Old English, “ácordan”, to accord, agree, reconcile (to reestablish a close and consistent relationship between).
I recently picked up Stewart Levine’s book, the Book of Agreement, and felt shocked – somebody had actually written about the “culture of agreement” that I’ve worked so hard to encourage in the circles in my life! What a relief. It has inspired me to write about this culture that I value so much.
We have so many traditions, cast aside hither and thither in the mad rush of “progress” to the modern era of abject american cultural poverty (I used to call it “spiritual poverty”…I still don’t feel totally satisfied on how to articulate our peculiar brand of glittery privation, emotional scarcity, and intangible inner destitution). The tradition of making clear, compassionate, wise accords, based on the world we want to create and experience together, falls among them. Instead, in the modern world, we create agreements of protection, those designed to help us experience as little harm as possible.
Relearning to reach an accord through agreements takes us closer to that place, of “oneminded” power/unity. That feeling of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other adults, who inspire pride in us that we can call them friends, family, kindred.
How many activist movements, families, business, and other modern social groups, fall apart through infighting and politics? How many stay somehow half-alive, teetering on the verge of imploding? How many people do we know, keeping their nose to the grindstone, with a steady muttered refrain of discontent, disconnection, and intermittent despair?
Every single one of us, constantly make and renew agreements, implicit (articulated only on the inside), or explict (discussed out loud between each other). In every generation, we must remake this culture all over again, from scratch. A culture without a new generation, agreeing to its principles, means a culture on its deathbed. It takes tremendous work, tremendous energy inputs, extensive institutions of schools, government, law enforcement, to make this happen for the modern world.
We remake this culture, by assenting to abide by its implict or explict demands for accords. Often, by keeping these accords taboo, unarticulated, and invisible, this culture accomplishes the magician’s trick of having us hand over our souls, heart’s-ease, and life-purpose, for no more than dust, hollow dreams, and fragments of a life worth living. We see the rotten deal only when we can actually, finally, see it.
This stems from the entrapping and complex web of secular puritanism, in which we strive to accomplish a variety of things, trusting that since other people claim to value them (without ever explaining why), we must want them too. That in our rush to achievement we have no time for petty things like our “inconvenient” needs, and “intangible” feelings, since everybody else seems embarrassed by them too. We often can react in jealousy and rage when someone else stands up for what they so desperately need – for why should they get it, “if I can’t have it”. Except who exactly told me I couldn’t?
In order to find ourselves again, we must tug on the tangled strings of our own needs and feelings, finding our way back to heart’s-ease and life purpose, even amidst a natural world under siege. To make room for this work, and to live lives together worth having, we relearn to make accords. In making accords, we discover the deep nature of conflict, that of abundant energy for change and growth.
Instead of fearing conflict, we learn to revel in it as an opportunity to reconcile even deeper, to renew bonds of collaboration, friendship, and family. We plan ahead, and make a place for conflict, knowing that whether we will or no, it will soon arrive. If we welcome it, it will stoke the hearth fire of our community. If we resist it, its flames will burn, smolder, reawaken, blackening the timbers of our lives, house by house, until we finally consent to embrace its message.