Reclaiming the ‘Power of the Sacred’ – Ethical Frameworks for Joy

“What we’re doing is reclaiming the power of the sacred in a society that has basically tried to distort our thinking and make us all think we’re commodities.” – Thomas A. Gordon, psychologist

I’ve been swooning to insights like this since 1989, when I first met and began studying with Dr. Thomas A. Gordon, who is now my trusted friend, mentor, extended family member, associate producer of The Johnson Chronicles, and living embodiment of brotherhood.

I wanted to emboss my 10th post on Wreaking Happiness by quoting this fabulous man, whose biography, accomplished as it is, barely captures how dynamically this human being really moves through life. But you deserve a quick FYI:

Thomas A. Gordon, a licensed psychologist and principal of TAGA Consulting, graduated cum laude from Harvard University, earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan, held a post-doc in mass media and conflict resolution study at the University of Pennsylvania/Annenberg School of Communications, and has been for 35+ years a professor, health and mental health systems manager, psychotherapist, leadership coach, and organizational advisor. Plus he’s a husband, father, ‘avid, lifelong learner,’ and, well, you get me.

On June 1, 2019, I talked by phone with Dr. Gordon, a conversation so rich, I’ve decided to sip from it in this post, and share more wisdom in future posts.

Mainly, I asked him to riff about joy and happiness and Black men and how important is it to craft and build happiness, to live it and claim it as a framework. He latched onto the story I shared about my Moms yelling, ‘You live here don’t you?!’ after I complained, when she told me to pick up trash I had not thrown on the ground in front of our apartment.

Sip on Dr. Gordon’s insights, as drawn from the edited interview transcript:

Gordon: Everything we do is done within, and advances, an ethical framework, a set of ethical propositions. …We’re … reclaiming the power of the sacred in a society that has basically tried to distort our thinking, and make us all think we’re commodities. And that there’s nothing that’s worth valuing. Certainly not ourselves or each other. And there’s a moral responsibility that [your mother claimed.] … There’s a moral element to it…. You can’t hold happiness apart from a moral standard and a commitment, which really comes out of a critical consciousness that you belong to that ecology and it belongs to you. And your responsibility is to keep advancing and restoring it, because it’s not ever static, and it’s always going to be challenged. And, you know, we have decisions to make.

So I am saying any topic we bring up will only be an abstraction — if you start with Trust or Love or Wealth or Prosperity or Happiness … until we start defining what it means to us in particular contexts, in particular moments of space and time, and your mother, your mother — actually, without using all of that language — she used wisdom …. Think about what she said on every scale: [from] one to two people to three to 3,000 to 3 million: You live here, right, don’t you? You can feel it because it’s operative at every scale. So … it’s a principle you can trust. You know, it’s not something that’s parochial and just made up and arbitrary, like, ‘I’m going to beat your ass! I’m in a bad mood.’ You know, mood-centric. It wasn’t mood-centric. It was a wisdom that she didn’t buy at Wal-Mart.

And you asserted, well, wait a minute — there’s a place for your argument, which is, ‘Well, who brought the world to this place right now? That my play is being interrupted!’

PJH: And Moms wasn’t having none of it, though.

Gordon: It’s actually cause she’s saying, ‘Well I can’t tease out the evidence and facts … [or] the Karma of somebody else’s choices … to create that litter. [But] you, my son, belong here. You are a citizen. You standing on holy ground. This is holy ground, right? Because we live here. We live here.’ We don’t need a Burning Bush. And, you know, the rituals of remembrance of some other denomination’s view. She’s saying, ‘I’m going to bring it on from my experience and I’m gonna level with you.’ And boy does she do it. But how wise and loving. And I like it. It wasn’t mood-centric. It was like, yeah, you know, you can’t catch me next Thursday. I will say the same thing. That’s right. That’s right. Shit on the ground. I asked you to pick [it] up.

We got to give praise to those people, man, because look how they were able to hold their focus and create moments of inspiration and transmit, uh, uh, uh, mental diets that we could live on for decades. And in the midst of so much injustice and indignities, where you just want to smack somebody everyday, because of the indignities. You have to … connect morality with happiness….

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right’: “(DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY of Bobbee Zeno): … I declare and hold this truth to be self-evident: As an African American man, I find absolutely nothing trifling about finding and maintaining happiness. I find my happiness absolutely nothing to trifle with. My happiness flows from an inspiring and deep hopefulness, no matter what or who is trying to jack me up, or jack-up my life. My happiness rests on a relentless accumulation of practical skills and emotional habits, especially speaking my mind with precision, especially speaking my mind with precision about the challenges and difficulties and pain and UNHAPPINESS in my life. I insist on grappling with the raw material of the damn thing, until I find a vocabulary for the drama or trauma I’m facing, their causes, their solutions, and until I excavate from the experiences vital lessons and gifts and magic and courage and vision and comfort and celebration. I am cold-blooded about my happiness. I will not let man, woman, child, peer pressure, politics, history, gossip, anonymity, poverty, or ground rules dictate or dilute my happiness. I work my muscle of happiness when I’m sad or when I’m alone. I insist on infusing affirmation into all situations confronting me. My Pops taught that you got to take the bitter with the sweet. I can’t feel nothing, if I don’t feel the Everything is Everything that comes from sincerely, seriously, trying to leave a humane legacy to those I love….”

Leave a Comment