Sunday, January 23, 2011

On peace, spirit and the environment

After having written a little bit about war and its relationship with the environment last week, I want to write a little bit about peace, spirit and the environment. I was particularly prompted into thinking about this after having read Hendrik Hertzberg's comment in this week's The New Yorker, "Words and Deeds," which talked about the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. In it, I found out that one of the fundraisers for the opponent running against her, Jesse Kelly, was gun-themed, and one of his posters actually shows him holding a gun.

In all that has happened with this shooting, which of course, is sad but not at all surprising, I find clear parallels between how we view and treat ourselves and how we interact with other people with how we view ourselves within the environment, and how we treat the environment. We seem to find it tasteful and necessary to portray ourselves as manly, fully capable and willing to use violent force to make sure that our point gets across. Brushed aside are our abilities to show care, concern and kindness, and brought in are justifications to resort to war as a "last resort."

It seems to me that there is a lack of peace within us. In fact, being peaceful and thoughtful is made to seem passive and subservient. When we find it tasteful to use guns against other people, and use guns as a sign of power and control, we will no doubt find it tasteful to use bombs to blow tops off of mountains to reach for coal - indeed this is a sign of power and control, not over people in this case, but the environment. What may be hindering our cause to find harmony and peace with nature is the violence we are able to perpetrate against our own kind. Or maybe our ability and willingness to perpetrate violence against nature, beautiful and delicate, is standing in the way of finding peace with our own kind. In the end, if we cannot find peace within us, we cannot find peace without us. 

I believe that if we find peace within ourselves and where we are, we can radically redefine notions of "progress" and "community." When I say peace, I in no way mean complacency. When I say peace, I mean that we recognise, understand and internalise our place in the world, our place in our communities, our place within our families, and our place in our own minds and bodies. Being at peace doesn't necessarily mean being satisfied with where we are ethically and morally; clearly, given our increasingly complex world, much of the complexity of which is man-made, there are ways in which we need to be redefining what it means to interact with each other, what it means to be a good citizen and a good steward. As a society as a whole, we are far from the ethical, moral and spiritual heights we need to be at to fully understand our impact on other humans, as well as the environment. There is no way we can envision a sustainable future when we find peace in violence. But if we can find peace in where we are materially and in physical place, we will have reached some level of peaceableness with the environment. Peace with the environment allows us the time to think and appreciate about its marvels, of which humans are one. Such a peace will not allow us to use violent force against any aspect of our environment, humans included.

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