On the precipice of culture change

Posted on June 23, 2020 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Corona has also shown us some hard truths about the times in which we are living, highlighting the cracks in our institutions.

By Stephanie Hiller

The pandemic has unmasked us. Peeling back the persona we had constructed in our busy lives, it has opened us up to greater appreciation for one another, and a deeper sense that we are all connected. Like a silent retreat, it has opened our hearts. And it has taken us further on the long road to true togetherness, restoring or rejuvenating old fashioned values, like family, home cooking, and taking walks beneath the crystalline blue sky in the rich silence of absent traffic. Yes, many people have said they do not want things to return to normal.

But La Corona has also shown us some hard truths about the times in which we are living, highlighting the cracks in our institutions. For those of us seeking social change it has done a lot of our work for us, shattering our assumptions and bankrupting our institutions in a way that no single social movement could do, opening the field for new ideas. We may now have more power to rebuild our society by actually addressing problems that we have habitually tried to ignore, and which therefore have been festering and worsening beneath the surface, like climate change. 

The uprising of Black Lives Matter, now in its third week, has shocked us into a deeper recognition of the injustices experienced by black people for centuries. It is a heartbreaking and historic moment.

Now we are trying to reconstruct our lives from the tattered shreds of a broken economy and haunting questions about the possibility of a new surge, many of us still unemployed, still hungry. It’s good to be back, but we are forced to linger in a place we do not like, what the writer Chris Hedges has called “the ambiguity of being human,” a place of not knowing. From this vulnerable and bereft place, something new could come, something that might lead to a more enlightened and just society. But what might that look like, and how do we get there?

Culture is what a society believes and enacts based on those beliefs, what are its institutions and norms, its presumed values and its notion of what is true. As we have all begun to realize, ours is a culture on the brink of potentially catastrophic change.

I write to share my thoughts from my perspective as an elder who has lived through decades of turbulence and potential transformation, a witness, you might say, from a bygone era, because the world I grew up in has vanished forever and will never return despite the frantic attempts of neoconservatives to bring it back.

What I hope to share here is not about me but what I have observed and pieced together from paying attention and trying to change the world I encountered in youth, one in which Hitler had just murdered millions of Jewish people (including some of my relatives) in the most obscene and nightmarish way, and whose country had just produced a bomb capable of destroying human life forever.

I invite you to travel with me on this journey, out of the rubble that La Corona has left in her wake, seeking a vision of a new and better world that is within the realm of the possible despite the awesome forces fighting to prevent its emergence.

Stephanie Hiller is a teacher and writer who lives in Sonoma and participates in a number of groups working for social change.


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