I’ve put that documentary up here so you, too, can experience Michael’s life. Given our situation, it is time to think about what would, could, should human life look like as we work to weather (ha) the changes now upon us. The separateness stance would have us striving to protect our selves from the changing climate, and from each other as things get challenging. There are many among us who will do that.
Michael chose to move away from others to be free to interact with his environment in his own way. Being authentic with your environment is a slow process. It takes time to get to know it, to understand how it lives, and then to bend your needs around what needs to happen, in the place where you are. It is a slow, respectful, process.
His place was beautiful. It did not speak of difficulty or hardship, yet, he was not connected to the traditional electricity, water, sewer system so these taken for granted comforts were managed in an unusual way, a way that did not pollute his environment, or disturb it in a way that would impact its health and vitality.
There was no talk of food, but we know he managed. He had a garden and the ocean. His environment allowed him to be able to gather all year around, so I suspect that storage was not an issue. As we move into warmer times, how will we address that? Food will become a more consistent area of attention. Will we have the bandwidth to keep animals? Will we be able to provide for them as well as us? Will the need for food require us to live in community?
One of the stories that so sticks in the mind, is his five years playing with a pod of dolphins. His comment that their culture was about being polite, is worthy of some reflection. How will we learn to be together in a way that supports OUR survival? Will we splinter in protective groups, groups intent upon robbing from others what we can’t do for ourselves, or will we discover the joys of sharing and working together? I suspect there will be both groups, at least for a time. Robbing of others is a luxury, one that presupposes that someone else is able to survive well enough that they can ‘afford’ that kind of parasitic behavior. How long will that be tolerated?
The story also speaks to the role of play in our lives. That is a big part of the life of a dolphin, and Michael seemed to have enough time, free from life needs (shelter and food) to be able to join them, for at least a good part of the time. That too, is a luxury, on that all successful peoples have found ways of incorporating, play and art are fundamental ways of spending time. Maybe that is even part of the definition of success, having time for play and art. How have we been doing in that department?
He has a strong spiritual practice. His mind has a natural turn to both the abstract and the beautiful. Both are conducive to the spiritual. Still, he found that guidance from another person, and from an established tradition, provided strength and support. Will we, in this new challenging situation, be able to bring forward those traditions that have supported us for thousands of years? Will we lose all of that? Will we develop new ways of understanding the deeper meaning of life instead? There is a lot of conversation, now, about how to rethink a global ethic, and certainly I’m a part of that conversation. Will we look to nature, or remain stuck in trying to figure out how and why we are different from nature? Will we keep that illusion or seek another way of being?
Another point of rumination, for me, is gender. We have few, if any, stories about women who have gone off into the wilderness to live. In thinking about Michael’s story, I’m not sure if I could have done what he did, even in my youth. The simple physical needs of such a life feel overwhelming, to me. Separation comes naturally to men, (this is another whole essay) and it is a path to connection, as Michael so clearly shows. In my experience, women find a joy in connection, that is natural to us. We do not need separation in the same way. This brings to mind several thoughts. In nature there are certain animals who live solitary lives, not many, most living things live in groups. I wonder if that is an expression of how food is obtained. For the human species, I have heard of an experiment by a tribe in Africa, where children were left on their own at five. That tribe was not successful. The ability to feed children, is a mark of success for any species, and that often requires, for humans, community, of some kind.
So, this film, and our situation, makes me wonder what lessons will we bring forward that will help us, not only survive, but replenish? What understanding do we need to carry forward, so we will not repeat this? Will we know enough to manage our numbers? They say that the story of Atlantis was the story of power run a muck. What will they say about this time?
I’d like you suspend belief for a few minutes and go with here. I want to offer a thought experiment and get your response. Most people in this country, and everyone with a Christian background of any sort, knows the story about the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve and the apple. This story has been told and retold for centuries. For me that suggests that it is important, it carries a message that has had meaning and relevance for hundreds of thousands of people. That said, there have been hundreds of books written about what it means. I would dare to say that our Western culture has been created in response to how some people understand this story.
Most of the time this is seen as a gender story, the innocent Adam seduced by his tempted ‘wife’ Eve. Much has been made about the ‘fate’ of humanity, based on the actions of one woman. I’ve been more concerned about the ‘tree.’ The tree of knowledge? The tree of????? The apple is said to have given the knowledge of good and evil, hummmm. I’ve pondered that for years. Good and evil have been philosophical hot beds of controversy for centuries. What is good and what is bad? I get the jist, but the words were far from clear, and that ambiguity gives folks lots of room for propaganda.
There’s another story that comes from this one, the gift of ‘free will.’ Humans, they say, have the ability to ‘freely’ decide what they do. We have choice. We call this free will. Some brain science suggests otherwise, but most people feel that they are free to decide. So, what did ‘Adam’ decide? What was the choice made by these ‘first people’ that has had such a devastating effect on our world, ever since? Remember, this story was written thousands of years ago.
So, imagine with me for a moment that the choice was to ‘just take care of ourselves’ that we are separate and independent, so we can look after ourselves and we don’t need to think about others, or other living things, we have the ‘right?” the ability, to handle it ourselves. When I look at the root cause of all our troubles, they seem to stem from our illusion that we are separate, and therefore condemned to care for ourselves AND not obligated to care for others AND others are not obligated to for us. The ‘apple’ Adam ate was the apple of separation. Perhaps it was under the frame of ‘freedom’ or ‘independence,’ but no matter the rationalization, the effect was the same. We shifted our focus from LIFE to HUMANS, and we have sacrificed other living being to our needs and desires ever since. Taking care of ourselves is a scary proposition, and fear seems to be almost foundational. Separation runs deep!
Part of this thinking comes from my understanding of how our planet has been for thousands and thousands of years. Indigenous folks have always tended the plant life around them and worked with nature, and in so doing created a garden that flourished and thrived. I do not believe that much of our planet has been untended. Just because WE don’t tend it, doesn’t mean it has always been that way. Take our continent, the USA. When Columbus came, what did they see? Huge trees, rich soil, incredible natural riches, riches that had been stewarded by the indigenous folks who lived here that we called Indians. He was so blind that he could not imagine these ‘savages’ had the knowledge and skills to create such wealth, but they did.
Now science is telling us just how connected we are. Dr. Zack Morton Bush, an endocrinologist focusing on the microbiome, says that we have over 30,000 individual species living in us, doing their own thing, but in doing so they give us life. We cannot live without them. The mitochondria, which we once thought were a part of our cells, we now know are separate entities. They have the gift of being able to convert sunlight into energy. That is where our energy comes from. They are in every living cell in our bodies. They came from the soil, and they need the soil to thrive.
Putting your hands in the soil is a great mood enhancer, this is even backed by science. The Earth needs us, and we need it! There is no such thing as separation, that is an illusion! That need is what is called reciprocity. Back to the garden again. What would your life look like if you lived in reciprocity with your family? How about with your neighbors? Then, think a bit more deeply and think about being in reciprocity with the non-humans in your environment. Noticing the gifts, you are being given, and giving back in appreciation…what a wonderful way to live. How rich those relationships become, and how wonderful to know you are never alone. Welcome back to the garden.
Our transcendence is in our biology. The glory of our being is that we are connected and part of the great body of Earth. Our radical transformation comes in accepting our place within the body of Life as expressed on this planet Earth. WE can only know our own magnificence when we claim our rightful place within the biological expression of LIFE on this planet. We are one!
At its heart, morality is about integrity, but our understanding has been too small. We marvel at the beauty of nature – there is no place where nature has been allowed to do her thing that is not beautiful. That beauty speak of the integrity of the place, of the life that lives there, of the joy in living, being expressed there. That beauty is a big YES, as expressed in the exuberance of life.
Our transcendence comes when we, too, are connected to our being within the vast expression of LIFE. We have been told this for eons, in so many ways, but we had the belief that transcendence could happen when we pulled away from life, sitting on a mountain top or gazing at our navels. These techniques are paths to coming back into relationship with all of life. One chops wood and carries water with a new and very joyous perception and gratitude for the LIFE that permeates everything. Then every action takes on new significance, new importance, new meaning, as every action becomes filled with love, both given and received.
We are transcending our separation and finally coming home. We need not flee our humanity, our bodies, we need to embrace them, and in embracing we will transcend the smallness we fear and expand into the expansion that is LIFE itself. Greatness comes in understanding the boundaries that make LIFE possible, not in breaking them, and thus eliminating life’s possibilities, as we have been doing for the last few millennia. Our blindness to the wholeness of the planet, has led us to disrespect and dismiss the parts that constitute that wholeness – of which WE are one.
In accepting our wholeness, we can begin to luxuriate in the richness of LIFE’s expression. We are already touched and awed by LIFE's expression, but now we can know that we, too, are a part of that expression and just as miraculous! To know that, in our own experience, opens such gratitude and reverence, that the only correct expression of those feelings is to live the Prime Directive – ensuring that ALL our actions create the conditions that support LIFE! Our attention is pulled, and our emotions are enticed by the joy that comes from seeing LIFE thrive. We will find our purpose in our joy.
We have so come to identify ourselves with the pain and sadness that comes from denying who we are, that it has become painful to reconnect with ourselves. It hurts to open up to love. We have put SO MUCH of ourselves into that separation, into denying our connection, that opening to connection is both scary, AND bitter. Re-embracing our fullness takes real courage. Our mystery and magnificence is not that we are outside or at top of all other life, but that we are special and different within all other life. WE are special and different, just as every other living being is special and different, we have just never seen ourselves, or our place, within the chorus of life. Our notes are needed within the song of life, but to add them we need to be listening to the melody sung by others. We will only know our gifts when we join the song.
A choir does not sound good unless everyone is listening to everyone else. It is the blending that creates joy. There are times when that expression requires a solo, and that, too, is an expression of the whole. The joy in coming home comes from the experience of connection, of finding one’s place in the scheme of things, in knowing that the notes through which we express ourselves are a correct part of the song being sung. Pythagoras spoke of the music of the spheres, and it was this he was speaking of. Our planet cannot sing until all our voices are joined in the music of life.
Listening is key. To listen means to slow down, and meditation is certainly a good way to this. There are others. Gandhi used his spinning wheel to slow down, I clean. The simple things of every day, ordinary life are places to listen. If there were messages from plants, trees, animals, life, how would you get them? Would God send a text? It is our consciousness that connects and that happens in two places, our mind, and our bodies. The skill is in using your body in a way that allows your mind to be free and receptive. The stillness and discipline of meditation is how we train our minds to be receptive. Listening to your own chatter, is not really listening.
Your essence, your true self is pure. It remains unsullied, no matter what you do or think. However, your identification with your actions and thoughts keeps you from experiencing your true nature, so you think you are unworthy, not capable, etc. Plants and animals don’t play that game, so they seem ‘closer’ to nature than we are, but that is not the truth. WE are just as close, but we must listen as the song is being sung just by humans, as part of the choirs, we only add our specific notes.
Please join me in a thought experiment. Kindness and consideration seem to go hand-in-hand. We wring our hands and bemoan the current conditions of our culture, the hatred and animosity that seems so prevalent. The coarseness and vindictiveness that seem to be everywhere as people express their angst and frustration. Yet, even in that atmosphere, it is possible to experience acts of kindness. The smile, a hand outstretched, time taken out of a busy schedule to chat, all these exist within the cacophony of frustration and anger.
Kindness is experienced when someone takes the time to notice the need for connection and support in another human being. Kindness comes when one human shares the space of being human with another. The quiet communion of souls, as one human touches another, can make all the difference. Extending kindness tells the receiver that they are valued and important. The recognition of humanity in another is one of the deepest forms of recognition.
Consideration is expressed in manners, the simple act of holding a door open. The recognition of a need in the other and then acting on that perception and sharing the mutual joy in that situation, makes the world brighter. Consideration is a wonderful equalizer, eliminating a situational difference in status with the assurance that our humanity trumps any such illusion.
Kindness is often seen as a spontaneous act between individual people, but what would a kind family look like? What would the daily habits and experience look like? We might expect to see examples of consideration, a sensitivity to one another’s feelings and moods coupled with a caring concern. We would anticipate a skill in gentle inquiry and spontaneous offers of support. We might expect discussions filled with deep listening so everyone’s experience is understood.
Consideration suggests not only the ability to see a need, but to be able to project into the future a bit and act to forestall a situation that might be unpleasant. It provides a bit of ease in trying and difficult situations. Choosing not to do something that might create discomfort in another, or taking an action that might prevent discomfort or pain to another, are both examples of consideration in family situations.
What might a kind organization look like? How would a company provide the experience of being valued to its employees? How might an organization be considerate? Perhaps having a focus on the experience of employees as they interact with the company by creating processes that are client and employee focused, instead of internally focused, might be a good start. Employers could help by trusting employees to take care of their own business AND the company's business at the same time, with a focus on accomplishments instead of time. Consideration runs both ways as employees strive to meet the employer's needs, discovered through discussion and mutual planning. Perhaps a shift from competition to service might help? Perhaps a move from efficiency to effectiveness would provide the context for kindness and consideration to flourish?
Kindness and consideration both speak of a form of reciprocity that is actually found in nature, as each life form seeks to create the conditions in which it can thrive. The inherent interdependence requires a certain consideration of the other. The high energy cost of competition is saved for occasional and extraordinary circumstances. Adaptability and even tolerance are much more economical energetically, and both foster innovation. By minimizing resistance and recognizing value in the other, new opportunities arise that would be missed in the passion of competition.
In a way, both kindness and consideration recognize and facilitate change. By embracing flexibility and acknowledging the distress change causes, consideration and kindness create an experience of grace for the difficult parts of life. Can organizations embrace flexibility? Can organizations wean themselves off the irrational drive for stability and sameness that is a path to death? In nature, stability and lack of change only happen in death. All life change and in fact life might even be defined by its inherent cap, for change. How could it be otherwise? Each life form has a say and as each one adjusts and responds to all the others change in foundational to that engagement with self-expression. Learning to hold reality lightly and with curiosity provides the space for kindness and consideration to happen.
Organizations focus on the process, in the mistake belief that process generates the result, when, in fact, the desired impact should inform the process. Living systems are metabolizing systems, and one of the things they digest is information. Many of our systems are suffering indigestion as the information stored in homelessness, in mental illness, and crime is not being digested. Kindness and consideration offer paths through these mazes of confusion and pain if we allow ourselves to feel our way through.
Kindness and consideration speak of connection, of the ability to feel and share the experience of the other. In that connection the right action arises, without that connection confusion and irritation block that knowing. When we experience kindness and consideration, we are so grateful, and we desire to share that experience with another. When we experience disdain and disregard, then we, in anger, wish to share that too. We create the world we live in, one decision at a time. Those decisions start with our own selves as we internalize our external experience. Kindness and self-care are not “nice to haves,” they are necessary to a thriving life.
We are in a crisis beyond imaging. Many have chosen to ignore it. That is one way. Denial and continuing on as if nothing is wrong or even resisting seeing anything wrong in the first place, is one way. This kind of pretense is temporary as it doesn’t stop the collapse from coming, though people will be surprised by it when it becomes impossible to deny. These people will be victims.
Others recognize that collapse is coming, and they are fighting – tooth and nail – to prevent it. These people have picked strategic points, places of leverage where a change could make a difference and they are pushing and fighting to shift that lever. That is the second way. These people are marching, lobbying, writing, and organizing to shift those levers that they see can make a difference. They are warriors.
The truth is that nothing has worked. We are toast. Or at least our way of life is toast, so the next questions is, what are we going to do about the end of the world as we know it?
Real change is not someone else’s job. Real change starts with us – you & me, becoming different. Some of that difference is easy to see, but most of the iceberg is underwater and invisible, and that’s what must change. Change this deep is a non-linear process.
What do I mean by that? Here’s an example: You can stop buying cars, and not buy either gasoline or electric, in an effort to do less damage. That is a linear approach to change. An action is being taken that has a direct impact on the problem and it is clear to see. It is preventing harm, but it is not building a new way. What if instead of wheels we used air, so streets were not needed? Maybe that would begin to bring forth a new world.
Non-linear change is change that opens new doors to places we have never been and that we can’t see or predict. Just as being nice to BIPOC folks is a linear change. Dropping any feelings of superiority is a deeper, non-linear change. That shift from helping them to working with them is exactly the shift we need to make as we deal with collapse. We need to move from living on the Earth to living with the Earth. This is the Third Way. We need to shift from the illusion of power over. Even the illusion of helping is often a power over approach, especially when we are the ones with the answer. To achieve success, we need to leave any intention of creating change, and move to discovering the joy in partnership as we co-create together with the Earth. This is not something we can know before hand; it is something that will come into being through relationship. The move from being for, to one of being with is profound. It is a non-linear change. It shifts our energy from resistance to nurturing. WE change as we make change, this is the Third Way. These people are makers, creating a new world as they live.
None of us act independently, we act together, we need others to be effective. We listen, we take into account the wisdom and needs of others, and we act accordingly. This is slow change at the beginning, as we learn to know one another. It is predicated on a commitment to relationship – to LIFE – not just the human side of the relationship. It is not human centric – even when humans are involved. It is LIFE centric in every act, no matter who is involved. It requires trust in all the participants – not blind faith. We need to trust the Earth as well as each other. We need to learn to trust ourselves, as well. This is the Third Way.
Trust is not easy to come by. It is not only given but created. Trust requires the courage to ask hard questions, hear the answers, and acting accordingly, in ways that nurture the relationship. It is not about winning or losing. Trust is about understanding and knowing, knowledge gain through experience by experiment. Knowledge gained through curiosity and inquiry, learned by asking difficult questions, withholding judgement, and having patience. Nature is the only thing that is truly trustworthy. Every action is designed to support and nurture life. If we want to live, there is no better teacher.
In building a mutually nurturing relationship, all parties must thrive – not all at the same time nor in the same way. Judgement changes to discernment as the question of right or wrong changes to life enhancing – or not. Owning the challenges of being able to see clearly require being willing to ask, and ask again, to gain that clarity. Relationship is all about asking/listening – it is all about dialogue. Right relationship works to ensure that all parties in the relationship thrive.
How do we learn to listen to each other? How do we listen to the Earth? What is being asked of us? What are we being called to do? In any relationship each party has needs, each party has gifts. The Earth has needs, the Earth has gifts. We have needs and we have gifts. What is the Earth asking of us?
Our Earth, what we see all around us, is an expression of LIFE. LIFE loves life! Life is fierce in its commitment to continuing. Earth has been experimenting with how to do that for over 3,900 million years. She’s practiced a lot. Brian Swimm, Thomas Berry, Connie Barlow, Michael Dowd as have so many saints, have been sharing their awe of her wisdom and skill. Fritjof Capra, Andreas Weber, and Robin Wall Kimmerer, among others, have been doing the same. The indigenous voice has only told that story. We are just beginning to listen. We are the youngest species; other life forms have way more experience at it than us. Other life forms keep their agreement with life, the Prime Directive – all actions are to create the conditions that support more life, we do not.
I call this listening, gaining Planetary Consciousness. Planetary Consciousness means that the goal of LIFE to thrive, becomes ours. Planetary Consciousness means that we become partners with LIFE, playing the same game by the same rules, becoming giddy as we see LIFE burst out all around us. We have been seeking the answers to Earth’s problems by asking each other. We have refused to ask her, and we have refused to listen – even when she’s yelled at us – as she’s doing now. She is the expert on LIFE – as are so many other life forms on this planet. Life forms that have been here and practicing at living far longer than we have. We are Johnny come lately’s, yet we only listen to our own voice, and we even do that, poorly.
Earth’s values are designed for resilience (an intent of Earth’s). Ours have been focused on protection (lack of trust), or on winning (success). Ours are focused on human needs and desires, choosing domination because we don’t trust. Choosing success, defined as bigger and better, over right relationship as we take what we want, using future resources now, and denying their use to other life forms on the planet. In Africa the laying down of roads is destroying migratory patterns and killing wildlife. Our needs appear to be greater than theirs, yet with their death – we die.
What is undeniable, is you can’t trust if you are not trustworthy. The indigenous have never understood us – we say one thing and do another, we deny ourselves and blame others, we don’t take responsibility for our own actions. We waste. We know we are fakes, and we cover it up instead of admitting it and changing our ways, so how can we be trusted? We also know this about ourselves, so we don’t trust our own selves. Honesty and self-forgiveness are a big part of the path forward.
Everything on this planet is an expression of LIFE. Everything. We acknowledge that when we say, “We are one,” or when we say “God dwells within us a us.” We mean it when we say, “Each of us is a speck of the Divine.” We know the truth! If everything is sacred, because everything has a spark of the Divine, why don’t we treat everything as scared? How can we pollute? Self-deception is one of our biggest challenges. The collusion we all participate in that we are good people, doing our best, allows us to deceive ourselves and perpetuate that illusion, this is another massive challenge we face, preventing us from making the changes we need to make.
The gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands will not get us out of this. The answers are here, the Earth is waiting with open arms, if we will just come home. Our resistance to Earth has made us long for home. We believe in the illusion that ‘home’ is out there, somewhere. But HOME is here, right under out feet. Be curious, be courageous, and ask stupid questions, mull things over and become skilled in self-reflection. Earth Values offer insights into the patterns of LIFE. Patterns we can begin to discern, patterns we can nurture and replicate. Patterns we can emulate and curate.
What do I mean by Earth Values? They are not wild and crazy, but they are immutable – they cannot be broken. We are where we are because we broke them. Our sense of safety is a thing we call stability. Nature calls stability death. In the real-world everything changes – all of the time. Instead of designing for similarity and stability we need to design for resilience and diversity, two Earth Values. Instead of NO change, we need to embrace dynamic stability where there are ranges to boundaries, instead of barriers, another Earth Value.
Take the Prime Directive (an Earth Value), all actions create the conditions that support life. That provides a path that anyone and everyone can walk. How do YOU create conditions for life? What around you is thriving? Your family? Your garden? Your worms, bees and butterflys? Your soil? All of these are in your control. YOU can make a difference in each one of these. Can you get over being concerned about your image and stop making things ‘look good’ and make them actually thrive instead? Can you shift from feeling powerless and useless to noticing the difference you can make?
As we shift into managing the integrity of the process of right relationship (an Earth Value), new opportunities will open that we have been too blind to see. We will begin to realize our own gifts and honor our needs as we recognize the gifts of others and honor their needs. This is the future. We will live in gratitude by recognizing that abundance is not about having it all, or having more, it is in having enough. The Earth knows, listen.
I need solace. Today I need to feel the arms of the planet around me, I need to know I’m OK, everything is OK. Everything is not OK, we now know that, but I need to reconnect to nature to tell me, “We can do this!”
Where I live, there is no untended nature. Yes, I can get in my car and drive, but that seems to defeat the purpose. This is the first place I’ve lived where I can’t just walk out and find solace. It pains me. It pains me a great deal.
We love that phrase – undeveloped land. It gives us permission to….develop. It also denies the value of life living life. I need to walk thought, to sit in, places where life is just living life. I need to feel the joy those plants, insects, nematodes, feel in just being alive – that invigorates me.
I think that is what is missing in my life – the enjoyment of others loving being alive. My friends are overwhelmed with the changes they are dealing with. Many of us have just lost a friend to add to the load. As other lives are expiring, even if you aren’t consciously aware, I believe we feel that loss. Everything that dies needlessly, because of a lack of care, or a denial of or refusal to recognize the importance of that life, hurts.
When life loves life there is a joy that radiates out into the world, a juice we all drink from, that seems to be waning. I am thirsty, I need to drink from the cup of life! The ennui I feel, the lack of interest, is really about that. I can tackle anything. I can get fired up – IF I feel connected to life.
I miss fireflies, big black and gold spiders, butterflies. I miss the blue spruce my neighbor cut down because he feared her roots would interfere with his pipes. I miss the huge elm that was cut down because…? The spirits in those trees didn’t understand either. Surely there is another way?
It seems to me that the strange and violent weather we are experiencing is Mother Nature’s anger at the disrespect we have been expressing for life. Her intent is to keep a rich, vibrant and robust complexity of life on this planet – to glory in the abundance and creativity of life’s expression. And here we are cheerfully eliminating any life that is ‘inconvenient’ to us, or that we think interferes with the few plants and animals we favor. I think she’s had enough.
Like any good parent, however, I think she will forgive us and maybe even settle down, if we mend our ways. I want to live near untamed life. Life I can have a relationship with. Life I can talk to and engage with. I am thrilled when I see other kin living their lives. It is SO neat to watch birds caring for their young. To see alligators putting their young into their mouths to take them to the river after they have hatched – who knew? There is love everywhere! I miss it.
I was talking with a girlfriend today and she asked me that question. When I was teaching, I ask that question of my students. They most often decided that ethics were ‘rules’ designed to help people manage their relationships and morals had to do with life and death decisions. That’s OK, as far as it goes, but let’s take a deeper inquiry.
One of my big ‘ah ha’s’ is that most of our ethical and moral structures are focused on humans – how we live and if we live. This way of thinking, however, leads to some logical difficulties from a moral stance, take death, for instance.
We believe that we shouldn’t die. Our entire medical system is predicated on that. We do everything we can to prevent our dying. What happens to animals who dare to kill us? We exterminate them! Even in death we prevent anything from eating us by burying our dead in concrete vaults holding massive, wooded caskets of embalmed bodies. On the other hand, we cheerfully kill each other if we disagree about something. We dedicate ourselves to killing others who want our stuff, who want our land, or who want our spouses. We kill animals just for the fun of it. What’s up with that? We’ve worked for centuries to try and create a logical system that will allow these disparities, but without much luck.
If ethics are ‘rules’ then we run into the differences in cultures about how to best interact. This inconvenient difficulty has been addressed using ‘situational ethics’ but that has not been very satisfactory and raises more problems than it answers. We kinda’ believe there should be some way of understanding how to live in our world that would allow for differences that would be foundational for everyone, but so far no luck. Maybe we’ve been looking in the wrong places and asking the wrong questions.
Actually, the world seems to work pretty well. For the past 3.4 billion years life has increased in complexity. Life forms have become more complex, and the number of species has increased as ecosystems have become more complex. Obviously, something understands how to keep life thriving and robust, why don’t we?
WE have been trying to figure things out all by ourselves. Holding ourselves as separate and ‘better’ than the wildness of nature so we rarely look at nature to see how she manages. As we became citified, we stopped interacting with nature – except when she gets in our way, so we don’t really know or understand her. Maybe it’s time to change that.
Indigenous people have always lived in better harmony with nature than we have. Their stories and culture were designed to maintain that harmony. Their goal was to live well for generations and they did that. The Ohlone lived for 2,000 years without war. The Iroquois learned to live together by forming the first democratic government. Our cultures are designed for self-expression and for wealth – we have achieved that, but at the expense of future generations and even our own existence on a sick and dying planet.
What might happen if we used what science is now learning about how nature is able to create and maintain such a robust and vibrant ecosystem to shift our culture to mimic nature? Books like The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben have shown us how wonderfully complex the forest really is. The film Fantastic Fungi explores how the forest communicates so we now know that cooperation is the key to a healthy ecosystem. It certainly helps human communities too!
What humans have not been too good at is understanding the implications of their actions. We don’t think about how our actions will impact future generations or even how they will impact our own near future. Even with risk management, strategic planning, and insurance companies we do not seem to understand how to predict the consequences of our actions. What if, what if we had a road map that contained instructions for how to make decisions, but not what decisions to make?
Jane Jacobs took 12 years to research the criteria that people used to determine what made an action wrong. She discovered two systems of values, one that focused on protection and the other that is focused on exchange between cultures or business. Each system has about 15 values. Why is this important? There are several reasons: we see all values as separate and distinct and not as forming systems, and we do not recognize how our emotions impact our choice of these value systems.
Living systems have certain characteristics, first is that they are wholes even though they are comprised of parts. This is as true of an ecosystem as it is of these value sets. Second the parts are not interchangeable from one system to another. Plants that live in a forest will not do well in the desert. The values from one system will corrupt another system and prevent the intent and purpose of the systems from being realized. I have three workbooks on Amazon that deal just with these two aspects of systems, for individuals/families, organizations, and teams. We are often slapped by the unintended consequences or our actions – even when we think we have adhered to our most prized values, and a reason why is we’ve mixed values from different systems and, unwittingly, created a mess.
From neuroscience we now know a lot more about how our emotions impact our bodies and brains. We ignore this science at our peril yet ignore it we do. Taking the systems Jacobs discovered it is easy to see that fear is what drives the protective value set. Fear shuts down our ability to both connect and learn. That would suggest that fear limits our ability to innovate and narrows the possible number of solutions we might discover in a crisis. Fear and its relatives, stress and anxiety, are not our friends unless our life is immediately in peril, a situation that is rather rare these days. This indicates that the use of the Protective Value Set™ limits our ability to be successful even though it feels like the right choice when we are afraid. Here the key value of loyalty comes into play and holds people captive in a relationship space that seems safe.
The Effective Value Set,™ on-the-other-hand is stimulated in business when we want to make a sale. These values, honesty in particular, help to create a trusting environment so that deals can be made not just once, but over and over again. When this desire is attached to either ego, as proof of competency or personal value, or to greed, or to the desire to win and win at all costs, then fear enters the picture and when that happens these values get mixed with the Protective Value Set™ and things often don’t go as planned. I’m willing to bet that the tension between loyalty and honesty is not too hard to imagine. This is a common issue in many organizations for just the reasons mentioned above. Mixing these two value sets means that it becomes very difficult to achieve either, both safety and success become elusive.
As we go forward there are two clear strategies for dealing with a sick and dying planet. One is to beat it harder. Here we have the doubling down on technology as the path forward. Artificial Intelligence and climate engineering are two strong contenders on the path of trying to subdue or manipulate nature. This is a continuation of what we have been doing for centuries. So far it hasn’t turned our too well. The road less traveled is to mimic nature. One thing nature seems to do well is to create and support life. What if that was our job too?
So many people, philosophers, poets, and scientists have been engaged in trying to discover just how nature works. I’ve worked to distill from their work, as Jacob’s did, the criteria, the values, that nature uses to ensure a healthy and robust planet. The Resilient Values Set™ is the result of that work. These values show the dynamics nature uses to manage life – for life. They form a set of guidelines for consideration when making big impactful decisions and small everyday ones. They help us think through the implications of our actions.
There are two resilient values I’ll share for you to contemplate applying in your own life: the first is to maintain the integrity of the whole, and the second is to ensure that ALL actions create the conditions that support LIFE (thanks to Janine Benyus of biomimicry fame). The first can be applied at every level from relationships and family to nation states. The second applies to every decision and action that happens between living beings.
So, back to the initial question, what is the difference between ethics and morals? Is there actually a difference? Isn’t that the wrong question? Isn’t the point to live good and full lives? The path to a ‘good’ life is paved with interactions with others that should make that possible for them too. In reality the path to LIFE is paved with the interactions we have with ALL life that makes LIFE possible for them too – we have had too small a circle of care. If we enlarge that circle to take in all the LIFE we interact with and depend upon, then maybe we will find the meaning that seems to elude so many of us. In this context all our choices are life and death choices. All our choices are moral choices and only choices that support a healthy and robust planet are ethical choices.
The only good and ethical choices are those that strengthen, in partnership with nature, the ability of LiFE to thrive on this big, beautiful planet of ours. It becomes our responsibility and duty to fulfill our own unique destiny and to do that in a way that allows everyone else to do so as well. That means that trees and rivers, waterfalls and meadows need to be supported to fulfill their destinies as well. If we stand on the side of LIFE then everything else falls into place. Yes, there might be some hardships and difficult sacrifices, but learning to balance our desires for comfort and convenience with the needs of a thriving Earth might just be the growing pains we need to make us adults.
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben on Amazon
Fantastic Fungi - website, also available on Netflicks
Systems of Survival by Jane Jacobs on Amazon
For the Values and Unintended Consequences books on Amazon
For more on the Value Sets go here
We all want to make a difference. We come from our hearts yet we still find it hard to see the heart in others. We believe ourselves, but we don't believe in others. this means we are all going in slightly different ways just because we don't know, don't trust others. If we can all act in concert, then we can have a bigger and faster impact to make the needed shift.
I'm not advocating blind trust. to trust we have to be willing to ask hard questions, but what if we could agree on a platform of values/principles that would get us all working in the same way? In the past we have used religion as a focusing tool, but that doesn't seem to work for all of us. Is there something else we could use where talking about the possible differences in understanding would not be so threatening?
I think there is and I'm excited about the potential. I'm talking about nature. Mother nature has a loooooong history of supporting life! She's bee able to go from simple organisms to very complex ones. She's gone from simple systems to complex ones. She seems to be getting better and better at supporting life.
We, on the other hand, don't seem to get it. We get in her way and try and block her at every turn. We don't like her 'telling' us what to do or what not to do, and while we see the results, we keep on keepin on. Maybe it's time to think differently.
Listening to her and following her directives has worked for millennia, I'm betting it will continue to work now. She's fine, it's us that needs to change. Join me as I explore the values and principles she lives by and how they might impact how we live, if we so choose
Every Friday at 10:30 am PDT on Facebook (http://facebook.com/bridgetopartnership) I explore a value/principle developed by both indigenous thinking and supported by science that showcases the subtle but significant shift we need t make to keep life thriving on the planet. I'd love to have you join me.
So sorry folks, but the ‘people’ are any wiser or emotionally healthy than the ‘elites’ and maybe quite at bit less educated, so no I don’t trust the ‘people’ to make any better decisions than anyone else. Given the choice of a ‘strong’ man for president, one who had only his own interest at heart, one who made it ‘OK’ to be misogynistic and colonialistic, I don’t see enough wisdom and compassion there to be trustworthy.
I get it! It’s frustrating to feel left behind, to feel voiceless (hey, I’m a woman after all) but the utter lack of compassion and empathy will simply not work, in the long run, no matter who is professing such behavior. From a systems perspective bottoms can look up and see what’s not working and how things might be structured differently – something tops can rarely see on their own but seeing something as not working and doing something about it are two different things.
Discernment is something that seems to come with age. Some people are old from the beginning and I believe discernment can be taught, but it’s a rare commodity. Religion, philosophy, and education of all kinds have tried to teach it without much success. Instead of taking agency we seem to choose obedience even though it’s been proven time and time again that obedience doesn’t work. The army has a term for that ‘malicious compliance.’ That’s what you do to get back at officialdom when they discipline you for ‘breaking’ the rules that aren’t working in the first place.
We often can see what’s not working but knowing how to fix it is another story altogether. The Greeks chose philosophy as the method for discernment, and while useful, that hasn’t gotten us very far either. Understanding the ‘other’ is always a barrier to both respect and caring. Intuiting the experience of someone else is an unusual skill indeed and one few have and few even see as needed. We expect everyone to ‘be like us.’
A big part of living a long life, I believe, is learning about people and being able to see things from another’s perspective. Still the wide variety in human understanding and creativity has led me to believe that you just never really know what someone else is going to think or how they will understand the same experience we both just had. The key, I think, is openness.
Systems thinking suggests that all living systems determine who they are by the boundaries they create. As babies we are constantly trying to decipher who we are and who our parents think we are or want us to be. As we get older society and our friends become the sources of new perspectives about who we might be. One of the insights from this kind of thinking is that there is actually a relationship between an entity and its environment. There is an openness that allows for ‘fit.’ For some, and for others as they age, keeping that relationship fluid is more difficult. For me, a Scorpio – a fixed sign, I’ve learned to keep my boundaries open through curiosity and a strong desire to learn. I’ve also learned to NOT make decisions. Once I’ve decided, I’m quite unmovable, or said another way, moving is painful. I simply take the action that seems best under the circumstances and so far, that’s worked well.
Ah discernment, what works well? How do you know? I’ve spent over 70 years trying to understand how I know that, and it was only in looking at the Earth and nature that I got it. The yardstick I use to measure is life. What brings, allows, engenders the most life into any situation is a good measure of its long-term success. It also is a step into the kind of world I want to live in – one where life is joyous, vibrant and robust!
Kathryn Alexander, MA
Regenerative approaches require a deep integration with nature. Collaboration requires different structures and ways of working together. If we want different results we have to do things differently! Living regeneratively - living with nature brings forth our spiritual capacities as we act so all life thrives.