symPATHy … June 2, 2012

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Manifest destiny.

It was a contention by the Democratic Party in the mid-nineteenth century that the entire continent of North America was not only available but the God-given right of the American people to possess for their own. It turned our nation into a bunch of settlers. The word “settlers” is very interesting, don’t you think? It unveils two meanings: to settle in and also to settle for.  It is the third part of the cultural DNA that permeates the history of our country.

(Please understand that as I share these, I do not do so to be critical of our nation’s heritage. Recognizing the lineage of our existence and the way things came about, is by no means a condemnation of who we are, but rather, a challenge for us to consider in determining where we want to go.)

There was one main problem with “manifest destiny.” We landed on the shore of a world that already had inhabitants. They are called “Native Americans,” or by many people, just “Indians.” They were organized into tribes, and being human, they were having conflicts with each other.  In fact, they had established some territories, boundaries and areas which they considered to be their possession and home.

We disagreed. The history of the relationship between the arriving immigrants from Europe and the Native Americans is tainted with many atrocities and many sad tales. Some would say it’s a blight on the conscience of our country. But I think a blight only exists if we fail to recognize the lessons we have learned and apply them into our next situation.

Here’s what settlers never do: they never have sympathy for the world around them. The definition of sympathy is “sharing the feelings or interests of another.” Is it possible that we could have found a way to settle this country without stealing land, creating enemies with the local inhabitants and generating a series of wars which cost the lives of many innocent folk? Of course it is, but it would have demanded that we have sympathy instead of believing we had a manifest destiny.

The only sure way to guarantee the God is NOT with you is to insist that God is ALWAYS with you.

On the other hand, the greatest piece of intelligence that any human being can have is to believe that the will of God is not contingent on our feelings or on our need, but rather, on the best for all of His children. It demands a mindset, a heart and a spirit of sympathy.

Jesus characterized this in his statement, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Yes–it is definitely a trade-off. Showing a lack of mercy guarantees you no mercy in your time of need. Showing mercy places a deposit of mercy for you in a bank, to withdraw at a later time, when you are overcome by your circumstances.

Instead, we settled, as settlers often do.  We Americans perched on land that was not our own while robbing other human beings of their feelings and concerns in favor of our pursuits.

It is in the cultural DNA of our nation. We are the children of the settlers. We have a tendency to want to settle in ourselves–to our homes, believing that our families are the most important units in the world, and acquiring jobs and lifestyles that may be less than what we desire. This causes us to be a little bit on edge, which makes us lack sympathy for others. And when we lack sympathy for others, honestly, they lack sympathy for us. It sets in motion a chain reaction of indifference, which aggravates us, makes us defensive and causes us to settle for less.

What could have been different in the foundation of our country that would have included the Native Americans as part of us, instead of going on a campaign to promote them as “savages” to the public? I am just a humble writer, but may I offer three suggestions that might have enabled us to avoid manifest destiny, and instead, could have established the third path to true spirituality and a world view in expressing our sympathy?

1. Make your intentions clear. One thing that infuriates people is when we try to disguise our true motives with lies. If you want the whole land, then go in negotiating for the whole land. Don’t steal it county-by-county, acting like there’s nothing you can do about it.

2. I would have insisted that the Native Americans organize their tribes so that I could speak to one voice instead of trying to negotiate with hundreds. This would have been good for them. This would have aided them in stopping some of the squabbling that had gone on  amongst them for generations.

3. I would have gotten an accurate count, a census, of how many Native Americans there were and determined how they could have been included in the mix of the American dream. The greatest enemy of negotiation is a lack of information. If you do not know your adversary, you are destined to create an offense that will lead to war.

Is it possible to have established the United States of America and still have given sympathy to the Native Americans who inhabited the land before our arrival? Of course–but it would have demanded that we reject two little tin gods that settlers always revere. And those two false deities are arrogance and ignorance. We would have needed to stop believing that white people were supreme and have learned the value of our Native American brothers and sisters.

As in the case of slavery, even though the wars have ended, the conflict between the white man and the Indian still exist. It is an unhealed wound. So if we’re going to go onto the path of true spirituality, giving us the necessary world view to be inhabitants of earth instead of infestations, we must use sympathy. We must have a capacity for understanding the feelings and concerns of others. We must be merciful so we can obtain mercy.

Without this, we become settlers. We settle into a place where we can settle for the next piece of foolishness that floats our way.

Sympathy–it is more than expressing a sentiment, but rather, a decision to foster and promote legitimate concern for the needs of others.

So we have three steps to the path so far: apathy, empathy and sympathy. These are universal, spiritual, holy altars needed in the human being to avoid being Puritans, participating in slavery and becoming settlers. Where will it take us? What do we really acquire as a gift when we finally allow ourselves to have correct apathy, excellent empathy and the sanity of sympathy?

I’ll join you tomorrow and we’ll close this off.

 

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