One of the responses to my Daily Devotions post raised the issue of being guided through the day by your ethics (thanks Bish for the prompt there!). What are druid ethics? Are they simply the ethics held by individual druids, or are there going to be values held in common? I’m tempted to say it’s usually going to be a bit of both. Perhaps the defining quality of druid ethics is that we collectively think we should be ethical, and we take individual responsibility for figuring out what that means, one moment to the next.
Where the common ground lies, is in the things we value. Environmental protection, peace, good relationship, community, beauty, truth, and justice are all things that druids prize. So ethical behaviour, is behaviour that supports those ideas and manifests them in the world. Where it gets complicated, is in how we understand ‘best’. A good example of this lies around food. Some druids are vegans because their ethical stance demands a life that does not feed upon the lives of animals. Some druids are vegetarians because that best reflects their ethics and beliefs. However, other druids prioritise local sourcing, or producing their own food in which case they may be omnivorous. It can be argued that mixed farming is more sustainable than only growing plants. In England, we have moors and meadows that have evolved alongside thousands of years of animal husbandry. To step away from that would be to damage a whole eco system. There are no simple, clear, right answers. There are however plenty of answers we can agree on – food waste is abominable. Over packaging is not a good thing. We should not be paying slave wages to producers in developing countries. Artisan foodmakers are preferable to big factories turning out insipid and banal edible foodstuffs. Whatever our precise ethics, the druidry underpinning it will push us towards trying to find sustainable, fair, healthy, creative ways of feeding ourselves and our tribes.
We can apply the same ideas to any aspect of our lives. How we shop, how we travel, how we speak to those around us, how express our emotions, what we expect of others, how we run our households, raise our children, interact with our neighbours. Every moment is an opportunity to explore and express our ethics. Which calls for high levels of awareness. For me the most interesting issues arise around conflict and error. When everything runs smoothly, it’s easy to express your ethical intentions. But what happens when you misjudge? Or when your strongly held ethical convictions do not sit at all well with the strongly held ethical position of the next druid (that food example being a classic). You can be passionate without being a fundamentalist. You can argue and discuss without attacking another person. If we are serious about peace as an ideal, then what we do around our other beliefs must be guided by this at all times.
For me, what enables this most, is doubt. Of all the values I hold as a druid, doubt is perhaps the one that serves me best. I am never oversure about anything. I do not believe I have any kind of monopoly on truth, or wisdom. I know what my own experiences have taught me, but I don’t imagine that will all hold true for all people in all situations. There’s always the possibility for something else. I hold my doubt very closely. And with it, I am open to hearing what other people think. I am willing to be proved wrong, to be talked round, or shown a different perspective. That doesn’t mean my position is infinitely malleable or that I have no opinions of my own. More that I recognise everything I hold as opinion. I’m conscious that this century’s indisputable ‘fact’ is next century’s laughable mistake. I do what I can from the position of what I know, very aware that I can be wrong, and that situations change, and that nothing is certain. Most ethical positions seem to be based on a certainty of knowing what is best, not only for yourself, but for everything else. The more work I do with my own doubt, the more I appreciate what it has to teach me. I can’t say it’s the best way of exploring, but at the moment I think it’s a very powerful tool to have in your hands.