’t mean that we have to demonstrate. We simply must respect.
The active voice requires that we are no longer complicit with, nor a part of, bigotry, greed, envy, vanity, subterfuge, and indeed that we act against it. So what can we say that is more than a passive state (do no harm) and more engaged than an active self-appraisal (respecting and dignity giving)? Let’s borrow a word from our list “Diligence” not against sloth but against hatred bias and abuse. Abuse can simply be putting yourself above others. Abuse can be both passive and active but at least Diligence requires some action and a bit more than respect.
Finally, and no I am not going to go on for seven new virtues at least not this time – but here is the final one for our chat today: “Do not neglect to do good.” This is active if we honestly engage and mean this to be a true way of living for us all. Do good things means getting off the bar stool and lending a hand here and there. Do good means making active all of the things that precede it. Do good means to stand in solidarity with the powerless whose so ever we find them. The powerless may be male or female of a certain race or creed, or a certain sexual orientation, of an economic class. Do good should be all of who and what we are.
I am blessed because I get to see folks and particularly our community “do good” often. A few of those things might be collecting toys for kids in Puerto Rico, raising monies to teach kids in the Tremé, a hospice visit for a dying friend, support for those struggling, maybe as simple as buying a ticket to a fund raiser for a charity. Do good! So brothers and sisters let’s start to take a serious look at ourselves and our community and maybe we can tweak a few things in our collective lives. Maybe we can start to rebuild our social contract and elevate ourselves to a new level of holiness because in so doing all of these things we are doing sacred work; even the least of us. So, here is that start of the list. I would love to hear of your additions to this list to build a better community within the larger community and to return us to our common humanity. Once more:
• Do no harm. (Be gentle in spirit)
• Respect the dignity of every human being. (Go beyond what you see)
• Show diligence. (Do not be a part of that which hurts or deprives one of dignity)
• Do not neglect to do good. (Work actively to make all of these virtues true)
To add to the list of virtues for our community please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to receiving your contributions to the list.