Monday, April 1, 2013
The Right Way of Being
I have thought a lot about the right way of being. All my years, I have thought about it. My ideas have evolved over time. As I sit here now, having made the transition onto the down slope of life, my sense of right and wrong has become pretty clear. It seems there are some basic characteristics of being that are good and decent and should be embraced by pretty much everyone. I'm thinking of personal traits like kindness, compassion, honesty, humility, and tolerance. I'm thinking of an appreciation for the natural world, and a sense of personal obligation to tread lightly and protect the biosphere for future generations. I'm thinking of a decided preference for non-violence and reasonable accommodation over confrontation and bluster.
Unfortunately, too much of what happens here on planet Earth is driven by greed, intolerance, and self-absorbed sociopathy. That's really nothing new. Human history has been a constant struggle between good and evil. Sociopathy is about seeking the path of least resistance, no matter who or how many you have to step on to get where you're going. Many of the biggest, most infamous, leaders in history got to the top of the mountain by stepping on the bodies of countless others.
The same thing is happening now. Look at the behavior of the biggest share of those people that dominate the news and influence the direction of society. The blog entry just before this one is a perfect example. The leaders of two of the biggest industrial chemical producers are paying out millions in influence money to lobbyists and elected officials to protect their profits on a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. These men - virtually of all of them are men - have risen to the top of their corporate mountains precisely because they focus on profit to the exclusion of all else. As a consequence, their neonicotinoid chemicals kill not just pest insects but massive numbers of songbirds and honeybees. As I said earlier, this unsavory brand of singlemindedness has always been a prominent part of the historical landscape. The human chronology, in my estimation, is roughly a reflection of a simple, 'two steps forward, one step back' paradigm.
No question, human civilization has made great strides since we evolved from living in caves, but the journey from then to now has been marked by fits and starts caused by human greed and sociopathy. If it weren't for Kaiser Wilhelm, would we have had World War One? If it weren't for Hitler and Tojo, would we have had World War Two? If it weren't for Stalin and Mao, would we have had a three decade long 'cold' war. If it weren't for Cheney, Bush, and their cabal of neocons, would their have been a second war in Iraq?
What's different about now is the amount of damage and destruction that can be unleashed by a small number of people who are indifferent to the consequences of their actions. In our times, never have so few been responsible for so much damage, suffering, and destruction. Cheney and Bush for example; they lied our country into a war with Saddam that has cost thousands of American lives, perhaps a million or more Iraqi lives, and trillions of taxpayer dollars squandered in a bloody conflict that never should have happened.
An awful lot of what passes for leadership these days is spawned from a decidedly sociopathic world view. That appears to be happening because, like in so any generations before, people with that ethically unhinged mindset have an advantage because they are willing to to do 'whatever it takes' to get to the top.
The world we live in is evolving very fast. The technologies we depend on are becoming ever more complex. Democracy requires that its citizens be capable of making good decisions when it comes to choosing who will lead us into the future. My way of being is skeptical about the motives of leaders who foster greed, intolerance, and self-interest. It's not that hard to spot them. They are naturally attracted to the limelight. They aggressively push fear, intolerance, and divisiveness.
I am not suggesting there is only one right way of being. But, the character traits I mentioned early on in this piece are common to what I regard as right ways of being. People who are part of the solution to the grand challenges we face together see the world inclusively rather than exclusively. They are generous rather than selfish, kind and empathetic rather than indifferent, and are able to consider unfamiliar ideas thoughtfully, without prejudice. Moreover, they value the biosphere and recognize its limits. They see themselves as stewards of the natural world. They reject violence and mindless exploitation. This to me is not only the right way of being, its also very much the smartest and best way of being.