WHAT DEWEY SAYS Social Sciences THE BIG QUESTION How do we get right with each other?
STARTING POINT Our brain acreage for social skills - language, recognizing expressions and stuff like that - it's huge. It just dwarfs the number of neurons set aside for, say, life's more important things. Balancing a checkbook, for example.
So it's no wonder that we're hopelessly obsessed with other people. On the lighter side there's reality TV and gossip rags; more soberly we argue - endlessly! - about fairness and laws and justice and good etiquette.
With all of that attention, you'd think we'd have figured out how to live together gracefully by now. But somehow toes still get stepped on. Shouldn't there be some lost, gentle art of making us right with each other again?
There are. A million million of them. And they're the domain of the Zookeepers.
Why the name? Ehh... seems a sweet way to describe the hairy, hairy task of setting and restoring the peace. Just ask St. Augustine what it took to keep the early Christians on track:
“Disturbers are to be rebuked, the low-spirited to be encouraged, the infirm to be supported, objectors confuted, the treacherous guarded against, the unskilled taught, the lazy aroused, the contentious restrained, the haughty repressed, litigants pacified, the poor relieved, the oppressed liberated, the good approved, the evil borne with, and all are to be loved.”
OTHER PRAXES When the rules fail - and they always do - how do you put plasters on all those stepped-on toes? The gentle praxes of comforting, rebalancing, restoring and rebuking have existed everywhere. Ritual charity, in a thousand forms (zakat, tithing, tzedakah). Hospitality, in a thousand forms (xenia, pujas, tea ceremonies).
Just look at the potlach parties of the Chinook tribes: a year’s worth of wealth is accumulated just so that it can be joyfully given away. The Ainu chose their chiefs based on an ability to be generous! And watch Cheesefare Sunday at a Greek Orthodox church: Everyone confesses their sins to their neighbors, apologizes, then eats cheese goodies 'til they burst.
There's the less gentle side to it. To restore the social ship when someone has badly rocked it, there's excommunication and shunning. These have a place, too. A protest is a modern praxis that falls in this category.
And on an intimate level, there's the complicated act of confession - getting right by coming clean. If you have doubts about it, consider what it can do: it's central to most successful addiction recovery, and is now widely used in genocide reconciliations - helping us recover from our most hopeless missteps.
In a merchant economy, these acts of grace from your community - something for nothing - have fallen away. Too late to bring them back?
You decide. If the Ten Year Game has a social conscience, it lives here.Into it? Sign up.