Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Balance of Doing Good

Welcome to the blog for Balance Integration Corporation. This is where we explore ideas and perspectives about staying whole while navigating the challenges of daily life. So why is there a picture of a dying dog on this column header? Why are you about to read a couple of paragraphs about a Costa Rican artist who captured a street dog, chained him to a wall and forced him to starve as a form of art?

Because “Balance isn’t about hating your job”, to quote my buddy Heather Green of BusinessWeek. She’s right. Leading a balanced life isn’t about achieving a perfect distribution of moments between home and work, self and family, recreational and professional. Living in balance is remembering that you are a full being in everything you do, in all the moments of life – no matter the venue or topic defining any given moment. Living in balance is showing up powerfully in relation to the world around you. If balance is the change we wish to feel and see, far from copping an attitude of not-my-job thinking, we have to step up and make our goodness felt and we need to do it more often.

Because in 2007, Guillermo Vargas Habacuc did exactly the aforementioned act. The story goes as follows: In the ghetto streets of Managua, Nicaragua, Mr. Vargas paid some children the equivalent of a couple cents to catch a dying dog so he could chain the animal to a gallery wall and make “art” out of the animal’s suffering. The artist spelled out in “Eres Lo Que Lees” – translated as you are what you read – in morsels of dog food on the wall of the entry to the installation. Just below, the animal was tied to the wall, denied food and water and left intentionally to die. In one corner of the installation was a pot in which crack cocaine and marijuana smoldered while Nicaragua’s national anthem was played backwards. Gallery patrons walked through the installation watching the dog’s life slip away.

Uproar ensued. As the news of this installation hit the web, waves of blogging fury rippled out first from observers in the art world and then from the animal rights community. Adding fuel to the fire, Vargas was invited as part of a select group of artists to participate in the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras 2008 – an honorific art exposition. Since then petitions have emerged, verbiage created and made available in multiple languages for people to send to the galleries showing Vargas’ works. In his own defense, Vargas has been quoted as saying, "The important thing for me was the hypocrisy of people: an animal thus becomes the focus of attention when you put in a place where white people go to see art but not when they are on the street dying of hunger.”

The irony of protesting cruel hypocrisy with an act of cruel hypocrisy aside, this is not about analysis of the act. Sure, we could talk about the value of life in distressed economies. We could talk about the legacy of cruelty in post-colonial nations. We could point to the cruelty of dominating nations and power-wielding groups and individuals around the planet and throughout history. We could paralyze ourselves into apathy with the notion that he’s right – after all don’t we all see suffering on our own street corners and often do nothing?

That we instinctively cringe in reading this story, in the view of images from Abu Ghraib or any other cruelty, we feel our relationship with life. That we shudder in the face of suffering, we know our relationship with what is good. That the grace of human kindness rises within us/among us and manifests as our outrage is the act of balance. When we protest and petition, when our outrage drives us to take up an action that aligns us with beauty, it is then that we know our mettle. Our acting upon these inner urges is the coup de grace that brings balance into the world.

Because suffering exists everywhere, make some balance and do something to ease an injustice you see. It might be signing an online petition against the Bienal 2008 honoring of Mr. Vargas (which you can easily find by googling the topic). It might be giving money to Kiva or some other funds distribution arm. It could be taking a piece of fruit or bottle of water along with you in your daily migrations to give to whatever homeless person you meet. Just do something. Do something to remind yourself that you are not powerless in this exciting world of ours. Indeed, recognizing the depths of just how bad our worst can be, we have the opportunity to revive our dedication to good.

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