I just finished reading The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann and the final pages of the book reminded me of one of my favourite quotes, by Bhaktivinoda Thakura:
We love to read a book which we never read before. We are anxious to gather whatever information is contained in it and with such acquirement our curiosity stops. This mode of study prevails amongst a great number of readers, who are great men in their own estimation as well as in the estimation of those, who are of their own stamp. In fact, most readers are mere repositories of facts and statements made by other people. But this is not study. The student is to read the facts with a view to create, and not with the object of fruitless retention.
Students like satellites should reflect whatever light they receive from authors and not imprison the facts and thoughts just as the Magistrates imprison the convicts in the jail! Thought is progressive. The author’s thought must have progress in the reader in the shape of correction or development. He is the best critic, who can show the further development of an old thought; but a mere denouncer is the enemy of progress and consequently of Nature.
These words are like glasses on my eyes whenever I read a new book. I don’t soak up the new knowledge like a sponge. I rather let it sink in through a sieve that is neither critical nor gullible; it is simply contemplative and reflective. What comes out has a new tinge, shade, hue, taste.
Reading Thom Hartmann’s book wasn’t so much about getting new information. It was more about new points of view, logic and reasoning, and perspectives of the heart, too. The book made me remember how much power people have! Every revolution began with a simple thought of one person or a small group. It had to be an idea that sank deeply enough into the minds and hearts of sufficient number of people, evoked a strong positive reaction, and spread on rapidly like a really good joke. (Have you noticed how quickly good jokes spread on social networks?)
I had a discussion with friends the other day about the shape of progress (or revolution) that could be expected in the future. We agreed it’s not likely to take place as a unitary movement resembling a religion; it will rather be a very diverse, colourful, pluralistic transformation of the society bit by bit on the level of small communities or groups. The revolution is so much quieter because it is comprised of efforts that seem invisible individually, but as a whole they are immense. In this endeavour every single person counts more than they can imagine!
They are the satellites, reflecting the light of wise pioneers from around the world in an amazingly heterogeneous way. They do things in their own way and on a small scale but there are millions of them! Quite often it seems they actually have nothing in common. But that’s good! Sometimes their reflections of light become brighter than the suns whose light they are reflecting. The reflected light is much more beautiful and attractive than the source of light. To understand this, compare the beauty of a bulb to the beauty of a painting.
Laws or values
What is the central attraction of small revolutionaries? What do they have in common? Not the wording of their ideas, not the field of their activities, not the ideological or philosophical background, not their popularity. What they have in common are positive values. Not that they share the same set of values, they share having positive values.
I learned from Margaret Wheatley, values, not laws, determine a system in a society. Laws without values are like walls that determine the space of activity, but then the people set their own system of behaviour within those walls—including how to get around some of the restrictions, how exactly to follow the others.
The country that looses its values becomes a police state even before it becomes obvious that it is a police state.
In anything resembling the police state the “values” take shape in the form of reactions to the restrictions. Thus the values get a negative formulation: “We’re anti-this, anti-that and anti-other!” Therefore even the biggest modern “anti-capitalism”, “anti-globalisation”, “anti-consumption” movements actually support the police state by fighting against it. They should rather be basing their activities on positive values; those are the only real values, actually.
No present “democratic” country has positive values in their core. Practically all cultures existing today, except for small remnants of indigenous communities, are inherently (self-)destructive and caught up in sick social processes that define themselves through the opposition, through the enemy. Even the most basic concept of goodness is deeply distorted. As Noel Coward wrote: “It is discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.” Or as Bertrand Russell noticed: “Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man.”
Only clever people can form clever values. However, even clever people can’t do it for everyone, or instead of everyone. People have to do it for themselves.
A group of million people can’t set up their common values and determine their codes and laws based on those values. Values are alive and meaningful only when shared among small groups of people (up to a few hundreds or thousands) who also share the culture and ethics in close mutual interaction and interdependence—who, basically, know each other well. Yes, many values can be shared even by large groups of people, but not the entire system of values, which underlines the system of legislation. Only well connected and proportionately sized communities can create both of those systems one upon the other.
How to destroy destruction?
How do you know whether certain community has positive values?
Ask their members about the laws they abide by. Listen to them talking about those laws and observe their reactions. Are they being positive or negative about their laws? Do they feel the laws give them a sense of ethical framework of existence, or are the laws just meaningless bureaucratic regulations? Is there any relation between people’s personal values and the common laws of their community? Do they feel hopeful about the future?
In any community that has positive values, every member of the community is aware of her/his part in the community, s/he feels appreciated, valuable and important. The community’s code is a product of a common activity of all the members, and is followed out of respect for the community and the space it inhabits—including the neighbours, animals and plants, natural resources etc.
Interestingly enough, the new communities that are emerging around the world have little problem with the officials when they maintain out-of-the-box thinking and keeping positive values in their core. Some conflict with the existing legislations mostly comes with the progressive creations that are so new, that they haven’t (can’t?) really been legislated (low-impact building and agriculture, new technologies and infrastructure, participatory leadership structures etc.). In my opinion they shouldn’t be legislated at all, like common sense shouldn’t be legislated either.
Problems for the new communities, organisation or movements, appear when they become activists against some negativity in the society, when they become enemy to someone; thus they take up the negative identity and values and start playing the game by the rules of the predominant system. Against the forces of that system they don’t stand a chance! Trying to destroy a small enemy (no matter how justified the destruction is) actually turns them into supporters of the big enemy: negativity.
The solution is not fighting against it. That’s futile. You can’t destroy destruction. The solution lies in simple acts of positive creativity, regardless of destruction that continues all around. One of the first steps is assisting groups of people in determining their positive values, helping them gain trust in each other, and they will set up their own code of living that will be simple but luxurious, self-contained but open-minded, responsible but joyful, playful but graceful. Healing the society is only possible through creating as many as possible such communities that are based on positive values.
In such healthy communities people’s sense of ethics, and the values stemming from those ethics, leads to formation of strong internal community codes, whether formal or not. In many respects these codes are much stricter than any governmental legislation, and people will stick to such codes because they are their codes. They chose and created them, they were not enforced upon them.
Let’s be disarmingly positive
I’ve been thinking about all this lately, keeping in mind the future of our small community that is slowly emerging in Slovenia, and the arguments of the sceptics and critics that keep on saying: “You’ll never get it approved! The legislation doesn’t allow it!” No matter what the “it” in question is, they are saying it’s not going to happen – because of the legislation. But what they’re forgetting is that we’re not against legislation. We’re creating something totally new, something totally positive. And that’s totally disarming.
What is legislation, anyway? A set of restrictions to blindly follow? Or a set of guidelines that’s been created and shaped by people to serve people? It should be the last: sensible, flexible guidelines for people; however, it’s usually the first: a closed, senseless set of limitations.
Why? Because it’s not about people anymore! We have to become people again to be able to stand as people—defined by positive values and connections. People are not objects or numbers that silently allow dull mechanic levers to push them left and right. That’s slaves, not people.
Anthony de Mello said it so well: “Community is formed by emperors and princesses. You’re an emperor, you’re not a beggar. You’re a princess, you’re not a beggar. … You’re enjoying yourself and reality, and so you’re enjoying everybody because there’s no clinging, there’s no anxiety, there’s no fear, there’s no hangover, there’s no possessiveness, there are no demands. Free people form community not slaves.”
Now, here’s my plan: we’ll set up our community, create our own code, legislation, whatever you want to call it. If we ever have to face a bureaucrat, we’ll show him our code and say: “Our code comes from our positive values, from our positive culture and ethics. It is much stricter than the state legislation in the issues that matter (natural ethics, ecology, sustainability, self-sufficiency, safety, health etc.). The code was created by the people for the people and in respect for all life.”
I think William McDonnough put the key question of all positive value codes in the most concise possible wording: “How do we love all children of all species for all times?”
Let’s do the right positive thing
If a bureaucrat tried to drag me into a fight, into negative values of the present system, I’d simply give him two quotes by Martin Luther King: “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
And: “Cowardice asks the question, Is it safe? Expediency asks the question, Is it politic? Vanity asks the question, Is it popular? But conscience asks the question, Is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience says it is right.”
I’d say that because we have positive values, we know that what we are doing is right. I’d say our values are bound to lead to long term positive solutions in the interest of all life; thus we’re automatically following all the state laws that benefit life in general. Our positive values have led us to formulate codes that protect life of our own species and other species of life, in the environment we share. Our codes are stricter than the state and municipal laws. We’re not escapist or anarchist, we’re pioneers of sustainable yet opulent future. We’re not restoring the past, we’re co-creating the future.
We think that legislation needs to become simpler and more direct, it needs to grow from trust and openness. The main problem of the present legislative system is it tries to protect every element of the system from any irregularity, from any enemy that could harm the system. The existence of the entire system actually depends on it having enemies! Without enemies it looses the reason to be. The consequences are appalling, as an anonymous author well noticed: “Make it too tough for the enemy to get in and you can’t get out.” A closed, fear-based legislature creates closed minded, frightened people, caught up in their own demise. You probably face one every morning when you look in the mirror.
It doesn’t have to be this way. This is a very recent phenomenon. Think about the history of humanity, about the lineage of 5000 of your grandmothers and grandparents who lived in harmony with their environment. Then think about a few dozens of your recent ancestors that were poisoned by destructive negative values, and you’ll understand why the title of this post is The last hours of fleeting negativity.
For thousands of years human communities thrived on positive values, only recently have they began destroying each other on the basis of negative values, and defining their identity as something that’s opposite to what their enemy is: antiterrorist, antifascist, anti-Semitic, anti-republican, anti-democrat, anti-poverty, anti-religious, anti-imperialistic … And the only solution we can come up with is to declare war against them!
The present civilization, based on such madness (or should I say anti-saneness), is bound to disintegrate itself sooner or later. Anti-identity doesn’t really exist, anti-people are basically dead people even while living. But I am certain pro-people in diverse communities around the world will survive the crisis and heal the planet with positive values, they will revive and co-create. I am really positive on that! And if I had one wish, that would be it.
I know my blog post won’t change the world. It’s just words. But if these words make a few people think … and act, my writing will not be in vain. Hopefully the readers will act from the depth of their positive values, not merely from the vacuum in dissatisfaction with what’s at hand.
Let’s sum it up: to “save the world” get together with a bunch of people; find your common positive values; create a community based on those values; don’t fight against “enemies”; and, finally, in the words of Thom Hartmann from Last Days of Ancient Sunlight: “Return to the ancient and honest ways in which humans participated in the web of life on the Earth, seeing yourselves and all things as sacred and interpenetrated. Listen to the voice of all life, and feel the heartbeat of Mother Earth.”