Recognizing Our Beliefs and Values
The table which follows (below) is a list of cultural values. On the left are values supporting our current society and way of life. On the right are some alternative values we could try out to replace them. In the next chapter, each value is discussed in depth: how it affects our lives and how the suggested alternative might open up new possibilities.
The current beliefs are not bad or wrong – they have worked to support the culture and way of life we currently live. Our emphasis on productivity and achievement has led to a lot of technological and infrastructural development and material abundance. We now have access to more clothing, building materials, roads, buildings, and stainless steel tools than our ancestors could have imagined. Yet many people do find the current way of life to be lacking, despite the technological advances, and it is easy to see the harmful environmental and social consequences of it. This is an opportunity and a challenge for us: to use the abundance (even excess) of tools and materials to give us time to change our way of life and shift our values. We have been so focused on production that it might be possible for us to live off of what we’ve already produced, or at least slow down our production, long enough for us to actually shift our way of life.
Many people may feel that they don’t like some of these beliefs and values, or don’t consider them part of their personal code of ethics. Not everyone supports the cultural values which are prevalent in this time. In fact, many people do not like some of the predominant cultural values. People hold onto certain of these beliefs more than others, depending on how well they feel the beliefs are working for them and how resistant they are to looking at their lives in a different way. Liking an idea is different than complying with it through actions and behaviors. How can we expect ourselves to act differently if most everything and everyone we know operates within the same cultural pattern? It takes a lot of effort and support to create a different pattern (see Part III for more about this).
The goal here is to acknowledge the general dissatisfaction people feel with our society and pinpoint the roots of that discontent in our shared thought patterns and beliefs. Disillusionment with the predominant cultural patterns is a sign that now is a perfect time for change. Anger is a powerful catalyst for transformation, so let’s honor the anger and hurt that many people feel by using it to build the bridge. In the process, we can transform our frustration into excitement about the possibilities of a new way of interacting.
Before launching into the discussion of beliefs, it is important to clarify what is meant by “our culture,” “the predominant cultural paradigm,” and “the current paradigm/worldview”. Culture is a set of shared meanings, practices, beliefs, and behaviors which together comprise the way of life of a people. To be certain, there are many societal differences between peoples and places across the planet. Yet we live in an increasingly globalized world, one in which human culture looks similar across the planet. For example, although Muslim women in Somalia cover their head and legs while Christian women in the United States sport tube tops and mini skirts, mothers in both places of both religions understand that they, or their family members, must work hard in order to survive and get the things they need. The way of life based upon hard work, often at tasks unrelated to one’s community or family sustenance, in order to get by – is nearly universal, and profoundly important. Many of the beliefs discussed here are linked in one way or another to this cultural experience. Therefore, the terms “our culture,” “the world,” or “the current worldview,” are intended to apply to the vast majority of humans across the planet, who share the beliefs and values which attend this common cultural experience: money/possessions/power are most important and the only way to achieve security, people are valuable for how much and how efficiently they accomplish/produce, and daily life requires a certain (high) degree of suffering and toil which people endure so they can be happy and secure later.
Humans have not always shared this level of cultural similarity. There are fewer and fewer indigenous cultures alive and thriving in the world, because their traditional way of life is often different and opposed to the predominant global cultural paradigm, which has subjugated, frowned upon, and otherwise assimilated or assassinated them. The current worldview leaves no room for other ways of life, and that is why indigenous peoples across the earth have struggled so severely. This is not to say that indigenous ways of being are dead and gone, but that people follow what is left of those ways discreetly because it is dangerous to openly live that way in our world as it is now.
|CURRENT BELIEF||SUGGESTED ALTERNATIVE|
|Humanity is fundamentally flawed and cannot change. It is natural for humans to destroy ourselves. We are naturally selfish.||Each human being is perfectly in their changing path.Humans lived for thousands of years in relative peace and balance. Given the right cultural context, humans can learn to cooperate.|
|Money/possessions (power) make us wealthy and are the only way to provide security.||Balanced lifestyle and kinship are true wealth. We are more likely to get security from people who benefit from having us in their lives than from depending on money.|
|We are victims: someone or something else is to blame for our discontent. “We” are right, “they” are wrong.||Each moment is our choice. We each experience different life circumstances and it is our choice how we view them and act on them. “Mistakes” are how we learn.|
|Actions, people, and emotions are either good or bad. A single bad behavior demonstrated once indicates a person’s criminal nature forever. Bad people and bad behavior should be punished.||In the school of everyday life, choices and feelings present themselves. We decide how to respond and then experience the consequences and effects. Everyone makes mistakes and tests their boundaries, especially youth, and this is how we learn. People learn at their own pace.|
|The ends justify the means. Getting things done and achieving results are what matters.||The process (of going somewhere, or making something, or living) is valuable in itself. We learn and experience along the way.|
|The earth is here for us to use, we are separate from “nature”. Some life and some people are more evolved than others. Anything beneath us/me isn’t important.||We are made up of the earth, every single cell. We are all part of creation. We are kind to the rest of creation, as we are kind to ourselves. All life is equally sacred and deserves respect, no matter age or evolution.|
|Hardship and toil now bring material and emotional reward later. If I suffer now, I can be happy later. Leisure and joy are only won through hard work and discipline, and outcompeting others.||No one knows what comes next; enjoy the moment. Make life in the present moment as wonderful as possible. Leisure and joy are our birthright. We strive for balance and enjoyment in our work.|
|There is only one right way to live. Civilization is the most evolved and best way of living. Other ways of living are backward.||There is no one right way to live. We each live as we want and allow others to live as they want. Our differences make us each equally unique, and this encourages diversity (the spice of life). Humans have lived well in many other ways. Cooperative peoples generally experienced joy and security we never know in our competitive modern civilization.|
|Life is a competition for survival. “Survival of the fittest” is the way the world works and brings out the best in us.||The community of life is sustained through cooperation, which encourages wisdom, patience, and kindness in humans.|
|Change can happen instantly: just take a pill or make a law and things are immediately better.||Change requires dedication, perseverance, honesty, and a community of support.|