Roy states: ".'The American Way of Life' is simply not sustainable. Because it doesn't acknowledge that there is a world beyond America." Identify at least three specific strategies or opportunities for you to learn more about and participate in a world beyond America. Why is it important for people to look beyond their own borders, particularly in the most powerful nation on earth?
Roy's essay provides a sometimes painful look at many historical facts or events, the "grief of history," as Roy says. Which of these facts were new to you when you read this essay? How could you find out more about them and whether Roy's interpretation is correct?
Do schools and textbooks often include enough of the "grief of history" in their curriculum? If not, why not? Should education include more? Explain your position.
How often do voices expressing "the grief of history" appear in the mainstream media? Which voices tend to be heard? How should this change? If you go to a liberal website like which perspectives and voices do you hear that you don't in the mainstream media? What about if you go to a conservative site, like that of the or that of Pat Buchanan's magazine, ? Describe the boundaries of which issues and perspectives seem to get covered in the press and which don't.
"The Black Hole" by Ariel Dorfman
Did you know about Allende and the Chilean coup before reading this essay, or the others in this section? If not, would you call this a case of hiding "the grief of history" when it raises discomforting questions?
Dorfman describes the message about the lack of human worth communicated to the Chilean people as "...subhuman, incompetent, inferior, worthless, lazy.." Are there people in America who are told this about their lives? How much is the American Dream based on "each person scratching his way to the top, where, if he was lucky or ruthless enough, he could then become the exploiter of his brothers."
What does it mean for people to tell "their own lives in their own way" rather than live under "the shadow of somebody else's story"? Which stories dominate US culture?
How did Allende's version of socialism differ from the brutal dictatorships of Eastern Europe? What lesson did it teach when the United States overthrows governments which play by the rules of democracy?
Does any country have the right to overthrow the government of another? Under what circumstances? Would it ever be acceptable for another country to try to overthrow the US government? Explain.
Research how many governments the US has overthrown or helped over throw since the end of World War II. How often did our efforts bring democracy to a dictatorship? How often did our efforts change a dictatorship into a democracy? How often did we replace one dictatorship with another? See William Blum's book, Killing Hope, for some recent examples, and William Appleman Williams books The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, or A William Appleman Williams Reader, for an examination of our deep-rooted tendencies to intervene in other nations destinies.
Dorfman describes how Pinochet disciplined the factory worker Juan and his companeros for "an act of the imagination." Does this mean people should not dream of justice or act for justice because this might bring retribution? Explain.
Dorfman would like to tell "the young man he used to be" some of the lessons he learned. List some lessons he would tell "that young man" differently. What is the one thing he says he will not tell him?
In many ways this essay is a discussion of crushed hopes and justice unredeemed. It describes a world where, as Dorfman writes, Salvador Allende is dead and the dictator Augusto Pinochet is alive and free. Yet it is also a piece about the persistence of hope. Dorfman seems to still find strength from memories of those first days when it seemed like everything could change. Do the hopes he felt seem impossible to you? How does our hope differ if we've never lived through such moments? How can we even begin imagining far-reaching changes if we're told that we have no right to even open up these questions?
The Chilean woman who was tortured found comfort in the words of Neruda and Machado, although she does not cite specific poems. Look back at the poems "Childhood and Poetry" by Neruda and "Last Night As I Was Sleeping" by Machado. How might these particular poems have brought comfort in the middle of a living Hell?
Dorfman concludes the essay by defending both the woman's "right to struggle and our obligation to remember." What does he mean that struggle is "a right"? Why is it our obligation as citizens to remember those who struggled before us? How can we learn this history if we've not been taught it before?
"Behemoth in a Bathrobe" by Carla Seaquist
The voice of conscience describes Americans as having a "can-do" spirit, then gives man on the moon as an example. Provide additional examples of American can-do spirit.
Do you agree/disagree that reality tv shows "exalt humiliation, violence, sex--a tawdry reality to convey to our kids." Support with specific examples. How would it change our society if people paid as much attention to critical public issues as they do to Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and the Kardashians?
This attempt on the life of Napoleon III was in fact the fourth such attempt by aperson "patriotically" committed to forcing change in the Italian Peninsula.
Napoleon III decided to become more deeply involved indevelopments there - partly in the hope of lessening the likelihood of yet further attempts on his own life and also partly in the hope of adding lustre to his then failing appeal in France through a domestically impressive foreign policy initiative that could lead to French influence replacing that of the Austrian Empire in the north the Italian peninsula.
Have you ever had a friendship or relationship with someone who was severely phsyically or medically handicapped? What did you learn from it?
Have you ever experienced hope at a time or place when you least expected it? Explain.
"There Is a Season" by Parker Palmer
Parker Palmer talks of being "swept away on an updraft of hope," then "swept away in a tidal wave of despair." Have you ever experienced this? In what situation? How do we keep our moorings in situations where our hopes are alternately raised and dashed?
Discuss the metaphor for life as one of seasons compared to one of manufacturing. Which do you prefer? To what extent do you think the metaphors we choose for life influence our perceptions? Our actions?
Through much of the essay, Palmer uses the metaphor of life as "a cycle of seasons." Summarize the gifts each season brings to his life. Can you extend the metaphor-that is, what other images or comparisons can you add for each season?
Describe a specific person or event from your own life that serves as a specific example of the gifts from one of the seasons Palmer describes.
"Last Night As I Was Sleeping" by Antonio Machado
What does Machado mean by "marvelous error!"?
What is the main point Machado is expressing in this poem? List some of the seemingly ordinary things that both poets, Berry and Machado, seem to recognize as gifts of the everyday world. List several "everyday gifts" in your own surroundings.
Section Four Introduction
What is the difference between "capitulatory imagination" and "rebellious imagination"?
How often have you heard the phrase "There is no alternative" used to explain-and justify-a troubling political choice or situation? Is there a link between loss of imagination and resignation? And between recapturing our imagination and being able to act?
"Childhood and Poetry" by Pablo Neruda
"To feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know," Neruda writes, "widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things." What does Neruda suggest about how this power of affection shaped his life? How do we widen the boundaries of our being to really see the lives of those whose worlds are unfamiliar, hear their stories and begin to understand what they experience? How do we develop a a sense of human solidarity and connection with those we've never met?
Have you ever felt the kind of love Neruda is describing, an unexpected moment of generosity from a stranger? What opportunities do you have to extend it to others who you do not know?
Neruda talks of the need "to pass to the other some good things of life." As citizens in a community, what specific things should we pass on to others? How do we accomplish this?
"To Love the Marigold" by Susan Griffin
Griffin writes of the critical role of dreaming and imagination in working for change What distinguishes dreaming as escape, fine in its place, from dreaming that opens up new possibilities?
In the fourth paragraph of her essay, Griffin refers to the skyscraper before her as "an icon of an anonymous power, in whose shadow [she] feels powerless." What other icons of power do you see in American society today? Who or what created and maintains the power behind them? Who might feel powerless in the face of them? Why? Is it important for all citizens to feel empowered in their lives?
In paragraph five, Griffin contends that "there is distrust and dissatisfaction with any form of politics.." Do you agree/disagree? Explain. Why do you think there seems to be increasing distrust in politics today?
"To see what exists freshly and without prejudice clears the way for seeing what might exist in the future, or what is possible," Griffin writes. Do you agree? Given all we've been told and taught, what are some ways of learning to see the world with fresh eyes? Have you ever experienced something, heard a story, or seen an image that helped you do this?
"The camera's eyes," Griffin writes, "also catches a tender quality of innocence and hope, an expression one so seldom sees any longer even on the faces of any but the youngest children" Do we live in a time where innocence is scarce? Does our culture disparage efforts toward a broader common good as idealistic or naive? What do we lose by assuming there's nothing we can do together to improve the world for others? What's the difference between wishful thinking and genuine hope?
Griffin speaks of the failure of political dreams: How do we work for fundamental change when visions of grand social transformation have often have ended up in destructive betrayal? As Griffin writes, "Where once there were societies that served as models for a better future, grand plans, utopias, now there is distrust and dissatisfaction with any form of politics, a sense of powerlessness edging into nihilism." Are there other ways to view social change that acknowledge the limits of past alternatives, but still let us dream beyond the boundaries of the present? Can you think of any contemporary examples?
How does imagination generate hope? Can we even imagine the image of Desnos reading people's palms in a concentration camp? If we can't translate wild hope directly into politics, can we use play and creativity to sustain our spirits? Can you think of a time when this has happened?
Griffin finds her answer to how Desnos keeps a sense of hope, his recognizing the "larger possibilities of life," by reading a line from one of his poems. Explain your understanding of the passage from the poem Griffin quotes.
Can you give an example of the paralysis of "realism?" What does Griffin mean when she says social movements are driven by imagination? How does a society cultivate imagination in its citizens, especially the young? What are some of society's greatest needs today that the power of imagination might help address?
Griffin concludes her essay with the imperative: "Let us begin to imagine the worlds we would like to inhabit, the long lives we will share, and the many futures in our hands." Identify one community of which you are a part, such as your dormitory, college campus, or hometown. Using your imagination, describe the community in terms of one you'd like to inhabit. What will have to occur in the present community in order to make these changes a reality? What role can you have in enacting change?
"Walking With the Wind" by John Lewis
Do you have core childhood memories that help you through difficult times? Or ones that hold you back and make you hesitate to act on your deepest beliefs?
Lewis asserts that in the 1960s, "people of conscience" never walked away from the weakest corner of the house; rather, they joined hands to gain strength where they were weak. Identify some of the "weakest corners" in society today and identify possible causes. Whose responsibility is it to strengthen the weaker corners of society? What responsibility, if any, do individual citizens have to the house as a whole?
Are the core myths of our society communal--about joining together--or individual, based on lone heroes? If the latter, does this make it harder to act together on larger concerns? How can we recover the stories that help us act in common?
We think of our families as bastions of love--or would like to. Can we extend the way we treat the bonds of common kinship and apply it to how our society should be run, or to how we could work for social change? In this context, what would it mean to treat all human beings as fellow children of God?
"The Dark Years" by Nelson Mandela
Mandela describes how authorities attempted to "exploit every weakness, demolish every initiative, negate all signs of individuality-all with the idea of stamping out that spark that makes each of us human and each of us who we are." How can individuals promote the opposite in each other-that is, how can individuals or authorities encourage "that spark that makes people human and each of us who we are"?
Why would Mandela and his ANC colleagues go to such lengths to get news of the outside, like passing it from cell to cell on scraps of toilet paper? How does a sense of political isolation foster despair, while being connected with an engaged community encourages hope? How do you break down your political isolation?
Most of us will not face the hardships of imprisonment like Nelson Mandela, but in what other ways can we be imprisoned? What qualities does Mandela suggest help human beings surmount even the greatest of challenges?
Loeb writes, "Those who make us believe anything's possible, however, and fire our imagination over the long haul, are often the ones who've have survived the bleakest of circumstances. It's the men and women who have every reason to despair, but don't, who may have the most to teach us, not only about how to hold true to our beliefs, but about how such a life can bring about seemingly impossible social change." Do you agree or disagree with this why? What lessons can we draw from people facing the most difficult situations for our own more modest challenges?
How can courage be multiplied? Can you think of a time in your life or a situation you've witnessed when courage multiplied? Explain.
"It was ANC policy to try to educate all people, even our enemies." What was the point of this policy? Have you ever reached out to someone with whom you radically disagree on an issue about which you felt passionately? What was it like?
"An Orientation of the Heart" by Vaclav Havel
In the beginning of his essay, Havel describes how hope is "a state of mind, not a state of the world." And he distinguishes hope from optimism. How would you distinguish the belief that things will turn out well from the deeper sense that guides us even when we are unsure of the results of our actions. Have you ever faced a personal situation where you acted even though the outcomes were uncertain?
What states of mind and approaches to the world do you think nurture hope? Do you know someone who exemplifies a hopeful approach to the world, and not just an optimistic one? Describe this person.
Have you ever heard people label activists "exhibitionistic" or say they were just trying "to draw attention to themselves." What was your response when you realized this same charge was being levied at a later successful democracy movement that challenged a Communist dictatorship? Did this make you question the way our own society so quickly dismisses our own political dissenters?
Would you agree with Milan Kundera that the petition circulated by Havel and others was futile? Why or why not? Compare Havel's description of people being brought together to challenge the regime in an apparently futile context with Paul’s friend Lisa standing in the rain and realizing she'd later helped inspire famed baby doctor, Ben Spock. How do these examples suggest that the impact of our actions may only be clear in hindsight?
How did the petition help keep the prisoners going? Have you ever witnessed a situation where the supportive actions of others help courageous individuals keep acting? Do you agree with Havel's judgment that small acts of resistance can still matter--even if they don't have the desired immediate outcome?
Since the dictatorship was still in power when Havel wrote his essay (and according to global consensus likely to remain so), what allowed him to see the cracks in the walls of their seemingly unchallengeable rule? Is it possible for us to look similarly beyond the horizon to see what might be possible in changing unjust situations in our own political context? What does it mean to "make a way out of no way"?
Havel describes resistance against a dictatorship that seeks to control every aspect of daily life in a way that prevents questioning the prevailing authorities. Does our dominant culture ever function in a similar way? If so, how? If much our culture avoids talking about the real and urgent questions of our time, what would a culture look like that challenges this? What signs of it do you see in today's America?
“Reluctant Activists” by Mary Pipher
When writers admit to failures they like to admitto the smallest ones - for example, in each of my novels somebody"rummages in their purse" for something because I was too lazy andthoughtless and unawake to separate "purse" from its old, persistentfriend "rummage".
He was so concerned with privacy that it influences his terminology: everywherein that essay there is the assumption that personality amounts to simply thebiographical facts of one's life - but that is a narrow vision.
Do you know or have you seen talks or interviews by activists who seem joyful despite all the bad news, as was true with Desmond Tutu? What do you think gives them this joy, and is there anything you can learn from this?
At the conclusion of the essay, the father says he must "look harder for antidotes, for medicines, for sources of hope." What does he mean? How has he been challenged and changed by Jesse's words? In your life and surroundings, identify possible "antidotes" and "medicines" that give you a sense of hope.
"Your view of things is totally dark," says Sanders's son, "It bums me out. You make me feel the planet's dying and people are to blame and nothing can be done about it." Do you ever feel that way when people are talking about global problems? How can people talk about what's wrong in the world without reinforcing a culture of despair?
"The Sukkah of Shalom" by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
"The command to love my neighbor as I do myself is not an admonition to be nice: It is a statement of truth like the law of gravity." Explain what Waskow means by this statement. What obstacles sometimes prevent us from loving our neighbors? What can help overcome such obstacles?
Also, how do we define who our neighbors are? In Paul Loeb's earlier book, Generation at the Crossroads, he interviewed a student who when a friend asked him about the Biblical phrase "love thy neighbor," and whether he had any responsibility to the people in the adjacent economically poor community of Bridgeport, CT, responded, "Bridgeport? Love thy neighbor? Those guys aren't my neighbors. No way are they my neighbors. I grew up on Long Island and I know who my neighbors are?" Would you agree or disagree with this student's response? Would Waskow? Explain.
Waskow uses the metaphor of the sukkah-"a fragile hut with a leafy rook, the most vulnerable of houses." What does the sukkah suggest about the role of vulnerability in fostering hope? Can you think of an example from your own life or community that supports Waskow's point?
Waskow writes about the need to look at our reflection in the mirror. How does America succeed or fail at looking honestly at our past and present choices
At the conclusion of "The Sukkah of Shalom," Waskow says that if people see the world as chiefly about property to be controlled, they will need to build ever-higher and stronger walls and fences. If people only build walls and fences in their lives and communities, what do they run the risk of fencing in and fencing out?
Obviously the September 11 attacks were morally reprehensible, and those who would perpetuate future attacks need to be stopped. Rabbi Waskow suggests that the attacks also offered important if challenging lessons about the links between security and justice and the value of recognizing common vulnerability. Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
"Not every demand of the poor and disempowered is legitimate simply because it is an expression of pain," says Waskow. "But can we open the ears of our hearts to ask: Have we ourselves had a hand in creating the pain? Can we act to lighten it?" What is our responsibility for the pain of others? What if we've not directly caused it, yet participate in a situation that causes human misery-like buying the goods of a company that mistreats its workers?
"Getting Our Gaze Back" by Rose Marie Berger
What does Berger mean by "essential quality of Sabbath"? What is "holy dreaming"? Describe a current situation where you often feel overwhelmed or bombarded by information or chaos. Now describe a daydream or other activity that gives you the kind of "essential quality of Sabbath" that Berger experiences. What activity gives you back your clarity of vision?
"Fragile and Hidden" by Henri Nouwen
What connections do you see between Nouwen's essay and the focus on gaining strength through vulnerability in any of the previous readings, such as "The Sukkah of Shalom"? How can the fragility of Adam's life nurture Nouwen's hope?