As we come to the end of another year, we naturally tend to reflect on the past, and look for hope for the future. Looking back at the past year, it reveals much opportunity for growth in our world – we have to find better ways to get along with the people we share our planet with then going to war with them, we have to find better ways to share our material wealth, we have find ways to help the ecosystems that sustain us to thrive, we need to find ways to scale back our obsession with possession and live more simply, more sustainably.
In his 1970 essay “The Servant As Leader” Robert Greenleaf pointed out that “the only way to change a society (or just make it go) is to produce people, enough people, who will change it (or make it go). The urgent problems of our day – a senseless war, destruction of the environment, poverty, alienation, discrimination, overpopulation – are here because of human failure, individual failures, one person, one action at a time failures. (…). We will recover from this by growing people, one person at a time, people who have the goals, competence, values, and spirit to turn us about. (…). But at the base it will be one person and one action at a time because there isn’t anything else to work with.” (Page 72, THE SERVANT LEADER WITHIN ).
Things haven’t changed much in the forty years since Greenleaf first wrote that essay, and his suggested solution to the problems of his day is also the solution to the problems that remain with us today – we as individuals need to take our individual actions to get the ball rolling. In his parable “Teacher As Servant”, Greenleaf pointed out what I believe is a key factor for individuals to grasp if they have any hope of being successful in taking the actions that are needed to turn our society towards a better path: “I can only urge that you ponder those wonderful lines from Hermann Hess (but I cannot tell you where they are in his writing): ‘It is only important to love the world,’ he said, ‘… to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration, and respect.’” (Page 138, THE SERVANT LEADER WITHIN )
And so as our world make begins another circuit around our Sun, I would encourage you to reflect on the question and some other thoughts posed by Margaret Wheatley in her book TURNING TO ONE ANOTHER, that can lead us towards becoming more loving toward our world, so that we can take actions to make our society more loving.
“What is the relationship I want with the earth? Other species don’t have the same challenge as we humans. They participate with their environment, they watch, they react. We humans, in contrast, dream, plan, figure things out. Because we have consciousness, we create our own set of rules rather then submitting to the laws of nature that govern all life. We use consciousness to try and bend the world to our own purposes.”
“There’s a principle in ecology that nature always has the last word. And that’s what’s happening now. We believe waste could just accumulate, but polluted air and poisoned water are teaching us this is not true. We believed we could grow as large as we dreamed, but the ungovernable nature of huge organizations and the devastated lives of those in mega-cities are teaching us this is not true. We’ve invested in science to manufacture life to suit ourselves, hoping we might even overcome death, but frightening pandemics and new diseases are teaching us that we live in a web of interconnectedness, and that death is a part of life.”
“We need to learn how to be good neighbors. I believe the easiest way to become partners with life is to get outside, to be in nature and let her teach us. About half of us no longer have this option. Half the world’s population live in large cities, breathing polluted air, unable to see the stars, never knowing peace or quiet. I grieve for those of us who cannot know the feel of wild places, the sound of the small stream, the shade of a grove of trees. But for those of us who still have nature available to us, it is even more important that we get outside. We need to experience the power and beauty of life on behalf of all humans who no longer can do this themselves.”
“If we can do these things, we will fall in love with life again. We will become serious about sustaining life rather than destroying it.”
“We have to take care of everything, because it’s all part of the same thing.”
A peaceful holiday to all.