It's election season. Commercials. Mailers. Competing signs, facts and statistics. While all politics are supposedly local, the basic political landscape is fairly universal. Here in Marin County, California one of the main issues in next week's primary race for County Supervisor is a project called Marinwood Village. In essence, the project would transform a blighted shopping center into a mixed-use development of retail space and residential units, with almost all of the residential units being set aside for affordable housing.
While the history of the project is long and complicated, I think opposition to it can be summed up with an acronym: N.I.M.B.Y. "Not in my backyard." I live in a liberal-leaning county where progressive politics is the norm...until taking a progressive stand costs us something.
"Yes, let's have affordable housing, but not near my house."
"Yes, let's make it easier for middle to lower income workers to get to their jobs, but don't inconvenience me with any more traffic." (61% of those working in my county don't live here, in large part because housing is so pricey.)
"Yes, I believe our community should be integrated with people of color, of different ethnicities and religions, of various socioeconomic backgrounds all living amongst each other, just do it on the other side of the highway."
"Yes, let's ensure that every child has equal access to quality public education, just make sure my child's education is more equal than others."
Community, equality, justice, fairness, and compassion are all cherished values until those values might ask something of us:
- 30 seconds added to our commute on Mondays and Tuesdays
- Sacrificing that new state of the art auditorium for our school so that a less-privileged child can master Algebra and know the difference between a simile and a metaphor
- Facing our unconscious racism and classism
The plan's opponent say it will overcrowd schools, create traffic snarls, and result in any number of other dreaded outcomes. I assumed the plan was for over 1,000 residential units with 500 new children attending public schools and 700 new cars clogging our roads. No, the plan is to build 82 units, 72 of which would be designated as affordable housing. That's it. All this hubbub is about 82 units.
To be fair, we all have our version of N.I.M.B.Y., ways in which we sacrifice our principles when they are not convenient or comfortable. For instance, I refuse to patronize Walmart and other corporations whose business practices I believe to be detrimental to our society and environment. Yet, my retirement account is invested in various mutual funds, which, in turn invest in several corporations whose values clash with mine. It seems virtually impossible to build a retirement fund and avoid entanglements with corporate malfeasance. How do I live my values in such a situation?
What's your version of this conflict? Where in your life do you find it hard to live your values? The work of the soul is to get clearer and clearer about our true values and find the courage to live them.
Any value worth holding will cost us something. If there is no cost or struggle, then these are not personal values but rather worshipped abstractions, meaningless babble, self-serving affectations. Will we pay the price to do something, no matter how small, that is in alignment with the values we extoll? (Perhaps divest in just one mutual fund whose values conflict with our own.)
Only when we look into the backyard of our own hearts can we get honest about the gap between our expressed values and our actions. And when we look there, what we are likely to find is fear. Fear that we won't get our "fair share". Fear of losing control. Fear of pain. Fear of rejection. Much of this fear spirals outward from a center of self-entitlement weaving tales of doom that are not grounded in reality.
If we lean into our fear-based darker impulses, we can find beneath those layers of protection a greater compassion, a spacious consciousness, a liberating connection with All That Is...Something greater than ourselves which enables us to be the people we want to be. Change, whether in a person or in a society, always begins in our own backyard. If not now, when? If not in my own backyard, then whose?