Reviving Humanity in D.C.
article by James Tripp
In the past two years, the house next door to ours has gone downhill rapidly. After a long illness, the mother figure in the house passed away, leaving her husband and a crowd of struggling teens, some of whom were related and some of whom were not. After several months, it became very apparent that the mom had been the rock of the family. The trash piled up in the side yard for weeks, cigarette butts and dirty diapers ended up in our yards, crowds of teens came and went unwatched, and fights broke out in the front yard and street at all hours of the day and night. It was not uncommon to see the police over at the house once a week. The teenage daughter in the home had her first child the week her mother died and her second not much longer than a year later. She smoked throughout both pregnancies. Nobody seemed to be working. There was a pervasive sense of despair, anger, and general chaos in and around the home. I would frequently come home from the Shambhala Center to a raucous crowd outside, up to nothing good, that would soon erupt in a shouting match or fight that sometimes drew blood.
My wife and I had many discussions about how to handle the situation. The conversations ran the gamut from moving immediately to ways we could help the neighbors turn around. We tried polite diplomacy, reaching out to them to explain our dismay at the trash situation. We had straightforward, polite conversations with the single remaining adult in the household, during which it became clear that he viewed himself as a victim in a situation he couldn’t change. He said he slept with a padlock on his door at night. He seemed to have given up. The sense of aggression and despair at the home intensified, and it became difficult to help the family, even in small ways like picking up the trash, without enabling further problematic behavior. My wife and I were incredibly frustrated and sad, essentially watching people revert to an almost animalistic living situation next door.
Things came to a head after an arrest for alleged drug use. My wife reached out to the other homes on the street, and there were several conversations about what to do next. Everyone was frustrated and concerned for the well-being of the community. Clearly, there needed to be some statement that further bad behavior would not be allowed, yet we needed to show support. After some conversations with the police and a good dose of venting, one neighbor suggested a block party. This little suggestion turned our collective aggression on its head. A block party?! This opened the floodgates of creativity and brought the neighbors together in an unprecedented way. Some sense of positivity began to percolate up from this one little suggestion.
When the day of the block party came, we weren’t sure whether or not our struggling neighbor and the cadre of teens would come. To our surprise, they did. Some of the most problematic teens even brought cinnamon buns. It was a great night, full of simple conversations and good food. Everyone left happy, and a little bit of dignity had returned to our neighbor’s gate. Since then, the feeling in the neighborhood has turned around in small ways. When I come home now, the crowds of teens say hello and wave. Trash is less of a problem and our neighbor has begun gardening again. I even came home one day to find our lawn had been mowed by one of the teens next door. The father figure in the home has been stricter with the teens, and there have been several supportive conversations with the local police chief. Things aren’t a utopia by any means, but they are getting better.
It is easy to have grandiose ideas about what enlightened society would look like. It’s even easier to think that it will directly involve Shambhala Training because we talk about it so much. But, all it seems to take is one moment of warmth and community to turn negativity and aggression on its head. Who knew that a block party, of all things, would help turn around the situation next door? All it took was such a moment. It doesn’t have to be about Shambhala or meditation, and it definitely doesn’t have to be religious. When we make the choice to bond together and show genuine support for one another, even if that involves “tough love,” we begin to give birth to enlightened society and change our world. That is an opportunity that is always available.