People who consider themselves so different from their named enemies should plant a crop and work a field together. During the labor, they would talk about their children and find the common ground of parenting. At the harvest, they would hold cooperation in their hands as they offer up with pride a melon or squash. The fruits of labor should not be weapons that would put the blood of children in fields where water should run. Has the society of human beings become too complex to realize such simplicity? ~ Psalm Maker: The Journal of Booker Jones
In an age where conflict resolution is a lost art, and religions vie for dominance, what alterations in human psyche are possible toward a goal of peace and understanding?
My tool for creating multicultural awareness is the novel. I believe that the novel is comparable to non-fiction and journalism in altering behavioral consciousness. Of course, to effect changes of heart and mind, the author must first have readers, or at least, a body of citizens who can read. When you hear the phrase “reading is fundamental,” the deep importance of books is implied.
Literature is about the human heart. Literature is about human spirituality as much as it is about patterns in human behavior. I drank coffee with William Faulkner when we were both at the University of Virginia in the early 1960s; and although he was a consummate craftsman in the structuring of character and circumstance, when pushed by intellectual graduate students to define his literature, he replied that he wrote about the human heart.
What do I write about? I write about the human heart, the heart being a metaphor for the sacred center of our beingness, or the denial of our connection to each other. Crime germinates from this denial. War germinates from this denial. When we believe ourselves separate from each other, our behaviors become prejudiced, and our society fragments into conflict.
You cannot have a sustainable environment without a sustainable people to inhabit it. We must have sustainable human cultures that are the lifeblood of evolutionary biodiversity. We need the multicultural approaches to Reality through language, myths, and traditions to insure the rich continuation of humanity. We need to honor and respect each other in our differences—not just for the purpose of social harmony, but also for the greater purpose of achieving enlightenment as spiritually aware creations. We undermine the destiny of humanity when we yield to conflict and prejudice. Humanity is a DNA-related family. What can create this behavioral awareness?
We look at the current worldwide conflicts of culture and religion, and we see a continuation of the basic error of humanity. And the macrocosm—the conflicts between nations—only mirrors the microcosm of the conflicts within our local communities and within our own minds as we deal with individual relationships: the husband with the wife, the parent with the child, the employer with the employee, the neighbor with the neighbor, the seller with the buyer.
In the five novels of the Booker Series, I set out to find the answer to an important question: Can a person conditioned in a society fermented in conflict change, and by altered awareness, become a righteous behaving human being? Is it possible to cast off all the negative conditioning of race and class and allow behavior to arise from that metaphorical place of the heart? Is it possible to remake ourselves as human beings?
I started out with a spiritually desperate middle-aged man going literally naked into the night. He had every material advantage; and yet he felt so empty of meaning and purpose in his life that he walked out of his affluent home to offer himself up, to surrender to the discovery of his true nature.
No one culture or religion has yet put Reality in a box, or in a book. Humanity is an expression of life. Its driving force is continuation. Its diversity is the natural seeking of that continuation. Through language, and songs, and dance, and craft elevated to art, we interpret Reality, the Great What Is. We seek to understand it, to touch it with our minds. Sometimes, we culturally dare to label these observations, these beliefs as Truths. But what has proven to be Absolute? Even in the highest levels of our science, history has yielded no absolutes. What is the big picture? Where does the Reality of the macrocosm of the wide universe meet the microcosm of the subatomic world? And even if science gives us a Unified Field Theory, how will that theory of Truth and Absolutes help me in my relationship with my wife, my daughters, my colleagues, my neighbors? How will an idea of Reality help me in the crucible of relationship?
My point is—no one grand idea, or any single collection of ideas, leads us to a truth that stimulates righteous behavior. Nevertheless, there are elements in every expression of culture that point the way to successful relationships. These are the elements that we want to embrace in each other. These are the elements that honor family values and stress the strengths of cooperation and consideration. And if you achieve cooperation and consideration, will compassion be far behind? And in compassion, in unselfishness, there is even the possibility of love.
The great Teachers of life and Reality have told us to love one another; to start from love, the metaphorical heart, and then fulfillment and happiness will follow. But in the process of communal living, love has become a distant, theoretical absolute, a practical impossibility. Love thy neighbor? You mean love that jerk!?
If we cannot start from altruistic, unselfish love in all relationships, then let’s turn the equation around. Let’s make love-thy-neighbor the result, and not the guilt-laden cause in the social equation. What if we start out on the left-hand side of the equals sign with the numeral for acceptance? Suppose I accept you for who you are and make an effort to understand where you are coming from in your cultural attitudes. Suppose I walk a half-mile in your shoes. Then suppose I add the numeral for cooperation. Suppose I see your needs for water rights as reasonable and environmentally correct. Then suppose I work with you, side by side, on a project to improve our collective community. Suppose I sweat with you, laugh with you, and even cry with you.
And now my equation needs another addition. Now I must add consideration and multiply it by concern. Now, I honor your sacred places and remove the epithets of marginalization from my patterns of speech. In my attitudes and behaviors, I show you respect. I share my ethnic foods with you, my songs, my legends, my family stories. I tell you that the futures of our grandchildren are co-mingled. If your children cannot find meaning and purpose and fulfillment in this community, then neither can mine.
You are so marvelously different from me, but I love your differences. Please don’t change. Preserve your culture, your language, your unique perspective of Reality, because our society needs each point-of-view to survive. We cannot afford to lose you. We need you as part of our continuation as a humanity. Fry bread, corn tortilla, rye, pumpernickel, and even white bread. Everyone is important when you add it up, when you balance the equation of relationship and experience love as the answer.
It is not necessary to begin with some abstract concept of love to achieve a positive community relationship. Start with simple openness to learning about your neighbors. Allow curiosity to enter. Be available. Understand that nothing gets better until you do. No one learns until you do. No one works until you do. No one cooperates until you do. No one shares, or laughs, or cries until you do. And ultimately, no one loves until you do. Those are the universal rules of relationship—out there on alien planets and right here wherever you live.