Tag Archives: virtue

Imagining an ideal world

Generally I try to avoid complex hypothetical conversations. They tend to suck up a lot of energy whilst achieving nothing. However, unless we take the time to imagine how things could be, we can only follow the trajectory we’re on, or be steered by someone else’s vision. Here are some thoughts about what my ideal world would look like. If the idea interests you, please do post you own vision. I think there’s a lot wrong with how humans are doing things right now, but we’ll only change that if we undertake to think differently.

I believe that no one should be able to make a profit out of resources and services that are essential to life and essential to the functioning of society. I furthermore believe that every one of us who is capable of working, should be working some percentage of each week on making sure these essential things are in place and available to everyone. However we organise it in terms of money, we should be aiming to make sure that everyone has all the essentials covered. No one should be allowed to avoid contributing to essential work on the basis of wealth, and being able to buy your way, and your descendents way out of usefulness should be wholly unacceptable.

If we were all contributing to providing essential things for all people, no doubt there would be some people who felt called to do that full time, which would be fine, and they should be rewarded for that. Everyone else would then have time to study, to create, to produce things that are not essential but that improve quality of life and cause happiness. Anyone should be entitled to do this for profit if they want to. I think this would cause a shift away from wealth for the sake of it and create more interest in quality of life, and as a consequence, a better quality of life for more people. There would be more room for socialising, relaxing, resting and being physically active in playful ways.

If the core principle of a culture is that everyone is sufficient in the essentials, we’d stop creating pressures to buy and own based on ideas of scarcity. We’d become less fearful, and probably as a consequence more willing to share, exchange and gift rather than wanting to put a price tag on everything. We’d be wary of, if not immune to people who want someone else to do all the work for little gain while they rake in the profits – if everyone has enough, there’s a lot less room for exploitation.

I think we’d start to see those who want to do little and have a lot as the parasites they really are, while the myth of the feckless poor would soon disappear. If everyone is contributing to doing what’s necessary, and you have more people power than basic needs, you can just be a bit more ambitious about the baseline. If everyone can make a meaningful contribution to their culture, and if we were really interested in helping everyone contribute in the best way they could, it would soon become very obvious who wanted to participate, and who wanted to freeload. I think (based on assorted surveys about attitudes) that a good seventy five percent of us would easily engage with this way of living. Maybe more. It would be the people who feel a sense of entitlement who would be least willing to roll up their sleeves and participate, I suspect.

My approach would destroy the idea that having money is a kind of social virtue, and would instead focus us on contributing to society in more immediate ways. Doctors, firemen, engineers, scientists, teachers, farmers and the like would be highly valued for doing essential things. Creative folk would be highly valued for increasing quality of life. If most of us took our turn emptying bins, caring for small children, filling in potholes, picking fruit, etc, we’d value those jobs properly too. In fact most of us would be in a position to really value each other. Hedge fund managers and the like might seem a lot less useful as members of society.


The Other Side of Virtue

I loved this book, it’s one I cheerfully recommend. I’m very happy today to be sharing an excerpt.

Overture to The Other Side of Virtue (O Books, 2008) by Brendan Myers

The story of Christian virtue begins with the story of Moses, the holy man who climbed the holy mountain to receive the Law. Like any system of ethics based on law, it was intended to separate right from wrong as clearly as possible. This is why most of them begin with ‘thou shall not’. Of course, the law forbids things that nearly everyone would agree do not belong in a civil society: thievery and murder, for instance. So on the face of it, there can be no objection. But we should be very cautious about taking up such a gift and accepting it without question. Such pre-packaged gifts are sometimes like the Trojan Horse. They often conceal all sorts of other problems and complications. In the case of the Ten Commandments, the problem is this: if you accept it, you effectively hand over to God the responsibility for determining what is right and wrong. Your only choice in life is whether to obey or to rebel—precisely the choice made by Eve, in the Garden of Eden.

The original idea of Virtue had nothing to do with Christianity. In Europe, it is older than the Gospels by more than six hundred years. Consider the origin of the word itself. It comes from two sources. The first is the Latin ‘Virtus’, itself rooted in the word ‘Vir’, meaning ‘man’. From this direction, Virtue means something like ‘manliness’, and implies ‘macho’ qualities like toughness and aggression. The other source is the Greek word ‘Arête’, which is sometimes directly translated as ‘Virtue’, but can also mean ‘Excellence’. Excellence is what happens when some quality or talent is perfected, completed, rendered praiseworthy and beautiful. It is what makes someone or something stand out as special, a cut or two above the ordinary, and deserving of special admiration. There is nothing passive about Excellence. Instead of modesty or humility, the logic of arête calls for active qualities like initiative, honour, and intelligence. It also implies a few half-moral, half-aesthetic qualities like nobility, strength, proper pride, beauty, and grace. And it implies various social qualities, like friendship, generosity, honesty, truthfulness, and love. Virtue ethics could be more properly called ‘Arêteology’, meaning an account (logos) of what is excellent (arête) in human affairs. This account describes not only the things someone does, but also the kind of person she is. And it had almost nothing to do with obeying laws. Laws were meant for the ordering of society; being a good person was something else. The questions of ethics, in the ancient world, would never have been: What laws or rules should I follow? Which of my choices creates the least harm, or the most benefit, for those it affects? Who am I to obey, and what gives him his authority? To a Virtuous person of the ancient world, those would have been the wrong questions. The right questions were: What kind of person should I be? What kind of life should I live? What is an excellent human being like? What must I do to be happy? The general answer to questions like these went like this. You have to produce within yourself a set of habits and dispositions, something like a ‘second nature’, which would give you full command over your powers and potentials. In other words, you have to transform your character. The ‘familiar’ side of virtue has to do with a predisposition to follow laws and commandments. The ‘other side’ asserts that who you are is much more important than the rules you follow, and at least as important as the things you do, when it comes to doing the right thing, and finding the worth of your life.

The Other Side of Virtue is about that original idea, and how it is intimately connected with what it is to be human, and what it means to live a worthwhile life. I show how it appeared in the heroic and classical cultures of ancient Europe. Then I show how it appeared again in various different historical movements that revived or patterned themselves after those ancient cultures. The Italian Renaissance, Romanticism in High Germany and in Merry Old England, are only the most well known examples. There are also contemporary movements afoot, such as modern-day Druidry and Wicca, which embody the original idea of Virtue in various eclectic ways. What all of these different movements seem to have in common is that in their own way they all expressed one or more of the following three primary ideas.

  1. First and foremost, life involves inevitable encounters with events that seem, at least at first, to impose themselves upon you. Fortune, nature, other people, and death itself, are among them.
  2. Second, these events also invite us to respond. The response generally involves the development of various human potentials and resources. Some of these are social, such as one’s family and friendship ties, and some are personal and internal, like courage and integrity.
  3. And third, that if we respond to these imposing events with excellence, and if the excellent response becomes habitual, they can be transformed into sources of spiritual meaning and fulfillment. This transformation opens the way to a worthwhile and flourishing life.

There are a few others, but these ones are the most important. If I had to gather them into one sentence, this is what I would say: Virtue is the ancient idea that excellence in human affairs is the foundation of ethics, spirituality, self-knowledge, and especially the worthwhile life. Self-knowledge blossoms first and foremost with adventurous transformations of our way of being in the world. The Immensity, as I shall call it, is the situation that calls upon us to make the choices which create those transformations. It is a situation that changes us. But since our choices are involved, this is the change that also configures us, creates us, and so makes us who we are. To answer the call to Know Yourself is not only to discover who and what you are, but also to become that which you discover yourself to be.

Find out more about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/other-side-of-virtue-the


Courage, delusion and the Prince of Fools

Courage was considered a virtue by the heroic cultures many modern Pagans look back to for inspiration. However, once you start prodding it in earnest, courage turns out to be a rather complicated thing.

I’ve spent the last few days reading Mark Lawrence’s novel ‘Prince of Fools’. Book one of a dark fantasy trilogy, running in parallel time-wise with his Thorns trilogy. I really like Mark as an author. He can do plot and action, he balances light and dark superbly so you’re always in your toes, but sometimes giggling, his craftsmanship with words is superb, and there are layers. Start digging around in what holds the plot together, and there are weighty concepts about what it means to be human. These are qualities I very much appreciate in a book. He’s also a lovely person.

After some deliberation, I feel that the key themes in Prince of Fools, for me were cowardice/courage and self-delusion. The interplay between the two in the narrative is also fascinating. The first person narrator ‘hero’ self-identifies as a coward. Jalan prefers running away to fighting and getting out of things tends to appeal to him more than sorting them out or facing responsibility. Much of this is held together by a total refusal to think too much about anything – a form of protective self-deluding there, which keeps him from the consequences of what he does, and does not do. His companion, Snorri, seems brave, he’s certainly driven, but there is no small amount of refusing to think making that apparent bravery possible, too.

The theory that Mark puts forward, through Jalan, is that everyone is afraid. Everyone is in the business of running away, it’s just a case of what you fear most. The person who fears dishonour more than death will run towards a fight, not away from it, quite simply. They may be no less afraid, it’s just a different fear. I note for myself that I can be careless of my own pain and physical damage, but fear causing discomfort – even minor emotional discomfort – to others. Which has interesting influences on my choices.

Without fear in the mix, it’s very hard to call anything brave. It may just be stupid, unimaginative, misguided. To be brave, you have to know what there is to be afraid of. It’s an interesting question as to whether, having identified the biggest fear, you can then bravely run away from it towards something that also offers challenges. I am inclined to think that the naming and owning of the fear might well be the bravest part of the whole process. To know what frightens you most is to know yourself, and to be honest about your fear is to be more authentic.

However, Mark doesn’t leave it there, because the theme of not being honest with yourself about fear runs through the book. It takes a certain amount of dishonesty to keep going when the things to be afraid of are big enough to easily break you. It takes a certain kind of deliberate forgetting and denying to stay sane in the face of horror and trauma.  A person with PTSD needs to forget – because it is the remembering that takes you apart. What do we lay down of past and self in order to face the future? What lies do we have to tell ourselves in order to be able to act? When failure seems inevitable, the heroic path may depend entirely on your ability to believe otherwise. To die for a cause is to be able to believe it’s worth it right up until the last breath, despite all evidence to the contrary.

We tend to hold honesty as a virtue, but it is also worth considering what the little lies and bigger ones we tell ourselves allow us to do, for well or woe.

(More about the book here – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18693743-prince-of-fools)


Wisdom of the barrow dog

I   went up to the barrow alone yesterday, to be with the sky, the ancestors and the wide horizon. I went to contemplate, seeking perspective and peace. I’d been sat there some time when the dog found me. She might have been a deer hound – certainly large and shaggy enough, but rather golden. And old kind of dog, the sort you could easily imagine has always roamed these hills. Her people had stopped to chat some yards away, and she ambled over. I am used to dogs checking me out. It’s a popular place for dog walking, and a stationary, meditating Druid is apparently too interesting to miss. I get sniffed a lot.

I was not in a good way yesterday, needing my space. Perhaps the barrow dog picked up on this, because not once did she attempt to make physical contact with me. She came over and asked me to throw her ball, and then she just lay down on the grass next to me, and there we remained for some time, much to the amusement of her people.

I was glad of her presence. To be acceptable to a dog is no small thing, especially if you’re in a dark place, and it is hard to imagine being acceptable to anyone. She reminded me that for dogs, there is no shame in seeking care, affection and attention. Openly social creatures, they arrive with wagging tails and hopeful eyes, and only if someone has mistreated them do they become afraid to make known their wants and feelings. It is very easy to be in the company of a dog. There was a generosity in that presence, the gift of just sitting down with me for a while. No need to talk, which helped. No need to wonder what she wanted from me, or whether I was doing a good enough job of it.

There is no second guessing with dogs. They do not infer or read between the lines. Either you play with them, or you don’t. I’ve yet to meet a dog who gets a perverse kick out of being miserable or who is competitively ill, or who is keeping score. They don’t gossip and, with delightful irony, they never bitch. Tolerant, friendly, ready to make the best of things, open hearted, generous, forgiving, loyal… the virtues of dogs are many. There is much I can learn from the wisdom of barrow dog.


Always be drunk

“You should always be drunk, with wine, with poetry, or with virtue as you choose.” – Baudelaire.

The first one is easily achieved, and it’s worth noting that gods of grape and sacred insobriety turn up all over the place. Alcohol warms the body and eases the mind, makes us more sociable, relieves the pain of aching muscles and helps us to be merry. We shed our fears and inhibitions and are more open to having a good time. The Romans had ‘in vino, veritas’ – in wine, truth. That which slips out when we’re pissed may be a lot more real than our closely guarded lips would normally allow. But don’t always be drunk with wine, you’ll develop a tolerance that lessens the impact, and you’ll wreck your liver, and some things work better when you can walk in a straight line…

Drunk with poetry, with inspiration, vision, the fire in the head – this is awen, and the quest for it is very much part of the bardic path. Be drunk with wonder, and with beauty. Let all that is glorious infuse your spirit so that you are floating on it in an altered state of mind. Seek out exquisite things, or create them, and let the natural highs of your inspiration carry you away. Except also bear in mind all those folklore stories about places you can sit out and either come back a poet or a lunatic – because if you try and set up camp permanently on the high plateau of poetic insobriety, you will go quite entirely mad. Now and then you must come down from the mountain to wash your socks and deal with all those other necessary, earthy issues.

Drunk with virtue, with the perfect awareness that you are acting in honour, that right action and right thoughts have brought you to a state of grace. Knowing that even if it is hard, the sheer virtuousness of doing the right things for the right reasons is worth the price. The intoxicating qualities of virtue are, oddly enough, the least socially acceptable. We are used to those who are drunk on wine. We can be amused by the tripped-out poets, or impressed, if they create anything good, and we expect creative folk to be a bit mad anyway. But virtue? Oh, dare to be drunk on virtue and expect the distaste of those you encounter. ‘Smug’ and ‘self righteous’ are the words we keep for people who dare to be off their faces on the joy of doing the right thing. Of the three, it may also be the most dangerous, the one most likely to have you courting hubris and hypocrisy. It’s essential not to be perpetually drunk with virtue, or you risk buying into your own PR and becoming the exact opposite of what you set out to be.

Fall from alcohol and you’ll have a hangover. Fall from poetry and you can be sorely depressed and disorientated. Fall from virtue, fall from saint to sinner and you will lose so much more in your own eyes, including the respect of anyone who has seen you in your elevated state. Cast yourself as a saint, and those inevitable feet of clay will leave the odd dirty print.

Be drunk, as you choose, but I do not think one should always be drunk. It all seems to work so much better if you surface for air now and then and some alternative perspectives, the washing of socks, the eating of the sandwich, the recollection of the feet of clay…


Gratitude, 5 years on

It’s nearly the fifth anniversary of my going to America to meet Tom in person, and this winter will be our fourth wedding anniversary. Not a day goes by but I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the richness and joy he has brought into my life. Curled up in the warm, safe, friendly place that is our bed, I end every single day conscious of how fortunate I have been in all of this, and still possessed of a sense of wonder about how it’s all worked out.

Fairy tale romance it may have been, but in the sense of there being a good helping of ogres, dragons, dramatic escapes, and hard battles. We’ve come through all of that to this place of stability, a home of our own, some financial security and as much certainty about the future as anyone gets. Not a day goes past but I stop for a moment to recognise that so much could have gone so differently. In part we were lucky, but we also never gave up, on each other and on what we wanted. Although there were some terrifying times when everything seemed set against us, we got through. There have, especially in the last year, been some blessed times of relative peace and ease and not fearing for the future.

Gratitude tends to derive from a sense of perspective. For many people the old adage ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ is all too true. We also tend not to know what we’re missing until we find it. Gratitude can open our eyes to the blessings in our life, but if all we’ve ever known is famine, we can mistake scraps for a feast, and not realise that we could be reaching for more than those scraps. I’ve experienced that journey in my emotional life and it is only in the experience of bounty that I am able to look back and see how much gratitude I felt for what was proportionally very little. Being grateful for very little helped keep me in a place that was harmful to me, and discouraged me from imagining there was anything better to seek.

It’s one thing to be grateful for what food you can find when there really is a famine, quite another to be fed on crumbs while others live in plenty. Gratitude has to be tempered with a sense of justice, or it can become a very good way of helping people who have nothing to stay on their knees. We tell our poor they should be grateful for the foodbanks, not that they should be furious with a system that only gives them the choice of foodbank or hunger. And we should not be so grateful that someone, anyone loves us, that we accept their ‘love’ on any terms, no matter how toxic.

We are told to be grateful to the rich, with their job creation providing our wealth, and trickledown economics spreading the bounty. These are myths, for it is work that creates wealth, and nothing worth having trickles down – just crumbs from the table that others have worked hard to load up although they are not invited to the feast. If we practice gratitude to those who hold power over us, we can end up counting our blessing that they aren’t a worse sort of tyrant, rather than kicking them out and making things better.

There’s an idea (I think it comes originally from Aristotle) that virtue is the midpoint between two vices. Gratitude is a spiritual virtue, and it’s obvious opposite is ingratitude. Place it in a three point way of conceptualising, and rather than gratitude/ingratitude, you can see gratitude as a line between ingratitude, and complicity. Be grateful for the good things you have, but don’t be so grateful in all things that you end up supporting unjust systems, accepting abuse and corruption, and going along with things not being as good as they could be.


Is modesty a virtue?

In many religions, modesty in dress and behaviour is considered to be a virtue. This is especially true in the sense of sexual modesty, and is often applied to both genders. Mainstream culture by contrast uses sex to sell just about everything, and favours presenting the body as object – especially the female body. Display is actively encouraged in both genders, but women are also routinely shamed for it. As Paganism tends to be a sex-positive religion, how do we begin to make sense of all this?

To be clear about my own biases, I tend to cover up. I feel more secure covered up and am averse to receiving attention that has any kind of sexual aspect to it from the vast majority of people. I cover up because I favour practical clothes and it suits me to avoid both cold and sunburn by this means. I feel less self conscious when my body is not on display. This has not always been true of me and there have been times in my life when I’ve felt free, willing and able to make my body more visually available. I am not offended by people choosing to cover up, and I am not offended by people choosing to dress provocatively.

Modesty works as a virtue when covering up enables you to hold your sexuality and your body in some very specific ways, and in so doing uphold a religious position. Where it doesn’t work is if it is forced. A person who is made to do something or who does it out of fear is not upholding a virtue. There is nothing particularly virtuous about my covering up – it is protective and about personal comfort. If I wanted to make a powerful dedication, it would probably be more appropriate to bare my breasts like a Minoan priestess – precisely because I would find that so unspeakably hard to do.

With all due reference to that iconic Minoan priestess issue, and to the images of bared breasts in Egyptian mythology, and all the bodily representations scattered through ancient Pagan cultures… there’s clearly every scope for Pagan virtue in the baring of the body. It is an honouring of nature to be unashamed of your naked self. It can be used in ritual for all kinds of reasons. But again, if we do that because we feel we ‘should’, under pressure from someone else, or otherwise under duress, it is no virtue at all. If we do it with no respect for our own bodies or anyone else’s there is no virtue.

Virtues are seldom fixed and definite things in Paganism, and there can be many ways of approaching any of them. Without knowing the reasons a person does something, it is very hard to judge if they are being virtuous, or acting for their own convenience, or are afraid. Judging each other tends to be a total waste of time and energy. Is there any virtue at all in doing what comes most naturally to us, or is that the most virtuous thing a Pagan can do?


Gratitude and Druidry

It’s Thursday, and on facebook a lot of people I know will be posting Thankful Thursday pieces, acknowledging the things in their lives they are glad about. Practicing gratitude is something that happens across a range of traditions, but like everything else, some ways of doing it are more helpful than others.

Taking time regularly to recognise the things we should be grateful for helps keep life in perspective. I have so many things that others do not: A roof over my head, enough to eat, I can afford to heat my home, I am not subject to violence or bullying, I am not in a war zone, a flood zone or anything else threatening. In these things I am fortunate, and acknowledging that I must also acknowledge that others are far less fortunate than me. Much of the difference is just plain luck, and in gratitude for what I have, I can reach out a hand to try and make things a bit better for those who are worse off.

Too much gratitude is not a good thing though. When you become grateful for the pathetic scraps from someone else’s table, gratitude becomes part of a process that strips away your humanity, if you aren’t careful. I used to be so grateful that the guy I used to live with put up with me. He seemed such a saint for tolerating all my shortcomings and inadequacies. I was so grateful, for any small gesture of kindness, any moment of warmth, any time he could be bothered to spare me some attention. When what you are given dwindles steadily, and you are required, or require yourself, to maintain the same level of gratitude, all of reality starts to distort around this, and the consequences are damaging.

Practicing gratitude needs to go alongside a process of really thinking about entitlement. What should we be able to take for granted? Physical safety, perhaps. A safety net in the form of the welfare state. Rights to life, liberty and freedom of conscience. If you start feeling grateful for these things, their place in your life is not as secure as it ought to be. There’s a world of difference between being glad of good friends and being grateful for the people you feel are generously putting up with you, even though it’s clearly very hard for them.  With enough mental effort, a story of gratitude can be built around anything: He only hits me because he loves me, is a classic example. Therefore, the degree to which there is violence is the degree to which there is love, and therefore a person learns to become grateful for violence inflicted on them. These are not good lessons to learn.

A person with a sense of self-worth, is better placed to judge where gratitude is called for, and where it is not. A person with an inflated ego can readily fail to notice the things they should appreciate. So much of Druidry is about finding a balance, and this is no exception. The balances around gratitude involve the balance of self-esteem and developing a sense of entitlement that is fair. This is quite a process, but I think the best place to start is by asking not what we, personally should be entitled to, but what we think everyone should be entitled to.

Working time for gratitude into your Druidry is a really productive activity. It changes how we view our own lives and is all about our relationships with the world around us. Gratitude is a response, to people, to luck and opportunity, to beauty. It calls into question what, if anything, we should be able to take for granted. It requires us to ask what entitlements life might have, and in this way invites us to respect the sacred in all things. Ideas of gratitude are tied up with ideas of worth and appreciation, and with a sense of joy and delight as well as the needful stuff. Exploring it helps us become more alert to the good stuff, too. There is much to be grateful for, but it is essential to be grateful for the right things.


Courage

Of all the virtues a person might cultivate, courage is one of the ones I find most important. Honour is the primary virtue cherished by Druids, but honour without courage doesn’t amount to much. If you can only be honourable when it is safe and easy, you won’t get very far.

Fear is a very destructive and damaging force in my life, and I know I am not alone in this. There are days when the fear is so bad that I simply want to shut down and refuse to engage with the world. To do so, would be to bring about personal disaster, there are no two ways about it. To be halted by fear, is to fail. So much of what I do depends on getting out there and doing it… if I let the fear overwhelm me, I am finished. It means that often, any kind of movement at all is far better than quitting would be.

For some, courage and bravery seem like an absence of fear. From the outside they tend to look that way. Conventional wisdom has it that courage is not freedom from fear, but the ability to overcome the fear that you have. Undoubtedly this is a useful thing, but it means living with the fear.

What is courage, as a state of being? Firstly it requires a capacity for hope. You have to believe it is possible for things to be better and that taking action will help. Without that fundamental belief, there is no courage. An absence of despair, or at least not very much of it, are necessary pre-requisites for courage. Even if you are heading out to face certain death, you have to believe that doing so means something, or you’ll just pull the duvet over your head and wait for certain doom to come to you, instead. It doesn’t need to be more than a fine thread of hope, a tiny belief that some small thing could be made better. However, that dash of optimism makes all the difference. Without it, courage seems futile.

Courage requires a degree of belief in your own power. If you don’t believe that you, personally, can make a difference by acting or doing your best, you will not find the courage to stand up and try. So for there to be courage, there must be a world view that embraces the potential of the lone crusader, or that sees how many little actions contribute to changing the tide. Gloomy acceptance does not foster courage.

Then you need to have a vision of something better, so that you know which direction to move in. It might be vague, it might simply be the idea that if you act honourably you will move towards those better ways of being, but there needs to be something. Courage without honour has no idea what to be doing, and can easily turn into something else.

Courage is not merely the business of overcoming fear. Determination can do that. Fear itself can make us overcome the paralysis of fear for fear of what might be worse should we fail to act. Courage is an inner condition that says ‘I can try and there is a point’. When you have that, you can see all the things it is reasonable, and less reasonable to be afraid of, but you have the means to challenge them. You have a perspective that makes it possible to stand up and act. That kind of courage is not bombastic or sabre rattling, but it has a great deal of power.

I do not think that courage as a virtue is simply a measure of overcoming fear. It is a state of being that is not dependent on how much fear you are feeling. It is a habit of mind and a cultivation of belief that enables action regardless of fear. One can therefore have courage without feeling afraid, or with it; the measure is not the terror overcome, but a particular inner quality that enables action.


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.