Heart of a New Social Contract – Institute for Zen Leadership
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The heart of a new social contract

Ginny Whitelaw reflects on the injustice of our current social contract and the urgent need for a new one – June 2020

George Floyd Memorial, Minneapolis Minnesota
photo by Minke Holtkamp Sundseth


“I can’t breathe!” The dying words of George Floyd. The shock wave through many of us on seeing the senseless brutality of a knee on neck. The exasperated recognition that this death is yet another in a long chain of deaths and violence against black people. The mantra of many a marcher suppressed by a system that is squeezing them into too small a life. The shout of a society that is suffocating from small-selfishness and the fear and greed that widens the divide in our delusion of separateness.

And here I thought I’d be writing about coronavirus this week. But in a way, these issues connect; the pandemic that has upended our lives in recent months adds fuel to the pandemonium this week. Many have lost a loved one, lost a job, or have too much job in an exhausting battle against this virus. Some see no brighter prospect on the horizon as many businesses will not re-open and many jobs will not come back. With more than 100,000 American lives lost to the virus, the disproportionate damage has again landed in the lives of black people.

We are better than this. And by “we” I exclude no one, but I’m especially speaking to white people.  Because we are the ones who crafted the social contract that has economically benefitted us and spiritually diminished us for centuries and is falling apart at the seams.

It has diminished us by “other-ing” people of color, as people whom we could exploit, trap in cycles of poverty, and then blame for social ills. It has diminished us by injecting blindness and lies into our collective karma, so by the time we’re old enough to see how subtly racism is woven into our social fabric, we can’t imagine how to wash it out and don’t want to keep looking at it. It diminishes us by protecting property rights over human life. Moreover, we haven’t even followed the implicit rules of our own contract. We pledge allegiance to liberty and justice for all, but then apply liberty and justice unevenly by over-policing black neighborhoods, or holding police less accountable for violence against black people.

Trevor Noah’s powerful reflection on the Dominoes of Racial Injustice helps us see how the principles of a society have to be modeled by those in power to have any legitimacy. “There is no social contract if people in power don’t uphold their end of it,” he observes. “If law enforcers don’t adhere to the law, why should citizens adhere to the law?” To a social contract so unequally applied, so unjust, so damaging, I say: good riddance.

As the smoke clears, let us craft a new social contract that honors the divine nature of all people. One that recognizes the “other” in our self, even as we feel our self in the other. Let us conjure a social contract based in our intrinsic connectedness, a social system that pulls us closer to our true and whole self, that lifts the wings of all people and raises us to our greatest possibility, our broadest love. 

I’m not alone in conceiving of a new social contract based in love. As Wes Moore, the CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation put it when asked what’s “the ask” in the marches following George Floyd’s murder: “Black America is asking the larger country to love us the way we’ve loved this country.” Yes, fear and greed will still arise, but let our love be so great as to melt the walls of our solitary confinement, that we may open to the truth of our connectedness with one another, with the earth, with all of life. We are at a stage of human development where such love is possible for great numbers of us. It’s time our social contract caught up.

Resonance and Dismantling Racism  – June 23 12 noon ET

The first in a series of free 1-hour webinars with Ginny Whitelaw, founder of IZL. In this one, you’ll learn how resonance works in you and through you, and why it takes a force like large-scale protests to attack systemic racism. We’ll explore what role white people and people of power can play to bring about truly equitable systems and how Zen points to both the necessity and way of doing so.

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