I read a couple articles recently. They talked about cities in general and San Francisco specifically. Progressives once heralded the Bay Area as an example of liberal success. But lately, conservatives point to cities like San Francisco and Portland as heralding progressive failure. Some progressive San Franscicans do too, apparently.
Indeed, there’s a lot of seeming evidence pointing towards failure. Both Portland, the liberal bastion where I live, and San Francisco, currently seem overrun by drug addicts, and homeless people overcrowding sidewalks and parks. Graffiti covers nearly every public surface. Commercial offices in Portland are only at 67 percent occupancy. In San Francisco it’s not that much better. Both numbers resulted from the pandemic. Meanwhile, residents of both cities have had enough. Crime is going up. People don’t feel safe.
At the same time, both city governments appear devoid of solutions to these problems.
But are conservatives right? Are these cities really failing? Or is something else important happening?
Bellwether cities attesting to something important
Everything is always working out on planet Earth. So something else must be happening. Despite conservative criticisms, these two cities must be helping in some way. What might that be?
I suggest a radical notion. Perhaps these two cities are helping people see something important. Perhaps people in these cities, those living on the streets and the drug-addicted, are too. The Graffiti could be sending an important message. All these eyesores could suggest that our civilization needs an overhaul.
It’s true. Portland and San Francisco are extreme cases. Los Angeles may be close, but few cities face as much of what these two cities face. Maybe the progressive approach is better at showing how much better we can do to support our fellow humans. So rather than failures, these two cities may be bellwether cities. Cities showing clearly how our approach fails so many individual humans.
There but for the grace of…
A person on social media said something important about this. I mentioned dreadful economic conditions which spur someone to turn to drugs:
And the guy replied with a valid point:
Many people face economic hardship. Hardship they keep facing without drugs. Although if we include alcohol, tobacco and weed, we’d have a different picture. In fact, almost half of us are one paycheck away from losing our homes. And many of us cope with LEGAL alternatives: food, sex, streaming and gaming. So many are blessed by the grace of God that they never turn to meth. Or lost their home. But they’re not scot free from the stress of living in today’s reality.
Remember, we’re all God in human form. That fact doesn’t prevent someone making debilitating choices. That’s because we also have free will. Including the freedom to choose bondage, as Abraham says.
They know not what they do
Which brings me back to my conversation. I experienced pretty harrowing economic conditions myself once. I didn’t turn to drugs either. It’s a common refrain. “I didn’t do it. These people don’t need to either.”
But every person’s experience is unique. So comparing them to us is kinda irrelevant. Instead, we could look at “why” they chose what they chose. Then we ask why again. And keep asking until we discover something we haven’t before.
This is certain: were we in the shoes of the graffiti tagger, the person living on the street, that dopesick dude suffering on the sidewalk with his ass hanging out, we would make the same decisions. Not if “we” were in their situation. But if “we” were “THEM“, facing THEIR experiences. Experiences that had them make such choices. We would make the EXACT same choices. Blaming individuals, therefore, is largely irrelevant.
Jesus said of his tormentors “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Applied to our civilization, we can bring a big dose of forgiveness in every direction. Towards our politicians, our political “enemies”, and towards those seemingly making our cities unsafe.
IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT. The circumstances under which they live evoke that from them as they interpret such situations in the worst possible way. That tendency to negatively interpret is the fault. That’s the learned behavior. Behavior most of us fall into at one time or another. Behavior conservatives fall into when claiming progressive cities as failures.
Portland’s woes may be changing, a recent poll shows. Visitor impressions are improving, yet residents still express reservations. San Francisco’s future remains unclear.
Meanwhile a more permanent change can happen. It must start with individuals, willing to look beyond knee-jerk explanations. People with capacity to forgive rather than judge.