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Friday, April 17, 2009

Quantity and Quality – CREDO LXIX

There seems to be a universal law in nature and in human affairs that extremes are self-regulated. We see it in the seasons and in the laws of opposites. A familiar symbol for this is the Yin/Yang: two curlicues, white and black, each containing a small circle of the opposite color, and all contained in the unity of a circle.

The Greek name for this phenomenon is enantiodromia – running into the opposite. You can find it in a huge pendulum that hangs, I think in a museum in Paris, which swings to and fro over sand, and is moving perpetually owing to the rotation of the earth. An example in history is the Inquisition, during which a group of fanatical monks tortured people to drive the devil out of them, thereby inviting the demonic energy, so to speak, into themselves by the backdoor!

This compensatory process now seems to be applying culturally to most of the civilized world. The emphasis during the last two hundred and fifty years, ever since the Industrial Age, has increasingly been on quantity. We call it materialism. To be successful as a person is judged by having a bigger bank account, a bigger house, car, professional rank, and so forth. The extremes come with avid collections of one kind or another, with greed and competition to have or be the “mostest” of anything, including the expectation that the United States should be the Leader of the World. This seems an unwise attitude at the moment when we are struggling in a swamp of multi-trillions of fiscal debt! We are already being challenged by other nations, which could lead eventually to armed conflict. The best model at the moment seems to be the EU, with its rotating chief, or the United Nations. These function in a circular and inclusive way avoiding opposites.

The most striking shift, which affects us all, is the catastrophic global financial collapse of the last few months. And yet that could be yielding a potentially positive future consequence, namely the enantiodromia of quantity into quality! Quantity measures materials, quality implies meaning and relationships, which cannot be measured; they can only be felt. Most of us are being asked not to run off and do more stuff, which is a way of escaping the deeper realities of life, but to take the time to get to know each other better. Perhaps the generation that has turned to drugs of different kinds has been trying to escape from a seemingly meaningless life. Now there is much reference to the “kitchen table” in the news, a place to discuss family problems but also a place where families can share food and togetherness. Curiously, our word “economy” comes from the Greek oekonomia, which meant "household management."

We can measure quality in life by happiness and gratitude, affection and kindness, and generosity toward others in loving personal service. We saw a demonstration of that briefly in the aftermath of 9/11, and certainly in the quiet heroism of men and women in floods, fires, earthquakes, and tornadoes – all four elements! Certainly, this is another proof of the intensity of opposites. But quality also depends on loving and appreciating nature and all her gifts, given so freely but now, in our ignorance, being polluted and poisoned daily by manmade plastics and toxic chemicals of all sorts. But there is hope and a solution: a conscious willingness to shift from the emphasis on quantity to one of quality.

Just yesterday, I received a letter from a 24-year-old young woman, a Smith graduate, working in a NGO program in Lawrence, Massachusetts. She writes:

I’m getting involved with the Green Sanctuary Committee and am organizing a voluntary simplicity class for May/June. It’s much more enjoyable to live intentionally – to acknowledge that I’m CHOOSING to spend this year volunteering and CHOOSING to receive the small stipend that comes along with it. And it is amazing how rich this year has been! I’ve made some new friends, shaken the dust off my spirituality, done some hard work, learned a lot about things that bring me joy that don’t cost money, and can feel good about what I am doing when I take this perspective! It is amazing how much of life is about attitude, and how contagious attitudes can be.

She is articulating so eloquently what a great number of young men and women in our country are already doing, as well as many in other parts of the world. Now a great-grandmother myself, I am limited in joining them, but it is her letter that inspires me to share these thoughts with you. That much I still can do.


1 comment:

ruth said...

thank you for the thoughts