What if…?
Talk presented 2/14/16
Unitarian Universalist Gathering of South County, Housatonic MA
Rich Hayes

Grace Note: It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.
-Mark Twain

READING: There is nothing softer or more yielding than water but none is superior to it in overcoming the hard; it has no equal. Weakness overcomes strength and gentleness overcomes rigidity. Everyone knows this, yet no one puts it into practice.
Tao Te Ching

"Write the wrongs that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble. Let go of all emotions such as resentment and retaliation, which diminish you, and hold onto the emotions, such as gratitude and joy, which increase you.
-Arabic Proverb

What if Rosa Parks hadn’t gotten on the bus in Montgomery that day?

What if Gandhi hadn’t gotten thrown off the train in South Africa?

Do you think Rosa thought that her refusal to relinquish her seat would set things in motion that would change the world?

Or that when Gandhi was doing business in South Africa and refused to be moved to 3
rd class with other persons of color, that he thought to himself, “Ah-ha! I will take this experience and liberate my country from the yoke of the British!!!”

I asked this question as I thought of these two people, and that led me to wonder about the part in history that may be waiting for each of our intercessions. And then I took it a step further and began to think of the simple and small internal changes we can engender that may have profound effects in our own life, and by this, change the world as we experience (know) it, and maybe, just maybe, serve as a catalyst for change in other lives because no one lives in a vacuum.

So here are some of the "what ifs" I've come up with. Please feel free to expand and add your own( and I invite you to continue to do so throughout the day).

What if the next time you start to criticize, you don’t?

What if the next time you find yourself angry, you stop and take 3 deep breaths and wish whoever or whatever you’re angry at a blessing?

What if every morning your first thought is “Thank you for another day of life”?

What if everyday you look for things to be grateful for, not resting until finding at least 3?
What if the next time you are feeling anxious over something beyond your control, you choose to let it go and
replace that anxiety with a thought and feeling of something else like a beautiful place or a person you love and admire?

What if you speak up when you’d rather not rock the boat but know the boat needs some rocking?

What if the next time you want to retaliate over a perceived wrong, you instead choose not to take it personally, understanding that hurt people often hurt people? What if instead you choose a response not based in anger but love?

What if you try to listen as often (or more) than you speak?
What if the next time you're feeling sorry for yourself, rather than staying stuck in it, you reach out and help someone else?

What if you chose love instead of hate and fear?

What if you lived each day as if your life is essential to the well being of the entire planet?

By incorporating some or all of these suggestions, you are well on your way to being an agent for positive change in the lives of others.

But could this
really change the world?

Yes, but let me suggest to you that you already have changed the world simply by the virtue of having been born.
Your life has touched other lives.
You’ve taken actions in your life that have affected others both in small and large ways. Some you’re aware of, others you’re not

It’s the old “stone thrown into the still pond thing” and the ripples spread out in all directions, and that’s the way it is with our lives.

It’s important to remember that our words and actions have effects that go out into the world and these may have consequences we never anticipated.

The man who got on the bus only to find the section full is also an essential part of Rosa’s story-without him what might have happened?

And that applies to the conductor on the train in South Africa-what might have happened had he decided to overlook Gandhi’s darker skin and let him stay with the European passengers?

Now it could be argued that the time was “right” for these things to happen and if it wasn't Rosa or Gandhi it would have been somebody else; that the zeitgeist of the period would have somehow created the opportunity to occur and that may be true. But we’ll never know because obviously these things did take place. But the point I’m trying to make is that none of us can truly know what might be a pivotal moment that sets new and possibly wide reaching changes into motion.

We are all connected in so many ways, ways most of us can never fathom or imagine.

One of the things that often comes-up in my work with people at the end of life is the question of meaning: what has all of this meant and most importantly, has my life mattered?

While it's not for me to tell someone yes or no, but rather help them discover their own answer, my belief is yes, a life always matters.
We are all here for a purpose.

In Judaism it’s said that each of us is here on earth to perform one essential “mitzvah” a kindness or good deed, and we are not allowed to know what this may be! So we
must pay attention to our life so that when this opportunity shows up we don’t miss it, because it may be something so simple that we could. So we are called all the time to ask our self, “Is this it?”
The concept of “BIG” and “small” is a human thing and is totally irrelevant on the Divine scale.

Everyday each of us has many opportunities in the course of the day as to how we react and respond to situations and to people. Remembering that we can choose HOW we do this can make such a difference-in our life and in the lives of others.

So, here's a few more what ifs:

What if we choose kindness whenever we can? (For ourselves and for others?)
What if we choose patience whenever we can? (For ourselves and for others?)
What if we choose compassion when we'd rather judge?
What if we allow our self to reach out to someone when our heart tells us that we should?
What if we adopt the view that what is done to one person (no matter where in the world) is done to all of us, for we are all of one family?
What if we choose to remember that we are a part of a very large story, one that is ongoing and requires our participation?

And finally, what if we choose to remember that
it’s in the smallest acts that the greatest things are accomplished?

While much of what I’ve suggested here has to do with stepping back from anger and reactive ways of behavior and focusing on the positive attributes of compassion and love and kindness, I do not mean to imply that we can never be angry or speak out. There are times we must have our voices heard and we must stand up and resist as both Rosa Parks and Gandhi have demonstrated.

But what we must not do is meet hatred with hatred; we must not let ourselves become what we oppose, because this can happen in very subtle ways. This is why Jesus spoke of meeting hatred with love, as did the Buddha and Lao Tzu and practically all the spiritual practices I know of. Why? Because we risk becoming a “variation” of the very thing we rail against.

Gandhi accomplished what was thought to be impossible by employing non-violence. The movement that Rosa Parks was a part of, led by Martin Luther King, modeled themselves on this, and the world was changed. Love can accomplish miracles when channeled in such ways.

All that hatred and fear accomplishes is more of the same, demonstrated over and over again in ever escalating violence and suffering.

This has been a repeating pattern throughout human history and under all political systems of government as well as religions.
Our only way out of this is to
evolve, to change our story and understanding of who we are and how we relate to one another, and this is an inside job for each one of us. It is in the best interest for all concerned-the Earth and all her creatures that we do so and time is short.

The world is constantly changing, one thought, one act, at a time.
You are a vital part of this story and your thoughts and feelings and choices make a difference. Choose wisely.
Thank You.