Council Corner: Excerpt from the State of the City 2017

Here is a sequence of six propositions, each of which builds on the ones before it, that concerns the curious relationship between survival and opportunity in these tumultuous times:

1. This national/world crisis has the ability, like wildfire or drought has, to push this community to needed change in a way nothing less drastic can.

2. We need to accept the fact of our fundamental interdependence and therefore that our only hope through this crisis is as a living, functioning community.

3. Government is an integral, essential component of community. It does our coop buying; it makes and enforces rules; it runs monopolies in water, waste water, electricity, storm drains and streets. It also delves into social services, tourism promotion, public art and other "non-core" activities. And, although this may be perceived as an intrusion on our individual rights, we have no choice; we have to make it work.

4. The national crisis in the treatment persons of color has made us aware of "implicit bias" and the unconscious set of values and perceptions (prejudices) that are oppressive and unjust to our fellow citizens. Also we have a parallel implicit bias toward government — and both undermine what is in essence our survival vehicle.

5. Professor Alma Rosa Alvarez, in her MLK Day address, presented key ideas from Dr. King's "An Experiment in Love" (1958), which dealt with the Six Pillars of Non-violence and the ancient Greek concept of agape. Interestingly, these ideas were developed when Dr. King was facing in many ways as daunting a crisis as we face today — and also they constitute a creative synthesis of both Christian and Eastern religious principles.

Dr. King: "Agape means understanding, redeeming good will for all men. It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative ... . It is a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor."

We have been experiencing and expressing agape in Ashland in Unpacking Racism, in the Culture of Peace's candidates forum and most notably and powerfully in the Southern Oregon Women's March. This demonstrates our capability of functioning collectively at a much higher level than we normally do. As Dr. King observed, there is no formula — it comes spontaneously out of living in community and the quality of our person-to-person relationships.

There is one more key, connecting idea:

6. Peter Buckley in his new job as executive director of Southern Oregon Success, has been promoting the application of trauma-informed research conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control (the Adverse Childhood Experiences study with over 17,000 subjects). Basically this study indicated that two-thirds of individuals suffer one or more of 10 traumatic experiences in their childhood and that these are co-related with adult physical and mental health illnesses.

We also know that trauma is generally a pervasive element of human existence that has broad influence in adult life. In particular, I believe it is linked with implicit bias in that it can convert our normal cognitive process of stereotyping into prejudice by infusing it with powerful unconscious emotional associations. But it can also become transformative in community if we consciously and intentionally manage it in our relationships with each other.

Christopher Fry wrote in his 1951 play, "A Sleep of Prisoners":

"Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to face us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride of soul we humans ever took."

Could dealing with our own implicit biases in human relationships and their associated traumas be that "longest stride" to which Fry is referring?

Oregon Poet Laureate William Stafford described trauma in action in human relationships in his "A Ritual To Read To Each Other" (1953, excerpted):

"If you don’t know the kind of person I am

and I don’t know the kind of person you are

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world

and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

"For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,

a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break

sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood

storming out to play through the broken dyke.

"And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,

but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,

I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty

to know what occurs but not recognize the fact ..."

To the extent we can recognize our crucial interdependent and admit to ourselves that when we demonize, vilify, idolize and otherwise twist our perceptions to suit our prejudices we destroy community.

And if we can muster the strength and courage to act with self awareness in the service of living in community, then we can make something extraordinary out of these circumstances that chance or destiny has dealt us. We've already demonstrated to ourselves that this is possible.

— John Stromberg is mayor of Ashland.

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