Ends and means

My general starting point is that the ends should not be assumed to justify the means, because that’s a slippery slope down to doing whatever you want in order to get your own way. It works with the assumption that ‘winning’ is everything. If you want to go through life as a passably ethical person, then you have to allow for the idea that you can be wrong, and that other people’s needs and views are just as valid. Getting the result by any means just doesn’t fit with that world view.

Most of the time that works just fine. I approach almost all things with an eye to acting in a way I find acceptable in order to work towards outcomes I want. However, we live in troubling times. Eco-suicide is a distinct possibility. The damage our species is doing shocks me on a daily basis. Human injustice, underpinned by greed and apathy, haunts me. Sometimes the urge to shake people and scream at them to wake up, is huge. Not that this would be a likely strategy to achieve results.

All too often, the slow approach of winning people round, being the change and so forth is just too slow. I lie awake at night listening to the boy racers speeding their cars up and down the hills and I know there are far too many people out there for whom the idea of responsibility is a joke. There are so many of us who feel entitled to have whatever we can pay for, no matter what it costs someone or something else. There are so many of us who just can’t keep up with the ethical issues of each choice, either. Doing the best you can with what you have is an exercise in compromise and complicity. I haven’t given away everything I have to feed the hungry. I honestly cannot afford to buy entirely organic.

Which leads to the questions of where my own life fits in this balance of means and ends. The ideal outcome for me would be a gentler, more sustainable world with a good-enough standard of living for all. Time to rest and play, the scope to be well of body and mind. Happiness, community, friendship. I don’t want to live in a world where people work seven day weeks and ten hour days and tend not to have the time, energy or money to go out of an evening. I don’t want to live in a world where people are always expected to push through pain and tiredness to get the work done.

There are so many causes. There is so much needs doing. So many things we need to be more aware of. I’ve adopted a more sustainable lifestyle (no car, no fridge, no washing machine) but it costs me in terms of time and energy. If something needs doing, I’ll show up and give it my best shot. As a consequence, I haven’t had a whole day off given over to rest since the middle of July. I make a point of having some rest time each day because otherwise I court mental dysfunction, but there are still more things to do than there is time, and I end up worn and ragged on a regular basis. How to be a good citizen, a good pagan, a good activist, mother, wife, friend, member of society, and to earn a living, and to have a low impact lifestyle… and needing more hours in the day.

The easiest things to drop are the ones that I enjoy – time out for music, reading for pleasure, sewing for fun, just going to bed early. I’ve had patches historically when the only way to keep going was to withdraw energy from the stuff I did just for me. That way lies the collapse of self esteem and the loss of inspiration. I would like the time and headspace to write novels, but the wild elephants are in peril, and our yellowhammers are nearly gone and I am desperately worried about the hedgehogs, and UKIP are running public meetings locally and people are responding to all that is wrong with hate. No matter how wound up I get, I must not fall into hating, and it would be so easy. People are not an innately loveable species.

If I am not part of the solution, then I am part of the problem. But if I do things I think are wrong in order to go after the ends I believe in, how can I not undermine what I’m trying to do? And if I put me first, at all, those are minutes I’m not giving to trying to help with something, trying to change something, and there is so much work to do, and so much to try and understand about what’s going on. I have no answers.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Ends and means

  • Kaylee

    You can’t do everything, do what you can when you can. Don’t feel guilty about what you can’t do. Or as Edward Everet Hale put it:

    I am only one,
    But still I am one.
    I cannot do everything,
    But still I can do something;
    And because I cannot do everything,
    I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

    I simply love that. I love it because it recognises that we can only do so much and it honors that which we do. We all need to look at where we are doing good instead of focusing on where we fall short. And if you don’t keep yourself healthy, how are you going to be able to help someone else?

    And I agree, the ends do not justify the means. Winning at any cost can turn your victory into a pyhrric one. And that does no one any good.

  • Lunapo

    Reblogged this on Biblebelt Witch and commented:
    This is a great post and speaks volumes to how I feel many days of the year.

  • chefette13

    Taking care of yourself first is the most important thing, if you don’t take care of yourself how will you be able to take care of everything that you are responsible for taking care of once you get ill or too run down to function?? it’s not being selfish it’s being logical.

  • stoneofdestiny

    A great post – and similar to the sort of thoughts/questions I have been dealing with lately.

    And for your trouble, you’ve been nominated for the Witchy Blog Award. Congrats!


  • Christopher Blackwell

    There is also a time when you have to give more time just to things that you want to do least your soul die from lack of nourishment. That means finding some time for yourself and sometimes cutting back on these other things. It is too easy to become over run by the shoulds and not get anything for yourself. That to can cause collapse. Sometimes you need to change the schedule to get out of the rut you are wearing down in your life.

  • Éilis Niamh

    If you do not put yourself first as often as you put yourself out for others, you will not be the change you wish to see. I have no answers either. I struggle with this. I’ve kept myself up with the same questions, I’ve cried over the despair that I may never be or do enough, and that this makes me unethical and therefore dishonorable and unworthy. I’m still learning but can I say I understand at least intellectually that all these stances on ourselves in the world are *not true* Here is what experience has taught me: Slow. Down. Be Grateful. Reframe priorities. Music and laughter are just as important to the human spirit as are clean air and water. You are a human being. You alone cannot do all that needs doing. You are first and foremost responsible for yourself and those you directly care for. We, as a species are collectively responsible for the problems that we as a species have created. What is yours in the world? Be responsible for that. If you have space to do more without hurting yourself, putting yourself down because you are not a superhero, denying your right to live authentically because you cannot see how your own life and needs are jjust as important as others, then speak up, put yourself out there, laugh when you are wrong, don’t judge yourself harshly for not meeting impossibilities. We all inadvertently add suffering to the world when we give but cannot receive, when we completely buy into the illusion of scarcity, and the false belief that to meet everyone’s needs we must deny our own needs. You are a human being: your time and resources and energy and abilities and capacity for doing is limited. You will compromise, period. Make it your strength, then. Can you do and do and do and stay true to yourself? If not, don’t do so much. I believe the world needs you, not what you strive to be. What good in the world could you do after rescinding your privilege, burning out on compassion fatigue, ignoring your body’s need for care and rest, or breaking apart because you punish or talk down to yourself when you don’t meet your unattainable standards? Can you sit in the stillness at the center of your soul and find there peace and belonging? Of course you care, you have empathy, you shine. None of us are expected to burn as bright as the sun, but instead like fireflies, we’re asked to only give as much light as we have, the sun here is the metaphor for the collective of the lights within us. Do your best in what you put yourself to and shine, and remember you aren’t alone, that you are already whole and worthy and imperfect and struggling and belonging and that’s okay, it’s all you. Be kind to yourself. We are all connected. Hugs. Many hugs.

  • Nimue Brown

    Thank you. If i do not slow down sometimes, I will go round the bend. I’ve slept a lot the last few nights, I am stabilizing for now at least….

  • janecolbourne

    You have to look after yourself in order to look after others. Not only that, but you as worthy and needing of love and care as anyone.

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