In my day-to-day life, the people I encounter (friends, neighbors, co-workers, students) all generally seem to be good; they want the best for themselves and the world they live in, they do not wish to do harm, and they are concerned about global warming, the wars, and biological threats. They want to be happy, and they want the people around them to be happy. Many of them are actively engaged with projects and endeavors that benefit others; they are motivated by a sincere desire to change the world in which they live.
I started thinking about this the day after attending a performance by a troupe called “Bench Press Burlesque.” Four of the members of the group take yoga classes with me and I wanted to support them. I had seen them perform previously and was delighted with the wit, intelligence, and cutting-edge weirdness with which they deal with current issues and culture. Their most recent production, “Bad Jokes and Tight Ropes” did not fail to deliver, in my opinion. Perhaps I am a bit prejudiced (I know them and I love them!) but I was again tickled and pleased to see them as they took on President Bush, Technology, Corporate Environmental Rape, Bad Parenting, Gender Mis-identification, and the Catholic Church in their unique, campy, low-budget, sexy and freaky style. There was a decent performance of a West African dance that had the audience clapping and stomping, a puppet show on Sex Education and musical interludes by the house band The Tin Lizzies, consisting of vocals, accordion, violin, guitar, clarinet, and percussion.
The event took place in a refurbished school/church in a city neighbor-hood which is undergoing some face-lifting, and it was a sliding-scale admission ($5 got me half a generous chair on which I did not have to share overly intimate gluteal contact with friends). The audience was primarily white and young, and a generous mix of genders. The “Bad Jokes” were sometimes off-color and didn’t spare any camp, but they were in my opinion non-offensive and were of the “How many (fill in the blank) does it take to change a light bulb? variety.
The jokes immediately established a contact between audience and performers; the question was asked, the audience yelled back “How many?” What struck me about this classic burlesque was the thin line between audience and performers that got thinner as the night went on. I loved it. There was a feeling of unity and “we’re all in this together” that was uplifting and empowering. During the intermission I was chatting with one of the troupe and I asked her (since it seemed to be a capacity crowd) if they made any money at this. With a big smile on her face she told me that yes indeed they did make money, and they spent some of it on costumes and props (props are hand-made signs, milk crates, and other items you can find in an alley, costumes are of the thrift-store ilk), and the all the rest was donated.
So there you go. They have fun, they are talented musicians and performers, and they obviously work hard at making their low-budget performances a success. I had no idea they donated the proceeds until I asked; it is not mentioned or advertised. Perhaps they are preaching to the choir as far the messages of their performances go; (folks who attend are probably of a particular mindset not likely to be shocked or outraged by the material), but my point is that they “do good” and “change the world” both by the messages they send and the fact that they donate money to worthy causes. If the audience is pretty much of a similar mindset as the performers, and judging by the degree of audience participation they are, then there are lots and lots of folks who want to do good works and change their world for the better.
I believe that even the President and the legislative, judicial, and executive officials we elect are basically good people. What then, goes so terribly wrong? I think that when people are given greater and greater degrees of power and money, they get caught up in thinking More is More and that they need more and more. In other words, they are consumed by greed. Power can corrupt and Total Power can corrupt completely, even those of us who believe we are basically “good”.
I think what drives this corruption is Fear. Fear that what we have will be lost, Fear that we cannot survive without whatever degree of money, possessions, youth, health, etc., we currently have. Fear that we will be alone.
We consume reflexively and addictively because we are driven by this unconscious Fear. It is said we live in the Age of Anxiety, and it is undoubtedly fueled by this Information Era and our awareness of what is happening not just in our neighborhood, but in countries far away. We are of course bombarded by Product Information (this is the age of the infomercial) and it is undoubtedly driven by the fact that Fear sells Product.
Even the best of us would be overwhelmed by the responsibilities entailed by running this country, which has the largest proportion of power and effect on the rest of the planet. Fear of failure, loss of respect, power and wealth would cause anyone in a decision-making position to make self-serving choices. But if such a person had the strength and conviction of KNOWING that he or she did not absolutely require those things, that happiness truly isn’t based on money or power or possessions, or health or community, then and only then could a person make decisions and run a country or a corporation from a place of knowing what truly serves.
So the good in us needs to be better. This morning on NPR (Reality Show) there was a piece on politicians as actors, examining the belief that politicians may need to become better performers to shore up votes and confidence from their constituents. It might help to “act as if” and to show a heroic face to the world. But until we know without doubt or compromise, that we don’t NEED anything, that we have enough, and that Less really can be More (as Bench Press Burlesque so brilliantly demonstrates with their performances) we will be driven by our need to feel safe, and our need to surround ourselves with power and product and people
It is human to desire safety, comfort, and the company of like-minded folks. It is not wrong to want those things for ourselves. But we can have these things without causing others to lack, and perhaps we don’t need as much of those items as we are told we do. It starts with awareness, a willingness to look both at ourselves and around us consciously and objectively. Look at what you have and ask yourself if you need it all. Go to performances and movies like An Inconvenient Truth where you’ll meet and see the like-minded community you may desire. Start with yourself, and each time you feel the need to consume, the need to act, ask yourself, is this really ME? Or is this my fear?
The good need to be better. We can be better if we trust that we don’t need so much and that we don’t need to run by our fear. Let’s start now.