Posts Tagged ‘Quakers’

Circles of concern, circles of influence

I just read an article in the current issue of The Canadian Friend that resonated very strongly with me. In “Making Peace With Our Place on the Planet”, Tony McQuail of Kitchener Monthly Meeting writes:

Something that has been helpful to me is distinguishing between my circle of concern and my circle of influence. If I spend a vast amount of time and energy worrying about the things out in my circle of concern, I can get pretty wound up, frustrated, and lose my inner peace. When I concentrate on my circle of influence I feel far more positive, and bring a hopeful and constructive energy to bear on situations where I actually have some impact. It helps me work on what I can do, rather than worry about what I can’t.

This is a very helpful way of thinking, to me. I spend a lot of time in this job listening to bad news, much of it coming from distant places where I can’t have much if any direct impact, or occurring on a scale too vast to be affected by individual will. This is generally the point where despair sets in.

It’s sometimes hard, too, to figure out what exactly my “circle of influence” is. I know that I could be doing more than I am. I could put in more volunteer hours than I do. I could donate more money to causes I care about. I could, when my current job ends, go and join the Peace Corps and spend the next few years building schools in Africa or whatever. The point is, there’s this large nebulous zone just outside the things I can currently have a positive impact on, full of things I could have a positive impact on if I had more strength, more willpower, more energy, less time commitments, less emotional entanglements, less ties to the place where I live – if I were, in short, a different person altogether. For me, that leads to more guilt than it probably ought to, and that feeds the despair too.

Maybe it’s helpful to remind myself what exactly my circle of influence is.

My garden is the first thing that comes to mind. A large part of Tony McQuail’s article is about his farm, and the ways in which food production is linked to oil and thence to war and violence. I don’t have the skill to grow some things (celery, so far, has been a dismal failure) or the environment to grow other things (chickens, say, or pineapples – damn you, delicious pineapples, and your inability to thrive in the St. Lawrence Lowlands!), but my boyfriend and I can generally get our quota of vegetables entirely from the garden during the peak tomato-producing months.

Another group within my circle of influence is my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances, with whom I walk a fine line between wanting to mention when they’re doing something environmentally terrible (“You know you shouldn’t be seting Styrofoam on fire, right?”) and wanting to actually keep said friends. Generally I find perky enthusiasm a lot more helpful than nagging. (“Guess what I saw today! Recycled paper coffee filters! Those used to be impossible to find! Isn’t it great how many more recycled products you can get these days? I feel so much less guilty going shopping when I can get recycled stuff, don’t you?”)

Then there’s the other people in my environment, who I don’t necessarily know but who can see me bicycling, or using a refillable mug, or darning my socks on the bus, or whatever, and might think it’s a good idea. I don’t know how much that actually happens, but it’s certainly happened to me a few times. Besides, it’s a critical mass thing – how many people do you see now using reusable grocery bags? Practically everyone. There’s social pressure about it now. Several times in the past month I’ve seen people apologize (to the cashier, or to the other customers at large) for taking plastic bags. This is a positive step. (The next step is for the supermarkets to just stop offering plastic bags altogether. They’re already doing it in Halifax. Come on, Montreal, do you always want to be trailing behind Halifax??)

There’s my government, of course. Sometimes, like everyone else, I feel I have next to no impact on the decisions of the government that theoretically represents me. But I write letters to them anyway. And hey, we finally got Peter McQueen elected; that has to do some good.

There are my consumer decisions – what to buy, what to wear, where to shop. I’ve finally got my clothes-buying algorithm mostly figured out. (The Salvation Army figures prominently.)

Finally (and by “finally” I mean “I’m probably forgetting something”), there’s this blog, and its literally tens of readers (“Dozens! Baker’s dozens! They come in thirteens.”). Writing for a living has always been my goal, though admittedly I usually visualise that as involving fiction. But I’ve always thought writing was one of our most powerful tools for shaping the world. The amount of positive response that Right Relationship has received over the past year has been truly staggering, and I want to make sure to keep that firmly in mind as I continue in my own writing career in the months and years ahead. I know I now have the skill to write well enough to get people interested in what I have to say; now let’s see if I can make sure I’m saying something worth reading.

Moral analysis

Here’s a great article about our project from Resurgence Magazine by Jack Santa Barbara, the Director of the Sustainable Scale Project and Associate of the Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University.

The neoclassical economic paradigm that has been so successful at providing material goods is clearly identified as the main culprit in both the destruction of ecological systems and the creation of enormous inequities that characterise the current condition of our special planet. As the authors point out, the economy is about relationships, as is ecology. And the current relationships we humans have with both are wrong. They are wrong because our economic activities are destroying the life-support systems for the commonwealth of life that sustain us, and these same activities reward those who least need more and disadvantage those whose needs are greatest.

The authors’ analysis of the problem we face is not new, but what is different about Right Relationship is the moral basis for both the analysis and the solutions offered. And what may be even more refreshing for some is that the moral basis is not derived from a ‘sacred text’ but from the fundamental truths of science. Many of these truths are also included in sacred texts, so there is not a conflict but rather an integration of traditional spiritual values with the more recent perspective of current scientific inquiry.

Click to read the whole article.

More news: Right Relationship gets a good recommendation in the Maple Ridge News from BC.

Oh, and in the category of “making me feel like a giant wimp”, here’s Ryan Stotland, who is bicycling 12,000 km to raise money against skin cancer and climate change. Donations for his ride will go to the David Suzuki Foundation and the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.

Symposium videos, part one!

That’s right – the videos from the May 15-16 Montreal symposium are now ready to go! Here’s the first bunch – bear with me here, this is going to be a bit of a long post. More videos to follow shortly!

Stuart Myiow gives the “words that come before all else”:

Geoff Garver introduces the symposium:

Peter G. Brown summarizes what’s wrong with the world today:

The Governance panel:

Which takes us to the lunch break, I think? More videos to follow!

Update: Sorry, didn’t realize there was another one for the Governance panel:

Videos – at last!

Okay, I have finally learned how to post Vimeo videos to this blog – huzzah! The following two videos are from our May symposium in Montreal. The first is Thomas Lovejoy, Biodiversity Chair at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment. The second is Laurie Michaelis of the Living Witness Project. Laurie is presenting by audio linkup from the UK, because he has eschewed flying due to its high environmental impact. (Although if this thing ever becomes commercially viable, maybe we’ll get him over here someday.) Enjoy the videos, and watch for more coming soon!

They also serve…

There’s a Quaker joke (not a terribly good one, I admit, but have you ever heard any good Quaker jokes? yeah, me neither) about a man who comes into Meeting for Worship and is puzzled by the lack of anything obvious happening, so he leans over to the Friend next to him and whispers “Excuse me, when does the service start?” The Friend shrugs and answers, “When the Meeting for Worship ends.”

The idea that service – to each other, to the community, to the world – is an integral part of a person’s religious life is found in many faith traditions; one expression of it that particularly speaks to me is the Dalai Lama’s emphasis on the importance of “universal responsibility”. More generally, it comes back to the idea of mindfulness: that whatever work or task we are engaged in should be an expression of our values and our commitment to doing good in the world as we perceive it.

Which is not to say, of course, that there aren’t a fair number of good and moral reasons to take on a job that goes contrary to one’s own values – dire financial straits being the one most usually cited. Not gonna lie, it’s a tricky balance, and the fact that a lot of us have to make those kinds of choices on a daily basis, between obeying our conscience and paying our rent, is maybe the best expression of the fundamental flaws in our economic system that I can think of right now.

Here’s a poem I’ve always liked, by Octavia Butler, from The Parable of the Sower (a brilliant book, incidentally):

Respect God:
Pray working.
Pray learning,
planning,
doing.
Pray creating,
teaching,
reaching.
Pray working.
Pray to focus your thoughts,
still your fears,
strengthen your purpose.
Respect God.
Shape God.
Pray working.

A Quaker response to climate change

Britain Yearly Meeting has just posted a statement on their website from Susan Seymour, Clerk, Meeting for Sufferings. I’m just going to post it in its entirety:

“The crisis of global climate change represents a supreme test of humanity’s collective wisdom and courage. Our immoderate use of the Earth’s resources violates the entire biosphere, threatening the lives of millions of people and the habitats of thousands of species. Many of the poorest people are already suffering a changed climate; they are asking us all to act.

How has humanity produced this crisis? Our faith response is that prevailing social values have obscured what it means to live authentically on this Earth. In rich European countries we consume more than we need within an economic system that divides us as a society; in much that we do, we cause harm to the planet and each other without enriching our lives.

The Earth is God’s work and not ours to do with as we please. We recall Gandhi’s saying, often quoted by Quakers: ‘Live simply that others may simply live’. As a Quaker community, we do try to live what we believe, guided by the values of simplicity, truth, equality and peace. Too often we fall short of honouring them. Climate change is challenging us to ask anew what our faith leads us to do.

As individuals and as a community, we are now making the difficult decisions and plans necessary to limit our ecological impact to a sustainable level. With encouragement from one another, we are progressively reducing our reliance on non-renewable resources while stepping up our campaign for wider social change. As a small religious society, we take heart in belonging to a community of faith groups and others working towards the same goals in a hopeful spirit.

We gladly take up our responsibility and call for unprecedented international cooperation to enable the large cuts in global emissions which are required. This will be a difficult road to travel but we are prepared to support decision-makers in taking the radical steps necessary. We appreciate progress made and uphold decision-makers as they navigate conflicting priorities, yet we challenge them to hold faith with the goal and not bend to short-term expediency.

An inequitable global agreement on climate change could lead to forced migrations and serious conflict. Any agreement must put the world’s poorest first; it falls to richer countries to bear the greater burden of responsibility for change. The goal is achievable but priorities will need to change: currently, the majority of states commit more resources to warfare than to tackling climate change.

Where we see crisis, we also see opportunity to remake society as a communion of people living sustainably as part of the natural world. By leading the simpler lives of a low-carbon society, we draw nearer to the abundance of peace, freedom and true community. Our faith in common humanity gives hope; love, rather than fear, can still lead us through this crisis.”

Susan Seymour
Clerk, Meeting for Sufferings
Britain Yearly Meeting
June 2009

This statement has been endorsed by the Europe and Middle East Section of Friends World Committee for Consultation. See their statement here.

Update: This is now an official minute of British Yearly Meeting. (Scroll down to section 32.)

Elsewhere on the internets…

Just a quick note today: I want to give you folks out in blogland a quick rundown of all the other ways you can get in touch with the Moral Economy Project.

– On Twitter, we are @moraleconomy – come follow us!
– We have a discussion board on WiserEarth, where we’re posting all the material from our May symposium, among other things. We invite everyone to sign up and contribute to the discussion.
– We are on Facebook – you need to be signed in to your Facebook account for this link to work, I think.
– Our website, which is probably how most of you got here in the first place, is http://www.moraleconomy.org.

Finally, several people have contacted me about the Quaker Institute for the Future website, so: yes, we know it was down, but it is now back.