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From consumerism to community (01/17/2010)
By Janet Lewis Burns
“The future does not seem as connected to the present as it once did. We feel that something big is about to happen, but none of us knows exactly what it is.” That sentiment was written by Marianne Williamson in the introduction to her book of essays, in which contributors outline their own unique and inspiring visions of a renewed universe. “Imagine – What America Could Be In The 21st Century ” conveys optimism. Could negative nay-sayers, from their dark caves, conform to that?

Today’s trend of competitive backstabbing, deception, and greed make Robert Frost’s outdated notion seem like a fairy tale. “Men work together,” I told him from the heart, “Whether they work together or apart.” ( I think not.)

Vicki Robin, an activist for sustainable consumption, wrote in her “Imagine” essay, “Transformation,” “It was a no-brainer to realize that none of us use all our possessions all the time. Sharing brought our costs of living down dramatically - and brought back good old-fashioned neighborliness.” She spoke of our present era in the past tense: “People everywhere were hitting the same cultural lie: that more is better and it’s never enough. They were bone-tired from overwork, over- stimulation, overspending, and overconsumption of stuff they didn’t need.” (That’s us alright!)

Thom Hartman goes so far as to create an all-encompassing and inclusive atmosphere in his essay “Community.” He suggests, “Nearly every neighborhood has a community building, often part of the power station or place of worship, where people gather during the day to converse and during the evening to share potluck dinners and entertain one another with music, storytelling, dancing, games, and reading aloud.”

“People walk everywhere, for exercise as well as for social interaction.” “Most goods and resources are locally produced and locally consumed.” “Electricity and heat are produced by small local stations the size of garages, each one serving its own local community of 12 to 50 homes.” “Laws and cultural norms are mostly determined locally.

“True happiness and a meaningful day-to-day life come through creative work, gentle play, and connection with others.”

Have you heard enough? As I read the 38 essays in “Imagine,” it felt like I was on a journey through the twilight zone. I became attentive, however, realizing that the more open-minded, practical, and sensitive possibilities outlined in these essays are based on the premise that our natural resources are dwindling, that consumerism and greed are swiftly depleting them, and global warming and other drastic disasters in the natural world threaten to cause catastrophic changes in the universe.

Williamson proclaimed that the writers in this compilation are prepared to live by their own bottom-line message: “Separately, we face almost inevitable darkness, while together, we face unimaginable light.”

Eric Utne proposes that a movement by the media could revive the endangered art of conversation. He predicts that 50 years from now, a more community- minded media will have less sex and violence, less hand-wringing and blaming, less head and more heart, more interaction and participation, and more context and wisdom. (Sounds like a dubious challenge!)

Then there’s the issue of the issue of race relations issues. (Alright already!) Founders of the Attitudinal Healing Connection, dedicated to the eradication of fear and violence in America, Kokomon Clotty and Aeeshah Ababio-Clotty believe in the “village concept.” Their dream is “to build an America that works for everyone.” They explain, “The village concept holds as its core values, trust, acceptance, gentleness, joy, defenselessness, generosity, patience, and hope.” (Just imagine a world without malice and fear!)

Reconciliation through dance? Fifteen years after devastating genocide in Rwanda, visual artist Collin Sekag founded an arts center there, upholding the power of unity. Through fluid dance, the 45 children, ages 3-12, are taught to tell old stories to keep the Rwandan tradition alive. Having risen above their differences - when they dance together they’re like one.

Could universal reform become reality? Each of us has to ask ourself, am I contributing negative or positive energy to the cause of mankind’s survival? You do matter.

Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She wishes everybody successful New Year’s resolutions. patandjanburns@embarqmail.com



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