Dear Members and Friends,
Present events and the beat of daily news have kept me in a state of rawness. No one I have spoken with is immune from suffering. How can we comprehend what is unfolding, maybe even unravelling, in so many dimensions? And in the unravelling, we are also witness to what is revealed—painful, direct, immoral—through the sacrifice of lives and the taking of a life. George Floyd’s death is the most recent in a long list. Some of us have known this pain for a long time and some of us have only just now heard the cry. All of this with the background reality of the pandemic and its accompanying cloud of disjunctive strains of science and opinion. Also mourning, vulnerability, an economy full of unconscionable disparity, and sheer anger. Protest and civil disobedience are means of expression; and the path forward through this does not yet seem at all clear. What is clear, however, is that we are at a momentous crossroad: will our social and ecological intentions and actions guide us toward a path of healing, or will it be something more destructive?
While physical isolation and the need for online activity may have been having a certain numbing effect on our sense of time and energy, our direct experience, the work to be present for oneself moment by moment has certainly opened inner space in an unusual way. What draws our interest, what we choose to pay attention to may be more heightened in our consciousness and maybe even in our dream life. The rhythmic breathing between knowing the world and knowing oneself, a kind of normative spiritual principle, has been shaken by uncertainty.
Just as we can easily fall asleep in the rhythmic sensory breathing between world and self, we risk falling asleep into a return to what was the convenience of “normal” life. Well, to be fair, it was convenient to me and tremendously inconvenient, even tenuous and life-threatening for others. And this is reflective of the very point I am trying to make. I then have to ask: What am I willing to change or give up, or both, in order to be part of a new way to be in the world as I reengage? I know that I must somehow connect my inner freedom with the justice needed in the world. That is the work for me it seems. Fortunately, the anthroposophical toolbox contains useful resources.
Freedom in the cultural sphere, equity in the rights and agreements sphere, and compassionate interdependence in the economic sphere, all feel more significant than ever. As Rudolf Steiner articulated the Threefold Commonwealth in 1917, a response to the tragic conditions of World War I, he saw the need to transform all three spheres as a healing path forward toward peace and a just society. Now in 2020, given the economic, societal, and political turmoil we are witnessing, the conditions seem ripe for implementing threefold practices, and recognizing where they are already active. We need to be certain in what we are working toward. We also have to be clear what we are working against: fear, power over, hatred, racism, and any theory or practice that dehumanizes any individual.
The ideals that comprise threefolding are alive and meaningful right now. The recent heinous actions of police in Minneapolis, by those charged with “protecting” people’s rights, make it abundantly evident again that equity is painfully far from a reality for people of color. The same is true concerning access to healthcare, based on the data about who suffers most from the pandemic. As for the economy, more than 40 million people have applied for unemployment. The economic ground on which people have stood, especially minimum-wage earners, is quickly eroding and is reflected directly in the rise of hunger. It seems our real economic interdependence and disparity could not possibly become more visible. We can understand protest in a threefold context, though of course those rightfully protesting don’t start with an abstract framework. Protest is direct cultural action exercised in response to abuse of rights. An act of protest, right deed, flows from an individual’s or group’s sense of what is moral and ethical toward the immoral and unethical. The recognition of what is moral is an emanation from spiritual freedom. And so is anger.
The need for threefolding is greater than ever, and I believe there will be an increasing openness in the rebuilding process if we can find a way to have a voice in that process. What Rudolf Steiner articulated in 1917, in extreme conditions, as a way forward toward lasting peace and a more just, engaged and empowered society, is critical to meeting the present and future. First and foremost, it is a whole and dynamic view of an inclusive social life that fully embraces all the aspects—of culture or civil society; rights, agreements and laws; and the economy—in a way that celebrates both the individual and the community. The framework of threefolding is deliberative and designed for social self-governed equilibrium.
However, if as anthroposophists, we want to be part of the conversation and work going forward, first we need to cultivate listening to others’ experience, and to know the full cultural, legal, and economic history in which we are embedded here in the US. Even so, as a white culture, we will blunder. We are going to have to find innovative ways to carry these ideas and ideals and be able to embody them so that they can be received and useful. This is a challenge, and not without risks. But a greater risk is silence or inaction which equates to complicity with the abuse of power in what is unfolding before us.
Rudolf Steiner gave us powerful tools. We really can begin with the path of self-knowledge that requires the condition of freedom and the recognition of and respect for that freedom for every other human being. This is called moral tact or discernment and is the foundation for the virtue of justice in the relational world. And if we can deeply listen rather than speak in the relational world, trust will come toward us. I say all this because it is time to move past the thought that we don’t understand social threefolding, and instead recognize the practices that are its foundation and build it as a way of being in the world so that you and the ideal, rather than the theory, can be of service for a healing impulse, and as part of the antidote so needed for the future. This is not a simple ask, but our times are not simple.