The Other Side of the Street

August 6, 2014

CIMG1830 Out on our morning walk, I decided to stir things up a little. My initial purpose was to get Wilson out of “auto pilot” mode so he’d pay a little more attention to my commands … one of those puppy training tricks. But as we shifted to the other side of the street, I began to realize that the world looked a little different than it did from the initial side of the street we usually walked on. I began noticing things I’d never noticed. Gardens I had never really seen before … doorways that looked entirely different up close or further away … entire buildings that took on a different appearance from a new vantage point … and so forth. It was like we were taking an entirely different walk.

I remember reading something years ago about how one of the best ways to stimulate your thinking was to drive a different way to work every once in a while. The idea was that you would have to think about your trip to work, rather than simply go through the CIMG1827motions of your everyday commute, which subsequently would turn on your brain and stimulate your thinking. I tried it, and it seemed to work. So for years I would walk or drive a variety of different ways to the office as a way of stimulating my early morning thinking.

So walking down the other side of the street got me thinking. While there is a very literal aspect to seeing the world differently from the other side of the street, as I’ve stated, there is also a metaphorical aspect to my comment about perspective. Living somewhere else enables the same affect … you see the world a little differently than you might otherwise while being in the same place. For example, many of us note the dysfunction in our political system in the States. But by living outside the U.S., I also see the dysfunction in political systems all over the world, and likely, in a different context.

I’ve noticed that many pundits, academics, and authors have been talking about the rise of “crony capitalism” and the failures of capitalism. We’ve seen, they note, tax systems that favor the rich, government regulations that protect companies over consumers, abuses in financial systems, and election to the U.S. Congress as a ticket to wealth and membership in the upper class (or what some today refer to as the “political” class). In the States, political pundits on the left decry all of these issues and more as a failure of capitalism. And while they may have a point, you don’t have to look far to see that it may not only be a U.S. manifestation, and it may not be capitalism that’s failing, but democracy.

Politicians around the globe benefit from crony capitalism and political corruption. Politicians vote themselves top salaries while in the same breath try to justify the need to cut social programs. Their staff and family members become millionaires during their time in office. To use an example, it’s estimated that since Cristina Kirchner’s husband, Nestor, was elected President of Argentina in 2003 through a period of her own p​residency (up to 2010) their net worth grew from $2.5 million to $17.7 million​ (not a bad return on 7 years in office)​. In my mind, the wealth of politicians begs the question, “Do the rich become politicians, or do politicians become rich?” And while these need not be mutually exclusive questions, it seems that they raise a bigger question regarding the relationship between political power and economic wealth.

CIMG1825Many of us have joked about “the grass being greener on the other side of the fence,” expressing a certain point of view that reflects looking at other people’s lives and maybe seeing things we like, but don’t have. While walking on the other side of the street helps me see a different perspective, I find it helpful to note that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on either side of the fence. In fact, in my not so humble opinion, the world is overdue for ​a major ​renewal. Frankly, to use a Western expression, Rome is burning. Just look at Libya, Egypt, Syria, Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, and the Ukraine … the murder rates in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala … the political violence in Rwanda and the Central African Republic … the rising tensions​ between Asian neighbors … and the list could go on. Our political structures and institutions, social structures, and economic systems are all failing us. Capitalism has been twisted and perverted by cronyism and greed … a $6,000 shower curtain, anyone?

​Democracy has been so distorted in parts of the world that it makes a mockery of any semblance of political representation. A variety of socialist systems have tumbled down due to corruption, cronyism, and mismanagement. Monarchies and Parliamentary Monarchies haven’t fared much better. But before we despair and prepare for the second coming, we’d do well to remember that we’ve been here before in the past​ and not-so-distant past. The fall of a number of world empires, The Dark Ages, The Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and two World Wars all come to mind. The struggle for women’s suffrage, workers’ rights, and anarchism reflected times of great social turmoil and upheaval, and arguably, were the results of the Industrial Revolution. And it wasn’t so long ago that the U.S. was struggling with the assassination of a President, the embrace of civil rights, facing the political corruption of Watergate, and dealing with a very unpopular war (Vietnam). And then there’s the fact that a fair amount of what we’re seeing and experiencing globally today has everything to do with the failures and downfall of colonialism. For example, borders throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East were arbitrarily drawn by departing colonial powers, leaving behind messes like we see in the Middle East such as with ethnic Kurds spread across four different national boundaries (Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria).

We’ve seen failures and abuses of structures and systems throughout the years, all of which have led to upheaval, refinements, and eventual changes. Empires and tyrants have fallen, monarchs have been deposed, political revolutions have raged and fizzled, political systems have collapsed, and economic systems and structures have had to be transformed. In 1637 there was the Tulip Mania Bubble that had a major impact on the emerging world economy. In the 1790s there were multiple post-war financial crises in the U.S.. And then in 1929 the crash of Wall Street led to a world-wide economic meltdown that we know today as the Great Depression.

History is replete with examples of socio-cultural, political, and economic messes. As I ponder the various turmoils of today’s world, I’m reminded of my metaphor of Rome burning. According to historical records, Rome burned for 6 days and the fire took with it over 70% of the city. In the weeks following the fire, some blamed the Emperor Nero while Nero took the opportunity to blame a relatively small group of Christians living in Rome who he subsequently fed to the lions. But when all was said and done, Rome bounced back into a glorious city of marble and stone, and eventually into a city, ironically, that became known as the home of the Pope …​ Bishop of Rome, Holy Father, Vicar of Christ and leader of the world-w​ide Roman Catholic Church.

So where will our struggles lead us this time? … to electronic democracy?… to direct democracy? … to benevolent dictators who evolve into new forms of tyranny?… to new economic structures and systems? … to the development of a new kind of “world” bank? How will (or will we) share the world’s resources? … How will we think about global warming and climate change? … What role will emerging technologies play in the future of governance? …  in the future of daily economic activity?

For me, personally, it always comes back to my faith stance. Before I’m anything … Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, Capitalist, Socialist … I’m a Christian. And part of my faith stance is my sense of hope and a belief that all will work out as God intends and in God’s time. In the meantime, I’ll continue to do what I’m doing … live out my faith in the best way I know how, live out my baptismal call in service to others, do my civic duty as best I can working for the greater good, and continue to discern God’s purpose for my life, the church, and the world.

… and all that from walking on the other side of the street.

3 Responses to “The Other Side of the Street”

  1. Marilyn Says:

    I so appreciate your view from the other side of the street and try to see life that way myself. Trusting the Lord for the ultimate outcome helps me survive the daily bombardment of crises, though it takes a concerted effort to keep my focus on His good. Thanks for your reminders!


  2. Maria Says:

    Ted, this particuar blog couldn’t have come at a better time. At work we were discussing the ways in which people are acting/reacting to the political/social structures in the U.S. I printed this blog and gave it out. Thanks!


  3. honemission Says:

    Perhaps your best yet. Thanks, Ted.
    The lack of historical perspective among so many otherwise “educated” people is a constant source of irritation to me. There is almost nothing in our lives, our world, that is truly unique or unprecedented – political, economic, social – you name it. As we read in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
    And as you point out, by choosing your path and sharing the decision with us – “live out my faith in the best way I know how, live out my baptismal call in service to others” – you inspire us to do the same. This is not only our calling as Christians, it is at the some time our salvation from fruitless worry, from cynicism and despair, from callous disregard of others.


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