Richard Rohr Meditation: Generosity of Spirit

Suffering is inevitable, they said, but how we respond to that suffering is our choice. Not even oppression or occupation can take away this freedom to choose our response.

As our dialogue progressed, we converged on eight pillars of joy.

Four were qualities of the mind: 

  1. perspective,
  2. humility,
  3. humor, and
  4. acceptance. 

Four were qualities of the heart:

  1. forgiveness,
  2. gratitude, 
  3. compassion, and
  4. generosity.

When we practice a generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing all the other pillars of joy. In generosity, there is a wider perspective [italics mine], in which we see our connection to all others. There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at another time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual. There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we do not take ourselves too seriously. There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is. There is a forgiveness of others and a release of what otherwise might have been. There is a gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire to help those who are in need. And from this comes a generosity that is “wise selfish,” a generosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves. As the Dalai Lama put it, “In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.”

The issue that is — unfortunately — uniting Americans on the left and the right

Some of the tenured class that sets the intellectual tone of the left concluded long ago that America was built by oppression, is sustained by white privilege and requires the cleansing purity of social revolution (however that is defined). In this story, capitalism accumulates inequities that will eventually lead the rich to eat the poor. The American Dream is an exploitative myth. Change will come only through a coalition of the aggrieved. And those who are not permanently enraged are not paying proper attention.

.. It is unrecognizable to people — mostly white people — who regard mid-20th-century America as a social and economic ideal. The country has been fundamentally altered by multiculturalism and political correctness. It has been ruined by secularism and moral relativism. America, says the Rev. Franklin Graham, is “on the verge of total moral and spiritual collapse.” And those who are not permanently offended are not paying proper attention.
.. a poll taken last year found that 72 percent of Donald Trump supporters believe American society and its way of life have changed for the worse since the 1950s. And the most pessimistic and discontented lot of all was white evangelical Protestants. Almost three-quarters believed the past 70 years to be a period of social decline.
Those of us who remember politics in the Reagan era have a mental habit of regarding conservatism as more optimistic about the American experiment and liberalism as more discontented.
.. They are united in their belief that the United States is dominated by corrupt, self-serving elites. They are united in their call for radical rather than incremental change. While disagreeing deeply about the cause, they see America as careening off course.
.. What group believes that American society has gotten better since the 1950s? About 60 percent of African Americans and Hispanics.
.. Many conservatives have failed to appreciate the mixed legacy of modernity. In recent decades, the United States has seen declining community and family cohesion, and what former U.S. surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy calls “a loneliness epidemic.” “We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization,” he says, “yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.”
.. elevate and praise American ideals while courageously applying them to our social inconsistencies and hypocrisies.
.. And this might be matched with a spirit of gratitude — for a country capable of shame and change, and better than its grievances.

Being rich wrecks your soul. We used to know that.

According to an apocryphal exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, the only difference between the rich and the rest of us is that they have more money. But is that the only difference?

We didn’t used to think so. We used to think that having vast sums of money was bad and in particular bad for you — that it harmed your character, warping your behavior and corrupting your soul. We thought the rich were different, and different for the worse.

.. The idea that wealth is morally perilous has an impressive philosophical and religious pedigree. Ancient Stoic philosophers railed against greed and luxury, and Roman historians such as Tacitus lay many of the empire’s struggles at the feet of imperial avarice. Confucius lived an austere life. The Buddha famously left his opulent palace behind. And Jesus didn’t exactly go easy on the rich, either — think camels and needles, for starters.

.. The point is not necessarily that wealth is intrinsically and everywhere evil, but that it is dangerous — that it should be eyed with caution and suspicion, and definitely not pursued as an end in itself; that great riches pose great risks to their owners; and that societies are right to stigmatize the storing up of untold wealth

.. Aristotle, for instance, argued that wealth should be sought only for the sake of living virtuously — to manage a household, say, or to participate in the life of the polis. Here wealth is useful but not inherently good; indeed, Aristotle specifically warned that the accumulation of wealth for its own sake corrupts virtue instead of enabling it.

.. Pope Francis. He’s proclaimed that unless wealth is used for the good of society, and above all for the good of the poor, it is an instrument “of corruption and death.”

.. Over the past few years, a pile of studies from the behavioral sciences has appeared, and they all say, more or less, “Being rich is really bad for you.” Wealth, it turns out, leads to behavioral and psychological maladies. The rich act and think in misdirected ways.

.. When it comes to a broad range of vices, the rich outperform everybody else. They are much more likely than the rest of humanity to shoplift and cheat , for example, and they are more apt to be adulterers and to drink a great deal . They are even more likely to take candy that is meant for children.

.. Mercedes and Lexuses are more likely to cut you off than Hondas or Fords: Studies have shown that people who drive expensive cars are more prone to run stop signs and cut off other motorists .

.. They also give proportionally less to charity — not surprising, since they exhibit significantly less compassion and empathy toward suffering people. Studies also find that members of the upper class are worse than ordinary folks at “reading” people’ s emotions and are far more likely to be disengaged from the people with whom they are interacting — instead absorbed in doodling, checking their phones or what have you.
.. rich people, especially stockbrokers and their ilk (such as venture capitalists, whom we once called “robber barons”), are more competitive, impulsive and reckless than medically diagnosed psychopaths.
.. luxuries may numb you to other people
.. simply being around great material wealth makes people less willing to share
.. Vast sums of money poison not only those who possess them but even those who are merely around them. This helps explain why the nasty ethos of Wall Street has percolated down, including to our politics
.. They seem to have a hard time enjoying simple things, savoring the everyday experiences that make so much of life worthwhile.
.. Because they have lower levels of empathy, they have fewer opportunities to practice acts of compassion — which studies suggest give people a great deal of pleasure .
.. they believe that they deserve their wealth , thus dampening their capacity for gratitude, a quality that has been shown to significantly enhance our sense of well-being. All of this seems to make the rich more susceptible to loneliness; they may be more prone to suicide, as well.
.. By and large, those complaints were not about wealth per se but about corrupt wealth — about wealth “gone wrong” and about unfairness. The idea that there is no way for the vast accumulation of money to “go right” is hardly anywhere to be seen.
.. Wealth has arguably been seen as less threatening to one’s moral health since the Reformation, after which material success was sometimes taken as evidence of divine election. But extreme wealth remained morally suspect
.. particular scrutiny and stigmatization during periods like the Gilded Age
.. only in the 1970s did political shifts cause executive salaries skyrocket, and the current effectively unprecedented inequality in income (and wealth) begin to appear, without any significant public complaint or lament.
.. Certain conservative institutions, enjoying the backing of billionaires such as the Koch brothers, have thrown a ton of money at pseudo-academics and “thought leaders” to normalize and legitimate obscene piles of lucre.
.. high salaries naturally flowed from extreme talent and merit

In Defense of Western Civ

The West’s tolerance for anti-Western philosophies is a fairly unique feature of the West itself.

But, again, until pretty recently, that tendency wasn’t against “the West” so much as it was against the Enlightenment or democracy or capitalism. Western radicals argued that the West had taken a wrong turn, not that the East was better.

.. The whole reason liberalism is in trouble today is that it has lost the ability to speak confidently in patriotic and loving terms about America, unless it is in the context of selling some government program or pressing some nakedly political advantage (I’m thinking mostly about immigration maximalism and identity politics). Cutting Medicaid may be wrong, but it’s not unpatriotic.

.. Peter himself recently argued that Democrats need to refocus on the importance of assimilation if they want to be trusted on the issue of immigration. Well, assimilation to what? If American culture is worth assimilating into, so is Western Culture, because the two cannot be separated.

.. Right now, there’s a hilarious effort afoot to defend the anti-Semitic Saudi sock-puppet Linda Sarsour. She recently called for jihad against Donald Trump and insisted that American Muslims must never, ever assimilate into American culture.

.. In Trump’s telling, the threat to Western Civilization must be met with his favorite qualities: Strength! Will! Etc.! The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?

.. In Trump’s telling, the threat to Western Civilization must be met with his favorite qualities: Strength! Will! Etc.! The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?

.. The key to keeping Western Civilization alive isn’t fending off the barbarians at our gates, though that’s important. They key is keeping it alive in our hearts. Civilizations die by suicide. As Lincoln put it:

From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia . . . could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide.

Fending off suicide isn’t a matter of martial will, but of simple gratitude. The Left has convinced itself that there is nothing to be grateful for about Western Civilization. ’s idiotic. And they need to be persuaded otherwise, not pummeled into thinking Western Civilization is just a dog whistle for MAGA.

Rich, who is on a mission to restore the good name of nationalism, asked whether the podcasters would still love America if it had different ideals. And they all said yes.

.. I’ve written countless times that nationalism is good in small doses and poisonous in large doses, save during times of war when it is channeled outward for legitimate reasons.

.. But it is not absurd to say that America is an idea. The Founders certainly thought it was. So did Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. They appealed to the idea encased in the Declaration, not to the nation. Appeals to nationalism can be appeals to ideas, but they usually are not. They are simply another form of populism, which says we’re right because we’re us. Appeals to ideas, particularly those that marry themselves to what is best about a nation, help a nation act in accordance with its best self.

.. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause

 

Why Luck Matters More Than You Might Think

When people see themselves as self-made, they tend to be less generous and public-spirited.

.. According to the Pew Research Center, people in higher income brackets are much more likely than those with lower incomes to say that individuals get rich primarily because they work hard.

.. That’s troubling, because a growing body of evidence suggests that seeing ourselves as self-made—rather than as talented, hardworking, and lucky—leads us to be less generous and public-spirited. It may even make the lucky less likely to support the conditions (such as high-quality public infrastructure and education) that made their own success possible.

.. Happily, though, when people are prompted to reflect on their good fortune, they become much more willing to contribute to the common good.

.. All of a sudden people were telling me I was a born writer. This was absurd. Even I could see that there was another, more true narrative, with luck as its theme. What were the odds of being seated at that dinner next to that Salomon Brothers lady? Of landing inside the best Wall Street firm to write the story of the age? Of landing in the seat with the best view of the business?

When you’re running or bicycling into the wind, you’re very aware of it. You just can’t wait till the course turns around and you’ve got the wind at your back. When that happens, you feel great. But then you forget about it very quickly—you’re just not aware of the wind at your back. And that’s just a fundamental feature of how our minds, and how the world, works. We’re just going to be more aware of those barriers than of the things that boost us along.

The Selfish Side of Gratitude

But is gratitude always appropriate? The answer depends on who’s giving it and who’s getting it or, very commonly in our divided society, how much of the wealth gap it’s expected to bridge. Suppose you were an $8-an-hour Walmart employee who saw her base pay elevated this year, by company fiat, to $9 an hour. Should you be grateful to the Waltons, who are the richest family in America? Or to Walmart’s chief executive, whose annual base pay is close to $1 million and whose home sits on nearly 100 acres of land in Bentonville, Ark.? Grateful people have been habitually dismissed as “chumps,” and in this hypothetical case, the term would seem to apply.

.. The foundation does not fund projects to directly improve the lives of poor individuals, but it has spent a great deal, through efforts like these, to improve their attitudes.

.. If there is any loving involved in this, it is self-love, and the current hoopla around gratitude is a celebration of onanism.

.. Saying grace to an abstract God is an evasion; there are crowds, whole communities of actual people, many of them with aching backs and tenuous finances, who made the meal possible.

.. The real challenge of gratitude lies in figuring out how to express our debt to them, whether through generous tips or, say, by supporting their demands for decent pay and better working conditions. But now we’re not talking about gratitude, we’re talking about a far more muscular impulse — and this is, to use the old-fashioned term, “solidarity” — which may involve getting up off the yoga mat.

The Structure of Gratitude

In the capitalist economy, debt is to be repaid to the lender. But a debt of gratitude is repaid forward, to another person who also doesn’t deserve it. In this way each gift ripples outward and yokes circles of people in bonds of affection.

.. If you think that human nature is good and powerful, then you go around frustrated because the perfect society has not yet been achieved. But if you go through life believing that our reason is not that great, our individual skills are not that impressive, and our goodness is severely mottled, then you’re sort of amazed life has managed to be as sweet as it is.

.. Gratitude is the ability to see and appreciate this other almost magical economy.