Sunday, September 25, 2011

Quotable Quote

... we don’t just make maps of places. We make maps of everything. If you’ve ever baked a cake, put oil in your car, tied your shoes, or changed your underwear (and I hope you’ve done at least one of these) you have a map of the process in your brain. If you can whistle or hum a tune it’s because you’ve heard the tune, made a map of it, and are following that map as you play back the melody. In fact, everything you’ve ever done in your life, everything anyone else has ever told you about — even if you thought they were lying or crazy and you made a mental guess at the truth — has been turned into a map in your brain....

"We make maps and we use them to get around in life. But what happens if a map is wrong? Imagine you want to go from Point A to Point B. You pick up a map or create one yourself but it’s completely messed up. It’s got roads mislabeled, roads indicated where there are none, swamps and rivers where the actual roads are, and so on. How well are you going to travel using this map? And what if Point B, the place we want to get to, isn’t a physical place? What if we’re reading screwed-up maps to places like “Success,” “Happiness,” “Manhood,” “Honor” and “the Good Life”?

Read more about how your map of reality affects your perception of the world and your wholeness in Stepping Up: Wholeness Ethics for Prisoners and Those Who Care About Them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Troy Davis and Wholistic Justice

Last night the state of Georgia killed Troy Davis. This is certainly not the only state killing recently, but it’s been creating a bit more buzz than such deaths normally do.
Obviously the death penalty in any instance is an ethical issue. When I apply the standard of “doing only what increases wholeness in myself and in the world” to the taking of human life, I can only conclude that unless the person is a direct threat to others, it doesn’t pass the standard. I can’t see how such an act increases wholeness, nor can I see it as an expression of reverence, goodwill or justice.
Of course many people who support the death penalty do so on the very grounds that justice demands it. When such people say the word “justice,” however, what they mean is “retributive justice,” and I think we should take the time to properly identify what we’re talking about. When we identify retributive justice as simply “justice,” we imply there’s no alternative way of thinking about justice or at least not one worthy of consideration. This is not the case.
Retributive justice is the justice of giving people what we think they deserve. Another form of justice is wholistic/restorative justice. This is the justice of giving people (all people concerned) what they need to be whole, not what we think they deserve for failing to be whole.
By telling us that justice is giving people what they deserve, the supporters of retribution are giving us a false choice — either you’re for giving people what they deserve or you’re for letting them get away with hurting others. They don’t want us to think about the other alternatives, but when we think about giving people what they need as a form of justice, we realize that justice might be more than merely hurting those who hurt us. Indeed, we already have a name for that — it’s called revenge.
When we take off the nose ring of this false choice, we are able to ask some bigger questions. What does an offender need? We of course want them to recognize when they hurt others, to show some empathy, take responsibility, make amends and finally, to refrain from similar behavior in the future.
What leads to these things? What do offenders need to get there? Our current approach fails on all these points for one simple reason: the more pain you inflict on people, the more self-centered they become. If you don’t believe this, the next time you stub your toe, ask yourself what you’re thinking about as you hop around on one foot biting your lip. Prisoners in the process of getting what they deserve — be that bad food, sexual assault, physical assault or general humiliation — aren’t thinking about their victims. They’re thinking about themselves. They’re wondering if they should get a weapon or how they can turn themselves into tough guys so as not to be victims or how many hours they can manage to spend in the weight pit, or whether they should make an example of the guy who didn’t pay them back a 30-cent soup. Thus, despite its claim of being administered in the victim’s name, such justice is the one least likely to foster any awareness of the victim.
Wholistic justice asks what victims need as well. Retributive justice either ignores victims or uses them to advance its own agenda by encouraging them to seek vengeance. But who does this agenda really serve? Is it what victims really need? We don’t ask. If we did, we might see that when people are hurt they often need to be angry, but they also need to move through and beyond this anger if they’re going to be whole again. They need support and guidance to do this. They need the person who hurt them to recognize what he or she did. They may well need this person to experience reasonable punishment, to apologize and make amends. They need to know that the person isn’t just thumbing his or her nose at them and that they’re not going to victimize others in the future. This, of course, sounds a lot like the above list of what offenders need.
We see the same similarity when we expand the question further and ask what society needs. What everyone needs most of all is to be told the truth — that we can never violate another without violating ourselves. Until we get hold of this deep truth we will continue to grasp at the myth of redemptive violence; we will continue to fall prey to those who tell us, again and again, that hurting others will somehow save us. It never will. It may be necessary sometimes to do so, but there’s never any redemptive value in it.
And this, I believe, brings us to the right question in reference to the killing of Troy Davis and the death penalty in general. The question is: Is it necessary? M. Scott Peck defined evil as any killing that isn’t biologically necessary. When we begin to reduce our killing to only that which is biologically necessary, I think we’ll be much closer to the ideal of wholism.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mirrors and Windows

The journalist Sydney Harris said, “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”

Instead of everything reflecting back on us, we learn over time that the world is relevant beyond us — the way we as children we learn our parents have lives that have nothing to do with being Mom and Dad. This moment, when we catch a glimpse of the bigger circle (and realize we’re not at its center) is often startling.

Sometimes we retreat when we see it and get stuck in a place where we feel betrayed by the world — clinging fearfully to those “glory days” when we were at the center of everything and feeling like the world has gone to hell around us. This is the response to the fear of losing ourselves completely. There is a false belief that if we’re not at the center of everything then we’re out of the picture completely.

But the beauty of windows is that they’re not only for looking through; they also reflect. We can see ourselves there in the right light. But this image, unlike that in a mirror, is transparent. When we turn our mirrors into windows, we don’t lose ourselves after all. We just learn to see ourselves and the world simultaneously, and it’s this kind of seeing, rather than the either/or kind, that tells us the bigger truth about ourselves and the world. This is wholistic seeing.

Monday, September 5, 2011

One Very Full Burrito

Today I woke up and ate a burrito. This simple act was an expression of my relationship in all four areas of life. It was relationship with myself because I was putting something into my body. Depending on what was in the burrito it might have been good for me or bad. It was relationship with others because someone milled the flour that made the wraps; butchered the animals that contributed their meat; planted, kept, and harvested the vegetables and so on. Depending on whether these things were done with fair labor, in environmentally sound ways etc., relationship in this area could likewise be good or bad.
This humble breakfast was also relationship with the transcendent — the larger aspect of reality — because the transcendent is ever-present in all things. Everything that led up to the burrito happened on the mundane or “small” level of reality but also on the sacred or “large” level. The act of eating itself was relationship with the transcendent and depending on my mindset, my thoughts as I consumed this meal, this relationship could have been good or bad.
Finally, the relationship with nature is obvious. My body and all its processes are natural as is the food I was eating. I was in nature as I ate, even down to looking out the window at the rainy morning. Again, depending on my thoughts and actions, this could have been good or bad relationship.
What’s the clear distinction between the two? Between good and bad, right and wrong relationship? Wholeness ethics gives us a template with which to answer this question. It’s called the “three aspects of right relationship.” They are:

  • Reverence
  • Goodwill
  • Justice

Reverence is acknowledging the presence of the transcendent in people and things and inquiring into their larger purpose. So, to be in right relationship with anything on earth we must have reverence for it. And having reverence is a matter of acknowledging that there is more to the world than its surface. All things have a larger aspect and to be in right relationship we must acknowledge and inquire into this reality.
lnquiring into the larger meaning of anything is the beginning of caring about it. The full flowering of this caring is goodwill: wanting things and people to fulfill their larger purpose. To be in right relationship we must acknowledge and inquire into the larger purpose of things and desire to see that purpose fulfilled.
Lastly, we must do something about it. More specifically, we must do justice. Justice is giving people and things what they need to be whole, not what we think they deserve for failing to be whole.
ln this framework we see immediately that there can be no goodwill without reverence and there can be no justice without both reverence and goodwill. lf these three were a plant, reverence would be the root, goodwill the plant itself, and justice the fruit. This is important because we often try to deny or ignore it. We want to do justice or claim we have goodwill without bothering to acknowledge or inquire into the larger meaning and purpose of what we’re dealing with. The result is goodwill that isn’t good and justice that isn’t just.
So, these three, in their own proper relationship with each other, are absolutely necessary for right relationship in the world — with self, others, the transcendent or nature.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wholeness Ethics in Daily Life

So how does wholeness ethics apply to our lives? In some ways the whole notion of consciously thinking about ethics in our daily lives has been pushed aside in our time. We think of ethics as applying to “big” issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and so on. But wholeness ethics, while it certainly applies to such things, is ethics for daily life.
This is because it sees life as relationship. All of us are engaged in four basic relationships at all times — whether we like it or not:

  • Relationship with self
  • Relationship with others
  • Relationship with the transcendent
  • Relationship with nature

Ethics is a matter of relating in each of these areas in ways that increase wholeness — which I define as soundness, well being and ongoing realization.
The question of whether we’re relating in ways that increase or decrease wholeness is one that is ever-present. lf we live in a family or any kind of household the question applies. lf we engage in any form of trade or business, it applies. If we are a parent, have any impact on the environment, or interact in any way with animals, it applies. If we express any religious thoughts or impulses in the world or have an opinion on anything, the question, “Am I increasing wholeness?” applies. And where this question applies, wholeness ethics applies.
The other thing that ought to be said is that wholeness ethics isn’t about limiting our freedom or making our lives more burdensome. We sometimes think of ethics and rules as the same thing and if we’re talking about rule-based ethics that’s true. Such ethical systems are, as the name indicates, all about rules. Do this, don’t do that.
Wholeness ethics, however, is a reason-based system. Rather than a list of rules that tell you what to do (or what to think), it’s a set of principles with which we must figure out for ourselves what’s good and not good in any given situation. This is the central difference between rule- and reason-based systems. Rules don’t demand that we think — only that we obey. But if all we have are general principles, we have to think about what they mean and how they apply.
So, wholeness ethics is an ethics for everyday life. Further, it’s an ethics that increases rather than limits freedom because it’s reason-based and gives us the responsibility of doing our own thinking.