Back in November, my friend, and fellow homeschooler, Wendy (no relation) emailed me about an opportunity. Her daughter's 4-H group has participated in the Warm-Up America! Afghan project for the past couple of years. Last year, I knit ten squares. This year, I offered ten more squares. It's a wonderful opportunity for me, with my very limited knitting skill, to do something positive, to contribute to an amazing project.
What's even better about this project is that I'm not the only one who finds it fulfilling. Wendy writes about collecting the squares from the many hands that knit them. It's an amazing story ... one of hope, one of faith in her fellow man ... er, women :).
Wendy writes about her belief in the goodness of people, stating that perhaps she is naive, but I could relate to what she said. Perhaps I, too, am naive, but I really do believe that given adequate food, shelter, and clothing, and given meaningful work, that people will do the right thing.
Unfortunately, so much about our society tends to take those things away from people.
Deus Ex Machina and I often have these deep, philosophical conversations. This weekend we had one of those times. We had some commitments to honor, one of them being my need to do some "for money" work. As a result, I didn't take the time to make sure that we had all had an adequate meal before we left the house. The result was that Precious was a bit cranky, because she was hungry.
The epiphany hit us, when I said, essentially, that our society forces us to concentrate so much of our energy on irrelevant tasks (like "for money" work) that we often don't have time for the things that really matter - like making sure we have all eaten good food.
How many times have we opted for fast food or easy prep foods because we were too tired or too busy to really make a meal? And how much of that "busy-ness" was important? Really? In the greater scheme of things did any of that busy work we so often do directly improve our lives?
We could argue all day long that making money enables us to buy ... blah, blah, blah ..., but how many people in our world, in our society, in our very communities, work forty or more hours per week, just like we do, but still don't have enough money provide those simple things: food, shelter, and clothing? And they spend so much time and energy struggling to make money that they have too little time or energy left to find those things outside of the money economy.
What if those people were given the opportunity, the skills, and the resources to make those things for themselves? What if the work they did directly improved their lives in ways that aren't defined by the amount of money they make? What if they could build their own shelter, make their own clothes, grow their own food?
Doesn't it seem a shame that we're always looking for meaning to our lives in things external to ourselves, in religion, in science, when the real meaning of life is in the simple pleasure of being self-reliant?
Our recent philosophical moment was actually a continuation of a conversation that started a few days prior, when Deus Ex Machina was lamenting how much he procrastinates. In native cultures, there is no procrastination, because if they fail to take an opportunity when it presents itself, they will lose that opportunity.
I heard what he was saying, and I didn't disagree. However, as is often the case, I had to say, "yeah, but ..."
In native cultures, they have the luxury of taking opportunities when presented, because they don't spend precious time and energy doing things that are irrelevant. They pick blueberries when the blueberries are ripe, because they're not too busy spending forty hours a week in office. We think the work we do is important, and maybe, on some level, it is, but in the greater scheme of things, the only important "work" is that which keeps us alive, and that kind of work is the stuff that most of us no longer do for ourselves. We don't feed ourselves, we buy our food. We don't cloth ourselves, we buy our clothes. We don't shelter ourselves, we buy our shelters. Heck, most of us don't even know how to do those life-saving (and, ultimately, life-enriching) tasks. If dropped in the middle of the woods, we wouldn't know what to eat, how to shelter ourselves from the elements or how to find materials that could cover our hairless bodies and keep us warm and dry.
Greed, envy, sloth, gluttony, lust, pride, selfishness - these things are not - can not be - a part of native cultures, because the people who live in those cultures have meaning to their lives. Everything they do, every minute of every day has meaning and value and helps to further their physical and spiritual selves. They don't have to wish they had what someone else has, because they can, and do. And if they don't "have", they know how to "make" for themselves.
I believe in the innate goodness of people, but I believe that in order to really express our goodness, we need to have meaning to our lives, and we need to feel that what we do, who we are, is valued and valuable.
The Warm-Up America project gave the many people who helped a tiny taste of what doing real work feels like. Those of us who participated were providing a valuable service, because we wanted to do so, because it meant something to us.
Give a person meaning in his/her life, and s/he will do the right thing.
I believe that, and as we move further into a lower energy future, we'll be forced to live closer to each other with less. The key and the challenge to survival will be finding meaning in our lives outside of making money and to learn to place value on the doing, rather than the having.