It is not a big challenge to build an argument that the world has gone
mad - the global financial meltdown, a house of cards in a high wind, if
ever I saw one; wars, famines, hunger, poverty, global warming, climate
change, growing shortage of drinkable fresh water, ... the list goes on
and on. All this in a world which has - or claims to have - greater
total wealth than at any time in history. (Though, according to a recent
news magazine, $6.5T has been lost in world markets on October 6 and 7.)
Hopelessness is an understandable response. Partly because of our
increased interconnectedness with and awareness of the rest of world, all
these problems have a feel to them which says we are too small to do
anything about something so big.
First Nation spirituality and tradition contain the suggestion that every
decision be made with awareness of its effect on the seventh generation
forward. We are discovering (very slowly!) that the decisions we make
now do indeed have long term consequences. DDT was one of the greatest
advances in agriculture the world had ever seen ... until, much later, we
began to notice its effects on every living thing it touched, including
but not limited to human beings. When our great-great-grandchildren
greet a silent spring, they (not we) will realize only too well that our
(not their) decisions lacked wisdom. Even now, Monsanto and other
companies continue to develop genetically modified seeds that choke out
natural crops, companies and research institutions patent various life
forms, in this money-obsessed world we spend vastly more on devices and
systems to kill people than on those which would feed people, ... we are
indeed a world gone mad.
If we cared only for our own welfare and only in the short term, we might
be able to muddle through. It would be like following the
Defense mentality which reared its ugly head when I was in primary and
elementary school in the US: Build a shelter in the back yard, stock it
with 2 years of food, hunker down, hoard, look for private advantage at
every turn ... And make sure your shelter contains a gun so you can ward
off neighbours who weren't smart enough to build their own shelters.
But that is not who and what and how we are. We have laid claim and made
commitment to affirming and promoting
the inherent worth and dignity of
every person; Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; ... the
goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; respect
for the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part. Opting
out of the world, no matter how mad it may have gone, is clearly not an
option. We are in it for the whole ride, simply and specifically because
we are a part of it for the whole ride.
In the face of lunacy on this scale, what do you and I do? Is living
hopefully a sure sign of terminal insanity? Can we, as some would
leave it to God? I would say
No, and quite emphatically.
Hope is an elusive quarry. Ernest Thayer, about 130 years ago, wrote of
that hope which springs eternal within the human breast. (Casey at the
Bat). I think he was a little off in that description. I do believe we
need some degree of hope to keep us moving. Sysiphus was a character in
Greek mythology who, according to Wikipedia, was
deceitful, violating the laws of hospitality by killing travelers and
guests. ... He seduced his niece, took his brother's throne and betrayed
Zeus's secrets. ... As a punishment from the gods for his trickery,
Sisyphus was compelled to roll a huge rock up a steep hill, but before he
could reach the top of the hill, the rock would always roll back down
again, forcing him to begin again. Sisyphus, eternally rolling his rock
up a hill only to see it roll back down again, was, I believe, worn down
less by the endless physical labour than by the sheer hopelessness of his
situation. (Whether that finally taught him some manners we don't know.)
I believe that we need hope in order to continue functioning in the
world, most particularly if functioning in the world involves, to some
extent, working to change the world. Hopelessness in that task will
ultimately wear us out, and leave us incapable of motion. Hope is
essential sustenance for us as we seek to live out our commitments and
aspirations. Lose hope, and living loses its luster. It is not hope for
something specific. I may hope everyone will have adequate and safe
drinking water within the next three years, and that is a good and
laudable hope. But the hope I am talking about here is a more general
one, along the lines of: I hope that creation unfolds in life-giving and
This hope that I am talking about is not something I, or we, can simply
generate from within ourselves. For me, hope arises from an internal
connection with an external reality. I believe, to the marrow of my
bones, that there is an interconnectedness that spans all of creation. I
believe that, even as I acknowledge that I don't know the extent of
creation. It is this underlying connectedness that grounds my hope, and
which, along with the human ability to think and to reason, grounds my
spirituality. I cannot solve the current financial insanity. That is
beyond my capacity as an individual. (But I might have a suggestion or
two for a few government types.) I cannot single-handedly arrange to
have potable water available for everybody, nor to have adequate food,
nor to have peace, nor a host of other things, no matter how much I may
desire them. I cannot stop, or reverse, global warming. But what my
sense of connectedness with all of creation does do for me is to help me
understand that I don't have to do all these things by myself. Whatever
I may do in any one area will be complemented by what you or someone else
does. It isn't essential that we do it together (though I do believe
that this kind of shared effort can bring very substantial returns). It
is only essential that I take some action. It also is not essential that
I see the results of whatever action I take. It took me a long time to
learn that social action is not so much about results as about doing. If
we become attached to the outcomes of our actions, we are setting
ourselves up for a loss of hope, of motivation, of the willingness to
engage fully with life. It is the understanding of our place in the
seamless web of creation which motivates us to work for the good of
none are free of hunger until all are fed,
none have enough
water until none are thirsty). This understanding also assures us that
our actions, no matter what their scale, do matter. It matters if I
drive at 105km/hr, rather than 120. It matters if I make it a priority
to favour food grown close to home over that imported from around the
continent or the globe. All of these things matter, though I will never
see the results of these actions directly. What we do connects in ways
we will never see with what others do. It has always been so, and always
will be. (It is true, by the way, for both good and evil - the evil done
in one place by one person connects in unseen ways with that done by
someone else somewhere else.)
Mother Theresa was a woman of great wisdom, great faith, and, as we have
come to discover after her death, great doubt. While I have some
substantial differences with her theology, I believe she grasped the same
essential truth that I am talking about when she wrote these words (which
are based on
The Paradoxical Commandments, written in 1968 by Dr. Kent
M. Keith). I will change the word
God in the final line to
partly because that fits better without substantially altering her
meaning, and partly because I'm preaching today and she isn't.
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some
genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best
In the final analysis, it is between you and [creation] God. It was
never between you and them anyway.
It is precisely this hope in a world gone mad that can keep us going on
the journey of health and wholeness for all.
Original Words by Kent Keith:
The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent M. Keith
- People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
- If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
- If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
- The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
- Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
- The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
- People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
- What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
- People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
- Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
© 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith
The Paradoxical Commandments were written by Kent M. Keith in 1968 as
part of a booklet for student leaders.
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a group of people.
They were all bound together, connected to each other like cogwheels.
They weren't physically bound together; what really held them together
was the fact that they lived by just one law - the law of mutual love.
They moved together, everyone looking out for everyone else. For them,
this was true happiness.
Story for all Ages - Cogwheels
But gradually, everything changed. They began to get selfish, and the
happiness they had always had gradually disappeared. They began to live
by very different laws. These were the laws of egoism, where everybody
tried to put themself first, ahead of everybody else. They wanted to
dominate other people, to use them in order to get some kind of
pleasure. They wanted honour and fame. They started trying to get more
knowledge, thinking that knowledge would give us more control over other
people. They tried to get more power, so they could make other people do
whatever they wanted them to. They tried to get more money - the more
the better -- because with it, a person can get just about anything they
want (or so they thought).
But all that, as it turned out, really didn't make them any happier. In
fact, it made things much, much worse. They started to distrust each
other, and even to hate each other. They became very unhappy indeed, and
all their energy went into doing things that only seemed to make their
lives more miserable.
It was only when they became really desperate that they remembered. Their
parents and grand-parents had told them stories, old, old stories, of a
time when everyone was truly happy. According to those stories, people
way back then were all connected with each other, just like cogwheels.
The more they remembered and told these ancient stories, they more they
longed to go back to that state. ... And so they did. It wasn't easy
to give up what they gotten used to, even though it had only made them
miserable, but gradually they did. They were all reunited together, like
many many cogwheels all turning together, and then they understood what
the really happy life is.