A Clearer View on Social and Environmental Problems
Around this time of year, I tend to get a feeling of my mind becoming sharper and more focussed on what needs to be done to meet the future. Social justice and environmental problems have been crystallising and becoming more apparent. Looking over the last year and a half the main thing that has been revealed is the massive inequalities between people, the huge gap between the rich and the poor of the world. Why are there still many who have to trek for an hour to gain access to water, which is often unsafe to drink?
Awareness of Privilege
It is easy to take our privileges for granted if we have been brought up in a colonising country, particularly if we are seen as part of the dominant culture. In addition, we are prone to imagining our own experience is the only one that needs consideration. A consequence of this is that it is easy to turn a blind eye to injustice that goes on in our name. We do it all the time. When for instance, we purchase foods, goods and services that are cheaper than their real cost because of low wages and unfair working conditions.
Aparigraha, Living Well with Less
Not everyone can afford the premium prices for fairly-traded goods. Another way we can address the injustice inherent within consumption is to simplify: consume less and buy less. This is practising non-hoarding or non-greed – an ethical observance known in yoga as aparigraha. I love that many younger people now get most of their clothes second-hand and the amazing uniqueness and creativity that comes from this way of dressing. Also, there are apps that simplify giving away or lending items to neighbours such as food (Olio); cars (hiyacar), lots of other stuff (freecycle or streetbank).
Where there is Oppression, Everyone Suffers
My recent studies of oppression have revealed that it is not only the oppressed person who is harmed greatly. The oppressor also feels an amount of unconscious grief, guilt and helplessness about the power dynamics in our society. A consequence of oppression can be a total lack of feeling, a numbness, which can be felt by both parties. This might not be discernible in everyday life, but can lie under the surface of our interactions, creating a loss of connection to, respect for, and trust of, our fellow human beings and the whole of the natural world. We are frequently asked to bear with the unbearable (ecological destruction, war, massive inequalities) creating a cognitive dissonance that, if prolonged and unresolved, can lead to addiction, anxiety and depression.
This feeling of disconnection is one area we can seek to heal. We can learn to change our behaviours in order to resolve that feeling of being at odds with our own values and beliefs. We can empower ourselves by standing in our own truth – a yogic principle known as satya. We can learn to speak and listen in less harmful ways, so that we discover what connects us to others, rather than what divides us – this principle of non harming is called ahimsa. And we can live more simply, with less stuff – the principle of non-hoarding or non-greed, aparigraha.
Listening to Connect
Through deep listening (listening to connect, rather than listening to correct) we can explore truly how it feels to be in another person’s shoes. In this way, we might develop compassion for others and expand our awareness to include a wider range of viewpoints. This allows the synthesis of the best ideas and approaches from a diverse range of people, which can create innovative, inclusive solutions to the global problems we face.
A Culture of Kindness
Together, we can create a culture that makes collaboration, curiosity and kindness the norm. We can actively replace the tendencies that have been instilled in us to be competitive, critical and cursory with the less harmful ways of relating. This is how we create a safer, more peaceful world.