I Hate The System Stinks
I was talking with my friend Jenn on a weekday morning walk through her neighborhood. She told me, “You know I support you and I’ve supported Buddhist Peace Fellowship for many years. But I have to be honest with you. I’m having a hard time getting behind this new initiative, The System Stinks.”
She’s not the only one we’ve heard this from. While the majority of folks we talk to are excited by the initiative (“Finally!!! Someone calling it like it is!”), there’s definitely a thread of critique about the title.
- Why so negative?
- Why so simplistic and trivial?
- Why create the false idea that the system lies anywhere outside ourselves?
- I’ve spent my years railing at the system; now I’m more interested in responding positively. I thought that’s what I’d get with other Buddhists.
When I hear these critiques to the provocative title, I say “YES!!!!!” These are exactly the kinds of conversations we want to have within The System Stinks. Debates about a Middle Way between positivity and negativity. Between attacking outer systems and investigating our inner contributions to these systems. Between fostering healthy debate and seeking shared understandings of systems and what it would take to dismantle them.
We’ve imagined The System Stinks dialogues to build on Buddhist traditions of debate as a method to help establish wise view. Tibetan Buddhists have used debate practices for centuries as a means of deepening understanding of Buddhist philosophy. As described by Drepung Gomang Monastic College, “Although the monk [or nun] may become very excited and object vigorously and vehemently to the views of [their] opponent in a debate, the purpose for his debate is not to defeat and embarrass an opponent, thereby gaining some victory for [oneself]; rather, the purpose is to help the opponent overcome [their] wrong view.” This practice is such an essential part of the Tibetan monastic tradition, the nuns pictured above are seeking educational equality, raising funds to support their own opportunities for debate.
It hasn’t always been easy for me to say “YES!” to debate. I grew up in a family that avoided talking politics, religion, and other controversial subjects: at one gathering, we spent five increasingly strained days discussing only the weather and the housecat. Ultimately I had to seek out my own political and spiritual education. Disagreement turned out to be a friend, not an enemy. I’m grateful to those who’ve engaged me in loving debate and dialogue — from challenging my early pro-life views (the only view ever presented to me in rural Indiana) to questioning my anti-sexual violence alliance with police. Though not always easy, these are debates that have shaped me for the better.
So if you hate the title “The System Stinks,” that’s a great reason to support The System Stinks! Because we absolutely need your voice in the debate about systemic problems, and our role in changing them. I hope you’ll take a look beneath the surface of the title, and see if the conversations we are planning are actually something you have been yearning for.
Whether you hate the title or love it, I hope you will join us.
Dawn Haney, Co-Director of BPF