Nearly every time I hear the word “agenda,” it is used as an accusation, as if good and honest people would never have such a thing as an agenda, as if it is OK to do what is compassionate and right for the world, as long as you don’t plan to do it, as if goodwill is only good when it is accidental, as if authenticity is not possible if you also possess a sense of purpose.
Of course, rarely will you be charged with the crime of having an agenda by the people who agree with you. So if you want to have an agenda and not get caught, only talk to the people who think exactly like you do. Otherwise, stay quiet. Smile and nod along even when you don’t agree. Do not ask questions. Do not challenge the ordinary way of being. Otherwise, it will be said about you that you had an agenda, and then people will dismiss what you say, because a person with an agenda cannot be trusted.
Then again, even if they dismiss you, at least you used your voice, at least there was something you cared about, at least you know you’re not beholden to the status quo out of fear, at least someone might hear you, at least you trust yourself, at least you didn’t smile and nod your way through signs of injustice when your heart screamed no.
The first few times I was accused of having an agenda, I felt defensive. I wanted to insist, “I do not have an agenda! I’m just here to love people.” But then I examined my heart and realized I do, in fact, have an agenda. Oops. It turns out that for me, loving people requires concrete actions, beliefs and principles.
For the sake of full disclosure, I have decided to come right out with my agenda, since everyone knows the only thing worse than an agenda is a secret agenda. My big agenda is as follows:
• Prevent violence. (Plan: Examine causes. Support community efforts. Raise awareness. Listen to the voices of victims.)
• Tell the truth. (Plan: Even when it’s ugly, unpleasant, uncomfortable or not advantageous to me, tell the truth.)
• Be nonviolent. (Plan: Don’t rape people, kill people, demean people, harm people or silence people.)
• Spread compassion. (Translation: Do justice, but do it kindly. Tear down walls but build bridges. I can’t make anyone cross the bridge, but I can keep the bridge clear and in good shape.)
• Talk about uncomfortable things, especially when they are things that matter. (Plan: Be a peace-making disturber of the peace; that is, be willing to shake up superficial unity that depends on keeping those without power silent and compliant. Be willing to interrupt the comfort of the privileged when it relies on the discomfort of the oppressed.)
I would expect my agenda to evolve over time, and I expect it to evolve based on my thoughtful conversations with other people of goodwill who are willing to articulate their own agendas. What if, instead of pretending like only the people we dislike have agendas, we admitted that we all have them and then begin to engage the content of the agenda rather than attacking the mere presence of the agenda?
It has always been hard to listen to new ideas. Dissenting voices are seldom welcome in their own hometown. The problem for the hometown is, you never know when the person with a divergent agenda is a prophet of God, sent on purpose by some divine agenda to shake your sleepy town awake.
Sometimes the dissenting voice does have a word straight from God. Sometimes the dissenting voice says something false. Sometimes the truth is somewhere in the middle. The scary thing about a dissenting voice is not the potential for disagreement in the community. The scary thing is the refusal to engage a new idea, which is the same thing as a refusal to grow.
So I say, bring on the agenda. Stay open to the agenda of your neighbor. Bring on the potential to grow.