Remember my old friend Bill and his notion of Sacred Lifeboats? I was writing about him just a short while ago on The Buddha Diaries, and his conviction that the big boat is sinking, that we need to prepare ourselves for that catastrophe by building our own lifeboats now. By lifeboats, as I understand Bill's thinking, he means small, mutually supportive communities of like-minded people who share values and a commitment to the survival of the human species and the human spirit on this endangered planet.
I was thinking of this old friend Bill as I sat at lunch yesterday with another old friend Bill, Bill Megalos, a documentarian whose films on people of different cultures throughout the world will be familiar to those who watch public television, even though his name might not be. Bill has been traveling the world recently with Prof. Muhammad Yunus whose pioneering work in the field of micro-credit for "leveraging small loans into major social change for impoverished families" earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006; my friend has been privileged to meet numerous world leaders in the company of Yunus, and has developed a new direction of his own. These days, much of his energy goes into teaching, and his goal is to create workshops and schools, especially in poor and underdeveloped countries where control of the media has been restricted to the powerful. In passing on his technical skills and film-making experience to the less privileged, he hopes to empower them to bring change to their communities in ways similar to those effected by Prof. Yunus.
The past ten days are nothing, surely, if not a reinforcement of my first Bill's thinking. He is further along the line than I am--I who believe that we have not yet reached the tipping point, that we can still work to achieve the changes that we need. But the meltdown of the financial markets and its revelation of deep cracks not only in the world-wide credit system but more broadly of the magical thinking that goes into the free market system with its unconscionable exploitation of the planet's resources and a belief in endless "growth." In this context, my second Bill's actions are a positive and constructive move towards a future in which human beings of all classes and cultures are equally empowered to live their lives according to their own values and traditions, and not some version of a terrifyingly global "American dream."
I am encouraged that there are people in America who are thinking in these ways--and of course not only in America. Bill's (the second) good faith is manifest not only in his large scale thinking about global challenges, but in his small-scale actions: for years he has been devoting precious time from his weekends to the needs of the homeless in his home town of Santa Monica. His gift to them is a special one: he cuts their hair. This intensely personal act of compassionate, physical closeness has earned him the lasting affection of people on the streets, who receive too few such gestures in their often desperate lives.
As we finished our lunch and prepared to leave the diner where we had met, we caught a glimpse of another old friend Bill, this one Bill Clinton, being interviewed presumably in connection with the Clinton Global Initiative, set up to support precisely the kind of community action that we're talking about. Seeing the familiar face on the television screen, I couldn't help but have that momentary cringe, recalling the contrast between the Clinton administration's engagement in the world and our current petulant isolationism. I also remembered those FOBs--the friends of Bill--and reflected that I seem to have a collection of OFBs. Old friend Bills.
Which reminded me to make a call this morning about another OFB, to see whether I might go over this afternoon to sit with him a while. This Bill, a physician, a distinguished teacher, and a writer of many articles and books on the important topic of health care provision, is now himself suffering from the early stages of a debilitating disease. It has been too long since I stopped by...