Posted by: Dr Churchill | January 29, 2014

State of the Union Deconstructed

Given sufficient and vastly unequal amounts of irony, pondering juice, and time — I often wonder if there has ever been a more delightful oxymoron in the tortured American lexicon than State of the Union.

I am completely serious.

I stumble across this fangled term frequently in the White House and the Mass Media Mad World, especially today and is usually in reference to this, or that, or the other, noteworthy accounting of things past and present. Yet nary a reference for the Real Present. The Real Future. We are not interested about the future of exclamations but that of the hard reality…

So let us fill in this inexplicable void here and now:

In the State of the Union speech, we hear a lot about the nation’s continuing recovery from the Great Recession, and about President Obama’s determination to run an executive end-run around obstructionist Republicans in order to kick the economy into a higher gear.

But as the nation pauses for this annual moment of reflection on our fiscal and social health, too many leading indicators get short shrift. Here are 27 statistics – on unemployment, inequality, the drug war, defense spending, climate change and more – that underscore the troubled reality of America in 2014:

— New income generated since 2009 that has gone to the top 1 percent: 95 percent
— Financial wealth controlled by the bottom 60 percent of all Americans: 2.3 percent
— Record combined wealth of the top 400 richest Americans: $2,000,000,000,000
— Real decline in median middle-class incomes since 1999: $5,000
— Percentage of Hispanic and African-American children living in poverty, respectively: 33.8 percent; 36.7 percent
— Amount that food stamps will be cut in 2014: $5 billion
— Federal minimum wage: $7.25
— What the minimum wage would be if it had kept pace with gains in worker productivity since 1968: $21.72
— Number of U.S. workers laboring at or below minimum wage: 3.6 million – the near equivalent of the population of Los Angeles.
— Stealth taxpayer subsidy to the fast-food industry, paid out as safety-net benefits to McWorkers earning poverty wages: $7 billion
— Global carbon dioxide levels measured in parts per million: 397
— Maximum concentration of the greenhouse gas that scientists deem sustainable: 350
— Years since the turn of this century that have ranked among the warmest 15 on record: All 13
— Rank of 2013 on that list of the warmest years on record: Number Four
— U.S. defense spending as of 2012: $682 billion
— Dollar amount by which that surpassed our nearest plausible military rival, China: $516 billion
— Federal deficit last year: $680 billion
— Number of Americans disenfranchised from voting for felony convictions: 5.9 million
— Share of those disenfranchised voters who are African-American: 37 percent
— Number of Americans arrested annually for marijuana possession: 658,000
— Total incarcerated U.S. population: 2.3 million
— Total population on probation/parole: 4.8 million
— States that could be entirely filled by all of the Americans under correctional supervision: Nevada and Kentucky
— Official unemployment rate: 6.7 percent
— Alternate rate including Americans who’ve given up looking for work, or have only been able to secure part-time employment: 13.1 percent
— Number of jobs the United States is still down from 2008 employment peak: 1.69 million
— Number of Americans who were cut off from long-term unemployment benefits at the turn of the year: 1.3 million

We understand that. That’s the data. The awfully serious discrepancies between aspirations and reality. And in the face of all that, I understand the president coming on strong and yet feeling powerless to steer the ship of State to a better place, in a direction preferable than the present course, to a safe heaven.

I see his pain…

And I understand for that brief period of time, where he read aloud the State of the Union speech that he is an exhausted man. The fight is out of him…

So I know my job is to simply bear witness and support.

To hold space, as an unconditional witness to this man’s journey, gigantic effort, and personal pain. The pain of lone leadership.

And the funny thing is, although I’m not a fan of people’s suffering, or war, and killing people, or caving in to special interests — still, I have no judgment of him. None.

All I could feel towards him was loving compassion.

With each personal act of compassion, and with each leader who shares openly their vulnerability, wearing their trust, and bearing their load — my heart grows a little bigger…

And instead of taking on the burden or their pain, I feel we are engaging in a reclamation of the bits and pieces scattered along the road that got left behind and completing together the puzzle of Mindful Life that we all share. Then we can claim to be building a Better Union. Only then. And that is the only constructive way to hear the President.

As he and all other leaders, share their stories, we gather up the pieces, gluing back the fragmented shards of shattered glass of understanding of what’s lurking and waiting to be understood behind the lines of the text and the spoken words. These meanings all left unsaid are the episodes of our lives to be and those to come. And we best be ready to understand for without understanding we are simply lost…

Because we simply hear the rubbish of the ‘noise’ and lose the signal when we spend too much time listening to the words all the while failing to grasp the meaning behind them. And as we lose the real message, we stay inimical because we fail to get it; and we upend the words lacking trust and searching for clues. Like old school Sovietologists we lose sigh of both the forest and the trees.

So let us start hearing with our ears closed and instead start bearing witness until our leaders are again healed, whole, and ready to take on, the next set of life challenges awaiting them. And further awaiting us too..

I have the satisfaction of walking away from an exchange like this feeling that my soul has been healed, that in the witnessing of other people’s pain, I am fulfilling part of my destiny as well. And being a Leader dictates You should be able to hear…

It is a tremendous gift when we are able to be fully present for another human being in times of anguish, pain, and suffering, without criticizing, nor moving to fix, or improve and solve, or push away the emotions garnered. Our culture is so emotion averse, that we deny those moments when actually diving in to them can produce a depth of connection and healing that’s transformational for all of us.

We all deserve someone we can talk to who is just listening even when we speak to millions. Because when we talk as Leaders and also listen as leaders — we are not expecting a result or demanding a return on investment. We simply state the vision and the supporting facts. And we don’t want anyone who listens to judge us, see if it fits their game plan, use what we say against us, or admonish us for not being perfect.

Instead over time we seldom find a true listener. A noticer. A person that beholds our truth. A mindful presence. And we as leaders, always want to find those few in order to cherish those sacred moments when trust has been established with another human being. When a true and honest connection is made. And it can be in an instant. Saying that trust takes time to build is, in my experience, absolutely ridiculous.

It’s a confessional moment that few people have ever known. This is when I know a sacred bond of confidentiality has been formed, and we shift into a different experience of time and space.

Yours,
Pano

PS:

And here is how to do this most honourable kind of Listening that leads to understanding:
Breathing slows, the heart opens and our senses are tuned to “Listen Only” mode.
Imagine yourself an empty vessel, a channel, a listening ear.

Practically feel the person’s anguish. Feel the Leader’s solitude. Feel his anxieties, sorrows, failures and wins. Feel his insecurities and his follies.

Be compassionate, so you can hear and almost feel when he’s getting it, and he’s ready to release his painful message and heal generations from pain and suffering.

Just witnessing this is like being in a State of Grace and participating in a State of a far Grander Union…


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