Where is the presence of goodness and beauty most pure and vibrant? It might be in a place bearing the marks of weakness and poverty.
Dancing Child is a song of how people without privilege are precious.
A song of how people without privilege are precious
Where is the presence of goodness and beauty most pure and vibrant? Is it in a place touched by power and wealth, or in a place bearing the marks of weakness and poverty? Is it something you find in a magnificent cathedral or in the alleyway of a slum?
This is a question that can become surprisingly difficult to answer. As described on the page “What is Progressive Faith,” I define faith as belief in a type of goodness and beauty that is woven into the fabric of the universe. But, is this beauty and goodness most likely to be found in a place of privilege or a place of disadvantage? There is a potential tension between these different possibilities for where goodness and beauty are most likely to be found.
One possibility is that goodness and beauty are most evident in places of privilege – places touched by power, wealth, and status.
PPeople of wealth and status have the power to commission works of beauty and to engage in philanthropy that promotes goodness in the world. They can afford to pay artists to create beautiful paintings, sculptures, and compositions. They can donate money to build beautiful cathedrals. They can build hospitals and universities, and they can pay for research to cure deadly diseases. On the one hand, people of lesser means can sometimes pool their resources together to do good things. On the other hand, large scale collective action is quite difficult to organize. Often, if an expensive project is to be funded by donations, it will require the support of at least one or two wealthy philanthropists. Thus, if it were not for the charity of wealthy, privileged people, many wonderful things in the world might never be accomplished.
At the same time, the things that are touched by power and wealth have a negative side. The acquisition of wealth requires privilege. Specifically, it involves a type of inequality between persons where some people gain, and others suffer. The accumulation of wealth involves an imbalanced system where some people receive abundant rewards for their work, and others work hard and receive relatively little compensation for their efforts. If one person becomes wealthy, it means he or she is taking abundant resources while other less advantaged people are denied those resources.
Of course, it is normal for people to desire privilege. It can make life easy and comfortable. People often seek to obtain privilege, and they feel happy when they gain it. Because privilege is desirable, pleasing, and attractive, it is easy to perceive things associated with privilege as being good or beautiful. People of high wealth and status are often viewed as attractive and desirable. Parents may consider it good if their children obtain well-paying jobs. A life of wealth and status is frequently called the “good life.” Expensive cars, homes, and items of luxury are often viewed as good and beautiful. Although these things may seem good or beautiful, when I define faith as a belief in goodness and beauty, I am talking about something completely different.
True goodness and beauty is something entirely different from privilege.
This true goodness and beauty is not something limited to a privileged few. It is something that can be found in the amazing complexity of human thought, and in the strength of human emotion, and as a result, it makes all people precious. It is a type of goodness and beauty where all people have inherent value regardless of their skin color, education, culture, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or political opinions. And, if all people are precious, then it is a terrible thing for anyone to be treated as worthless or inferior. Because privilege requires some people to be elevated while others to be devalued, privilege cannot be the same thing as goodness and beauty. Privilege is not something that reveals the inherent value in all people.
This does not necessarily mean that all forms of privilege are bad, or that a person needs to eliminate privilege to find goodness. As I mentioned above, people with privilege can do wonderful things. Moreover, privilege is not really something that people either completely have or completely lack. Essentially everyone has more privilege than some people, and less privilege than others, and a person’s privilege is likely to vary across different times and places. Privilege is like heat in that some places can be very hot, others can be very cold, and there can be an infinite range of temperature in between. Likewise, there may be an infinite range of privilege levels. Because privilege can exist at many levels and in many forms, it would be difficult for a person to eliminate privilege entirely, and it would be an oversimplification to suggest that all forms of privilege are inherently and completely bad. Instead, the key point I am making here is simply that privilege is clearly something different from goodness. These are two separate things and they should not be confused.
The problem is that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish privilege from goodness. Sometimes, they both seem similar. They can both produce positive feelings of joy, awe, and serenity. They are both things that people seek and find attractive. Indeed, the benefits of privilege are often called good and beautiful.
This raises a question. How can we find true goodness and beauty if it is difficult to distinguish goodness and beauty from privilege?
One option is to look for goodness and beauty in other people who are less privileged than oneself. This could involve being aware of people who are less privileged than oneself, learning about their experiences, thoughts, and feelings, and finding the things that make them precious, the things that make their lives tremendously valuable, and the ways in which they add beauty and wonder to the world. By looking in places where privilege is relatively low, it could have the effect of turning down the volume on our own privilege (from whatever level that may be) and allowing us to hear the true sound of goodness and beauty.
Of course, this is not the only way to find goodness and beauty. Goodness and beauty can be found in many places, and it is not something limited only to places where there is hardship or disadvantage. At the same time, if compassion fails to draw us to places where there is hardship or disadvantage, and if we fail to find beauty in the people encountered there, then it is questionable whether we truly understand the nature of goodness and beauty. To understand goodness and beauty, it is especially important to find it in places where there is hardship or disadvantage. If you never set foot in a magnificent cathedral, or never experience wealth and privilege, you can still find goodness and beauty in the world. But if you never see how there is goodness and beauty in the precious eyes of a child who is living in poverty, then you have probably never discovered what is truly good and beautiful.
When we find goodness and beauty in places of less privilege than our own, we are likely to experience empathy. This is a type of empathy that involves understanding the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of others, and caring about them as precious people. It is a type of empathy that discovers the humanity of other people and is moved by it. This is not a patronizing empathy, where we see the hardship faced by others and merely feel pity without quite viewing them as equal human beings. Instead, it is a type of empathy that observes multiple complex parts of another’s human experience, including both their faults and their achievements. It involves sharing not only their pain, but also their excitement, happiness, and joys. It is an empathy that views another as an equally precious human and sees something of the complexity that makes that person wonderful. To encounter someone of less privilege than one’s own, and to experience this type of empathy, is to experience a type of goodness and beauty that is especially pure and true.
The song, “Dancing Child,” is about this type of empathy
This song is about finding goodness and beauty in a place of less privilege than my own. It is about a child living in a place where there is hardship and poverty. Maybe she is a child living in a city where there is ongoing war. Maybe she is a refugee. Or, maybe she is a child of a homeless parent living in my own city. At first, I notice the innocent beauty of a child dancing. Then I notice that, despite her impoverished surrounding, she is smiling. She is having fun dancing and playing. It occurs to me that her smile, her ability to enjoy a moment of dancing, is also something beautiful. It is a window into her humanity; it is one of the many emotions she experiences in life, and it reflects her child-like ability to find happiness merely in the way she can move her body. This dancing child, and her innocent ability to smile despite hardship, reflects a beauty and a goodness that is not dependent on privilege. She may be dancing in the alleyway of a place we call a slum, but to see the goodness and beauty of this child is to see the very goodness and beauty that is woven into the fabric of the universe. This is what it means to have faith.