Forum: We don’t have to be satisfied with society’s binary divisions

Your choices aren’t limited to oppressed and oppressor. Here’s how to find a fulfilling third way.

Dan Hazen

By Dan Hazen / Herald Forum

In my role as police and fire chaplain, I see deeply into my neighbors’ lives. I enter homes that are not prepared for guests. I see “behind the veil,” and it’s not like Instagram. I meet people when they are at their most emotionally vulnerable, spiritually up-ended and sometimes physically broken. Suffering is the great equalizer.

These experiences have accumulated and have begun to shape in me a binary worldview. I watch drivers blow through red lights, tailgate and swerve through traffic and think, “How careless we are with these fragile lives? You’re gonna kill somebody!” I see piles of money and lifetimes spent on things that don’t matter and won’t last and I think, “We’re just sleepwalking through life, using the planet and each other. We’re so cruel and selfish.” If I’m not careful, I begin to see only victims and perpetrators.

It’s thought in some circles that the extent to which we can’t choose our circumstances is the extent to which we can’t choose our worldview. The effect of this, we’re told, is that we are powerless, helpless in the face destiny. From Donald Trump sitting on his gold toilet, to the un-employed, vegan, neo-communist living for free in their parent’s vacation home, you have been wronged (somehow) and you must take back power, declare your worth and be heard. This message is transmitted explicitly through the media (left, right and un-hinged) and implicitly through economics, education and government. You have been issued a team jersey and it is your destiny. You’re either an oppressor or you’re oppressed. Those are the only available categories. (And everybody thinks they’re the oppressed.)

This fake, binary categorization is a symptom of an empire in decay.

As is the nature of all late-stage empires, its own mass simply pulls it forward, collecting even more mass as it goes. It’s now a mindless machine that operates for it’s own sake, self-propelled and un-blinking. To maintain momentum, it foments divisions between artificial oppressors and the supposed oppressed. As these cultivated conflicts drag on, the Empire contentedly grows fat on them; creating new, expensive problems, followed by even more costly solutions. Just picture Emperor Palpatine’s face as he watches Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader fight in “The Return of the Jedi.” As long as we’re fighting each other, the Empire is winning.

But it’s possible to break free from the imperial Illusion and walk a third way. There’s always a third way. To find it you need three things:

1. Slow down and cultivate a contemplative practice. Build some margin in your life. Pray. Read. Unplug.

2. Nurture deep relationships. Remember, isolation is a favored strategy of The Empire. Fight back by building a meaningful and authentic community centered on more than your shared “oppression.”

3. Suffer. Do hard things: lose weight, live on less money, quit drinking, apologize, stay for the kid’s sake, pick-up litter, get rid of your lawn and plant food instead.

Suffering might be inevitable, but your response to suffering is not.

So, maybe choose to make your suffering worthwhile.

Dan Hazen is the community pastor at Allen Creek Community Church in Marysville.

Herald Forum

The Herald Forum invites community members to submit essays on topics of importance and interest to them. Essays typically are between 400 and 600 words in length, although exceptions for longer pieces can be made. To submit essays or for more information about the Herald Forum, write Herald Opinion editor Jon Bauer at or call him at 425-339-3466.

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