Thursday, October 20, 2011

In Praise of Innocence

Liberty Park NYC   J. Stimmell©2011
Here's my take on OWS, a version of which,
was  published 10/19/11 in the Concord Monitor

In Praise of Innocence
I took the bus last Saturday from New Hampshire to New York City to visit the Occupy Wall Street site at Liberty Park to support, at least for one day, this blossoming new movement. A majority of the protesters were young but people of all ages were represented.

The thing I was most struck by was the mellowness of every one involved, an observation confirmed by New York City’s public advocate who has praised the occupation for being “a very peaceful movement by the people.”

There is a sweetness to this movement, an element that seems almost naive. People are streaming here from all over the country who appear to relish connecting to one another and building community more than making demands.

Of course, this is not how it is done, the pundits lecture: Nothing constructive will happen, they say, unless the protesters focus on specific demands. But I think the press and the pundits are missing the big picture. What this movement is about is not specific demands but something more important: addressing what our underlying values should be.

Do we want to live our lives insecure and isolated, captives of corporate driven, survival-of-the-fittest, unregulated capitalism? Or do we want to go back and reestablish more humanistic foundations which acknowledge the preciousness of each and every one of us and our inalienable right to organize and have a real voice in determining our future.

 I don’t know how the mainstream press missed this. Occupy Wall Street has made their position clear since their first declaration on October 1:

“As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice…As one people, united…that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.”

My own impressions randomly talking to occupiers in Liberty Park last Saturday squares with this Declaration.  The majority of those I talked with were not pushing particular agendas but voicing aspirations: hoping for a sustainable future, living in concert with Nature; hoping to raise healthy kids within a caring community; hoping for a future where social justice reigned and children didn’t die from starvation and war.

Some people’s aspirations sounded new-age like the declaration that “ I am a whole and complete human being,” Others were down-to-earth like the talkative, middle-aged dishwasher who has been volunteering at the park since the first day of the occupation: “I’m not too smart myself but I’m smart enough to know that people are more important than money and helping here at the occupation has made me feel for once like a worthwhile person with a real part to play to make this country a better place.”

Personally, I celebrate the naivety and innocence of this movement and pray that it spreads.

The well-known psychotherapist, Alexander Lowen, has written on this subject, reminding us how we all can remember moments of joy when we were very young – before we became self-conscious and lost our innocence. Unfortunately, he said, in America we welcome this loss: “We don’t want to be innocents, for that leaves us open to being ridiculed and hurt. We want to be sophisticated…to feel superior.”

And that’s just what the glossy ads of consumer culture promise: buy our product and you, too, can be one of the cool ones, part of the sophisticated set, partying, having fun, with no limits to what you may desire.

No wonder the innocents are having difficulty being understood by the press!

How difficult it is to compete against the massive seductive power of consumer society and mass media when, as Lowen notes, all the innocents have going for them is “an open heart, simple pleasures, and faith.”

The name of the book by Lowen that I have quoted from is Narcissism: Denial of the True Self.  It is my hope, against all odds, that the innocents of this new movement will inspire us,both individually and as a nation, to renounce our narcissistic, market-driven – and ultimately self-defeating behavior – in favor of rediscovering our true selves.

XXX (730 words)

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