A number of local eco-justice advocates would like to thank Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook for providing a public opportunity to discuss the place of the eco-justice movement in Merced County. Veteran local organizers understand better than the commissioner does that she is just a messenger for the special interests doing business through a combination of propaganda and political coercion to promote urban sprawl and environmental destruction in the San Joaquin Valley. Nevertheless, they appreciate her letter of July 2, in which she complained about criticism from eco-justice advocates and offered an essay on right livelihood, a Buddhist theme, by a Christian eco-justice theologian, to chastise local advocates for their lack of spiritual attainment and point to her own. (See Central Valley Safe Environment Network Mission Statement, Lashbrook’s letter, and Matthew Fox essay, Right Livelihood, below.)
In doing a little soul-searching on why this type of energy is coming my way…, Lashbrook begins.
Merced veteran eco-justice advocates don’t need to do any soul-searching about the type of energy coming at them from Commissioner Lashbrook. In a statement at a teleconference public meeting of the East Merced Resource Conservation District in mid-June, Lashbrook declared “war” on the local eco-justice movement in Merced County and on any who collaborate with it.
Her reasons require some history.
In late May, the commissioner tried to steamroll the Merced Stakeholders group into approval of a grant proposal (claiming in advance of anyone seeing the proposal that the stakeholders supported it). There are stakeholders who believe this proposal involves unnecessary studies and is little more than a front for the commissioner's self-promoting and self-dealing financial enrichment. Eco-justice advocates are among the opponents to the grant: ergo the commissioner declared war in public.
I have been working on cultural solutions for environmental problems for decades, Lashbrook continued.
Organizers who have been working for 30 years – three decades – vaguely remember the planning commissioner’s rare contributions to opposing environmentally destructive projects. For several years, she has been working her way up the political pecking order through memberships and positions in various farm groups whose record on cultural solutions for environmental problems is spotty. However, Lashbrook has sporadically testified against some projects.
Merced eco-justice advocates believe quite deeply that it is possible to have an ethical career in environmental work. They have proved it for many years and will continue to prove it. From decades of experience with grant writing and reviewing grants at a local, state and national level, they know there is an ethical protocol to write a grant proposal and that the grant writers, including, Lashbrook, didn’t follow it.
The question the commissioner puts:
Do you believe that it is unethical to have careers in the fields that we have a passion
is bogus and self-pitying. The commissioner is a publicly appointed official of the County of Merced, sitting on the most important commission in this uncontrollably growing county. What’s ethical about a passion for political self-promotion and financial self-dealing in grant proposals for public funds? What's ethical about taking credit for financial gain for the Merced County eco-justice movement’s work over 30 years, while simultaneously denying the existence of this movement? She is a follower of the politicians’ version of county history: it didn’t exist before UC Merced and its induced speculative growth boom got here. Now, politicians like Lashbrook must exert every propaganda effort to denying the consequences of this “new beginning.”
As for her next plaintive inquiry:
Is there anyone trying to work within the system that you admire that I could learn from?
the answer is yes, right here in Merced.
The lecture the commissioner sent is an essay written by an Episcopal priest, Matthew Fox. In the mid-1980s, when Rev. Dr. Robert Ryland was founding Sierra Presbyterian Church and co-founding the Merced Interfaith Center for Peace and Justice from which the Central Valley Safe Environment Network (CVSEN) evolved, he attended a week-long seminar with Fox. At that time, Fox was a Dominican priest in trouble with his Catholic order because his theology had expanded beyond the order’s doctrines.
Fox and Ryland spent a great deal of time talking about justice, particularly the relationships between social, environmental and economic justice. Ryland later wrote a letter to the Dominicans’ headquarters in the Vatican on behalf of Fox. Eventually Fox was driven out of his order and became an Episcopalian associated with Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and has continued to expand his thought and practice, giving the environment a much greater place in Christian theology at a moment when much contemporary, fundamentalist theology is restricting the place of the creation.
Rev. Dr. Ryland has certainly worked "within the system" -- for about six decades. The commissioner could benefit greatly from his insights as have a number of veteran advocates in Merced County, who have been on the frontline of eco-justice work beside Rev. Dr. Ryland in the nation and beyond “for decades.” They have not been afraid of conflict, and government officials, agencies or private special interests have not intimidated them. They have not sought political appointments to pro-growth planning commissions and aren’t impressed by planning commissioners and elected officials who declare war on them. One night at a Sacramento restaurant, then Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza declared war on Merced eco-justice activists, quietly eating their dinners. Their campaigns include hundreds of projects locally, statewide, nationally and globally, starting with the rehabilitation of wildlife, United Technologies rocket-engine plant, to Riverside Motorsports Park.
Rev. Dr. Ryland was the producer of “Three Parables, (1989)” a documentary on Kesterson, the Valdez oil spill, and the pollution of the Mississippi River in New Orleans. “These were three earthly stories with Heavenly meaning, contemporary parables,” Ryland explained. Rev. Dr. Ryland sat on National Council of Churches grant review committees. He also attended workshops in organizing led by Saul Alinksy, whose organizational techniques Central Valley Safe Environment Network rely upon heavily to this day. Other Merced eco-justice advocates reviewed grants with the National Council of Churches. Nobody in the country does eco-justice work at the depth CVSEN does.
NOTICE: Before viewing this video, “Three Parables, please read this statement.
The intent of this video, “Three Parables,” is to place the viewer between the Good News of the Gospel and the bad news of technological disasters.
My prayer is that the results will be an ecumenical affirmation of faith on a global scale uniting us all in an urgent concern for the future of the planet. Now is the time to build a network of faith communities that can reduce and stop the increase of technological disasters.
Now is the time God has given us to combine the unique diversity and the spiritual power of our unity of faith in God. Hear those who will be speaking to you in this video. Feel with them the impact of technological disasters in their lives. They are not unique. The ultimate reality is WE ARE THEY!!
We need idea people, activists and those who compile statistics. But, the passion and the pain are learned from those who are the victims. Listen to the Spirit speaking to us through our brothers and sisters.
Res est sacra miser.
(A sufferer is a sacred thing.)
Dr. Robert E. Ryland
CVSEN has had a long history of empowering local groups and leaving them with adequate resources to continue to work. CVSEN has always worked on private, non-profit funds.
Throughout this work, eco-justice advocates frequently have had to go to court to defend environmental law, environmental regulation, public trust and public health and safety issues, the preservation and mitigation of agricultural land, and to defend public access -- frequently denied by elected and appointed officials in Merced County and their staff. Among the violators of public processes has been the county Planning Commission, in addition to the county Board of Supervisors, which appoints the planning commissioners. For the last three decades eco-justice advocates in Merced County have made a positive difference through public participation and legal challenges.
Eco-justice advocates, with the aid of a number of Merced River landowners, recently had to defend the collaborative public processes of another group they helped found, the Merced River Stakeholders, against the self-dealing depredations of the commissioner. When the commissioner encountered their opposition, her response was to ram the grant through without any further consultation with the stakeholders – while continuing to claim to the grant funders that she had Merced River stakeholder support, which she doesn’t have because only a handful of stakeholders even read it before it was submitted to state and federal public funding agencies.
The commissioner did all this under the auspices of the East Merced Resource Conservation District, on whose board she sits. Another board member regards his appointment as a license to snarl at eco-justice advocates on sight. A third regards his position as a license to call them negative ranters. The RCD directors went along with the deal trying, as usual, to isolate veteran eco-justice advocates as obstructionists for insisting on the agreed upon rules of process within the stakeholders group.
At the Merced River Stakeholders meeting, eco-justice advocates were joined in this resistance to a boondoggle grant by a farm/mining ownership. The farmer/mining family also deeply resented the attempt to overthrow rules of process that the group -- composed of interests quite divided at times -- had painstakingly developed over more than a decade of meetings. Many river stakeholders understand clearly that these procedures are their only protection.
Lashbrook’s response to stakeholder opposition to her grant proposal was to announce she didn’t need them. She could find other landowners to support her grant. Stakeholders who own land on the river replied they hoped her grant did not include the need for access to the river because she would have none.
Stakeholders opposed to the grant offered to meet further to try to resolve their issues with the grant proposal. The commissioner refused the offer. The logical person to have brokered a meeting, because she represents much of the river area, was Supervisor Diedre Kelsey. During an email exchange about the grant, Kelsey, who appointed Lashbrook to the planning commission and to the RCD board, offered this note by way of "leadership:"
5/23/07 4:17 PM
Diedre Kelsey here. I have just today been made aware of the problems with the grant application not being reviewed by the Merced River Stakeholder group. As the Board of Supervisor member who represents the Merced River within Merced County, and who helped launch the Stakeholder process years ago, I am concerned about these problems. I have asked to speak with Gwen Huff and expect she will call me soon. (Huff receives an RCD grant to facilitate Merced River Stakeholders’ meetings and would also have directly benefited from the grant.) I must correct Ms. Miller's assertion that I am "conflicted' on river issues or have no political voice".
This untrue statement, which apparently has been repeated at previous MRS meeting, is misleading and again, is untrue. The future of the river as a resource for our county is what is important. I have helped on many watershed and river related or fishery related issues in the past and I am ready to help with this problem or any other that affects my district and the County of Merced.
(Although Kelsey rarely attends stakeholders’ meetings, “apparently” nothing said at them goes unreported to her, by Lashbrook and other political minions.)
Kelsey's long habit of recusing herself on river issues is a matter of public record. She is a sponsor of this grant proposal, she recused herself here, too. Did her private interests stand to benefit from the grant? So, in lieu of political leadership, the public got one more attack on a veteran Merced eco-justice advocate for upholding the rules of public process developed by the river stakeholders against depredations by politicians, now including Lashbrook. However, Lashbrook is simultaneously a board member of the EMRCD, which sponsored the grant, and a paid staff member of the Merced River Alliance, a grant recipient.
Kelsey gets OK to vote on local mining issues...Corinne Reilly
Supervisor had previously recused herself from voting on the topic because her family is active in the mining business. But under a recently-issued opinion from the California Fair Political Practices Commission, Kelsey can participate in mining votes as long as they don't involve her own property, property within 500 feet of it, or decisions that have a "reasonably foreseeable" financial consequence for Kelsey. Commission spokesman Roman Porter said the FPPC's opinion is only informal advice based on general information that Kelsey provided about her family's business interests. Kelsey said she responded to a request for information from the grand jury several months ago...hired an attorney at her own expense after she learned of the investigation. Kelsey was also investigated by the grand jury in 2002 for a conflict of interest related to her family's mining company. She said she's excused herself from a participating in some mining decisions in the past, including one vote on a mining operation near her family's Snelling company. On most mining decisions, Kelsey has participated, she said. Kelsey also excused herself from a number of votes related to UC Merced's development, after a university subcontractor purchased gravel from her family's company several years ago. She said she regrets not participating in discussions over the December mining vote...board approved a general plan amendment and zoning change to allow Black Diamond Aggregates, Inc. to expand its operations.
I am sad that people that seem to have similar visions can't find ways to enhance each others' work, Lashbrook concludes, sounding more and more like the perpetually “troubled” Congressman Cardoza.
Local eco-justice veterans are skeptical about the similarity of their vision and the commissioner's. This skepticism has been aroused by rude and contemptuous behavior toward them from the commissioner on a numerous occasions.
Members of CVSEN doubt that anyone who understands Matthew Fox could continue to berate them publicly and declare “war.” Probably, Lashbrook sent the Fox essay to wrap herself in a Buddhist robe and flourish a cross to ward off what she considers the evil spirit of eco-justice that might damage her political career and another chance for financial gain.
Rev. Dr. Ryland was consulted for his interpretation of Lashbrook’s letter and how it related to Fox’s essay.
Rev. Dr. Ryland replied:
The item and the letter from Living Farms is the oldest yet new use of a spin attempt to sound like the same , but the actions of the person do not support the work of Matthew Fox. The use of spiritual and negative energy etc. makes her sound like she is using your words to appear a true environmentalist . Coming from commissioner, viewed together with her actions, this is the latest in using words without any definition. Words like democracy and freedom by the present administration are other good examples.
I am reading the article by Fox and we can talk later.
We did talk later. Rev. Dr. Ryland asked,
"What in the world is this commissioner doing by trying to outdo the eco-justice movement in the county. There are no terms that are sacred anymore. Anyone who objects to a decision by the board or the council is labeled an ‘environmental terrorist.’ So people don't know who's right. This is just a way to neutralize the fine work eco-justice work that has been done in Merced County for 30 years. This kind of spin has never been as blatant as it is right now. It's like ‘justice’ according to Bush, which means ‘just us.’”
Commissioner Lashbrook, with the encouragement of Supervisor Kelsey and others, is working ceaselessly, in public and private, to deny the efforts and successes of those who have been in the eco-justice movement in the county for decades, establish herself as a spokeswoman for environmentalists in the San Joaquin Valley, without a clue to the work. She is positioning herself as an authority, establishing her word as authoritative within the numerous public groups where she serves as officer or paid staff. These groups imagine they'll get special treatment now that Lashbrook has become a planning commissioner. Outside the county, she is riding on an eco-justice history she had nothing to do with.
Judging from her behavior in her declared war against CVSEN, it seems that Commissioner Lashbrook is being promoted by elected officials and the finance, insurance and real estate special interests behind them, certainly including UC Merced and the UC/Great Valley Center, as a substitute for the steady, well-documented, effective legal work and public participation of local advocates for many years.
Eco-justice veterans in Merced are aware that there are lobbyists and propagandists in the pay of public and private special interests intent on turning the San Joaquin Valley into the new San Fernando Valley. If local elected officials appear frequently incapable of strategy, these hirelings – of city halls, county seats, the state Capitol, Washington and of financial capitals around the world – are capable of strategy and tactics and do wish to deny the distinguished history of eco-justice activism in Merced and surrounding Valley counties carried out by the Central Valley Safe Environment Network and its collaborating groups.
Think California is crowded now? Just wait until 2050...Judy Lin, McClatchy Newspapers
By the year 2050, California's largely white baby boomers will have passed on, giving way to younger, second or third-generation Latino families. Latinos are forecast to make up 52 percent of the state's population by midcentury, compared to 26 percent white, 13 percent Asian, 5 percent black, 2 percent multiracial and 1 percent American Indian or Pacific islander. The projections also showed California will add more than 25 million people by 2050, bringing the state population to just under 60 million. According to state statistics, the Golden State is projected to hit the 40 million mark in 2012 and 50 million by 2032. The California State Department of Finance projects the Merced County's population at 266,700 in 2010, 292,400 in 2015 and 322,700 in 2020. The Merced County Association of Governments projects the county's population in 2030, the furthest out it has made such a projection, at 417,200.
The commissioner seems to be involved with several groups, many of whose members are attending staff-directed General Plan Update focus groups from which veteran participants have been barred. Lashbrook and her associates establish their legitimacy with local politicians by declaring their lack of affiliation with the well- established, well-recognized and highly effective eco-justice movement in Merced County.
Lashbrook is just the latest version of the California political line wherever land-use policy is found: Every interest is a special interest; the public interest is not the common good or the public trust, but the special interest of any land-use authority. Participants in public processes are lectured to by politicians being told to be as nice as developers and their lobbyists. Politicians also instruct members of the public to come up with solutions to environmentally destructive development they had no part in planning and that land-use authorities are approving.
Eco-justice work is the cultural solution to environmental problems. It is not self-promoting propaganda that twists a vocabulary created by years of environmental struggle into self-dealing verbiage in search of public grant funds and political advancement.
There is a crisis of legitimacy today in government among elected and appointed officials from Merced County to Washington – from county planning commissioners to congressional representatives. They are in the pockets of finance, insurance and real estate special interests from phony environmentalists on the planning commissioners to “Blue Dog” Democrats in Congress. The eco-justice movement in Merced County has no crisis of legitimacy. It has a long, distinguished record of accomplishment defending environmental, economic and social justice.
Spouting the latest environmental buzzwords is not the same thing as a record of 30 years of hard eco-justice work. In fact, apropos of the present letter, people who spout the latest eco-buzz will not in any way be able to understand the words of Matthew Fox because they have had no experience with the struggle of faith, integrity and sacrifice from which Fox writes. But, there is a group of people in Merced who have long practiced what Fox preaches “within the system.” Lashbrook’s inability to find them suggests a condition of blindness brought on by her political connivance with the corruption of local government and its horrific financial consequences.
Speaking from within the Buddhist tradition, which the commissioner is using as her whip on the backs of eco-justice advocates this week, eco-justice workers agree with the 12th century Soto Zen priest, Dogen, who said that – from mistake to mistake, one continuous mistake is also a path. Enlightenment by this path comes from the consequences of the mistakes, or the sound of one hand slapping, over and over again.
Rev. Dr. Ryland suggested that Lashbrook and her followers, simultaneously at war with eco-justice while writing grant proposals in its name, simply couldn’t produce a proposal honest enough to pass the smell test. He reflects on years of grant reading:
Just some things to think about when reading any request for money.
1. Follow the money and to whom does the money go to carry out the proposal.
2. Who are the primary actors and what is their track record in relationship to the purpose of the goals in the mission statement? What is their history before this new proposal was written?
3. What positions are mentioned in the budget and what are the qualifications listed?
4. Who is pushing this proposal the most??
5. Would you do this work if not for these public funds?
Words used today do not have the same meaning to everyone, even when English is used. Words like “rural,” “environment,” “development,” and “concern for the river” need to be defined in the acts of those using the terms.
Just listen to the words used by elected officials and those running for office.
As we have conversations with others we realize they live in very different realities and terms we use and understand are twisted and come back to bite us.
I am sure this is old stuff to you: the people may change and the words may be the same, but the motive and history of those involved is always there. If they look like skunks and smell like skunks, they usually are skunks. (a Ryland truism)
Rev. Dr. Bob Ryland
CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK
Central Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of “Eco-Justice” — the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political, and religious groups, and other stakeholders.
Central Valley Safe Environment Network
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
San Joaquin Valley Conservancy
Stanislaus Natural Heritage Project
Subject: Minutes of June 14, 2007 East Merced Resource Conservation District Meeting by Telephone
Gwen Huff said letters were written to legislators by Pat Ferrigno. The Farm Bureau and Diedre Kelsey were OK with the grant. Huff asked that an emergency item (4a) be placed on the agenda because Ferrigno had written to the legislators, calling for a response from the EMRCD to Ferrigno’s letter.
They took a roll call vote.
On the call at this time: Gwen Huff, Cathy Weber, Karen Barstow, Glenn Anderson, Cindy Lashbrook Karen Whipp, Tony Azevedo, and Lydia Miller. Miller was never asked if a public member was on the phone.
Attempts were made by email and fax to get Bernie Wade on the call. Wade had called the wrong number and was put on indefinite hold. He joined the meeting late.
The purpose of the special meeting was a letter of support for the 4-H Wells Project.
Lashbrook, having just checked her email, brought up the need for EMRCD to sign on to the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition letter to the Governor about the Williamson Act. Sign on deadline was the next day. Weber said the board would like to see the letter.
Wade finally got on the call, requiring a briefing of all that had already happened.
After Huff told Wade about the need for a letter to the legislators to reply to Ferrigno’s letter, Wade asked, “When is this going to end?”
Lashbrook replied: “We’re at war.”
There was a discussion about the ingratitude of the Merced River Stakeholders. Wade recommended that the stakeholders should be cut out.
The board authorized the letter on the 4-H Wells Project, but didn’t authorize either a letter to legislators in reply to Ferrigno’s letter or the letter to the governor on the Williamson Act. Wade and Weber expressed irritation with being presented with 11th-hour decisions (referring to the Williamson Act letter).
Lashbrook brought up the idea of a means to streamline the authority process.
The board decided on an agenda item to ask the stakeholders how they wished to be involved with the EMRCD in the future.
Azevedo said he would be out of town for the board meeting on June 20. It was to be held at Golden Bi-Products Tire Recycling Co.. Barstow said the company had teleconferencing capability.
Submitted July 17, 2007
By Lydia Miller, president
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, July 02, 2007 10:50 AM
Subject: [POSSIBLE SPAM] Right Livelihood
This article - Right Livelihood - has been sent to you by firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Lydia, In doing a little soul-searching on why this type of energy is coming my way, I ran across this article. The spiritual part makes me a little uncomfortable, which probably means it is time to approach it. I do know that you know, or could if you wanted, that I have been working on cultural solutions for environmental problems for decades, and always vowed that when my kids didn't need much of my time, anymore, that I would do more community work. Do you b elieve that it is unethical to have careers in the fields that we have a passion in? Is there anyone trying to work within the system that you admire that I could learn from?I also know that I tend to criticize others for those traits that I see, but don't like, in myself (Human Nature...Ugh!!?!).I am sad that people that seem to have similar visions can't find ways to enhance each others' work.Later, Cindy
Spring 2001 Issue: Working for Life
by Matthew Fox
Any discussion of right livelihood has to address the following question: Is the work we
are doing good for the Earth and its inhabitants now and for seven generations into the
Much of our work today would flunk that test. The despoiling of the Earth's health by laying waste to forests, soil, waters, other species, ozone, diversity of plants - all this spells disaster for our species and most of the others with whom we share this amazing home we call Earth. Likewise, the despoiling of souls that goes on in many of our work places does not bode well for a sustainable future. Furthermore, the gap between the haves and have-nots has never been greater, and unemployment is a species-wide disgrace at a time when so much good work needs doing.
What is our work doing to the world? What is it doing to our souls? How can we make things better?
To make work into right livelihood, we must pay attention to just who we are as a species - our strengths and our weaknesses - for it all displays itself in our work. Consider, for example, that today's science is teaching us that each human has been given three brains: a reptilian brain, a mammalian brain, and an intellectual/creative brain.
The reptilian brain, what I call our crocodile brain, is by far the oldest. Crocodiles are win/lose creatures. The crocodile brain gives us our action/response quickness and operates our sexuality and our respiratory system as well. The worst expression of crocodile brain on the planet today has to be the global corporate consciousness that is willing to swallow whole the future of planet and citizens alike in a win/lose scenario
of corporate profit taking. This happens because our ancient crocodile brain is so closely linked to our most recent and most powerful intellectual/creative brain. This brain, so new on the planet, distinguishes us from other creatures. It is the reason our mothers suffered so in bringing us into the world: our brain is too big for the birth canal. This brain can choose to serve the heart or it can choose to serve greed and rapaciousness. With this brain we can create symphonies or we can create gas ovens to make our evil impulses more efficient.
What to do? It is time to tame the crocodile brain. Curiously, in the West, we have myths of killing the crocodile, such as St. George or St. Martin de Tours slaying the dragon. In the East there is a tradition of honoring the dragon, dancing with it, and giving it its due. Dancing with the dragon means befriending the reptilian brain, learning to pet it. This is done by ritual and also by meditation practices. Meditation teaches us to be at home with solitude, and solitude is a reptilian thing - reptiles like being alone, they do not bond. Every human has to learn to be at home with solitude, and this is learned by meditation practices.
The gift of compassion
Our second task is to couple the intellectual/creative brain more with the mammal brain than the reptile brain. Why the mammal brain? This brain is our brain for bonding. Mammals bond; reptiles do not. Mammals have breasts and uteruses; interestingly, the Hebrew word for compassion comes from the word for womb. Mammals introduced compassion to the planet. But of a limited kind. Dian Fossey, who lived among gorillas, never observed gorillas showing compassion to any non-gorilla. The same holds for Jane Goodall, who lived among chimpanzees. She found that chimpanzee compassion was limited to the chimpanzee nation alone.
We humans, who are part chimpanzee and mammal, are here to broaden the practice of compassion on this planet. Does this not explain why so many of our spiritual leaders - from Isaiah to Jesus, from Buddha to Lao Tzu, from Gandhi to Black Elk, from Chief Seattle to Martin Luther King, from Dorothy Day to Mother Theresa - were instructing us in one thing: How to be compassionate?
To be compassionate is to live out the truth of our interdependence. Compassion is not about feeling sorry for another. It is about so identifying with others that their joy is my joy and their pain is my pain, and consequently we do something about both. Compassion therefore leads to celebration on the one hand and to relieving pain and suffering on the other. "Compassion means justice," Meister Eckhart said six centuries ago, and he was right.
There will be no compassion if we cannot tame the reptilian brain. There will only be more win/lose energy, more greed and violence. Gandhi and King are examples of people who, in their nonviolent strategy, committed themselves to recycling the hatred of reptilian brain into love and awareness.
(The political monkey business that went on recently in Florida was less monkey than it was crocodile energy. The high voltage of win/lose energy being released there in the shadow of the Everglades with its morphic resonance of reptilian energy, seemed a very logical place for a political crocodile game to play itself out. And crocodiles they were, all over CNN and network TV.)
How do humans tame their crocodile brains? Meditation is probably the most effective way.
Two stories have come my way recently, both having to do with the workplace. Prison is the place where we generally dump the "losers" in the high-stakes game of win/lose capitalism; the prison-industrial complex is growing like no other industry these days. Two years ago, I learned about something remarkable happening at the biggest youth prison in America, one located outside of Los Angeles. The place had been a hell hole for years, with 600 prisoners in their late teens driven by gang violence within the prison and without. In desperation, I am told, the warden invited three Buddhist monks to teach the prisoners to meditate. At the time, 99 percent of the prisoners were Baptist or Roman Catholic (meaning probably Black or Hispanic) and they didn't know what a Buddhist monk was or what meditation meant. Gradually, however, they settled down to the experience and the energy of the entire place changed from being violent, us-versus-them, and win/lose to being a place of human respect. What did this change in a workplace cost?
Probably three bowls of rice daily for the Buddhist monks teaching meditation.
Meditation calms the reptilian brain, turning the crocodile into a kind of pet within us.
Don't underestimate the power of meditation.
I know a professor of engineering at a major US university who was despairing of academia's pathologies until he entered our university and got in touch with his own "right brain" through exposure to spiritual traditions and practices. Now he is organizing a conference for engineers in which they can rediscover their connection to mysticism, awe, and aesthetics. He has also chosen to go to tribes in the Amazon to help
them construct wells powered by solar energy.
So we can change even our most violent work places, called prisons, into humane places of existence through a practice called meditation. This practice calms the killer instincts in us and allows our more compassionate, communitarian, and bonding selves to emerge.
What if this kind of change in the work world were to spread to businesses, academia, politics, economic institutions, utilities, religions - in short to wherever humans work?
Such training ought to begin in grade schools. Education ought to acknowledge that we have three brains, not just an intellectual one. It ought to make room for creativity, and the essence of education ought to be the proper disciplining and releasing of our creative brains. Compassion begins in the heart with bonding (the mammal brain), but compassion extends to all beings with the help of the uniquely human
Instead, in all the political posturing I have listened to about education, there seems to be one criteria: Who can promise the most exams for our kids. Exams do not train the mind for creativity. Education will not be renewed by more exams but by more focus on that which is uniquely human - our capacity for creativity. The crocodile brain, among other factors, is holding us back from our creativity. We must tame it to get to both compassion and creativity.
Education for life
We have to speak about education when we speak about right livelihood because educated people are destroying the Earth. Thomas Berry says most of the destruction of the planet is being accomplished by people with PhDs. Mahatma Gandhi, when his dream of freedom for his country was achieved, responded to the question, "What do you fear most?" with this answer: "The cold hearts of the educated citizens."
Has contemporary, post-modern academia made any strides in educating the cold heart and warming and melting it since Gandhi spoke these words over 50 years ago? I am afraid not.
The crocodile brain is alive and well in most of academia - uncriticized and unchecked.
The education industry seems incapable of critiquing itself. It needs alternative models.
This is why we started a new university in downtown Oakland five years ago, one that is committed to bringing "universe" back to university (i.e., cosmology as the center of the university) and bringing creativity alive in the students. Our doctor of ministry program focuses on bringing spirituality to the workplace. The 370 students who have joined the program in less than three years all feel a common lack in their previous training.
Whether they are engineers, business people, scientists, mental health workers, therapists, clergy, or artists, all are seeking spiritual practice and training. The most radical and indispensable way to achieve right livelihood is to change the way we train people for work. In our culture we call that education.
It is not enough to find peace. One must also make peace, and this cannot be done without justice. Spiritual practice and ethics must go together. The purpose of meditation is not to make the slavemaster more efficient, but to set in motion strategies and alliances of equality.
Right livelihood came home to me in Salina, Kansas, this past year, where I was visiting the Land Institute directed by farmer Wes Jackson. What I love so much about Wes Jackson is that behind that Methodist farmer's smile and sweet drawl there lies a wily, radical, and committed prophet of a farmer. He believes that we have been doing farming wrong for 10,000 years. Instead of turning the soil over every year and thereby inviting erosion and loss of soil, he is demonstrating that we could be farming by imitating the prairie, which creates soil rather than destroying it.
Wes' critique of his own livelihood gives me - and I hope the rest of us - permission to critique ours in an equally radical manner. I ask: Have we been doing education wrong for 10,000 years? Have we been doing religion wrong for 10,000 years? Have we been doing business wrong for 10,000 years? How about journalism and the media? In short, have we been doing work wrong for a long, long time?
Isn't it time to wake up? Time is running out. Our species will not survive if we do not commit to sustainability in its many forms - not only solar-driven energy sources but also solar-driven (as distinct from reptilian-driven) consciousness. We need to learn to breathe in and out the gift of healthy sunlight (which is literally the air we breathe) and not take it for granted. We need to ground ourselves, connecting to the Earth from which we come and to which we shall all return.
The despoiling of the Earth is not only ecocide; it is also suicide. The distractions we are fed daily by advertisers do not substitute for laying out an agenda of needed work as distinct from work that feeds greed and unsustainable consumerism. As Gandhi warned us, "there is enough for everyone's need, not for everyone's greed." Right livelihood begins with need. It ends with celebration.
Matthew Fox is founder and president of the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, California, co-chair of the Naropa University master's program in creation spirituality, and author of several books, including The Reinvention of Work.