Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Daniel Ellsberg and John Dean

On Tuesday night I attended an event at the New York Society of Ethical Culture. The event was a talk moderated by Ann Beeson, Executive Director for U.S. Programs at the Open Society Institute and former Associate Legal Director at the ACLU. She interviewed Daniel Ellsberg and John Dean on the eve of the release of a documentary entitled The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, the film makers, were in attendance as well. I'm looking forward to seeing it some time soon, and you should, too. We all should. While its set around the events of the 1970s, its moral implications are just as relevant today.

From the moment the footage began to role, my eyes started to tear up. With scenes of the massive amounts of missiles that we poured into Vietnam, 7.8M tons, it was hard to not consider all that we have been doing in Afghanistan and Iraq for years. And while the specific circumstances and players may differ, the outcome is likely to be the same. Innocent people are placed in the line of fire, and harmed. Those people are looked at as casualty numbers, the equivalent of statistics in some government report. In truth, those people are someone's parent, sibling, child, friend, neighbor, lover. And after years of watching the news night after night, watching the death tolls climb higher and higher, I can't find a logical reason to have incurred any of those losses.

Daniel Ellsberg and John Dean, government insiders, stood up once they realized that we could not win in Vietnam, once they had proof in black and white, via the Pentagon Papers, that there was no morally, ethically, or even legally correct reasoning for our occupation of Vietnam. At great personal peril, they risked everything, even their own freedom, their own lives, to reveal these findings. It would have been easier, far easier, to turn a blind eye - at least in the short run. In the long run, they just didn't feel like they could live with themselves if they didn't release the classified information they had that showed the fallacy of the war. They saved, literally, thousands, tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of lives by standing up with every odd stacked against them. Their courage is immeasurable.

As I sat in the audience I considered the bravery and fear these men must have had for years, how they risked everything of personal value for the good of the world. It was completely humbling to be in their presence. The most fascinating piece of the talk was the last question they answered: "What would you say to other potential whistle blowers out there who are contemplating taking the path you took?" John Dean couldn't recommend it. Daniel Ellsberg asked those people to seriously consider taking the same road he took. I left understanding both of their points of view, wondering what I'd do, what my friends would do, if faced with similar circumstances.

I fell asleep Tuesday night thinking about the Dalai Lama's letter to the world after September 11th. We later found out that he didn't write the letter at all; it was a hoax written by someone else who was very concerned that in the wake of the attacks, we would find ourselves entering a deadly war that we could not win. The author may have felt that it had more relevance coming from the Dalai Lama; perhaps the author felt more people would listen to its reason. Perhaps that person didn't have the ability or the knowledge to be as courageous as Daniel Ellsberg and John Dean. No matter; the author's intention was the same - he or she felt compelled to stand up, speak up, and try to encourage others to do the same.

The letter is a beautiful one and bears repeating. I still cry when I read it; it's that powerful. It's reproduced below and can also be found on the website of The Government of Tibet in Exile. Daniel Ellsberg and John Dean seized the time of their teaching. I wonder if we will have the courage to seize ours, too, not just in issues of war but in issues of every day life as well.

"Dear friends around the world,

The events of this day cause every thinking person to stop their daily lives, whatever is going on in them, and to ponder deeply the larger questions of life. We search again for not only the meaning of life, but the purpose of our individual and collective experience as we have created it-and we look earnestly for ways in which we might recreate ourselves anew as a human species, so that we will never treat each other this way again.

The hour has come for us to demonstrate at the highest level our most extraordinary thought about Who We Really Are. There are two possible responses to what has occurred today. The first comes from love, the second from fear.

If we come from fear we may panic and do things -as individuals and as nations- that could only cause further damage. If we come from love we will find refuge and strength, even as we provide it to others.

This is the moment of your ministry. This is the time of teaching. What you teach at this time, through your every word and action right now, will remain as indelible lessons in the hearts and minds of those whose lives you touch, both now, and for years to come.

We will set the course for tomorrow, today. At this hour. In this moment. Let us seek not to pinpoint blame, but to pinpoint cause. Unless we take this time to look at the cause of our experience, we will never remove ourselves from the experiences it creates. Instead, we will forever live in fear of retribution from those within the human family who feel aggrieved, and, likewise, seek retribution from them.

To us the reasons are clear. We have not learned the most basic human lessons. We have not remembered the most basic human truths. We have not understood the most basic spiritual wisdom. In short, we have not been listening to God, and because we have not, we watch ourselves do ungodly things.

The message we hear from all sources of truth is clear: We are all one. That is a message the human race has largely ignored. Forgetting this truth is the only cause of hatred and war, and the way to remember is simple: Love, this and every moment.

If we could love even those who have attacked us, and seek to understand why they have done so, what then would be our response? Yet if we meet negativity with negativity, rage with rage, attack with attack, what then will be the outcome?

These are the questions that are placed before the human race today. They are questions that we have failed to answer for thousands of years. Failure to answer them now could eliminate the need to answer them at all.

If we want the beauty of the world that we have co-created to be experienced by our children and our children's children, we will have to become spiritual activists right here, right now, and cause that to happen. We must choose to be at cause in the matter.

So, talk with God today. Ask God for help, for counsel and advice. For insight and for strength and for inner peace and for deep wisdom. Ask God on this day to show us how to show up in the world in a way that will cause the world itself to change. And join all those people around the world who are praying right now, adding your Light to the Light that dispels all fear.

That is the challenge that is placed before every thinking person today. Today the human soul asks the question: What can I do to preserve the beauty and the wonder of our world and to eliminate the anger and hatred-and the disparity that inevitably causes it - in that part of the world which I touch?

Please seek to answer that question today, with all the magnificence that is You. What can you do TODAY...this very moment? A central teaching in most spiritual traditions is: What you wish to experience, provide for another.

Look to see, now, what it is you wish to experience-in your own life, and in the world. Then see if there is another for whom you may be the source of that. If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another. If you wish to know that you are safe, cause another to know that they are safe.

If you wish to better understand seemingly incomprehensible things, help another to better understand. If you wish to heal your own sadness or anger, seek to heal the sadness or anger of another.

Those others are waiting for you now. They are looking to you for guidance, for help, for courage, for strength, for understanding, and for assurance at this hour. Most of all, they are looking to you for love.

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness."

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