“May you heal everything you touch.” – Author Unknown
This month, we explore the virtue of ahimsa, or the concept of nonviolence. Ahimsa is a core tenet of several religions and is the first of the yamas. It has also been the foundation for social revolutions that have made the world a far more tolerant place. (With far more success than the violent type, according to this fascinating research.)
It is my belief that we currently live in a global society underpinned by a system that promotes violence in nearly every aspect of our lives. That is not to say that we as people are naturally violent. In fact, compassion and cooperation is a very core part of the human nature. Rather, the systems that we have created – and perpetuate in our daily lives – are promoting violence, whether we know it or not.
This was underscored to me this weekend by a beautiful article written in the New York Time’s philosophy series, The Stone. In this article, Adrian Parr makes the assertion that climate degradation is a form of violence, and even possibly a crime that we are perpetrating against humanity. She says:
What is the nature of this crime? The human species is the agent of a terrible injustice being perpetrated against other species, future generations, ecosystems and our fellow human beings. Examples include contaminated waterways, mass species extinction, massive fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and unsustainable rates of deforestation, to name just a few. This is leading to extreme and more frequent weather events, expanding deserts, loss of biodiversity, collapsing ecosystems, water depletion and contamination, and the rise of global sea levels.
She goes on to emphasize that we cannot solve the problem with the system we have created, because the system itself is flawed:
In my view, it is futile to try and solve the harms being inflicted upon the environment using the same mechanisms that produced the problem in the first place. Environmental degradation is the concrete form of late capitalism. The failure to recognize and respond to this situation is in bad faith…For instance, the idea that we can “green” a capitalist economy without radically rethinking the basic premises at the heart of neoliberal economic theory is truly an example of misplaced politics. The system is premised upon a model of endless growth, competition, private property and consumer citizenship, all of which combine to produce a terribly exploitative, oppressive and violent structure that has come to infuse all aspects of everyday life.
Parr’s linkage between climate change and violence is a powerful one. Beyond just climate change, I am convinced that our consumerist culture is inflicting harm on our social and emotional well-being in numerous other ways. The way we spend our time, the way we interact with each other, the way we contribute to our communities – these seemingly small but significant indicators of the values that our society holds – have been downgraded and outsourced in favor of time spent in paid work and in accumulating. These trade-offs have revealed themselves in numerous “costs” to society that are and will be paid by the most powerless: the poor and the marginalized. The biggest costs, including those that we cannot even foresee, will be borne by our children and their children.
It is clear from the way that resources are distributed unequally on our planet that the dominant system within which most of us participate is skewed toward benefiting the very few. And yet, we continue to perpetuate the system every day when we walk out our door and into the world. We struggle to marry our values and our actions when we head to the grocery store, drop off our kids at school, sit down at our desks, and return home wearied and with little energy but for mindless entertainment.
I have usually written about personal ways to approach these issues, the actions and choices that we can each make in order to counterbalance the ways in which our modern society create imbalance and upheaval. However, I am more and more concerned that individual choices and actions – while important! – are not enough to reframe the system that has become increasingly divorced from our human values and needs.
To create broader change, and to envision and create the options for change, we need to come together. Systems are changed by a combination of those working from within and those protesting from the outside. Change is an intervention of both bureaucrats and radicals. But first we must mobilize. What is the most mobilizing emotion of all? In her article, Parr says that the struggles for change can be unified by love.
What could a revolution of love look like?
It would start with ahimsa, a promise of no harm. We would fight consumerism with simplicity, quality over quantity, and depth over growth. We would get to know our neighbors, we would reconnect with our communities. We would champion forgiveness, tolerance and generosity. We would elect politicians who espouse these virtues – and reduce the warped incentives that keep politicians lacking these values in power.
We may decide not to lean in, and we’ll be ok with that. We may decide to join companies and organizations, or pursue independent livelihoods, that focus on alternative paths for success. We can use these organizations, companies, initiatives, movements and projects to bring others into the fold, to give them roles and jobs that can give them similar futures. Through these activities, we will begin to set examples for what lives focused on social value and sustainability can look like.
Joining this revolution will likely change everything – our jobs, our homes, our ways of life. It might bring us closer to people – and that might feel uncomfortable. We might have less – and that might initially feel scary. We might feel lost, and we might be ridiculed for what we are doing.
And that’s ok. There is absolutely everything to lose, because most of what we have is not giving us happiness anyway. Most importantly, we can lose the feelings of guilt, isolation and meaninglessness that plague our modern way of living.
When I first wrote the word “revolution” on this post a few weeks ago, I was a little nervous that I was going crazy. But then I started reading, and realized that I’m in very good company. The revolution of love is already well under way, but it needs way more of us.
For those of you who want to begin, may I suggest these starting points: The Story of Stuff, Enough.org.uk, and the Simplicity Collective.
We hope you can gain the healing you need this month at mang’Oh, as fuel for the collective compassion that we will need for the revolution ahead.
We look forward to welcoming you at mang’Oh this May.