We live in challenging times. An unpredictable and possible dangerous new President looms in the United States, one who threatens to rip up agreements that realistically represent the last chance for us to spare the world from catastrophic climate change.
And of course the usual horrors of war, oppression and cruelty continue as ever –now brought to us in graphic detail by 24 hour rolling news and often vicious and untruthful social media.
It is easy to become demoralised. Individually, we have little power over international agreements and governmental decisions and giant corporations (though that should never stop us speaking out and acting and demonstrating).
But we do have influence on our own immediate environment – the place we live and the people and animals and plants we live amongst and interact with. The darker the world gets, the more we have to cleave to the power of thinking globally and acting locally.
Many of us do this by embracing health and wellbeing – supporting sustainable agriculture by buying natural and organic foods, exercising well, spending time in nature and maybe working to protect natural environments, trying to reduce our negative impact on the planet.
But it’s salutary to remember that these activities in themselves are ethically neutral. The Nazi party in Germany, for example, espoused nature walking, environmentalism, tree planting, vegetarianism, homoeopathy, organic agriculture and healthy exercise in the open air.
This tells us that to be whole and wholesome, we have to weave other qualities into our lives and practice – friendliness, compassion, care and love of others, honesty and humility. And we need to remember that these qualities may not always be present in those who practise and teach healthy lifestyles – beset as they sometimes are by narcissism and delusions of grandeur. My guess is we’ve all encountered people like this.
So let’s embrace these vital human qualities in our own lives and weigh up our teachers and mentors according to the degree to which they embody them. As the Dalai Lama said, “my religion is kindness.”
… To finish – a Jewish joke. Two women are talking. One asks the other, “tell me who makes the decisions in your family?”
“That’s easy”, her friend replies, “I make the small decision and my husband makes the big ones”.
“Give me examples – what kind of small decisions do you make?”
“I decide where we live, what we eat, where the children go to school, where we go on holiday, what we spend our money on.”
“Wow” her friend says. “If those are the small decisions, what are the big decisions your husband makes?”
“That’s easy. He decides, should the UK bomb Syria, should Donald Trump cancel all free trade agreements, should Gareth Southgate be the new England soccer manager.”