DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT – Finding the Cathedral Builder Within
It’s a gift to be able to envision the “big picture.” Knowing what you are working towards is a critical part of creating a short term plan that takes you to that long term vision. But, sadly, sometimes the final destination seems so far away and hence so unattainable; people sometimes give up without really trying. It’s understandable.
I’ve witnessed this dilemma a lot in the social justice work I’ve done. Getting discouraged and disappointed by the snail’s pace of progress can be one of the biggest obstacles to maintaining the motivation needed to ultimately succeed. While we do have the power to change society, it can only happen if lots of people work together over time to build that change while dealing with the realities of one day at a time and one small step at a time. It works but not if you give up.
I found some ideas in the book FINDING THE CATHEDRAL WITHIN – Transforming Your Life by Giving Something Back by Bill Shore very helpful when encouraging words were needed. Justice Works! was the name of the social justice all volunteer non-profit that dealt with difficult issues of racial disparity in the criminal justice system. Below are some of the ideas I used to encourage my fellow organizers. This advice can also help when dealing with all difficult life challenges, not just those related to social justice.
It’s a basic human desire to want to do something that makes a difference and that could ideally have a lasting impact. That’s what Justice Works! was about. It was about working as an authentic, healthy, diverse and strong community of people that took actions based on a set of clearly stated and well understood values knowing that what we did would lead us all to a more just society over time. That’s a big vision. It’s a big, long-term vision.
The book describes the mystery and awe inspiring efforts that have gone into the construction of cathedrals. The author’s primary example is the cathedral in Milan which took five hundred years to build. People worked endlessly on it knowing that they would not live long enough to see its completion. Many different people contributed in many different ways. It wasn’t the technology that inspired its creation, it was the vision. And, the outcome of that effort and dedication wasn’t a building; it was mostly the accumulated spirit of all that went into it. Today, the cathedral inspires those who visit in ways that ways that are often beyond explanation. That inspiration is a combination of the place and all that went into creating the place.
The author suggests that there are 5 overarching principles that go into cathedral building. These principles can also apply to social justice work and life struggles in general. They can give meaning and purpose to our personal lives because they help ensure that our individual contributions endure and that our communities will be stronger even after we are gone.
Those cathedral building / social justice building principles are:
- “Devoting your life to a cause you will never see completed need not diminish your craftsmanship and dedication. Cathedral builders worked backward from a grand vision and a detailed blueprint that, if followed, would produce the desired outcome.
- Cathedral building requires the sharing of strength, the contributions of not just the artisans and experts, but of everyone in the community. Ambitious civic projects can’t be achieved by government, businesses, or religious institutions alone. They require all of civic society.
- The great cathedrals are built, literally, upon the foundations of earlier efforts. The effort to incorporate the work that came before is conscious and deliberate, and the cathedrals are stronger, more solid, and better built for us.
- Cathedrals were sustained and maintained because they actually generate their own wealth and support. The main source of funding for their building or renovation was income from accumulated land and property. In this way, cathedrals did not just rely on donations, handouts, or redistributed wealth, but instead created new community wealth.
- Cathedrals, through their stained-glass panels, statues, and paintings, were intentionally designed to convey stories and values to people who were otherwise illiterate. In this way, they taught important history, passed along best practices, and perpetuated a philosophy and culture that reflected their values.”
I believe in people-power. I believe in our ability to do and create great things. My hope is that we can share a vision and we can commit to caring for each other along the way. Surely, if we do that, we will create a better world together.
I’m hoping that we can find good ways to stay encouraged through excellent self-care and a commitment to the care of others. Let’s agree to build cathedrals together.
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