Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong

A process for developing personal compassion to engage in compassionate community for a more compassionate world

Welcome to Compassionate Sunday. We’re working through Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong, one step per month.

If you’d like to share a post about what you learned about compassion (The First Step), what you’re seeing in your world (The Second Step), self-compassion (The Third Step), empathy (The Fourth Step), mindfulness (The Fifth Step), action (The Sixth Step), how little we know (The Seventh Step), how to speak to one another (The Eighth Step), or concern for everybody (The Ninth Step) use the link list below. Or join the discussion in the comments or on Facebook.


Book: White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
Genre: History
Publisher: Viking
Publication date: 2016
Pages: 460

Source: Purchased

Summary: The early part of this book covers the history when American colonists were British subjects, so I summarized that in my British Isles Friday post last week. Suffice it to say that American founding myths about who came to this country and why are flat-out wrong and disguise the classist society that we were from the very beginning.

Picking up the story from 1776…

Historical mythmaking is made possible only by forgetting. We have to begin, then, with the first refusal to face reality: most colonizing schemes that took root in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British America were built on privilege and subordination, not any kind of proto-democracy. The generation of 1776 certainly underplayed that fact. And all subsequent generations took their cue from the nation’s founders. p. 5

Thomas Jefferson’s hypocrisy around slavery has been well-documented in recent histories. His idealism about the poor out-stripped his reality in similar ways. He imagined gentleman farmers, like himself, setting a fine example for yeoman farmers who would be happy with their lot in life on fifty-acre plots. He ignored any one that didn’t fit one of those two molds, declaring in 1784 that there were no beggars in the United States “from one end to another of the continent,” while his home state of Virginia was working on a bill to round up all the vagrants.

Thoughts: White Trash was our book club selection for October. We were surprised by many things.

How much Donald Trump’s rhetoric sounds like Andrew Jackson’s, our first presidential candidate who presented himself as the representative of the plain-speaking backwoods man.

How mainstream eugenics was. I knew the notion of controlled breeding of humans existed in the US, but I thought it was a marginal idea. Nope. Theodore Roosevelt was one of many proponents. The idea wasn’t fully debunked until it became attached to Nazism.

How there was one time in our history when the poor were much less likely to be judged and called names, the Great Depression:

The lines separating the poor from the working and middle classes seemed more permeable. The poor were simply men and women without jobs, and those who still had gainful employment sensed that they were at risk of experiencing the same fate. p. 210

I hoped, for the sake of my Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life project, that White Trash would help me understand the sort of people who support Donald Trump. I’m not sure that I got all that I wanted, but, as one of our book club members pointed out, often the first step to understanding is to learn the history and separate it from the myth.

White Trash reminded me of some things I’d already figured out and gave me some background to help me remember them. An early term for the rural poor was “squatter.” The term described people who set up rough households in the unoccupied hinterlands of the expanding United States. The land wasn’t theirs which led to two logical outcomes:

  1. The housing was substandard because they were likely to be chased off.
  2. They had a profound distrust of outsiders and the government who were likely to do the chasing off.

 

It’s hardly surprising if their descendants exhibit a bone-deep distrust of slick-talking intellectuals.

Appeal: A great book for anyone who wants to understand the reality of American history instead of just the stories we tell to children.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Signature of Joy Weese Moll




Comments

White Trash #BookReview #CompassionateSunday — 7 Comments

  1. Three lines from your post make me want to read this book:

    “How much Donald Trump’s rhetoric sounds like Andrew Jackson’s, our first presidential candidate who presented himself as the representative of the plain-speaking backwoods man.”

    “…often the first step to understanding is to learn the history and separate it from the myth.”

    “Appeal: A great book for anyone who wants to understand the reality of American history instead of just the stories we tell to children.”

  2. Publishers Weekly just named this one of the best nonfiction books published this year. I was thinking about reading it, but now after your review, I will. You’re right, it’s so important to learn our country’s history.

  3. Glad you liked White Trash, even if you didn’t figure out why people are voting for Trump. 🙂 That’s sort of the same reason I’m reading “Righteous Minds” though it has nothing to do with Trump specifically. I have to admit, though, I was looking for ONE more nonfiction book to squeeze for Nonfiction November and this might be the choice. I really SHOULDN’T read another book because it’ll mean putting off my bookclub choice The Stand, but there’s some appeal to reading something that’s currently relevant. I will struggle with this decision today and make a choice by the end of the day. 🙂

    • Ok, you’ve done it. I’ll set aside The Stand and read White Trash. But first I’ll finish up Neurotribes. I can always finish up The Stand next month.

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