These two friends have been in my circle for quite some time. They are successful journalists and impressive, caring people. I have only gotten to know them recently, but I have admired them from afar for some time.
We instantly came to know and like each other, so they feel like old friends. My dear friend was there with me, and after a few drinks and wonderful conversation, I could see in his eyes that his heart was hurting.
He asked our male friend why they were moving, and if there was any way we could convince them to stay.
"Well, we don't want to move, we feel rooted here,” he replied. “But I was asked to leave my apartment after 13 years so the landlord could gut the building and turn it into dorm-sized rooms. He said I could come back, but the space was now one-fifth the size and priced at $5,000. I had been paying $2,000 for an entire three-bedroom floor I shared with others.
“Not only was paying $5,000 for one room well out of my income level, but it is also incomprehensible to me,” he continued. “So I sought to live with people I knew, but many of them told me they were making more money sharing their rooms on Airbnb than they ever had with a roommate. To them, accepting a roommate for a reasonable cost was now out of the question”
So he was looking farther and farther away in New York State, thinking of commuting, but that drove the cost up too. So he decided he should try a different city, until that inevitably becomes unmanageable, too.
My friend and I looked at each other with despair in our eyes. We immediately started brainstorming all of the spaces he could try, how he could sublet, who we knew, who would be renting.
"I am already out there,” our friend said. “I will save my money and hope to come back some day, but it does seem outrageous that this is allowed to even happen."
My whole bike ride home and my whole walk to the train the next morning, I ruminated on all of the petty tyrannies that infect my life, and all the toxic timidity and false absolvement that I witness daily. How many times our minor choices are part of the bigger impact!
And how infrequently we allow ourselves to really look into what we're actually doing to each other.
The loss of friends to the loss of decent housing, the rise of classism and greed not only from developers but from sub-landlords too, is just one small example of the ways we forgive ourselves and each other for greed, lack of due diligence, and taking advantage of our position.
And worse, with all the toxic energy in the world, people are often too timid to speak up when they notice something's off, and too tired to pursue it when they've revealed it.
It has become quite clear to me that many individuals work hard to achieve power, but once they've gotten it, either through merit or affiliation, they begin to work harder to protect their status than to do what’s right.
People in power obscure what they have done, the rules that they are meant to follow, and use intimidation, bullying, hyperbole and emotion to disguise their wrongdoing if it's ever noticed.
Unfortunately, it's usually not noticed because most of us do a very poor job paying attention and learning the rules. We don't know our own rights, we don't know how the city or local or state government works, we don't know what's legal or not, and worse, we can't seem to even listen to our core values about what is ethical or not.
My litmus test is always if you have to hide things, you probably shouldn't be doing them. If a public process scares you, that probably means a public process is most deserved. But then again, public processes bring in a whole new range of issues if we do not craft any community codes.
If we never discuss or agree on a set of shared values, then the most tyrannical decide for us, and that is usually out of their own self-interest. For me, community codes that I would value would be a fair shot for a reasonable life all regardless of privilege; shared public resources that are accessible to all; safety of all members of the community first; and personal responsibility for doing our shared community work.
That means allowing others to be heard, that means not fighting from a place of self-interest, that means showing up when a discussion is being held, that means having conversations that are governed by clearly communicated agreements for how to behave with one another, that means transparency with the process and open invitations for all to participate, thoughtfully produced with enough time for people to make arrangements to be there.
This is not the world we live in though. Personally I live in a world that seems increasingly governed by bullies who want special privileges, and are willing to quietly take what belongs to all of us - our shared public space, our tax money, our access to living a life of dignity - and want to control them for themselves and their friends.
The core of all of this is actually in our own hands. Because we live in a democracy and because we live in a community, the keys to solving our problems are in our own hands. But we are too distracted and overwhelmed.
Distracted by lifestyle, fun, keeping up with the Joneses. Overwhelmed with fear of being bullied, being wrong, or not being heard, and a fear of wasting our time.
But I am telling you, if more of us read up on the rules, asked questions to understand them, showed up to meetings, spoke up with well-researched points, and followed up with thoughtful resolutions, we would be in a less-awful situation today.
Corruption continues at all levels because we have allowed other people to be in charge. If we want to have a peaceful, fair and equitable society, it has to start with us doing the work and not letting petty power plays or greed to have an easier life control us.
These forces are actually damaging the fabric of our community, what is built here, who lives here, who is heard and who is silenced. It's actually up to us. But we have to rise above our fear and discomfort and actually act with courage, together.