See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil
Why does this old expression—See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil—come to mind when I think about our multiple planetary challenges and crises? The main reason is that for a variety of reasons many of us don't want to look, hear or talk about the problems we face. Who does?! We can feel helpless, hopeless and powerless in the face of all the social and environmental crises before us. These are scary times we live in. Fear can impel us to fight, flee or freeze. In all cases we tend to not want to see or hear or speak about how awful it is. But unless we take the clouds from our eyes, remove the hands from our ears and open our mouths to talk about what we face, we have little chance of solving our problems.
Sometimes it is hard to bear the constant barrage of news about the violence, suffering, deaths and destruction in all parts of the world without becoming immobilized with grief, helplessness and despair. Doing something—anything—is about the furthest thing in our minds. It almost seems counterintuitive to take action, but that is exactly what we are called to do now. I often turn to the work and wisdom of well-known activist and teacher, Joanna Macy, for direction. She calls us to the first, and hardest, step—acknowledging and expressing “our pain for the world;” anger, fear, guilt, grief, confusion, helplessness. Allowing our hearts to break open connects us with compassion for all who are suffering, which paradoxically brings us more inner peace and energy for doing something to alleviate suffering. I invite you to read this brief interview with her for more understanding of her teaching. I’ve written more about coping with despair in my February 2015 post, “Transforming Despair.”
How do we stay informed and positive, and take effective action to share our gifts and energies to create the world that is caring, just and sustainable?
Inform: We each have an area or areas we’re most passionate about: climate change; single-use plastic; zero waste; clean energy; immigration; education; animal rights; social justice. Whatever it may be, go there. Get engaged there. Educate yourself about the issues.
Stay positive: Keep a balanced diet of news so the negative is matched by the positive. Engage with others who share your passion. It helps to know others feel as you do. We are not alone. We are strongest in community. Know what boosts your spirits when you feel hopeless and despairing. We can get worn down and worn thin by personal and global life circumstances so we need to know what keeps us in good spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health. We need to give ourselves plenty of nurturing, loving self-care.
Take effective action: Know what our goals are. For me the short answer is creating a world that works for all of us—the planet first and foremost. We often think that the most effective action is petitioning and marching and voting—that sort of obvious action. But it’s important to remember that connecting with people, listening and caring about their situation, and being kind is a big action. We need to see and act toward people as fellow and sister human being apart from our superficial identities of gender, ethnicity, age, whatever. Follow your heart. Or as Andrew Harvey says, "Follow your heartbreak" and put energy there with "joyful responsibility and exertion." Small things count: an email or call to a member of Congress, a letter to the editor, folding paper cranes with your intention of flying peace over the world.
We are all in the same boat. We all need to see what's going on and pick up our collective oars to get where we want to go. Personally I want to build a caring, compassionate, kind, generous, just and sustainable culture. I want to build a true democracy. I know I am not alone, and that keeps me pulling on my oar.
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