What a Wonderful World It Would Be - Part 1

Posted by A.C. Ping
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“Never let fear win in any part of your life or it will take hold and permeate through your whole life”

Recently I have had the great privilege of running some workshops on Ethics and Sustainability for University students and I have been struck by a sense of powerlessness in the face of some of the great problems facing the world today.

I guess in the age of distraction in which we live it is often easier to lose oneself in the daily barrage of text, email, twitter, Facebook and You tube, only coming up for air to sleep a little before beginning it all over again. All the while being and living in the comfort of a story that goes something like “Yeah the world is fu*#@ed but what can we do about it anyway…”

Understandable given the deflation that comes from watching World leaders gather in Copenhagen to discuss climate change only to come away from it with a few extra frequent flier miles and a pocket full of business cards. Oh, and a carbon footprint the size of Alaska…

So, here we are in this age of distraction.

What must we do?

Ethics is all about asking the question of ‘What is a good life and how ought we to live?’

We all have a good idea of how to answer this question but few of us are able to deconstruct our thinking enough to get to the root of the issues and actually argue a point. All too easy to just let others run the World but then again that leaves us with Copenhagen…

So… feeding into this core question are three other questions: What’s right? – in terms of a black and white idealistic view of the world; What’s good? – in terms of what would be a good outcome; and, What’s fitting? – in terms of what is culturally fitting.

Idealists stand in the ‘What’s right’ box.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
Martin Luther King Jr.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”
Eleanor Roosevelt

“My freedom cannot be separated from your freedom.”
Nelson Mandela

Consequentialists stand in the ‘What’s good’ box. They are focussed on the outcomes and are always trying to calculate the plusses and the minuses and then make a decision on how to act. They are not so keen on ideals but more on self interest. As the underlying philosophy for free markets, money and the accompanying cost benefit equation is always present. Reason and justification are key.

“We're sorry for the massive disruption it's caused to their lives… There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I'd like my life back”
BP CEO Tony Hayward on the Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

"The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there.
It's natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is."
Rush Limbaugh, May 3, 2010, on the BP Oil Spill

"Without countries like the US, China or India, making decisive commitments, UK competitiveness will undoubtedly suffer if we act alone. This would be bad for business, bad for the economy and ultimately bad for our climate."
Miles Templeman, Director-General of the UK Institute of Directors

The ‘What is fitting?’ question is the cultural context. Fifty years ago no one had heard of climate change, we smoked inside, women bathing topless were arrested, we smacked our kids and we could burn off our own rubbish.

In trying to decide how we ought to live we juggle these three questions. However, if there was a train heading off into the future then at the head of the train would be the idealists. They push the boundaries of society outwards by standing up and fighting for ideals.

“A value isn’t a value unless you are willing to pay a price to uphold it”

The consequences of their actions are long term and the price they sometimes pay is high.

But the results change the world.

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”
John F. Kennedy

“I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I am free to be what I want.”
Muhammad Ali, Feb 25th 1964, speaking to reporters after defeating Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. In reference to dropping his slave name Cassius Clay and becoming Cassius X

At the foundation of ideals are values like – freedom, equality, justice, love, respect, compassion.

Talk is cheap so Values must move from head to the hand. From thinking to doing.

“Character is action.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Through taking actions aligned to our values we become that person. From doing to being. From the hand to the heart.

Power is given to the idealist through the use of will.

“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities
because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”
Winston Churchill

At the back of the train though are the consequentialists. The cynical part of me would say that they are sitting in the club car smoking cigars making deals.

They argue from the basis of reason. Reason that allows for the compromise of ideals and the values that underpin them. It’s wrong to kill people but it’s ok in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s wrong to destroy the environment and take away the well being of future generations but it costs too much to do something now. We’d like to do something about climate change but others won’t so why should we.

“An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind.”

If you did a survey of everyone in the World and asked them: “In an idealist black and white world of right and wrong is it right to kill people?” I’d bet that apart from a few crazies you’d get an overwhelming response in the negative.

So, what stops us from going there?

Are we afraid to dream of the possibility of a world where there is no war?

“Imagine all the people
Living life in peace”
John Lennon

In our discussions at the University it came down to FEAR of the consequences. FEAR that if we don’t have the guns and the bombs and the boats and the submarines and the jets and the helicopters then someone else might come and take what we have.

So, somewhere in the middle of the train is the ‘fitting’ carriage. Full of all the people that are living in the context created by the battle between the idealists and those who would claim to be the ‘realists’. Trapped in this carriage are many people tied to the story of powerlessness unsure whether to move forwards or back.

Will versus Reason.

Love and Courage versus Fear and Greed.

Would you aspire to live in a better world and do something about it by acting on your heart felt values?

Could we eliminate fear by spreading love?

What if everyone was doing what they loved to do? What if everyone had the courage to align their actions with their values? To align their head and hands with their heart.

What a wonderful world it would be.

“Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is very important that you do it. Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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