When I was a soldier in the Army I had a close friend who immigrated to the US by way of China. Now that I think about it, I met him at the recruitment center in Los Angeles right before we were all carted off to bootcamp. He struck me as an imposing person. Think of someone my height (5’5”) and triple the mass in bone and muscle. Now add to the picture a shaved head, white tank top, and an elaborate dragon tattoo on the shoulder that reminded me of Asian mafias. He looked like he could break my neck like a Popsicle stick with the flick of a finger. That was Mark. I was nervous about Mark, and ironically we became fast friends. We went through bootcamp in South Carolina and military intelligence school in Arizona. By luck he was assigned to the same station and unit as me after training. Eventually there were bumpy roads in our friendship. Now that I have a social worker’s eye I’ve come to understand the nature of the situation: culture clash. You see, the average bystander would have categorized Mark and myself into the same box (racially & culturally), but we couldn’t have been from more different worlds. Mark grew up in a small rural town in China. I grew up in the scattered California suburbs of Los Angeles and Orange County. As it turned out, we had very different ideas of common courtesy. I found myself committing offense-after-offense. Most of the time Mark would pardon my behavior, but there were days when enough was enough and he’d give me a piece of his mind. I’d be confused, but my bewilderment would only be cause for further disappointment. From my view, I was adhering to general customs of polite behavior. For Mark, my behavior came off as self-centered and childish. Years later, I think I finally understand. Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly have moments of being self-centered and childish, but Mark saw a different dimension altogether. A dimension that I couldn’t see (it was like the Twilight Zone for me). Mark grew up in an area and culture where collectivism was the central philosophy of life. For me, I grew up in a society that prized individualism (and the even more absurd notion of American exceptionalism). These central philosophies were the very substance of our reality very much like water for fish. It’s seldom questioned, if even noticed. It’s our normal. Yet, isn’t it also true what Morticia Addams once famously said? “Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.” I reflect deeply on these lessons when I think about the future of My Praxis.
Much like Liz Kessler’s blog analysis of self-care in the US, I lean towards the opinion that there is no self-care without community-care. To some this seems like a no brainer, right? Why wouldn’t people take care of each other like family, like community? I have a sneaky suspicion that we have neoliberal capitalism to thank for the corrosion of the American family (which I think is a topic beyond the scope of this blog entry). It’s fascinating though. There’s some ancient wisdom here that has been systematically engineered out of a civilization’s way of life. Interestingly enough, both Christianity and Buddhism recognized the paramount importance of community. So much so that community became a central tenet of the religion. In Christianity, the Holy Trinity is comprised of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In Buddhism, the Three Jewels is comprised of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. My understanding of this sacred triad is that the Father and the Buddha refer to completion or perfection of being, the Son and the Dharma refer to the righteous path (the teachings), and Holy Spirit and Sangha refers to the church (community). We can get even more nerdy by then asking ourselves why trinity or three? Does it have something to do with Greek philosophy? Does it have something to do with how the triangle is considered to provide the strongest structure, both biologically and architecturally? Perhaps. But there I go again, I found a thread and I ran with it. So what does all this chitchat about economics, mysticism, Ancient Greek philosophy, and geometry have to do with My Praxis? What I’m saying is perhaps it’s time to rethink service (perhaps scrap it altogether), and re-adopt the concept of authentic care. The ancients knew about this! Imagine that. Such intelligence before wifi and Google. That’s phenomenal! Human relations are more than a series of transactions. What’s beyond is what I suspect Mark was trying to convey to me for so long. Community isn’t just a group of people. It’s isn’t a collection of buildings. It isn’t commerce. It isn’t even the combination of all those things. For me, and for a lot of people, community is the very spirit and purpose of being human. We’ve lost our way. It’s time we find our way back home.