The Theory of Anyway

I have a small degree of fame (or maybe infamy!) in certain Internet forums for having been the first person on those forums to articulate and name "The Theory of Anyway." The name is catchy enough that it seems to be sticking to the concept in Peak Oil circles.

I had not written about it here yet. There's no particular reason why I hadn't - I just hadn't tackled it yet. And now a friend, Sharon Astyk, has written a very lovely explanation of it on her blog, which is really delightful because now I don't have to. I just love it when Sharon writes something and then I don't have to....especially because she writes so well and so gracefully. (I wonder if this is a gift born with an individual, or something that can be developed with effort?)

Sharon's post is here (but please come back here after you have read it, because I'd like to add just a few, almost random, thoughts to what Sharon has written): .

Sharon wrote: "I am obligated to live rightly, in part because of what living rightly gives me - integrity, honor, joy, a better relationship with my diety of choice, peace."

I'd like to emphasize the 'joy' and 'peace' parts.

I think that chasing status and material goods (or the Almighty Dollar) clearly does not lead to either joy or peace. Look around you at the people you know who are engaged in these pursuits. Do you think they are really happy? Do they seem to have joy in their lives? I don't think so. The status- or dollar-chasers who I have observed seem to be quite unhappy for the most part, and some are clearly nervous wrecks.

"His Holiness, the Dalai Lama describes two kinds of selfish people: the unwise and the wise. Unwise selfish people think only of themselves, and the result is confusion and pain. Wise selfish people know that the best thing they can do for themselves is to be there for others. As a result, they experience joy." (When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron, Shambhala Publishing, Boston, 1997, p. 88).

In 1976, I first read Frances Moore Lappe's seminal book Diet for a Small Planet. This book introduced me to the idea that the details of our daily lives matter; they make a difference to the world. Wow! I hadn't thought of that before reading this book. I found it to be very empowering (and still do).

We cannot all give up everything and go to the Sinai Desert to be contemplative nuns or monks. We cannot all be relief workers in Africa. But we can all make a difference nevertheless, just by the choices we make in every day life.

What an empowering concept that really is! I also find it very empowering that this is an ongoing lifetime commitment and not a one-shot deal. If you mess up today.... Well, you get more chances to make decisions and choices tomorrow, and hopefully they will be more skillful decisions and choices than those of today.

Reading that changed my life, and since then I've been at least trying to make my everyday choices (as well as the larger life-changing decisions) in accord with this idea. Life keeps getting in the way, of course, as it does for all of us, in the form of family responsibilities, the need to earn a living, and ill health: sometimes I've had more success than at other times. It's an ongoing journey, one that continues for life.

With specific reference to Peak Oil preparations, I think there's a terrific psychological difference determined by the frame of mind in which one takes certain actions. Supposing, for example, you are going to cover your windows with clear plastic in winter, to save on energy.

Well, you can think of yourself as being forced into this act by Peak Oil, by Global Warming, or for economic reasons. There's not much joy in taking defensive actions.

But if you can think of it as contributing to "the repair of the world," then you have a totally different view of the action. Now you can really be happy about it: you have made a difference (however small) by this action. You have conserved resources for those who desperately need them (especially if you contribute the money that you save to a charity), you have lessened your contribution to Global Warming and to air pollution and you have used less fuel. Wow! This is a good thing to have done: I can be happy about this.

Over time, these points of view have an effect on your personality and character. The defensive or "forced to do this" motivation tends to harden and close you, shutting you away from others. The "repair of the world" motivation tends to awaken compassion in you, to soften you towards others.

"A human being is a part of a whole, called by us _universe_, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." (Albert Einstein)

At least six of the world's great religions (Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and BaHa'i) stress "the repair of the world".

I think Judaism probably says it most clearly. The Hebrew expression is "Tikkun Olam" - the repair of the world - and this is an obligation of observant Jews.

In Buddhism, the same idea is beautifully expressed in "The Bodhisattva's Vow," by Shantideva, written in the 8th Century CE, which contains this line: "For as long as space endures and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world."

Christianity has Jesus' exhortation to his followers: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This can be extended to environmental causes, and Peak Oil as, obviously, others would enjoy clean air and sufficient resources to enable them to live decently, just as you do.

Hinduism states "This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you," from the Mahabharata, (5:15:17) (ca. 500BCE), and Mohammed spoke to Islam saying "Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you," (c. 571 – 632 CE) in The Farewell Sermon.

The BaHa'i faith teaches "Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. Blessed is he who prefers his brother before himself. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah 6.71).

24 January 2007

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