Aspire not to have more, but to be more

Romero.jpg

This is the headline from an interesting blog from the UK that I have been following for some time. The post echoes the theme of being, not having, central in my book to the critique of modern cultures and to the possibility of breaking out of that mode of living. The post, by Jules Peck, relates to the main theme of the blog, Citizen Renaissance, calling for a shift towards the responsibility column in the civic balance sheet and away from the rights half.

Having could be seen as perhaps the basic in the free market liberal model of political economy where choice in the marketplace is viewed as the ultimate form of freedom and as the practical manifestation of the pursuit of happiness. Being reflects the sense that caring is at the center of human striving for happiness or for flourishing as I would call out as a more robust metaphor for seeking what it is to be human. Caring in turn is the essence of responsibility, as the idea of responsibility has little sense unless one cares for the object of responsible action whether that be some animate or inanimate thing.

The headline of this post and that on the blog I link to comes from Archbishop Oscar Romero (depicted in the image), a hero of the Central American Liberation Theology movement, which focused on justice for the poor and oppressed. Like Martin Luther King, Romero was assassinated during a mass. After citing many notable economists and others that have recently criticized the present form of neoliberal free-market economics, Peck noted that the same message has been heard from key religious leaders in England. I share his “heartening” feeling arising from the presence of such public figures in public conversations about sustainability.

Last week Archbishop Rowan Williams gave a wonderful speech about the environment and politics, warning against looking for a single solution to the complex environmental challenges which face us. “Instead of a desperate search to find the one great idea that will save us from ecological disaster, we are being invited to a transformation of individual and social goals that will bring us closer to the reality of interdependent life in a variegated world”. Dr Williams urges action at the personal and local, as well as at the national and international, levels. He acknowledges “the potential of the crisis to awaken a new confidence in local and civic democracy [and] … a new sense of what is politically possible for people who thought they were powerless”. “Our response to the crisis needs to be in the most basic sense, a reality check, a re‑acquaintance with the facts of our interdependence within the material world and a rediscovery of our responsibility for it”. “When we believe in transformation at the local and personal level, we are laying the surest foundations for change at the national and international level”.

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