IMAGINE if it MATTERED…

By: Zoë Muntaner 

In February of 2008,  Karen Armstrong asked the TED community to help build a Charter for Compassion — to restore the Golden Rule as the central global religious doctrine. The golden rule is a basic principle that should be followed to ensure success in general or in a particular activity.  To treat others the way we wish to be treated. 

In September of 2013, I brought to Santa Monica City Council the idea of the Charter for Compassion to be adopted as a means of affirming the values of our city.  To my amazement they voted unanimously to sign the Charter, making me the Founder of Compassionate Santa Monica and its Chief Compassion Officer.  It was a moment in time where diversity mattered.  That was the easy part.  Since 2013, I’ve gone to numerous Council meetings to speak on behalf of animal and worker rights, affordable housing, development, police reform, anti-corruption act (campaign reform)  and human trafficking.  I use my voice to bring compassion to policy at Santa Monica City Hall and once to Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.  I’m part of a growing category of Citizen Lobbyists. Perhaps they didn’t see that coming (I’m sure they didn’t), perhaps it was divine intervention that worked its magic.  It will remain a mystery, but here we are: the first city in LA County to affirm the Charter for Compassion and 4th in the state of California, brought by an animated speaker with a mission, who wants to engage change-agents in authentic social entrepreneurship.

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The work ahead was cut for me: How do we move from signing a document to practicing its doctrine in public life, day in and day out across every department, commission, and policy?   My personal belief is that government should be the servant of the people, NOT the ruler of the people.  There should be no room for entitlement or privilege if you are indeed a public servant.  Everyone should have access to government and its diversity makes it matter most.  Who is in the room matters. 

If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”  ~Shirley Chisholm

Like many of you, I’ve witnessed the traffic of misinformation, false narratives and spinning stories that support not so innocent agendas.  Compassion and diversity decoys have been deployed to distract us from what we are craving: truth, peace, purpose, understanding and personal power. Yes,  I’m also part of the growing category of media that matters.

Does DIVERSITY MATTERS?  IMAGINE.

I want to challenge you to stretch and grow because diversity & inclusion as of today are increasingly becoming buzz words for campaign strategies.  I  don’t ever want to move from the idea that the world can be a better place.  How we make it better together?  No matter how similar we seem, we’re all very different.  No matter how different we feel, we’re all very similar.  

Is baffling to me to hear an activist advocating equity in education for black kids only. When asked if Latino/Hispanics were included, the answer was a resounding no: “this is for black kids only”.  The wife of Mayor Antonio Vasquez (first Latino Mayor of Santa Monica) was in the room as a speaker that night.  Ms. Vasquez is one of the key advocates to bring Dr. Pedro Noguera Equity in Education to Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District along another Latino school Board member, activist, and City Council candidate Oscar de la Torre. 

It’s chilling to read Committee for Racial Justice activist Trudy Goodwin social media answer to a comment of solidarity and inclusion with “That statement is like attending a 5-k run for breast cancer and shouting “but lung cancer kills too”.  Seriously?  It’s cancer, it spreads.  Is not uncommon for cancer to show up in several parts of the body at the same time.  We’re all outraged and traumatized by police images killing innocent suspects.  Since when Racial Justice is exclusive Black justice?  

Apparently, it has become popular to exclude people that suffer the trauma of police violence because they don’t have the “right” skin color.   If you are Hispanic and black you are good… but if not, is limbo time…don’t dare to speak, is an exclusive matter.  All I have to say is:  

 I might not have the color but I have the struggle. 

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Perhaps because I was born and raised with a black uncle, gay cousin/friends/neighbors, alcoholic relatives/friends, Jewish grandfather, Cuban & British neighbors, “white” parents and educated in a school that looked like a Benetton ad,  I was unconsciously groomed to tackle this issue.  

I surround myself with people of diverse perspectives, ethnicities, gender, political affiliations, disabilities and social status, it was the way I was raised.  Our perspectives might be different but at the end of the day, we share the same planet.  I’ve curated an exquisite group of friends that influence robust debate.  When we build with people that think the same and are the same, there is no perspective or change.  The excitement for me is to work with people that THINK DIFFERENTLY, the coming together of diverse people, while still affirming their differences.  To build a sense of community in the context of the obstacles we face, is to make Los Angeles a sustainable society for future generations. 

Right now we are endangering many voices and perspectives, that do not subscribe to the status quo.  Voices that sell their souls in the hopes of access, leverage, advancement, and survival.  This is not a time to distance ourselves from what is truly going on.  We don’t have to wait for an event to bring us together, we can build a community without a tragedy.  That’s why diversity matters to me.  It matters to me because we are better people by our ability to feel with the other, which is the meaning of compassion.  

TED creates action through ideas as evidenced by the Charter for Compassion.  We can develop the kind of identity that calibrates the gentle courage needed to speak our voice. Reason to join the City of Speakers  pre TedxLA experiment, a unique mosaic of the voices of Los Angeles.  We are working to capture the voice of LA in its rich diversity, spirit and authenticity.  The experiment is scheduled to be showcased at TedxLA in December. 

EDUCATION

Despite the efforts of education activists, we are facing compassion illiteracy.  My goal is to have our school district make the revolutionary decision to teach the science of compassion and meditation at our schools.  That is a step to make a difference for future generations, innovation in education.

Disruption is either going to happen to you or BECAUSE of you. 

The algorithm for compassion lies in the hearts and minds of each of us, we are built with it, is encoded in our DNA.  I learned from a Bhagavad Gita scholar, that the classic does not contain a single line on morality, it’s all focused on CONSCIOUSNESS.  As we build cities of the future WE MUST LEARN TO DO SO WITH COMPASSION, balance the needs of those who have done very well in our society with those who have nothing to sustain themselves except the kindness of strangers. 

The general atmosphere in politics where discourse is managed as spiteful currency by purveyors of hate increases the danger of compassionate cities.   Compassion is the arbiter of fairness. The kind of law that we want, is in our conscience.  DIVERSITY MATTERS is hosting a CONSCIOUS DEBATE for local City Council and College Board candidates in Santa Monica.  Why?  Vedic thought brings undoubted integrity to political discourse and conversation.  It occupies a significant place in the intellectual and ethical life of modern times.  It invites voters and candidates to evaluate with fresh meaning the role of politicians and their responsibilities to our community and humanity at large.

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This is an experiment I hope to expand to the rest of LA County in elections to come.  We must engage in the future of our cities, participate through the civic engagement available to us or make our own way to it.  Last September Michelle Alexander sobering Social Media announcement served an invitation to activists around the world.

Solving the crises we face isn’t simply a matter of having the right facts, graphs, policy analyses, or funding.  And I no longer believe we can “win” justice simply by filing lawsuits, flexing our political muscles or boosting voter turnout. Yes, we absolutely must do that work, but none of it — not even working for some form of political revolution — will ever be enough on its own.  Without a moral or spiritual awakening, we will forever remain trapped in political games fueled by fear, greed, and the hunger for power

Sobering indeed… aligned with the thoughts of fellow activist Cesar Chavez:

We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.’

IMAGINE if DIVERSITY MATTERED like that.

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