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.

Birthday Memory 2019

by Terry Sterrenberg

Some weeks ago I said to Laurie that I realized that In spite of the all the good things, coming to New York and Ganas has been like going to an alien planet. The last couple of years have been particularly difficult. Difficult times always have always nourished inner growth for me.

I was going to begin by apologizing for being relatively silent over the last few years. For some unknown reason I felt I needed to protect myself. Not unusual for me. But this case had unique a feature. I have been in mourning. (mothers death, retirement, new life style, Donald Trump)

When Laurie and I came to New York 4 and a half years ago I unknowingly left behind an important piece of my life and have been struggling . I have been puzzled about this ever since I came to Ganas because I have started a new life several times. I don’t think the newness has ever been this great.

The nuggets that started my awareness of all this in myself manifested when we went back to Salem Oregon last summer. I have a history of writing a journal ever since I was in high school. Most of those journals have been lost in the process of moving over the years. In 1969 I started writing poetry and keeping a journal and when we moved to New York I thought this writing had been lost, but low and behold I found a folder with all my poems. These writings reveal a part of myself I thought I had lost since coming to Ganas. They express my internal struggle with love and death in relationship and the turning points in my life. I have never considered them great poetry but they express significant points in my life and growth as well as ongoing issues I deal with.

Some of you know that I was a minister for ten years. My church experience was not about fundamentalism or simplistic answers to life. But rather it was all about the difficulties and contradictions of living love in the world. Of being that which I was striving to create. To be love in the world as a change agent is always a huge challenge for me, seemed impossible and a recipe for failure.

Some time ago I backed off of that belief, saying to myself that it is a childish belief, life is never as simple as just loving everyone. I’ve never given up love. I just learned that it is not simple. Love as energy of change means taking a stand. As an adult this grounding message of love turned me toward social action and social responsibility. I became a social cynic. I saw in the world that adults for the most part live by different rules than children – loving, sharing, cooperating, are qualities we ask of children but are suspicious of as adults.. In a Trump world love seems to be a ridiculous and absent notion. It seems that problem solving ultimately is not about loving and talking it out but rather who has the most power, strength and intimidation.

Then when I came to Ganas the alien world that I stepped into seemed to require different skills than was available to me. Along with everything else the Trump election brought up all my insecurities. Taking any kind of stand seemed impossible. And what stand should I take? I shut myself down. A familiar tactic. I felt over whelmed, vulnerable, hypocritical and incompetent to deal with the situation. The notion that love can change the world. That love is the energy of the divine in the world became dormant for me. What does that actually mean and and how does it fit in todays world.

Well, Ganas and Fremont Community Village became the answer to that question. For me the vision of Fremont Community Village is partly an outcome of this struggle to live love in the world. It is also an attempt to manifest what we have learned in our travels and research for our movie which is also about this.

The Dream We Choose

By Terry Sterrenberg

With so much going on the thought of not releasing “The Dream We Choose” right now crossed our minds … um, but only for a fleeting second. Truth is we cannot be distracted from the importance of this election. But no matter who wins, the timing for this movie probably could not be better. With all the social unrest and the election coming up we have to have change on our minds. This movie reaches to the core of our American values and how they have been idealized and played out in the model of the American Dream. The Truth of the traditional American dream is that we are given that dream at birth and most of us accept it at face value and in doing so we unconsciously make the choice to continue to manifest a way of life that supports inequality, racism, and oligarchy. There is another choice based on another dream that does not grow out of the “everyone for themselves” mentality produced by the traditional American Dream. “The Dream We Choose” is an offering to the movement that has manifested the tradition of “looking out for each other” mentality. This is a different and powerful American Dream that has been nurtured in the back ground since the beginning our our country to build local communities. Perhaps it is time for it to be more in the foreground with the creation of a different economic system that can create wealth for all and not just the few.

Two Dreams by Terry Sterrenberg

I have come to understand the American Dream in a whole new way. It grows out of  an INNER struggle in each of us between  two conflicting values…views. 

I’ve noticed that throughout the history of the United States this inherent  human struggle has created an American dream with two very strong and compelling traditions.  They have been characterized as two  separate and  competing dreams and histories.  One dream (the dominate dream) is the traditional rags to riches story of pulling oneself up by one’s boot straps.  It stresses independence, self responsibility, and an everyone-for-themselves mentality.  We all can make it if we work hard enough.   This dream feeds our ego and makes us feel confident (perhaps arrogant) that we can do anything we choose,  it can bring us  exciting delicious and addictive stuff, and also feelings of great accomplishment (and great failure). The first dream is based on the ideas of competition, of striving to be better than others, and of working hard to build wealth for oneself.

When someone asks me for money on the street this dream makes me go through the internal struggle, “why should I give this person money- they should get a job and earn it themselves.” 

The second dream makes me feel guilty for not helping them. This second dream recognizes that nothing we have is solely because of our own efforts. It fosters humility, social justice, peace, love, hope,  kindness, empathy, generosity, compassion,  and  openness to other’s ideas.   The second dream feeds connection, creates affinity and invites collaboration. It stresses interdependence, mutual responsibility for everyone, and a we’re-all-in- this-together mentality.This dream is based on working together to building wealth for everyone in our community.

In the first dream we struggle to get by, and when we do well we consider ourselves successful  We shop to feel better. We feed corporations with our labor and our spending, and in return we have convenience and a lot of stuff.

In the second dream we feel success as our relationships with each other guarantee well being for all.  We work together  with integrity to feel better,  We feed our communities with our attention, our energy and skills and in return have all we need to live an abundant life.

I’ve learned in my travels that the dream that becomes real in my life is the dream to which I give my attention and energy.   It is my choices that make that dream come true.   Which dream do you  choose? 

Single Payer? Taxes going up?

Fighting Big Money

So with all the excitement in California and New York about imminent new legislation for state single payer programs, the big question still remains. When is the big money coming into those states to defeat these bills? They did it in Vermont. They did it in Colorado. And they will do it in California and in New York. They will say “How will it be funded” “Single Payer is risky”; “Taxes will go up”; “It is ‘too big a bite’ (coupled with a humongous hamburger on the poster; “The government is incompetent”; “We want choice, not a one-size-fits-all system”. And on and on it goes with the the arguments and insults declaring that single payer is not possible in the United States. All this happens even though the studies show that single payer actually saves money rather than increases spending.

The dis-ingenuousness of these arguments is striking when you actually know the reality that single payer costs less, saves money and has better outcomes in most other industrialized nations around the world. We know this to be true. It has been proven again and again. The argument ultimately is not a financial one. Single payer is definitely affordable (unless of course you believe that Americans are really not as intelligent or clever as all those people in the other countries that have it.)

The problem is, that in order to make their ideological argument sound reasonable, those opposed to single payer need to either lie, distort, or make up the “truth”. The “reasonableness” of their argument is convincing but it is not accurate.

Either we believe that every person deserves medical treatment or we don’t. If we start from the premise that everyone deserves care, then we need to figure out a way to make it happen. If we look at all the alternatives, single payer healthcare is not only the most logical it is the only mechanism that accomplishes that goal.

We need to combat the fear that taxes going up means that we will all be paying more for healthcare. The truth is that while taxes will go up, the ultimate cost to the consumer goes down for 95% of us, because we will no longer pay all the fees connected to health insurance (premiums, co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance, cost sharing). When people say single payer will increase costs, it is true. More people covered for more services will increase costs. However, what is consistently overlooked by the naysayers is the enormous savings that will result from the elimination of wasteful spending on administration, and the negotiation to reduce overpricing of medical services and medications. They deny the magnitude of these savings.

The advocates who have been fighting all these years for universal care are not out-of-touch idealists. They are smart hard-working people who have been studying the issue for decades. They know what they are talking about.

Now is the time to make sure that the truth about single payer is planted everywhere so everybody can have healthcare.