Living Up to Our Highest Values: A Miracle of Solidarity
People often think of miracles as spectacular events like dramatic physical healings and the like. Certainly that is one category of miracles, as A Course in Miracles makes clear. But as we’ve emphasized so much here at the Circle, miracles most often take the form of small acts of human kindness that have a surprising transformative impact. Here, I’d like to share a story of what looks to me like an example of such a miracle, performed by my wonderful partner, Patricia.
In May, Patricia attended a training put on by a human rights organization in Guatemala—a training for people who want to learn how to offer psychosocial assistance for vulnerable people like migrants, victims of violent crime, and the like. The people who attend these trainings are members of various human rights organizations that assist particular groups of people in need. Patricia has attended these trainings several times, and has always been impressed by the kindness, helpfulness, and dedication demonstrated by everyone involved.
But after she returned from this most recent training, an unfortunate incident came to light. There is usually a lot of celebration and merrymaking at the end of these trainings, and on this occasion the training group members in one of the hotel rooms went a little too far. They had had quite a bit to drink, and to keep their drinks cold, they had filled a leaky trash can with ice and put it on the wooden parquet floor. Unfortunately, by morning, the ice had melted and water was all over the floor. And to compound the misfortune, rather than cleaning up their mess and informing the hotel staff of what had happened, the individuals in that room simply checked out without a word, leaving standing water that ended up causing significant damage to the delicate wooden floor.
Patricia learned of this incident much later through the group members’ online discussion group. Of course, the whole trash can thing was just one of those things that can happen when people have a few too many and get a little too crazy. Accidentally letting water drain onto a floor doesn’t call for harsh condemnation. However, Patricia found herself disturbed by the tone of the discussion, because it treated the whole thing as a joke. To her, that was not an appropriate attitude to take. It’s one thing not to condemn an unintentional mishap, but quite another to laugh off the irresponsibility of not reporting the mishap and abandoning the scene. Members of this group were responsible for real damage to a hotel that had served the organization well on multiple occasions in the past. Shouldn’t they apologize to the hotel and offer to pay for the damages?
To Patricia, this flippant attitude toward damage they had done was contrary to the very purpose of the organization. Their aim, after all, is to help vulnerable people who are often treated with disrespect and laughing dismissal by others. Members of this very group have often complained about how some police officers laugh off their beatings of perceived “lowlifes” by saying “Oh, it’s nothing—sure, we might have broken a rib or two, but we didn’t really hit them that hard.” Patricia thought: While the hotel incident certainly doesn’t reach that level of severity, is it really different in content? The people affected by this damage—the hotel owners, the hotel staff, and the organization as a whole, whose reputation is now sullied by this incident—are human beings who deserve courtesy and respect, just as these vulnerable people do. If we want to bring about real change, which this group is certainly committed to doing, should we not be consistent with our highest values in how we treat all people?
So, Patricia was disturbed as she read these discussion group chat messages. When she told me about the situation, I was disturbed by it too. What, if anything, should be done? I asked her if she planned to write something to the group about this, and she said that she simply didn’t know what she should do. But it was on our minds all night, and she decided she would pray about the situation, to see if there was anything she might be called to do.
The next morning, Patricia’s Workbook lesson was “I am at home. Fear is the stranger here.” She told me that while she was listening to the Circle of Atonement’s recorded commentary on this lesson, an insight came to her. She was afraid to say anything to the group about this incident, because she was afraid she couldn’t do it without condemning them. But no, she realized, “Fear is the stranger here.” And with that, an answer to the question of what to do came to her: She should write a message to the group saying simply that as a group, they should apologize to the hotel for the damage and take up a collection to pay for it. No more than that: no calling out the people who actually did the deed, and no lecturing the discussion group for their flippant attitude. Just a proposal to perform an act of kindness and respect toward the hotel.
This guidance felt really right to both of us, so she sent this message that very morning. And what happened next was truly amazing and inspiring. As we were eating breakfast, responses to the message were streaming into Patricia’s cell phone one after the other. And those responses spoke with one voice: Everyone agreed with the proposal—everyone. Many commented on what a kind and appropriate gesture it was. Many enthusiastically offered to open their pocketbooks and make a contribution to the repair fund. This continued all day: Even people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the event popped in and said “What’s going on here?” When they were told about the proposal, they too wanted to help. There was kindness and goodwill all around. It was a total lovefest!
Even better: Included in the responses was a reply from one of the people actually involved in damaging the floor, one of the two people in whose room the incident occurred. She said that in fact, the hotel had reported the damage to the organization, the organization had paid for it already, and the organization had asked her and her roommate to reimburse them, which the two women had promised to do. To their credit, they were indeed taking responsibility for what they had done. It just hadn’t been reported in the group’s discussions.
And for this person, Patricia’s proposal and the group’s enthusiastic response was a beautiful and generous surprise. She thanked the entire group for their “solidarity.” It seemed like everyone had a burden lifted from them. Indeed, literally everyone benefited: the organization as a whole, the training group, the specific people involved in the incident, and even the hotel that had their floor paid for and would now receive a gracious apology for what had happened. It was a win-win in the deepest and truest sense. One of the group leaders, as if responding to Patricia’s unspoken thought that the group should always live up to its highest values, perhaps put it best when she said that this act “definitively speaks of a new culture that puts into practice these values that are so important.”
If I may brag a bit about Patricia, I think she was a real miracle worker here. This situation could have so easily degenerated into a war of recriminations if it had been handled improperly. It would have been so easy for Patricia to jump into the discussion group and point the accusing finger, at which point probably all hell would have broken loose. Another negative outcome was also possible: It would have been just as easy for Patricia to give in to her fear and do nothing at all, in the interest of looking appropriately “nonjudgmental” and not making waves. In this case, the laughing dismissal of what had happened might have continued, and no transformation would have happened.
But instead, Patricia felt a miracle impulse well up in her and acted on that impulse as guided. She appealed to the better angels of the group’s nature, to the innate goodness of these people who have devoted their lives to helping their brothers and sisters in need. Patricia’s gentle call to perform an act of kindness turned the entire group from disrespectful laughter to honorable service; from potential conflict to renewed solidarity and deeper joining in their highest values of loving and respecting everyone they encounter. How wonderful!
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