From Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton
If we are fools enough to remain at the mercy of the people who want to sell us happiness, it will be impossible for us ever to be content with anything. How would they profit if we became content? We would no longer need their new product.
Douglas Steere remarks very perceptively that there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the roots of inner wisdom which make work fruitful.
From Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer:
If all the world is a commodity, how poor we grow. When the world is a gift in motion, how wealthy we become.
In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undercuts an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires. Gratitude cultivates an ethic of fullness, but the economy needs emptiness. The [Onondaga] Thanksgiving Address reminds you that you already have everything you need.
From Deep and Simple by Bo Lozoff:
The basics of life are no different today than they were thousands of years ago: Get up in the morning, take reasonable care of our bodies, minds and souls; do some kind of work which benefits the world instead of harms it; respect and cherish each other, and then get some sleep. It’s important to keep our big view simple, and to pass such a simple view on to our kids. They desperately need a Bigger View than television, malls, and the salaries of their favorite athletes and movie stars.
Human beings exist in relationship to each other. Real freedom cannot be separated from responsibility to others. To be free means to be able to respond to whatever the situation or circumstances may require… If we are unskilled, self-centered, addicted or greedy, we will not be very free.
It is true that your acts of kindness may not solve the problems of hunger, poverty, racism, pollution, prison life, etc. But the goal is not a problem-free world. The goal is attainable right here and now–a state of love, goodwill and helpfulness between you and at least some of the people around you, instead of fear, distrust and selfishness. This is the same teaching Jesus tried to get across about the Kingdom of Heaven: It’s not out there or up ahead; it’s at hand. Right here, between you and the person next to you. Or else, we never get there.
From The Green Boat by Mary Pipher:
…if we just let the culture happen to us we end up rushed, stressed, addicted, unhealthy, and broke.
From Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All The Difference by Desmond and Mpho Tutu:
The Christian Gospels urge the reader to ‘keep awake”. Modern culture would prefer that we move through life half asleep. We are encouraged to make selections by default, not by conscious choice…because we do not actively choose to do what is right, we slip into wrongness. The practices of goodness are practices of vigilance and conscious choice. They are habits of self-knowledge.
From God Is Not A Christian by Desmond Tutu:
[In the West] there is an obsession with achievement, and it does not much matter in what you succeed so long as you do succeed. The worst thing that can happen, it appears, is to fail. And that culture easily dismisses people as expendable, discardable, when, because they are poor or unemployed, they are judged to have failed.
From Teach Your Children Well by Madeline Levine:
We are immersed in a culture that emphasizes individuality, competition and self-centeredness…it leads us to feel isolated and a bit desperate.
We will find ourselves most capable of making real change…if we inventory those things that get in our way and figure out how to turn down their volume, so that we are free to act without distraction, distortion, or unnecessary anxiety.
From You Are Not Your Brain by Jeffrey Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding:
Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity. (St. Augustine)
You cannot change what you are not aware of.
Don’t believe everything you think!
From Wandering Home by Bill McKibben:
We live under a lulling enchantment sung by the sirens of our consumer society, telling us what will make us happy…Breaking that spell requires something striking….seeing how poor people really live, or understanding the depth of our ecological trouble. Or , maybe better, it requires seeing other possibilities…A world where neighbors provide more for each other, growing food…and making music, a world where we could take our pleasure more in the woods than in the mall.
The essential human skills–cooperation, husbandry, restraint–offer [the] possibility for competent and graceful inhabitation, for working out the answers to the question that the planet is posing in this age of ecological pinch and social fray.
From The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster:
Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear.
The Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle. We deceive ourselves if we believe we can possess the inward reality without its having a profound effect on how we live.
[Steps to simplicity:]
Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
Develop a habit of giving things away.
Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
From Simplicity by Richard Foster:
Simplicity and solitude walk hand in hand. Solitude refers to the inward unity that frees us from the panicked need for acclaim and approval. Through it we are enabled to be genuinely alone, for the fear of obscurity is gone; and we are enabled to be genuinely with others, for they no longer control us.
From Toward a History of Needs by Ivan Illich:
[Crisis] can mean the instant of choice, that moment when people become aware of their self-imposed cages and of the possibility of a different life.
What people do or make but will not or cannot put up for sale is as immeasurable and as invaluable for the economy as the oxygen they breathe.
Housework, handicrafts, subsistence agriculture . . . and the like are degraded into activities for the idle, the unproductive, the very poor, or the very rich.
To grow up one needs access to things, to places, and to processes, to events and records. One needs to see, to touch, to tinker with, to grasp whatever there is in a meaningful setting. This access is now largely denied. . . Access to reality constitutes a fundamental alternative in education to a system that only purports to teach about it.
From The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich:
The impulses that have landed us in a war of no exits and no deadlines come from within…In our own time, [foreign policy] has increasingly become an expression of domestic dysfunction–an attempt to manage or defer coming to terms with contradictions besetting the American way of life.
The foreign policy implications of [the American] penchant for consumption and self-indulgence are almost entirely negative… Efforts to satisfy spiraling consumer demand have given birth to profound dependency.
The Big Lies are the truths that remain unspoken: that freedom has an underside; that nations, like households, must ultimately live within their means; that history’s purpose, the subject of so many confident pronouncements, remains inscrutable. Above all…power is finite. Politicians pass over matters such as these in silence. As a result, the absence of self-awareness that forms such an enduring element of American character persists.
Perfect security is an illusion. Yet for keeping security problems within tolerable limits, self-sufficiency has a value greater than even the largest army.
From The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein:
Local people’s renewal movements begin from the premise that there is no escape from the substantial messes we have created…These movements do not seek to start from scratch but from scrap, from the rubble that is all around…Radical in their intense practicality, rooted in their communities, these repair people are taking what’s there and fixing it, reinforcing it, making it better and more equal….Uniting all these examples of people rebuilding for themselves is a common theme: participants say they are not just repairing buildings but healing themselves…The best way to recover from helplessness turns out to be helping–having the right to be part of a communal recovery.
From Deep Economy by Bill McKibben:
Think about your own life: which moments mattered most? Didn’t most of them entail being involved in something larger than yourself? Either out in the hugeness of the natural world, or working together with those around you toward some common end, often for no material gain?
From Hope, Human and Wild by Bill McKibben:
Real hope implies real willingness to change…An example [of positive change] is almost as annoying as it is inspiring…for it puts the burden on us to do something about the problem.
From Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford:
Cultural despair rests on a view of history as being more powerful than individuals; the revolutionary… entertains an exaggerated fantasy of world changing [which may] come to stand in for, and distract him from, the smaller but harder work of living well…The alternative…is resolutely this-worldly. It insists on the permanent, local viability of what is best in human beings. In practice, this means seeking out the cracks where individual agency and the love of knowledge can be realized today, in one’s own life.
From Practicing Peace, a compilation of quotations edited by Catherine Whitmire:
Men and women today try to achieve happiness by the pursuit of military and economic security, with the result that they find themselves in a world where, as Niebuhr has written…of the USA: ‘the paradise of our domestic security is suspended in a hell of global insecurity”; or they equate happiness with the pursuit of pleasure, with the result that their leisure time is commercially exploited and they give themselves no time in which to think. They lose their simplicity and are easily affected by propaganda, particularly by the kind of propaganda that exploits selfishness and fear. –Kathleen Lonsdale, 1957
War is not an accident. It is the logical outcome of a way of life. —from A.J. Muste
From Community and Growth by Jean Vanier:
The spirituality of the circle, which implies littleness, love of little things, and humility, is not easy in our world. We are schooled from an early age to go up the ladder of human promotion, to be outstanding, to succeed and to win prizes; we are taught to fend for ourselves and to be independent. We are taught how important it is to possess knowledge, success, power, and reputation. We are taught to put external values over and above internal ones. However, the Gospels call us to love and live the Beatitudes; to die to ourselves.
From Plain and Simple by Sue Bender:
There is a big difference between having many choices and making a choice. Making a choice—declaring what is essential—creates a framework for a life that eliminates many choices but gives meaning to the things that remain.
–-A certain degree of physical comfort is necessary but above a certain level it becomes a hindrance instead of a help; therefore the ideal of creating an unlimited number of wants and satisfying them seems to be delusion and a trap. . . Europeans will have to remodel their outlook if they are not to perish under the weight of the comforts to which they are becoming slaves.—a quote from Gandhi taken from The Case Against the Global Economy
From Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton