Tag Archives: values

Judging well

Being judgemental is something that tends to be discouraged on spiritual paths. We often hear that we shouldn’t judge each other, and should be more accepting of each other. In many contexts, this has merit, but judgement, like all things, is complicated. If we reduce it to a handful of simple instructions, many good things can be lost to us.

Judgement is a concept that is often framed as a way of putting someone else down. To judge is to criticise, to find fault or insufficiency or to apportion blame. However, this is just one set of options.

What happens when we go out into the world determined to seek out the very best? When we look around us to judge what is most beautiful, most valuable, most worthy? When we do that so that we can follow through by supporting it?

We make judgements all the time about how to use our time, energy and resources. Those decisions may not be especially conscious or deliberate, and may be driven by habit or cultural pressures. When we judge deliberately, we become able to invest deliberately.

If we pause to scrutinise what we do in our spare time – to take a not too contentious example – then all kinds of things may emerge. It is quite normal to relax by flopping down in front of the telly. It is quite normal to spend a lot of time scrolling through social media. It’s when you start judging your down time for what it gives you that you learn who you are and what you most benefit from. I find a little social media time can be highly beneficial to me, but if I keep doing it through lack of any better ideas, I suffer. I benefit greatly from time spent crafting. I do better watching a single film in an evening than whatever a television had on it. When I judge, I can pick the best of what’s on offer, and act on that. Other people’s judgments will naturally yield different results.

I have only so much time in a day, only so much energy. When I make deliberate judgements about what’s good and what’s best, I can invest that time and energy more carefully. I can decide what and who to support to best effect, rather than having my energy dissipate in dribs and drabs. I can judge what does me most good, and what does me no good at all. I can judge where I am most effective, and where I don’t make much odds and can act accordingly. By being really judgemental, I make myself more effective.

If I love something, then I’ll throw myself into supporting it. That might be about a specific book, or an author, a musician, a cause, a community… Judging opens the way to action. At the same time, I don’t waste my time and energy on things that I judge unfavourably. I move away, I quietly let go, I invest no energy. That something isn’t for me doesn’t render it valueless. It just means there’s nothing I can usefully do or gain from contact. There’s no point squandering resources over drama around that.

‘Don’t judge’ can sometimes be a kind option, but it can also be a recipe for being bland and non-descript, and having no direction or values. It can be a means of encouraging us simply to hide from ourselves the judgements we make. If you are going to judge, better to do so consciously. Harness your judgement as a means to focus on what is good, and it becomes a powerful tool for your journey rather than a problem you have to overcome.

Life skills and Druid values

There are a lot of things I’m good at. I can bake and brew, I’m good with textiles and at all manner of make do and mend techniques. I can tell different kinds of wood apart, even from bits lying on the ground and I know how to use them; what can be burned and what cannot, and how to make a fire. I can make a blanket, mend a sock, cook a meal from scratch over an open fire, I have a wealth of stories and songs to keep the people around me amused, and a grasp of first aid. I am good at problem solving and at reasoning things out. During most of human history, this skills base would have stood me in really good stead, making me a valuable part of any community. Not so now.

Our ideas about what is a useful and valuable contribution have changed a lot. I think this is because access to resources is now entirely about money, and has little to do with skill or prowess. How else could a man who does not understand that all children cannot be above average end up running the education department? We’ve come to assume that wealth and utility are one and the same. Someone who does nothing but pick up their dividends, is treated with respect, while someone poor, no matter how much good they do, is woefully undervalued.

I think in turn this is a consequence of no longer living in ways that connect us to our neighbours. When your individual success impacted directly on friends, family, fellow workers and neighbours, I think we all had a much clearer sense of who was useful and to what degree. What you did, and how well you did it was of far greater relevance in terms of everyone’s wealth, than your pile of gold. In a famine, that pile of gold may be entirely worthless. I think we also used to be a lot better at finding ways for everyone to be useful. The habit of consigning large numbers of people to the trash heap, is very modern indeed.

The more basic and essential a form of work is, the less we pay people to do it. The more abstract the work is, the more we value it. Thus toilet cleaning is not well rewarded, but you can lose vast sums for your bank, as a banker, and still expect to pick up a bonus. In some areas of life, we actively reward failure, with handsome pay-offs.

The more complex our systems are, the harder it is for anyone to understand them or have oversight of them. The more complexity we have, the more we seem to believe that we need ever greater levels of complexity. We must have guards to guard the guards who watch the watchers, and someone must be employed to manage them, and someone else must manage those managers, and a third party will be needed to make sure that the managers who manage the managers are doing so in accordance with a complex set of rules and requirements. And yet we have rising incidents of malnutrition in the UK. We don’t take good care of our elderly. Our roads are full of potholes, our prisons full of illiterate people, and our positions of power populated by idiots. All that work, and so little of any obvious use going on. But it is almost valueless to be able to cook a meal, or fill in a hole.

Whatever the answer is, I am certain that every greater abstraction and complication isn’t it. I remember reading a piece by Marx about how being a small part of a production line alienates workers from their work, and turns us into machines. We’d barely got started when he explored those ideas. We’re ever more obsessed with turning ourselves into the machine, and ever more oblivious as to where that machine is going.

Green Media

This afternoon I’m teaching Green Party folk about media work. You may have heard about media training, how it teaches you to spin, bluster, avoid awkward questions, and take over the subject to talk about your agenda, not what was asked? That’s not what I’m teaching, because that’s not Green media policy. I think this is worth sharing.

The very first thing I learned when I became a press officer for the local Green Party, is that we do not do spin. We do not lie or wilfully mislead. This is very much at odds with the norms of the modern political world. It means I take pride in being able to do my job honourably and honestly.

Green politics explicitly does not go in for the shouting, braying, name calling and rude rubbishing tactics favoured by mainstream politics. If we can manage it, we’ll have a quiet, civilized debate with anyone willing to talk about the issues. I hate aggressive and rude behaviour in politicians, because it shuts down debates and intimidates those who do not agree into shutting up. The person who won’t even listen to a counter argument cannot be moved, and there is little point even trying to talk to them. That’s not democracy. So on Twitter I’ve found that my local Labour hopeful is endlessly rude and unpleasant if I try to talk issues with him. The local Tory will occasionally have a conversation with me, and tends to go quiet rather than nasty if he can’t answer a question. I don’t take a bullying stance when he can’t answer me, because I’m hoping he’ll go away and have a think. That would be way more productive. I do not agree with him or his party, but I respect the fact that he communicates with manners.

The Green Party does not have a whip. There is no pressure to hold the party line in the same way other parties must. We favour consensus approaches, so if you don’t agree with a policy, you get scope to say so. You have the option of saying ‘what I think is this,’ in public and it’s the decent thing to acknowledge if the general opinion in the Party is different. If it is the case that your specific local situation requires unique handling for some reason, working out what the Green approach is there will be more appropriate than just coughing up a standard party line. If in doubt, we have core values and principles, from which it is easy to work out the sort of direction to take on any given issue. Let me just reiterate that. We have values, and they are consistent. That matters a great deal to me. Those values are more critical than doing whatever it takes to get a person to Westminster. It’s not about naked lust for power, it’s about standing for something you care about.

We’re an evidence-led party. Reason, based on the best evidence available, underpins our thinking. It’s not about bending the facts to fit what we want to have be true, its about responding to reality. I like that a lot.

The only reason I can combine being a Druid with being a press officer, is that I’m working for a party where this in no way requires me to act dishonourably. It is my job to be truthful, to speak well (and for me, good speech is a virtue). It is my job to try and grapple with complicated and confusing things, and get them into the public domain in ways that make sense. I can be a political Druid because I am not asked in my political work to do anything that would in any way be at odds with my spiritual values.

Enemies of the druids

Roman imperialisms pushed historical Druidry underground a few thousand years ago, and changed it at the very least, perhaps destroyed it. I’m no historian. Modern druids do not find themselves battling the armed forced of an expansionist state. We belong to no specific country, and can find ourselves on both sides, and none, in all manner of political arguments. It doesn’t look like anyone will be marching on us any time soon. When enmity is that clear cut, working out how to respond may be easier. Fight or acquiesce. You also know who to fight, and to whom you might surrender. These days we’re not in the same fights and there is much less clarity.

Modern Druids do not tend to fight such battles. Our enmity may be private. We may have taken up pens, rather than swords, to fight human rights abuses, animal cruelty, environmental vandalism or any one of the many issues besetting modern culture. When we do this, in practice what it means is that we are fighting a lot of the people around us. I talk about television dependence, battery raised children, car impact, consumerism. I’m not talking about a distant foe, I’m talking about the people in my village. These are not people I want to start a fight with. They are often people I like.

And then other times I’m talking about banks, politicians, corporations, government bodies, laws, habits of culture and systems. Trying to fight that is not unlike trying to fight fog. It’s there, I can see it, but it offers me very few actual targets I can hit. And again, all these things are made up of people, and many of them are going to be basically decent people who are only doing their job, or who have a different value system to me, or who have just never considered the consequences.

Now and then there’s a genuine nasty, some individual whose behaviour, actions, words make it clear they aren’t basically a nice person with whom I might not see eye to eye. Those who use and abuse, those who are deliberately cruel for their own amusement or gain and who do not care who they trample on during their struggle for success.

Even if I could go out with a sword and twat them, I wouldn’t, because that’s a response that reinforces the idea that might is right, and that’s not the culture I want to live in. I find myself banging my head against unfair systems, closed minded officials, and the general apathy of people who don’t want to know, on quite a regular basis. Truth be told, I anticipate this will be the way of it for the rest of my life, because it’s something I’m choosing to do.

There are times when offering a different example, responding with compassion and patience, or just working it through logically will shift something that had been a problem into something that can be worked with. It’s great when that happens, and if there’s just the faintest suggestion it can, then I don’t mind putting in the time. But there are plenty of people and structures that refuse to listen, much less see. There are places where the ‘norm’ is unassailable, to deviate is to be wrong, and there is no room for discussion. There are minds where only one explanation can exist, and there is no room to consider others. This is where the biggest, and the most interesting challenges lie. The measure of our Druidry is not what we do on the good days when all is happy and straightforward. The true measure of our ethics, our values, or characters even, is what we do when we’re up to the eyeballs in crap, with nowhere to go, no one who will listen, no obvious way to fight… then you see what a person is made of.

I’ve met some immovable objects in my time. Some instances that sounded a lot like ‘you can’t get there from here.’ I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing to do is totally refuse to accept this. There is always another way, so long as you’re breathing. Always another button to push, ear to bend, letter to write. Always a way to protest and raise awareness. And it is possible to go after the wrong without trying to destroy the people involved in it. That’s a tricky one, and there are going to be exceptions (I think I’ve found one, but, who knows?) It’s not what we achieve that defines us as Druids, it’s how we go about it. Doing the right things, for the right reasons. Not the expedient things. Not the things that serve us, but the things that need doing. All of us, in our lives, will find battles we can’t win, enemies we cannot talk round. But merely the trying can create change, and the more people are out there living their druidry, and trying, the more difference it’s going to make.

Godless Pagan Ethics

Pretty much everyone who criticises pagans, if they stop doing the ‘it’s just silly’ routine go onto ‘but you have no proper ethics’. This has everything to do with the assumptions that ‘proper’ religions come with a rule book, and not having a rule book obviously means that we don’t have any rules. I could get distracted here down a side track about the precise usefulness of rules that are 2000 years and more out of date. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s decking, his BMW or his mobile phone contract…. You have to do some wriggling to make those old rule books fit. There’s a basic assumption here, that the rule books of ‘proper’ religions were all dictated by God. Never mind that some of them aren’t compatible and it wouldn’t be PC to discuss that. All of them, written by God, therefore, ethically sound.

Now, whether or not you think God was there at the beginning, the rules were written down by people. Translated into new languages, by people. Interpreted, and applied, by people. That, by my reckoning, puts a great many people in the mix. My suspicion is, that people came up with the rules and wrote them down in the first place.

What happens if we accept the idea that all of the great religious books were written by people (maybe inspired by god)? People are flawed and make mistakes. Also, times change, and religious ideas can become less relevant. But if people wrote the rules, then people are individually and collectively responsible for what those rules do. Including killing people for ‘moral’ crimes, starting war, spreading hatred etc etc.

The age of a thing s not even proof that we, as modern humans, reliably think it’s a good idea. The UK traditionally went in for hanging, and now it doesn’t. Laws can change. Understandings of crime, compassion and the value of human life can change, and should. What makes sense in one context can be pure madness in another.

So yes, I’m a pagan, and I don’t have a rule book. I feel personally responsible for all the choices I make and all the things I do, and feel entirely unable to blame any of my actions on supernatural beings. The gods have NEVER made me do anything. I also don’t have a rule book that I can quote to feel morally justified about killing people, depriving them of their land, their dignity, their human rights. I don’t feel the kind of moral superiority that makes me inclined to be hugely judgemental of people I don’t know, but who have apparently messed up. Compassion matters to me more than rules. And when I think about it, all those neighbour loving, shirt giving recommendations in the Bible seem to get overlooked in certain quarters.

To be pagan is not to be without ethics, it is to know that you, and only you are responsible for the ethical choices you make. No hiding behind a book. No waving your bloodstained hands in feigned innocence, saying ‘it is god’s will, we have to’. No neatly doging the requirement to think about what I do, and who I judge, and no assuming that any law is morally, unassailably right and leaving it alone. I care about what is good, what is needful, what makes the world a better place, and  do not think the ‘ethics’ of the market place or the ‘values’ of consumerism serve us very well at all by that measure.

I don’t even think it matters where ideas come from, how old they are, or who came up with them. What matters is what an idea does, what is achieves in the world, who it helps, who it harms. “By their fruit shall ye know them,” yes? Ask what good it is, and if the answer is ‘no good at all’ then consider that it might be derived from human fear and human failing, and not any kind of deity at all. What is human, can be changed by humans, and we owe it to ourselves to really consider the implications of that.

Belonging to the land

Talking about druidry on this blog recently, I suggested the idea that what defines druids as distinctly different from other pagans, is that druids belong to the land. There was a lot of affirmative feedback on that, so I wanted to come back and consider what that means.

The land is the source of all life, and the basis of most ecosystems (oceans aside). So by focusing on the land we are called to take a longer perspective over living things, ourselves included. The long term wellbeing of the land is essential for all life. You cannot mistreat the land and hope to have life continue unchanged. Mistreating the land is something humans do continually, with no eye to the long term and little sign of any enlightened self-interest even. To be a druid is to speak for the wellbeing of the land, to act with that in mind, to see the deeper connections and the longer time scales.

Belonging to the land also places us specifically in the land we inhabit, along with all of its flora, fauna, history and human activity. Wherever we are, we belong, and it doesn’t matter how often or how far we move, while we are living on the land, we have the relationship and we can hold it consciously. It gives us a starting place from which to explore all the relationships we can have with other inhabitants of the land, and with its history, and future. Belonging grounds us – literally. We have a place to stand – literally again. It is the kind of knowing that gives strength and the ability to endure.

I think the idea of belonging to the land also leads us to relationship with much more immediate manifestations of deity rather than big, distant concepts. We’re more likely to take an animist approach, seeing spirit in all things, to look for the spirits and deities of our places, and to honour deities connected to the land we know. The sacredness of our land and the spirit of it is present to us, however we choose to understand it, and this immediacy feeds into a sense of direct involvement. God is not distant and inaccessible. The gods, the spirits, the divine is here, present, now. It can speak to us with the voices of wind and stream, from the roots of trees and the soil itself. We can glimpse it in the running hare or the soaring bird. These too belong to the land and are part of the same magical relationship that builds reality from one moment to the next.

If we belong first and foremost to the land, then we do not belong to our human communities above all else. We are not the property of the state, or owned by our employers. This affects how we perceive ourselves and our human relationships. We are not owned by the job, or by the demands of human expectations. We belong instead to the land, and consciousness of that allows us not to be ruled so easily by misguided cultural norms, or social pressures. We are also less inclined to see the land itself or anything that lives upon it as property to be owned by humans. We belong to it, it does not belong to us.

You can build a whole ethical framework from the principle of belonging to the land, and have that shape everything that you do. Equally, it is a viable basis for belief. The land does not require our belief, but the idea of its sacredness does, especially when we’re surrounded by people who see only resources to exploit and potential for profit and economic growth. A man on radio 4 this morning described the creation of jobs and wealth as a moral imperative. To me, that’s an absolute nonsense. Making sure there is sufficiency and sustainability are my moral imperatives. That we should have enough, and take no more than constitutes enough, and be careful to properly understand what ‘enough’ means is an ethos far more in line with belonging to the land, than imagining we own it.

I’m barely scraping the surface here but the more I look at it, the more I feel able to define my druidry in this way.