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To Think How Poor Our Best Has Been

I was sitting outside at a Taco spot downtown in the Farmer’s Market area having lunch. I could see the Dallas skyline just a few blocks from me in the background and I thought of the chaos in our city last week in the aftermath of the killing of five police officers by a deranged gunman at the end of a Black Lives Matter protest walk. He was not a part of that peaceful demonstration.

But on this day the sun was shining and there was a nice breeze. All seemed quiet and normal. People were coming and going in the usual routines of the day. A small Farmer’s Market bus pulled into the parking lot and picked up a couple of riders. As it drove away I saw a slogan on the back of it that said something about the Market’s fine produce and foods and then, in big letters, there was this: “Cultivating Life.”

That’s a lovely brand for a produce market and restaurant area. It would also be a terrific theme for all of Dallas or any great city. The work of a large urban metropolis should be that of cultivating life for all of its citizens.

In our busy cities today the emphasis seems to be clearly on money, finance, banking, stocks, and real estate. The focus of the commercial industry in our huge metropolises is not on people, their needs or wants, their dreams or gifts, or even the normal function of their lives. The focus is clearly on the acquisition and accumulation of large sums of money. And we’ve seen in the past and in recent times how that goal is often infested with selfishness, greed, corruption and crime.

In a society totally preoccupied with making money, values will be compromised and people will become commodities. They will be seen not for their human worth but for their ability to bring money into the hands of the powerful and the wealthy. And in that atmosphere decency is lost, prejudices flourish, promises are broken, divisions are created, resentments build, and hate simmers and explodes.

People with little means; hardworking people who cannot ever seem to climb out of low wages and debt; middle class people whose salaries have stagnated but whose cost of living has soared;  the poor, the homeless; and those who lost their homes and jobs and savings in the last financial crisis; are all people who too often are left out, pushed aside, ignored or worse, hassled and threatened by a gluttonous political system, by overworked and often frustrated and agitated law enforcement, and by biased, insensitive and blundering government officials. In that kind of toxic, unhealthy environment, where people are simply not a high priority, danger lurks. And all kinds of brutality find a place to thrive.

There are these lines from the poet, Henry Abbey. They speak to me of the failure of our large cities:

“For, looking down the ladder of our deeds,
The rounds seem slender. All past work appears
Unto the doer faulty. The heart bleeds,
And pale Regret turns weltering in tears,
To think how poor our best has been, how vain,
Beside the excellence we would attain.”

Dallas is a great city and thankfully much is being done by our mayor and other city leaders to try and make this more than a skyline of glass buildings and some meaningless financial mecca. Homelessness is being taken seriously. The police department has made enormous changes for the better and offers our citizens a fairer and more understanding approach to law enforcement. We have more work to do in creating a higher quality structure of education with modern schools and competent faculty and administrators. Race relations are still tense and there needs to be not just more open, intelligent, and meaningful dialogue between minorities and community leaders, but more opportunities for quality living across the board.

This is what cultivating life in a city involves. It needs to happen here and in cities large and small across America. Because, ultimately, that is how you neutralize prejudices, create economic fairness, curb violence, and build a creative, humane society.

© 2016 Timothy Moody

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