This week we begin our investigation of a new principle by considering its overall structure and general implications.
What follows are my reflections. I make no greater claim for them but offer them in the spirit of exchange and dialogue.
I hope you find these of some use in your own meditations. I find sharing my thoughts on these themes useful because it forces me to give them some order, but of course I’m also very happy to think this sharing might help to clarify, inspire — or infuriate others — even that last can be useful. I look forward to seeing you at our meeting on Wednesday, or consider sharing your ideas with us on our Facebook page, or by email.
Silo explained that this principle is not suggesting that you abandon your ideas, ideals, religion culture, politics, etc. In fact, it starts by acknowledging that we all belong to particular groups. The points of view, and values of those factions we identify with of course seem correct to us, if not inevitable, this seems to imply that we are opposed, in greater or lesser measure, to other factions with other values and perspectives.
This principle points out that our points of view, approaches, religions, political perspectives and so on are given to us by our circumstances. They have little do with our choices and are more about educational, environmental, and economic factors etc. Even if I believe that I choose my beliefs still I understand that I was born in a particular time and place, in particular conditions, and that means that I choose within the possibilities that I’m presented with – even when I choose in reaction against particular values or beliefs.
I think it is critical to note that while the principle doesn’t ask us to abandon anything it does ask us to shift our point of view, at least for a moment, and consider that perhaps what is important is not my position, opinion or faction, but my understanding that I haven’t chosen any of it. Simply trying to apply this principle encourages an attitude that is an antidote to fanaticism, and self-righteousness (of course not that any of us have those tendencies, these are things that other people suffer from!). At the same time the application of this principle makes it easier to understand other people’s beliefs and positions. It’s not hard to see who this could contribute to mental and emotional flexibility, as well as helping create bridges of mutual understanding between people – even where their ideas and beliefs are apparently in conflict.
This principle asks us to recognize a lack of freedom in situations where we did not, or do, not have real choice. However, it also makes us recognize a different dimension of freedom; a freedom to affirm our commonality with others in situations that they also did not choose – and even when their positions apparently oppose mine. At first, and perhaps even second, glance it may seem to be a strange position. Trying to apply it will confirm that it’s a powerfully liberating one as well.
An illustrative tale:
Here’s a couple of old tales that you will likely have heard but which puts us in mind of this unusual principle.
The enemies of Jesus tried to trap him by getting him to choose between positions where either choice would get him in serious trouble. They approached him and said: “Master, we know you are a truthful man and one whom with truth teaches the path of God. You who have no preference for this man or that and bow before none, tell us therefore what you think. Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or should it be for the Temple of the Lord?”
And Jesus replied: “Why do you try me you hypocrites? Show me the coin of tribute.” So they handed him a dinar and he held it up and asked: “Whose profile is upon this coin?” They told him: “It is the figure of Caesar.” And he replied: “Then I say to you render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” Hearing this they were ashamed and went their way.
Don’t miss the 19th century poetic version by John Godfrey Saxe