My friend Christine expressed concern about the environmental effects of flying recently. She decided not to fly to a conference, partly because she felt it would have been unjustifiable, a selfish indulgence.
What she wrote about this decision touched something in me, which I will try to unfold here.
Christine spoke about the way in which flying seems so interwoven with North American life. "It's hard for them to imagine a life with little or no flying."
She commented that "new US president George Bush is a disaster in this (and many other) respects, as he even refuses to acknowledge the Kyoto treaties."
I have found being in the States truly disturbing. There is a kind of taking consumption for granted, which is unfamiliar.
And to see my friend standing nervously in her house, opening the garage by remote control, sprinting over to jump in the car and switch on the air-conditioning .... it was strange and worrying! It was not that hot.
There was a kind of disconnection from life and nature, that scared and saddened me.
As for the Kyoto agreement. Well, at least I finally feel that the environmental issues that have had me so scared for 30 years are at last big news.
On the other hand, the power of the big corporations is astonishing.
Christine asked me: "I had a hunch I read an article by your hand in which you shared your concerns. If I rightly remember your future perspective was very gloomy. Did you ever get any response?"
Yes, I was deeply gloomy. I still think the facts are against us. I got a sheaf of letters afterwards. But I've finally learned to live without drowning in pessimism all the time.
She wondered whether there is anything we can do to make the issue more alive within the Focusing community? Or do we "just wait and pray?"
I really don't know. There's a whole problem about having a community which is self-defined by an activity which is supposed to be "value-neutral".
I don't believe in this value-neutral thing. I think Carl (Rogers) was thoroughly confused, when he introduced the bunch of concepts centred on being "non-directive".
Though of course we want to BE non-directive in one sense. I don't want to block the unfolding life in you, by imposing on it my system of pre-packaged rights-and-wrongs.
But if I am listening to you, I want to be sitting (myself) right in the middle of my own values. I need to be very clear that people's values differ. Three of my values ARE: that I should be willing to listen; and not to impose; and to change as my understanding deepens.
But others of my values are: that to leave a ruined planet to our heirs is not ok; and that for the rich to live in style whilst the poor are oppressed and starving is not ok.
And at a personal level: children, the vulnerable and the old should be cared for; abuse should not happen; the unhappy, the tedious and the unattractive should not be shunned.
I have no intention of putting those values down, truly. I can't see that it would help anybody if I did - either as a Focusing listener, or in the rest of my life.
When I speak to a Tibetan lama, I rest in the marvellous stability of his values.
When I read the reports from Amnesty International and the Medical Foundation Against Torture; or from Greenpeace and the WWF; or from Oxfam and Survival International: I am ashamed that I do so little.
I am totally with Mencius, in his claim that shame (THAT kind of shame!) is a good thing.
So here I'm profoundly opposed to the live-and-let-live view of values, because it's really live-and-let-die.
It easily turns into a consumer ethic of short-term selfishness, especially in the wider social climate of the modern world.
There is more to living than to sit quietly at home saying, "What do I want? What would be MY fulfilment?"
Of course I will be self-centred, and make as much money as I can, and spend it all on my immediate loved ones, if I have no larger over-arching picture.
But how could I live with myself, without that bigger view? Heaven knows, even with it, most of my actions are aimed narrowly at personal pleasure.
I'm sorry. I hope I'm not bombarding you with my feelings. There's a lot of feeling here, which is fairly incoherent, and which does not often feel heard ....
.... No, actually, that's just the problem. My world is full of people who are most tenderly willing to HEAR anything ....
.... but are not willing to agree, yes, values matter, and to ACT.
People have been taught that they should keep their ethical convictions for their own Focusing time, and not bring them forward as a matter for the community. We have been taught (another value from the value-neutral)) that values are relative, and should be private.
I feel this is foolish and wrong. And I think so, too!
The ground is difficult, here. Gene (I think) thinks of traditional values as a rigid, oppressive scheme. I don't see it like that. People have been trying to act wisely and generously for uncounted thousands of years.
It seems to me that we have lots to learn from them.
I don't see the person who is Focusing as having a totally new view of how to live, which has to be left to emerge all by itself from an inchoate creative mesh. When I am listening, I seem to see over and over again people who are trying to feel their way towards right action through often deep confusion: and who feel their way in a consistent direction, because there are deep common human values in us.
It can only be helpful, if the community explore publicly what those deep common human values are.
So now I need to say the opposite. I said before, "People's values differ." Now I need to say:-
Values are universal, and should be public!
We just HAVE to put something over and against the commercial values of advertisers and big business, which are so heavily propagated all around us.
And yes, I don't want to be grandiose, but I DO think it is urgent, a matter of survival.
"Value-neutrality" is a decadent doctrine, and we live in times too urgent.
2nd August 2001
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