Action Expresses Priorities

Posted on 28 October 2018

“To be is to do”–Socrates
“To do is to be”–Jean Paul-Sartre
“Do be do be do!”–Frank Sinatra
~Kurt Vonnegut

Sometimes it only takes a generation to create monumental change.

Given the enormity of what we are facing, this generation will have to make that effort.

It’s not fair.

You do not deserve to inherit a world spoiled by the fruits of greed. You will have to learn how to be and to do better than your parents and their parents.

Understand, though, this generation is uniquely positioned to take the task on.

You have had to face death in your classrooms. You know what is at stake. You know how to be strong and how to adapt. You know not to make half-assed excuses, or try to pass off the laziness of defeatist thinking as realism. The people who need to grow up–who need to learn how to “adult”–are the adults themselves. For generations they have not been taking responsibility for their decisions.

Actions express priorities.

It is very easy to throw words into the world as a smoke screen and thereby hide real intentions. By a person’s actions you will know them.

I love this world.

I think it is amazing! I have chosen to live where I can walk out and watch kangaroos eat and play at a nearby paddock. I wake up to raucous squawking of cockatoos and in the evenings enjoy a sunset over wattle covered hills. I once even found a turtle walking along the side of the road on its way to the next nearest pond.

I have had books published by a well known publisher. But saving this beautiful world is so important to me, I am writing this book here for free. I want it to be readily available to all who can use it, regardless if they are rich or poor.

My priority is not to be rich or famous. My priority is our living world. Think about this as a measuring stick of the people you meet.

If someone advertises they are no longer offering straws to show they care, but continue to wipe out forests to grow crops and raise beef to sell cheap burgers–they are “greenwashing” themselves. They are giving with one hand in order to take much more with the other. If someone puts up billboards advertising that with every sale of an item, they are giving a donation to some charity. If they then pay their workers wages totalling less than the poverty line, that is known as “whitewashing”. They are making people feel good about themselves for making a purchase, but it’s a front so that you don’t question, don’t think about, how they are causing tremendous harm to benefit a few.

What you need to ask yourself when it comes to companies, organisations, institutions, and governments is–are what they say consistent with what they do? If you look deeply, will words and actions match up?

No one is perfect. We are all growing. Nevertheless, if it is clear people don’t really care, aren’t really listening, politely or forcefully pushing you off, then their actions are revealing a priority at variance with human and planetary well-being.

Sadly, you will find this sort of hypocrisy in environmental and social justice groups as well. This doesn’t mean they are all bad. It means learn how to recognise when things aren’t as they seem.

These are the sorts of groups you will commonly find and at times need to avoid.

All talk, no do.

These can be genuinely well-meaning groups, but you will terrify them if you ask them to roll their shirt-sleeves up and get their hands dirty.

They can do a good job of raising money, but may not wisely distribute the funds. That’s because they are largely populated by people of privilege who want to think they are good individuals, but live in a protective bubble.

These groups can be useful resources, but they can also be taken over by power-players and narcissists. Their role should be supportive; they should not be allowed to set agendas.

Venting for good.

We all have good reasons for being angry about the state of the world. Many have good reason to be angry with authoritarian parents, schools, and governments.

Groups that are largely about giving their members a place to vent pent-up fury are toxic. The problem is that they aren’t about creating a peaceful world where all living beings exist in harmony–that would be a sustainable goal. They are about punishing someone: they are about tearing things down. They are a thin veneer of goodness to mask a deep well of hatred, including self-hatred. They are a clear case of actions expressing priorities.

If they are shouting at protests, if they are rude, if they wear t-shirts such as “Fuck Tony Abbott” (a former Australian Prime Minister)–they are certainly not expressing a priority for peace. Groups with a sincere purpose sometimes face internal hardship when invaded by the venters.

People then must be strong about insisting that the means to a goal ARE the ends. If we want peace, we must act in peace. We do not allow people within or without to walk all over us. However, we create the future with the determination of a mighty river that carves the countryside, not a raging fire that destroys forests and homes.

We own all goodness.

Most groups have this problem–and it is dangerous.

First, such groups are unlikely to cooperate with other groups.

Simply for being “other” anyone else’s group is seen as suspect, possibly a threat, for competing with them in the goodness stakes. “I want to be the only one who does this; I want all the glory!”

If those of us who are working for peace atomise into many little cults of goodness, we won’t have the power to make change.

Even more dangerous is people not recognising their vulnerability to the same dynamics that have made religious scandals possible. Being part of a “good” group is used as a substitute for cultivating goodness in oneself and doing good deeds.

People will join these groups thinking they can relax and trust all is forever well. Then comes the day someone does something terrible: perhaps one member bullies another, or worse, someone sexually abuses a minor.

At first no one wants to believe it. “We are the good guys…right?” Even the person who perpetrated the terrible act will rationalise to themselves and others: “I cannot possibly have done wrong, because I am a member of this group.”

When the rest of the world starts looking their direction, the group becomes frightened of how they are being portrayed. “We are the good guys! Therefore, what you say are lies!” They may even actively work to hide the wrong-doing, because they cannot abide by it blemishing their perfectly good reputation.

By their own values they may be called to admit error and tend to the wounded–but that’s unlikely to happen.

The greater the status of a wrong-doer, the more opportunities they will be given for doing wrong without consequences. Victims will be terrified of stepping forward, fearful of recriminations and ostracism from friends and family.

Victims will be trampled under foot and forgotten.

A group without humility will eventually eat itself alive. A group that will treat its own members badly will have no compunctions against treating others even worse.

The Power Niche

Positions of power attract people whose sole interest are positions of power. Make no mistake, power can corrupt. However, more frequently certain people play manipulative games in order to gain power. They are already corrupt.

I learned this maxim while playing Dungeons & Dragons with my university friends and talking politics. It has served me well in estimating the motives of various groups and their leaders.

Throughout history we have had groups making promises to whatever niche of people will give them sufficient power to take over. We have had lords making promises to other lords in order to depose the king. We have had landowners promising other landowners freedom from foreign taxes in order to form their own nation. Revolutionaries have promised the people bread for the decimation of a country. Ideologues have promised greatness at the genocide of others based on ethnicity, religion, etc.

The sad thing is that these could all be the same people. They will insert themselves, left or right, wherever they can get a purchase on power.

I once wrote policy for a minor Australian political party. What I loved about this party is that we had so many people who genuinely cared. They were more about the issues than the power. Though, power was understood to be useful to protect the leafy seadragon, or ensure a gay lover would have the same access rights to their beloved as any other family member, if their partner happened to be in the hospital. However, this made the party an easy target for power-players.

Someone would join us, smile and nod to all the right people, then when the time came they would raise their hands to run for public office. People were happy for them to take on the job…without questioning their motives deeply enough. Afterall, didn’t they join our party? Shouldn’t they share our values? All too soon people, who only marginally cared for what we stood, made it to the top then began subverting our goals for their personal ends. Eventually, this killed the party.

I still grieve for that group. They had been such bright stars.

Groups That Work

I have participated in, founded, and run groups that have failed and groups that have held together for twenty years or more. Functioning groups are possible. They are also tremendously rewarding. But creating such groups is not easy.

Anytime two or three people get together–there’s power in that. The more people get together, the more power. You can either nurture and direct that power toward life-affirming goals or use it as a tool for self-aggrandisement and control. The one requires a culture of respect, cooperation, and dedication to the values that make goals achievable. The other may appeal to ego, but at a cost to your respect for self, others, and our world. A dominating group may give its members a sense of power and freedom, but it is a fool’s paradise bought at the loss of humanity.

What you have to understand is that no group will be perfect. Looking for purity is a hopeless journey. All groups will have all the weaknesses of humanity. We all do. We must learn a modicum of patience for ourselves and others as we all learn and we all grow. What I am writing here is to give you enough awareness to recognise which groups will be a waste of time and when a group is heading toward trouble. If you see trouble brewing, do your best to call it out with courage, clarity, and compassion. If that does not work, move on.

Any group hoping to make the long haul must be wise, insightful, and tolerant of difference. It must also have courage to face injustice and bad behavior within its numbers, as well as without. Of great importance is a sense of self awareness of both strengths and weaknesses in ourselves and others. A strong desire to work things out keeps a group humane. Maintaining a focus on goals and values is perhaps the best social glue there is.

Life is dynamic. What we want is peace like a river. A river allows for movement and growth. The peace of a still pond is stagnant and ultimately toxic to life.

Your commitment is important to the success and health of the groups you join. The need for functional groups is so important that I will come back in later chapters to a more in depth look at how you can form your own groups.

This is from a book I am writing on Wattpad.

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