Monday, June 6, 2011

Witness to the Woes of the World

Chitchat/introduction, pre-essay

Some people desperately need support groups where they can tell stuff, or hear others tell stuff, that society won't believe. It does me good to hear Buffy's friends Cordy and Anya blurt things out: I like how they have never known the tension of wanting to scream but needing to be silent. With them around, the gang never has an "un-spoken-of elephant" in the room.

During my lifetime I have seen a vast increase in what we can say.

Today it is so funny to put comic captions on old 1950s graphics because people at the time just could... not... speak. If this essay spends time on Dialogue Groups it is partly because I honestly wanted to advertise those groups, but also because some topics I cannot approach directly but must circle around.

Witness to the Woes of the World

A few years ago, after a wilderness spiritual weekend of "community building," four of us met along a side road, beginning to wend our way home. A man from the edge of the ocean looked me in the eye, clapped me on the shoulder and said, "You're a witness!" I wondered: How did he know? Because this was something I had long known about myself. I'm not bitter. I'm certainly not desirous, as an old mariner was, of grabbing someone and making them listen. Yes, I have seen things... but I concentrate on how precious people are, and I won't bother my fellows, not until the time is right.

Last night, after Dialogue Group was over, someone told me that none of my contributions ever bring the group down, that I am a guardian of the group. Yes, well, it disturbs me if others are disturbed.

During our evening of dialogue a few topics were woven together, and one of the strands was Witnessing. We began exploring what this meant after someone quoted a guru saying, "Our purpose is to watch the world unfold..." We quickly agreed this did not have to mean preaching, nor being passive and fatalistic. By the way, our Dialogue Group instinctively avoids "have to's," "should's" and other absolutes that might slam the door on inquiry.

The contribution I best recall is my own. I said: If I am meant to watch the world unfold then I can't be looking through a haze of marihuana smoke, nor can I dull my senses with beer or television. I would have to get out of my house to be in the world, and this might legitimately include going off to India for six months without guilt. (Someone across the circle had expressed doubts about going to India.)

I also shared something I had been slowly, for the last fortnight, allowing myself to consider. There was a sci-fi novel where a man stands on a mighty warship, a few meters away from his king, as the fleet sends bomb after bomb falling down to a planet. He watches in shock, speechless, lonely, as a technological society is blasted into the stone age. Weeks later he meets an expatriot who wails at him:

"You should have spoken! Yes you would not have changed the actions of the fleet, nor changed the mind of your king; yes, you might have been sent to the dungeon, but still, you should have spoken! ... You were a witness!"

In my life I face no dungeons, only disfavor. Should I be disturbing people? I am still trying to decide, but now, I think, I already know what my answer is going to be.

Sean Crawford

~ In a technical bookstore I found an interesting book, The Magic of Dialogue by Daniel Yankelovich. It explains Dialogue Groups well.

~ I won't blab which novel because you just might read it some day.

~ Maybe God placed me so that others, a shade more fragile than I, would be spared the experience...maybe I am blessed to be a witness.

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