Good Guys and Bad Guys

by Terry Sterrenberg


“The ideal subject of the totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.” Hanah Arendt, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1951)

I have been avoiding commenting on national news because the way people are thinking about everything from January 6 to vaccines has been baffling. I connect the attitude about the 2020 election and the attitude about vaccines. I realize they are not the same, but they do have similarities. They both engender a self righteous mindset that prevents meaningful dialogue and problem solving. They both make us question our sense of reality and invert what we know in our hearts to be true and right. I recently found the above quote from Arendt and it shot me in my core. Of course, that is it. Common truth and fact can not be defined any more. That is why I feel paralyzed in my core. No rational argument has influence. Nothing I say ultimately makes the difference.

This awareness has lead me to some of the old adages from my past; Go inward (remember “Be Here Now”?), Go local, start small, be intimate, build trust, speak your truth, listen to the truth of others. But here comes the question “what do you do when the truth of others feels false and drives you crazy because they have no distinction between truth and falsehood?” My answer in the past has been to stop speaking to those persons (too confusing). And only speak to those who are open to my thoughts, This closes me off from the thoughts of those who think differently from me.

As part of my reset I recently have had a few conversations with some who believe differently than me about public health and vaccines. I’m not very good at it. I found these conversations exhausting and mind bending. At the same time I made a discovery. Some of the people I talked to believe in some of the same adages I mentioned above. I discovered that stepping out of self righteousness invites commonality and can establish a foundation on which to build trust with some people. Seems like I used to know this. Perhaps a casualty of covid and political propaganda?

Another question: “ Are there good guys and bad guys here?” There certainly is division. Most would agree that our country is divided. However perhaps no more than ever before. Our perspective of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys depends on which side of the division you stand and what values you propose. The difference between now and then is that many have forgotten our commonness. People’s stance in life is a result of their life experience. I really believe that most people try to do what they believe to be right even when they act against their own self interest. The present era has turned traditional political divisions into a battle for the existence of democracy, away from the meeting and melding of ideas and ideology.

I miss the ideology and goodwill of inclusion that includes the mentality that all of us are really trying to figure out what to do. Simplistically it used to be that “bad guys” were mainly those that wanted to do harm to others. Seems that those that want to do harm feel no good will and those that seem to have good will still do harm at times. Those that do harm just know what they want for themselves and act on their self righteous beliefs of what is good for them and perhaps what they think is right. It is the easy way out. They don’t have to take any one else into account.

”Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.”— Carl Jung

My Friday

by Terry Sterrenberg

My Friday

Strollering in the park
Muted rustling of red and Yellow
Make ready for fall

Neighbors walking their dogs
Nodding, smiling, acknowledging
Their way

Graying clouds layering a storm
Only pretend
With a quiet rumble

Making light
A rogue leaf finds her lap
Igniting her squeal of pleasure

A gift from heaven

Reset! Reset! Reset!

by Terry Sterrenberg

I used to play baseball as a kid both at the neighborhood diamond and also little league. Although I truly love the game I really wasn’t very good so when I did something unusual like catch a long fly ball to right field I remember it. I always tried really hard but often failed. One time in a scrub game at the neighborhood ball field I was in right field and some kid I didn’t know very well hit a long fly that I had to run for and I remember the surprise and a little bewilderment when I caught up to the ball reached out as far as I could and watched the ball settle in the tip of my baseball mitt. “Wow”, I said to myself, “That was amazing”. No sooner had I caught the ball than I started thinking about the boy who had hit it. “He really hit that thing. He must be feeling awful that I caught it” and I started feeling awful that I had taken away what may have been a Home Run for him. I realized this kid was somewhat of a bully and I wondered what his reaction would be. But then I realized there was not much he could do. I caught the ball. Still I did not know if I should feel good or bad. Catching the ball is the point of the game is it not? Baseball has rules and if I catch the ball the batter is out.

Another time I was practicing catching popups with a friend. He would throw the ball way up in the air and I would run under the ball and catch it. Except on this occasion I missed the ball. In fact I kept missing the ball. My friend threw the ball high into the air and every time I ran under it. Stood waiting to catch it and the ball landed next to me on the ground. After about the sixth or seventh time my friend could not contain himself and burst out in laughter and I must admit the scene seemed really surreal. He must have thrown the ball into the air fifteen or twenty times and each each I would run over to it, attempt a basket catch with my mitt, and hear the ball plop down beside me a the ground. Over and over we practiced and I did not catch even one. I could not believe it and we both were rolling on the ground in laughter.

I realized that doing what I think is the right thing over and over doesn’t help me catch the ball. I need to Reset. And do “It” differently. I have done this many times in my life. I’m afraid I need more than a “reset” right now. What has happened in the last 6 or seven years in this country seems bizarre and our society is suffering and crumbling.

Recently I read and recommend an article entitled Why is everyone So Rude right now from Time magazine. Covid has given us more than sickness. As a nation I believe we have become emotionally vulnerable. To say that covid’s emotional effect on the country along with the political atmosphere continues to create chaos and gross distrust is an understatement. One third of the nation does not believe that Joe Biden is the rightful president of the U.S. Anti-vaxxers believe that the vaccinations for life threatening illnesses are a government conspiracy. Climate change is bringing fire, water, and wind everywhere. People being mad at life becomes irritability, rudeness, and indifference. Religious fanatics believe we are in the last days (daze) so none of this matters. A group of people representing only 21% of the nation is controlling congress and believe they are saving the country by making it hard for people to vote. I keep saying it is time for a RESET, not knowing what that means.

I’m not one of those who believe that a reset means violent revolution. CHANGE is all around us. Our world is literally not the same day to day which begs the question “What IS Important?” Many of the old descriptors used in the past to describe our social and political life aren”t accurate any more and when we use them we are talking into empty space. They do not land anywhere or they land in a space that gives them new meaning. Not just the words of our political party (Republican, Democrat, liberal, and conservative, but also words and phrases like “rich” and “poor”, “entitled”, “work”, “make a living”, “human right”, “freedom”, “truth”, and “justice” “decency” “right and wrong”, etc

I say we need to “reset”, but it seems we have already been reset and the malaise and tension we feel is merely part of trying to catch up. I have never really perceived myself as someone trying to “catch up” although it has probably been true for most of my life. I guess all learning and new experience of the world is a form of “catching up”. And then there is always the question “Catching up to what”?

Looking back on my life I do see a few times I’ve made great catches but at this time rolling on the ground in laughter may be more gracious and appropriate.

Where Life Begins

by Terry Sterrenberg

I’m not sure when my life really began. There have been many times in the last 74 years when I have declared a date or event as the start of my life. That event is always a leap in time, like walking through a time gap where I emerge modified in some way and I experience life in a new way. One such time was in 2009 when my wife Laurie Simons and I decided to create “The Health Care Movie”. We were at a friend’s house for thanksgiving dinner and the discussion turned to healthcare. We talked about the differences in the Canadian and U.S. health care systems and the many misconceptions and lies that were being spread in the United States about the Canadian system. Someone said (I think it was me) “Someone should make a film for Americans about the Canadian health care system.” Our host said “Why don’t you do it?”

Laurie grew up in Canada and both our sons were born there. We had experience with the Canadian system. Then after living the first ten years of our marriage in Canada we came to the United States where much to our dismay we had to start paying health insurance. I began experiencing the gut wrenching choices Americans go through in wondering whether they have enough money in the bank to take their children to a hospital emergency room. In Canada this dilemma never occurred.

We had never created a movie like this before. Laurie had learned how to make films at Bellevue Community college but I felt like a complete amateur. A moment I will never forget occurred two years later at the film’s premiere in Edmonton Alberta when at the end of the film we received a standing ovation. It took my breath away. I’m still gasping for the breath of new life I knew that the film represented for me and many others.

I’ve learned a lot since then, mostly how naive I was. I truly thought that by showing true information, people and government would change their view of what they thought was correct and possible. I quickly learned that facts are not what changes people. Giving the facts about what is possible for U.S healthcare seemed to only make the resolve stronger that the U.S. was different than the rest of the world. Starting from the viewpoint of what is best for people and then finding a way to create that was turned into an idealistic utopian impossible dream. I learned that health insurance companies are like many (if not all) corporations. Their business is to make money. They cannot exist without profit. They pay people to help them make money rather than create a system that makes healthcare available to everyone. That is why insurance based systems will never be able to make health care universal. Universal Healthcare is not a financial problem. It is a moral problem. It is a dilemma of the heart not of financial scarcity. Economic systems can be created to allow all persons the medical treatment they require if the goodwill is present to do so.

The difficulties of creating a universal healthcare system mirror and demonstrate the heart dilemma present in the gross division and distrust that exist in the U.S. today. Heart dilemmas create broken hearts, pain, desperation and confusion. Heart dilemmas can also create visions, hope, sustenance and appreciation for others. For me the need for order, connection, and intimacy becomes primary. Only then does the gasping for air become the basis for new life. Only then am I able to see and feel the goodness that lies still around me in spite of the confusion that tries to fog it over. Only then do new trusting relationships emerge.

Every day I wake up wondering what is going on today that can make the world better. Sometimes I remember that “what that is” is going on all the time.

Common Good?

by Terry Sterrenberg

So we have bought a co-op apartment in Brooklyn. What does this mean in regard to the Dream We Choose? Without going into all the personal reasons we did this suffice it to say that we have not abandoned the search for a new economic model. The two basic principles that drive this search are 1. An economy that everyone contributes to and that everyone benefits from. And 2. An economy that is driven by abundance and multiplies abundance for everyone. All grounded in the concept of “The Common Good”. The present economy is driven by scarcity, competition and self-interest.

I keep wondering how an economy such as this is possible in a world where so many individuals are not willing (let alone able) to take care of each other. Belief in the common good is very limited when there is such division and hostility among different groups of people. I now question whether there is much consideration or even belief in the Common Good. When I was a child I went to church and the minister would talk about everyone as being “God’s Children”. As a child it helped me be considerate and empathetic to other children. As an adult I’m not particularly fond of the description, but at the very least it is a metaphor for the “Common Good”.

So here we are in a very nice Brooklyn apartment with a great view of the city, not feeling too common and at the same time feeling very common, trying to align ourselves with “The Common Good”. Perhaps the problem I’m having is that “The Good” is not as common or evident as I thought.

In the past I have played those BS psychological games with the term “good”. Stepping in to the notion that good is relative and good is situational and good is somewhat unknowable. Today I want to take the other side. Some would call it taking a position or a stand. Acknowledging the self righteousness in taking a stand (feels more like self discovery) gives me a handle to hold onto when I ask “Are there not some values and thus actions that are good and others that are clearly not good? ‘Well sure, but it’s all relative.’ Even the most base actions such as hurting or killing someone, lying, or being disrespectful are all relative.

Until someone says… “It is not……relative.”

Such BS is so destructive it is literally killing our planet. Corporate power, hurricanes, climate change, political parties that literally think the other party is always lying, being deceitful, and out to take advantage of people. A large part of the population lives with a big US and THEM mentality and believes that the THEM are out to get US, and believe that those in power have no sense of compassion or will to help US. They find lots of evidence for this perception . The BS rules.

Until someone says…. “No! it doesn’t.”

All this drama (victims and persecutors) destroys connection to the Common Good. The BS eats up hope for the future.

Until someone says… “Stop!…..Live!…..Be!…..Hope.”

And someone asks… “Where (What ) is the Common Good?”

One Vision At A Time

by Terry Sterrenberg

I’m looking out my window of my Brooklyn co-op building. The city is clothed in mist and haze that describes pretty much how I have been thinking during the last year and a half.
Our life once again has been upended and transformed.

The tag line on our web site is “One vision at a time”. Visions of course are not truths. They are more like “reality in the making.” And my visions tend to be somewhat malleable. They don’t change their integrity, but they may change their form.

I have moved into another stage of my life which indeed changes the form of my vision. The covid crisis, the falling apart of our plans to create a new community on Staten Island, climate crisis, and what I can only describe as mass denial, hysteria and paranoia in the country as a whole has fed the ongoing mystery novel we all have been living within for the last five years. Mystery novel? Actually it is more like an evolving visionary cartoon.

It seems our country is moving from Elmer Fudd chasing down Bugs Bunny with his trusty shot gun, shooting himself in the foot, hopping around like a wild man and finally falling off the cliff, to the final “that’s all folks” from Porky Pig. The real life characters are interchangeable, each playing every role at different times. We all laugh and stare in amazement at the foolish chain of events as if they are independent of the future they are creating for us. The knot in my gut is all that is real, a foreshadow of a possible future.

I tell myself that perhaps it is time to scale down the vision. Can’t save the future? But ….but, what then is important? Truth and reality are confused and cloud the vision. Is there any burgeoning future where new life is popping forth?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the truth is what we say it is. The truth is what we see it is. I perceive this everywhere – From Donald Trump – to Joe Biden – To Bernie Sanders. We need a new utopian vision that is not political, or religious, or capitalistic, or socialistic, or any “ism” at all. What vision does not include any of these? What vision is only about letting caring communities care and not only compete; letting the world support and build and not only war, letting society feed our hearts and needs and not only our bank accounts. I do think this vision exists. People deny it in various ways, calling it utopian, calling it immature, calling it unrealistic, calling it impossible, saying it is against human nature, etc. but…but this really is important. The truth is what we say it is. Why not say it is this.

I can actually see the city now, still with shades of gray. Saying it really isn’t enough. There are choices to be made and steps to be walked. And definitely dreams (visions) to manifest.

“The Darkest of Times”

by Terry Sterrenberg

(written the day of the Georgia election)

We keep hearing that this is a dark time for our country in two enormous arenas. One is political and the other is environmental . I find it hard to have any sense of hope when the reality is that our way of life continues to be described as the darkest of times.

The most personal environmental crisis is the pandemic. I recently went through the isolation of testing positive for covid -19. I had mild symptoms but the fear of them escalating created a lot of stress as well as the uncertainty of the lasting effects. Now I’m suppose to have antigens which makes me immune for a period of time. In spite of that my sense of danger is still heightened when I leave the house. Everything I have read still leaves me wondering what having antigens actually does. There are a lot of unknowns about covid. So we read that the U.S. Health system is or will soon be over taxed and that the next couple of months will be the toughest of the pandemic. Over 350,000 people already dead from this disease and we still haven’t reached the most difficult time yet.

Then of course there is the election in Georgia and the incredible and dangerous actions of President Trump. All of these antics leave me feeling like everything I value about our way of life is about to be changed, regardless of how the government “works things out”. On the one hand change can be exciting, but the more present stance for me is one of apprehension and insecurity. My white privilege has given me some sense of pseudo control and protection from this kind of insecurity in the past. Now the changes in the world that are happening seem completely out of my control and people in power seem completely unable or unwilling to influence them (the changes).

My sense of righteous and arrogance sometimes astounds me (i.e.that my values of cooperation and collaboration are universally accepted as more advanced than “power over” values); that people would just naturally choose to cooperate in a way of life that creates the best for everyone. I have to honestly say that I truly believe this to be the case. “Power over” lifestyle strategies in the end only lead toward self destructive outcomes. I truly cannot understand why that is not obvious. This is particularly true for me in this darkest of times. People working together toward common good literally make life worth living. The “other way” produces eternal conflict (i.e., the state of the world).

Did We Choose The Right Dream

by Terry Sterrenberg

Every election we choose a dream. Many times if not most of the time the dream we choose never has a chance to be realized before the next election replaces the dream we have chosen. Between elections the “opposing” political party does everything it can to undermine the dream that has been promised.

So did we choose the right dream this year? Hell, I don’t know. But “it is what it is” (To quote a famous person). For me the dream we chose at least let me breathe again – to fill my lungs with a bit of “cool fresh air”. No telling how long that opportunity for freshness will last, but it did clear my mind a bit. And and it opened the space for young people to dance in the streets. Indeed I think it is a time for dancing. At the same time there is distrust in my dance step. I think it is the fear of falling or in clearer terms the fear of being taken in. I don’t think Joe Biden is in any way the answer to my dreams, but he may be a step in the direction to clearing the way.

The problem is of course that elections have BOTH Winners and Losers. We now have a situation where half the country (the Losers) is out to sabotage the other half (the winners) and vice versa. How is this different than anything we have had in the past? Half the country distrusts the other half no matter which half you are part of. That is a huge barrier to any kind of cooperation, change or transformation. Trust is a big deal. Ultimately lack of trust is a heart problem.

So where do we start. I believe we start at home in our own house, in our own neighborhood. Trust comes from the belief that other people take into account my interests, concerns, and well-being in their actions. This does not mean that what they do automatically meets my self interest, but rather that they have included my concerns in deciding their actions and desire to do what is not only beneficial for themselves but also is best for me. The dream I choose has this kind of trust at its center. Trust seems to have two components: consideration and action.

I’m trying to imagine what it would mean for the people in my Staten Island neighborhood to trust me or for me to trust them. Developing trust makes me vulnerable. It may mean that I have to give up some belief valuable to me. I don’t think it is compromise per se., but rather it is acceptance of who other people are and not requiring them to change. I do not give trust freely. Perhaps trust is a process, a process of discovering insight, knowledge , empathy and commonality. And finally it often requires a traumatic discovery of my own actions, beliefs, and prejudices. Developing trust is hard work.

So did we make the right choice? Part of me feels the question is irrelevant when I understand what trust requires. Perhaps we made the best choice considering the options. But I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. We really do not yet know the consequences of our actions.

My Red Thread of Truth

I found some writings from the past year and decided to post them. This is the only post I wrote on October 6, 2020

by Terry Sterrenberg

I have been reading Blog posts that I started writing back in 2015 until the present. They outline our story for the last five years. The very first one “from a “Treadmill existence” compliments “The Dream We Choose” movie incredibly well. Some of these posts actually brought me to tears, not only because I thought they are fairly well written but because I have been so silent for the last couple of years. Truth is I have let Donald Trump do me in. I lost my “Red Thread of Truth” which is reflected in those writings. I have felt somewhat empty and defeated as everything I believed about what it means to live in this country became suspect. I realized I had lived in a delusion most of my life. What I thought was true was no longer true. I was living in a linear life and thought and expected that life on this planet was meant (perhaps even designed) to get better and better. In 2015 Laurie and I made the decision to move to New York and we experienced that move as leaving behind one life and moving into the unknown. This was actually the case for me. I had done that before in my life. This time however I felt cut off at the knees after the 2016 election when I experienced my American values become topsy turvy. I have said many times in the last year that my life has not prepared me for the life situation I find myself. I realize as I write this that none of us has been prepared for this life situation.

What I have called the “Red Thread” of my life is parallel to a set of train tracks with a set direction into the abyss. I let go of the thread for a bit, but now I’m stretched out, grasping that red thread, and being whipped around by it. It pulled me off those train tracks and dangled me in the unknown. I wanted to blame Donald Trump, or maybe my age (73) but that won’t work. In this time of covid my Red thread manifests in the relationships I have with the people around me, i.e. my family, my amazing wife of almost 39 years, my children and their partners in love and in the endearing smile, movements and energy of my 19 month old granddaughter, as well as the friends and colleagues I have at Ganas and our vision of Freemont Community Village.

Make Life Not Death

(Written at the beginning of Covid)

I woke up this morning ruminating on the song “how wonderful life is. How…Screetch…! (add sound effect)! Well, no I didn’t. I actually woke up with water in my eyes thinking “WTF has happened to this world and what does it have to do with me? Is the world as we know it really coming to an end?” I never remember my dreams but I often wake up in moods that tell me I was processing something important. At least something that felt important in the middle of the night during my half awake state. This morning the big IT seemed to be about loss. Covid-19 has opened my heart to fear and loss. This morning my mind was a fog as my eyes welled up with tears for no apparent reason. As far back as I can remember I have always been prone to tears. Over the years I have considered it a malady of some kind and certainly a nuisance. Today it just seemed like sadness. I just let it happen. If nothing else, crying is a release and for me a reality check.

Many times such occurrences have ended up giving me insight but this morning nothing seemed to come to mind. I remembered how taking a hot bath used to settle my mind and body. I haven’t taken the opportunity for baths for several years, but moving to a new residence gives me easy access to a bath tub and I took advantage of it this morning. As I lay there I could feel my body and mind relax. The words “make life not death” came forward.”

Seems like a cliché – But it reminded me of a deep seated value – the life I live is my own. I create my life in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Life is always uncertain. I have no control over that. I live my life and the result is either more life experience or less. I literally have a choice to make life by being open to life experience or to make death by withdrawing into my self and shutting down life experience.

“Make life not death” seems in some ways self absorbing and arrogant when I consider how much Life my life has lived. I have always thought that “touching life” or “aligning with life” is the more proper target. Compared to many other people I have not experienced much death. Socially I am privileged. I have always had what I needed – food, love, and houses to live in. I am not poor. I have not experienced great tragedies in my life. So “making Life” has been relatively easy compared to what so many other people in the world have had to deal with. Because of that I have a sense of responsibility to “make life” and I consistently fail to live up to that responsibility. Perhaps “make life not death” is the same as “Make Love not War”. It seems to have the same sentiment. I never love enough. There is too much to love. The loving never ends.

I’ve always believed that love is what creates Life.

I think I know why I cry now. Making Life is the only productive activity. The only one! And it is fairly common and many times overlooked. It is precious. It is Love. I cry when I fail to Love and it puts me in touch with the tragic loss of new life. A missed opportunity. It is an existential loss which over comes the moment for me. It is a deep well, full of confused thoughts and ungrounded searching. Over time the loss may be (will likely be) replaced by existential love (acceptance) which also moves me to tears. Neither of these experiences seem to be in my control as they are totally dependent on the environment and the other people involved. They often happen suddenly and unexpectedly like the onslaught of covid-19 or the birth of and then unexpected isolation from a new grandchild.

Seems so ironic that having waited so long for a grandchild whose arrival was never a certainty that covid-19 now makes being with her impossible. I love being with Cleo, The energy she generates is precious. She creates life every where she goes – constantly learning and emoting, Making Life not Death. She may be a good teacher (model) for me. Sometimes I “well up” when I think about her and the possibility of not seeing her for a while makes sad me and angry.

How did such a world as this evolve that makes relationships so important in the process of making life? In fact maybe it is relationship that creates life itself and the absence of relationship that makes death. My relationships are what make my life. My relationship with everyone and every thing, even the people I do not know.

Making Life seems to be the same as “Being in Relationship.

Make Life not Death is my new mantra. It helps me focus on looking for that spark of love in any event or occurrence; for the green tips of skinny branches preparing to leaf; for the moment of potential before the turning toward life or death.