Every day we are faced with numerous choices, some relating to practical issues and others based on more complex psychological demands – how to react, what to say and do. Whilst on the face of it choices appear to have been made, in the main we react habitually; many if not all of our decisions proceed from the past, and are in fact unconscious, conditioned responses to the challenges of the day.
The world is beset with a series of unprecedented inter-related crises: the urgent need to establish peace and the environmental catastrophe are the two most pressing issues facing humanity, for in both areas there exists the potential for widespread destruction and potential annihilation. Then there is the worldwide refugee crisis, crushing poverty, hunger in a world of plenty and obscene levels of economic inequality, – the grotesque consequence of an unjust economic system that lies at the heart of many if not all our problems. In tackling these issues choices are made, the decisions we make based on these choices determine not only the present, but how the future looks, and indeed if there will be a future for mankind and the Earth at all.
Politicians make choices based on one of a number of impelling factors: ideology, self-interest, corporate dictates and occasionally what they think the electorate want them to do. Trapped in a net of ambition and conflicting concerns they are morally compromised; lacking principles and any real vision they are unable to meet the challenges of the time. Hope rests not with the current political class, who are not trusted and in many cases are despised, but with the people, with us, and with the manifestation of that inherent goodness that lies buried within everyone.
Choices based on selfish concerns and false conclusions have led us to the very brink of disaster. They have created and fuelled an economic system, Neo-Liberalism or Market Fundamentalism, which has overseen the commercialisation of every aspect of contemporary life. Financial profit is its driving motive and primary goal, no matter the consequences to people or the natural environment. Excess is encouraged, sufficiency dismissed. Selfish choices flow from the materialistic value system promoted relentlessly by powerful corporations that own everything, and yet want to possess more, to exploit every last drop, squeeze the Earth dry, strangle all goodness out of humanity, until one dark day there will be nothing left.
Competition amongst peoples, regions and nations is a cornerstone of the system; it is a crude method of motivation that has infiltrated all areas including education. It results, amongst other ills, in separation and division, inhibition and conflict. The values promoted, which are poured into the minds of everyone from childhood, seem inescapable: selfishness and a lack of compassion flow from this materialistic root. Happiness, which has largely been replaced with pleasure, is to be found, we are told, in the artefacts of life made by the corporations. The whole pack of cards rests firmly upon a foundation of insatiable desire and the endless consumption that it spawns.
Despite the surface divisions and separations that exist in our world at the heart of things humanity is one, and, consciously recognised or not, people instinctively know this to be true. It is out of recognition of this essential unity that our choices must now proceed, allowing new values to evolve, from which systemic change can occur. A kinder set of values, with what Pope Francis described in a recent ground breaking TED talk, as tenderness, at their heart. Tenderness, the pontiff stated, “is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility.” ‘
Tenderness’ is a thoughtful choice of word, encompassing as it does kindness, gentleness and sensitivity to the needs and concerns of others; it is a quality that suggests a commitment to harmlessness.
A major shift in attitudes is required if we are to choose ‘tenderness’ in place of indifference, and overcome the difficulties that face us; a move away from crass destructive patterns of behaviour towards inclusive ways of living that promote cooperation, tolerance and mutual understanding and inculcate widespread social and environmental responsibility. Such attitudes flow naturally from the acknowledgement that we are brothers and sisters of one humanity and the recognition that we have a duty towards one another and indeed the Earth itself.
The choices before us are not narrow political or ideological ones as politicians would have us believe – such moribund constructs belong in the past – they are choices of values; the individual choices we all make, large and small – in what we think and say and do – will decide the path we will collectively go down. Choose to ratify the way of life offered by devotees of the neo-liberal circus by acting in accordance with their divisive doctrine and allow for the perpetuation of selfishness and greed; witness increased, potentially irreparable destruction to the ecological patterns of life of which we are an integral part, and see even greater levels of inequality, social injustice and conflict.
Choose instead to see others as ourselves, – their needs as ours, the natural environment in which we live as our homeland, its well-being and integrity our responsibility, and all things are possible. As Maitreya has said, “The problems of mankind are real but solvable. The solution lies within your grasp. Take your brother’s need as the measure for your action and solve the problems of the world.” This is a profound message, made all the more beautiful by its simplicity. It purifies motives and negates choice; the only choice required is the initial one, which says: I will do all I can to meet the need or needs of another, no matter how small that need may be or what it may cost me. Having made such a choice, inclusive values such as sharing, cooperation and understanding follow quite naturally, and with every action that flows from this simple choice, the sense of brotherhood grows. It is from simple acts of ‘tenderness’ – large and small – that solutions to the challenges facing humanity will be found, not in the duplicitous rhetoric of ambitious politicians.