Yesterday I had a delightful swim with a friend in the cool Aegean Sea. In in the evening I met two dear friends at an open air restaurant for a delicious meal and good conversation. Last night a beautiful moon rose over the sea and a soft breeze caressed my skin. All of this made me very happy. However, the state of the world does not.
Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. The Ferguson police. Hold your ground laws. Bombing in Gaza. War in Ukraine. War in Iraq. War in Afghanistan. War in Syria. Wars that are not on my radar. Rape as a part of war. Joe Biden threatening to chase ISIL “to the gates of hell.” Citizens United. A rash of laws restricting voting rights. A rash of laws restricting abortion rights. Police brutality. Police brutality that is racially motivated. Young men being sentenced to prision for minor drug offenses. The brutality of the prison system. A woman with children being paid $8.50 an hour working at McDonalds and not even knowing when she will be called in to work. Open carry laws allowing Americans to walk the streets with loaded weapons. And that’s just off the top of my head this morning.
When I was young and protesting poverty, racism, and the War in Vietnam, I thought that it would be a relatively simple matter to change the world. It turned out that I was not only wrong: I was very wrong. The world has changed all right, but not for the most part for the better. In fact, despite the diligent efforts of social justice activists, in many respects the world has changed for the worse. In a recent post I discussed my experience with depression. I did not mention there that one of the causes of the depressions I used to suffer was “the state of the world.” Recently a friend of mine fell into a deep depression because “they are about to cut down old growth forests” in her state. (This is only one of the many things that she despairs of.) Her experience reminded me that I was deeply depressed for several years after hearing Helen Caldicott describe the threat posed by the plutonium used in nuclear power plants to the future of life on planet earth.
In many ways despair and even depression seem like the appropriate response to the systematic violence fueled by hatred, greed, and failure of empathy that is part of the world in which we live. Just a few moments ago I saw a photograph of a military dog on my Facebook page with a caption stating that the military considers these dogs military “equipment” to be disposed of when no longer useful. I commented “Sorry but dogs are feeling and conscious individuals.” My response seemed a bit futile in the face of longstanding scientific and philosophical traditions that view other than humans individuals as “part of nature” and nature as “unfeeling matter.” And don’t get me started on “the necessity of war.”
Despair and depression may be understandable responses to the state of the world, but I would argue, we should fight them with every resource at our disposal at every moment of our lives.
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Though she does not believe in the personal God alleged to have spoken these words, my friend Judith Plaskow loves to quote them. For me they embody a choice we have every moment of every day. We can “choose death” by dwelling upon the bad things that are happening in our lives and in the world. Or we can “choose life.” What does it mean to choose life?
- We enjoy the love and beauty that is given to us in our daily lives, and we give thanks for it in every moment.
- We never deny the conflict, pain, and suffering in our personal lives and in the world as a whole.
- And we do what we can to repair the world.
It is important to keep these elements in balance. Sometimes we ask: How can I enjoy the half moon rising over the deep blue sea when somewhere else in the world people are suffering? My answer to this question is that life is meant to be enjoyed. Not to enjoy it when we can is to fail to appreciate the gifts of life and the Gift of Life.This doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to suffering. But we must keep our own lives in perspective as much as possible.
I enjoy life more when I know that I am also doing something to alleviate suffering. Two days ago I spoke to a friend about the death of her sister after she called me on Skype. She thanked me for not denying death and the pain it causes as “our culture teaches us to do.” This morning I joined a Facebook conversation about saving the wetlands in Lesbos, a cause I have been commited to for over a decade. Yesterday I signed petitions against war, in favor of abortion rights, and against police brutality. I looked into the eyes of a military dog in a photograph and spoke up for its rights. Now I am writing this blog with the suffering of my friend about the state of the world uppermost in my mind.
But you may be asking yourself: Does any of this really matter? Can anything any one of us does really make a difference to the state of the world?
In my blog on depression, I spoke of “errors in thought” that fuel depression. I suggest that the above questions are also based in errors in thought. Adding the word “really” in front of “matter”and “make a difference” confuses the issue. The word “really” encourages us to focus on longterm, worldwide, final results. Yet we are finite individuals living in a world where the future is indeterminate. No one of us has the power to determine the longterm “state of the world.” And there is no way we can know for sure what the future will hold. Even if, as my calculation of probabilities suggest, war is not going to end, the environment will continue to be degraded, and human and other than human suffering will be increased–is this any reason to decline to enjoy life in the present and to stop trying to make things better?
We should not be asking: Can I really change the state of the world? The question we should be asking is: What can I do to alleviate or heal suffering in the concrete, today, tomorrow, and the next day?
For me this means enjoying the company of friends in sickness and in health, communing with the other than human individuals in my life (those two cute little dogs among them), appreciating the sea and the moon, and also making a concrete effort each day to speak out against injustice and when I can, and to take action with others to make the world a more just place for all of the individuals who live in it. To expect more of myself than I can do or more of “the world” than is possible given the laws of nature and situations that have already occurred would also be an error in thought.
Carol is looking forward to the fall Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete–$150 discount for anyone who signs up for the fall 2014 tour–www.goddessariadne.org. Carol can be heard in a recent interviews on Voices of the Sacred Feminine, Goddess Alive Radio, and Voices of Women. Carol is a founding voice in feminism and religion and Goddess spirituality. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. Follow Carol on GoddessCrete on Twitter.