Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Global Responsibility

Scott Bradley

I recently listened to a conference call talk by James O'Dea, a leading advocate for peace, in which he said (perhaps as a quote): "Inner peace is a global responsibility." This is a statement with deep spiritual implications. If world peace is something we value and something for which we feel a certain personal responsibility, then it begins in the heart of the would be peacemaker. Only those who know inner peace can truly bring peace to the world.

This has its obvious cause and effect relationship; being peace, one brings peace. But there is something else here that touches on that Daoist belief that the harmony of a sage somehow influences a larger communal context without any direct agency. This belief is something to which I feel inclined to give assent, but also hesitate to proclaim, simply because it would seem to require belief. Nevertheless, it points to a spiritual interconnectedness that we not only experience in our guts, but to which science has begun to tilt. For my part, it is not necessary, in any event, to categorically affirm this possible reality since affirmation or denial does not change what actually happens, and such an intentional and purpose-driven inclination to self-cultivation would, from the Daoist perspective, be counter-productive in any case.

A sense of "global responsibility", whatever its focus may be, begins with a sense of personal responsibility with regard to one's own being-in-the-world. Being of skeptical disposition, however, for me the question immediately arises: From whence comes this sense of global responsibility, or even of responsibility to cultivate one's own peace? For if it is founded in some religious moral imperative wearing the garb of new age sensibilities, I think it foreign to the way of spontaneity, of letting life itself have its way.

"Responsibility", in the context of the traditions to which this blog addresses itself, immediately conjures up visions of the Confucianism which Zhuangzi recognized as an impediment to both personal and communal cultivation. The imposition of 'morality' from without can only stifle the growth of the moral sense within. The Zhuangzian vision of "responsibility" is of an expression of one's innate humanity and can only be authentic when experienced as such. That that sense of responsibility does arise seems clear, but we must remain careful not to externalize and codify it, and thereby render it inauthentic once again.

It might seem like an unnecessary splitting of hairs to make this distinction between an imposed and an arising sense of responsibility since we end up with responsibility in either case, but we need to remember Nietzsche's critique of morality and the death of God in this regard: it is we who brought nihilism into the world by virtue of our having grounded truth and morality in another, supposedly 'truer' world than the one to which we actually belong. Not only does an imposed sense of responsibility result in actions counter to the values espoused ("fighting for peace"), but it sets us up for a fall into complete disenchantment with any action at all.

All this having been said, when we discover in ourselves the life-expressive impetus toward inner and global peace, we affirm from the heart that "inner peace is a global responsibility".

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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