For six years, I was the spiritual leader of a big church in Warren, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. I lived in Detroit for a total of ten years; I feel I got to know the place.
Of the thousands of people who attended the church, and others I got to know while living in Detroit, most worked in some capacity, directly or indirectly, for the automobile companies. It’s basically a one-industry town, as everyone knows.
My main impression of Detroit was of trapped light. Just beneath the surface – and it was a hard surface, no mistake about it – was the spirit of ingenuity and creativity that characterizes the best of America everywhere. But a corporate aristocracy runs that place, not only financially but socially. Their attachment to an old-paradigm capitalist bottom line of short-term economic gain for corporate shareholders no matter what, has kept the rank and file workers under an iron thumb for years But that doesn’t mean the rank and file has been happy.
People in Detroit are as hip as people anywhere else. The rot of unsustainable thought and behavior didn’t permeate the car companies; it only permeated their leadership. Beneath the level of corporate offices at the Ren Center — at technology, engineering, scientific and manufacturing labs throughout the area – people have been chomping at the bit to transition to a more sustainable, green model of development….if only someone would give them that mandate.
Detroit is a microcosm of the country; it has all it takes to go in a different direction, once leadership lays down that gauntlet. President Obama has talked about how moving the economy is like turning around a big ship, not a small speedboat. But when you add the element of released creativity through the intention to do the right thing for a change, energies are released that fall somewhere in between the ship and the speedboat.
Top leadership of an organization does more than call the shots; it invokes invisible forces. It determines in ways both large and small whether people who work for the organization want to get up and go to work in the morning, or whether they wish they could crawl back under the covers and sleep the day away. For all America’s talk about whether people have jobs or not, there is a conversation every bit as relevant to our recovery from this economic crisis: whether or not people have jobs that touch their spirits and make them want to work.
With the shift that Obama’s task force is demanding of the car companies now, there is an opportunity to remove the iron hand that has sat on top of Detroiters for so many decades, and release them to their creative best. What I hope he will not do is import a bunch of greens from the West Coast, arriving to show Detroiters how to do what they know how to do and would have done decades ago if someone had simply let them.
What people want more than anything — whether they live in South Africa or Kansas, Cairo or Detroit — is to feel that their lives are part of a meaningful endeavor. Changing the civilization of this planet — from an institutional nexus that disregards the needs of the earth and its inhabitants in favor of the inflated needs of an economic system now proven bankrupt both morally and financially — is a meaningful adventure that both awakens the soul and answers to the deepest craving of the human heart.
What’s happening to the car companies is what’s happening to the world: not doing the right thing simply won’t work anymore. Just moving our attention to that– in this case, to developing energy and transportation based on sustainable, clean and renewable sources — will so ignite the creativity and enthusiasm of people in Detroit and around the world, that the transition will in some ways be easier than people think. Institutions move slowly, yes, but the kind of shift we’re talking about here is more than institutional or operational: it’s spiritual. It gives the genuine thrill that only something aligned with the highest aspirations of the human race can provide, offering people the opportunity to participate in something truly important to the ages. In that intention — to create new possibilities not only for the car companies, but for the very way we live our lives, treat the earth and treat each other — lies the potential for a quantum explosion of new opportunities. Detroit can be turned into world headquarters for the development of clean energy and sustainable transportation, releasing light that has been trapped for a very long time. When and if that happens, it will more than shift Detroit; it will help to shift the world.
—- Marianne Williamson