Part four of a series by Roy Mitchell. You can start at the beginning of this series here.
We have seen in previous discussions that the underlying belief endemic in our way of being is the primacy of competitiveness. This sets the parameters which underpin our relationships with each other and our relationship as a species with the world. This gives rise to many of the difficulties and barriers we experience in aiming to be inclusive and diverse in our relationships with others.
How then can we counteract the apparent dominance of competitiveness? George Fox was a troubled young man in that he was aware that there was some ‘dimension of being’ that he had not yet found. He spent many years looking for this other ‘dimension of being’ with the Christian Ministers of his day. They could not help him find what he was seeking. It was not until he gave up seeking outside himself that he found his answer within himself. He gave himself up to the realisation that we all as individuals have direct access to the divine, needing no intermediator in the form of priests or creed.
This gives rise to two possibilities. The first possibility is that whatever our outward or inward appearance we are equal in our entitlement to whatever riches or poverty, ease or difficulty of being that life holds. Secondly that there is that of God in everyone and everything – including nothingness (out of nothing comes something).
George Fox’ realisation and these possibilities underlie our Quaker spiritual practice today and provide, I believe, an antidote to the difficulties of competitiveness.
This spiritual practice however is not easy in a society imbued with the underlying ethos of being competitive or immediately relevant. I have never thought of myself as being particularly competitive but I came to see that a lot of my own loss of comfort in life came from my unchallenged underlying point of view that competitiveness was the natural way to be or just the way of things. My introduction to the Quaker point of view or belief that there is that of God in everyone was a tool I had been searching for to challenge this accepted cultural norm that I had grown up with and found deeply embedded in the world in which I lived.
Becoming a pattern – artwork by Vanessa Mitchell
Instead of seeing a world of competing hierarchies, I was now able to place everything and everybody on an equal footing. The world and everybody in it was equally deserving and equally undeserving. The matter of what was deserving and what undeserving was not for me to decide, but given up to the individuals or groups themselves. I had to find trust both in myself and them to be that which they were meant to be ie find that of God In themselves and then in others. I could not do it for them but I could try and do it for myself.
I have found that not being able to do it for others does not free you from the desire or need to be of service both to yourself and to others, but it does change the nature of the relationship in your interactions. They are not conducted within a hierarchy of status or relevance and are not dependent on your capabilities, outward appearance or the apparent comfort or uncomfortableness of your life circumstances. It matters not whether you are able bodied, sick, disabled, intelligent, educationally challenged or what gender, ethnicity, religion or sexuality you are. All is equality and your individual challenge is to respect that and not to exploit any outward differences for short term gain to your own comfort because as we have seen it results in loss of comfort for all ( including yourself) rather than the growth of comfort for all.
The building of trust starts with yourself. If you trust in the equality of all, then you encourage others to so trust by demonstrating your respect both for yourself and others.
There are some tools which I have found helpful with this. The first is to ask the question: am I here to change the world or is it here to change me? Over time I have come to realise that we are of equal service to each other. Just by being we present challenges to each other and we all have to make adjustments and changes as a result of our interactions together. I have allied this with a Buddhist practice of seeing people I meet as having already attained Buddhahood ie they have God active within them whether acknowledged by them or not. As a result they will possibly have some teaching that will be of use to me if I am open to receive it and yes me for them if I am open to sharing who I am. In simple terms I look upon all my interactions as an opportunity for equal learning and exchange. I am not the teacher or the learner but both and so is everyone else. We are of equal value to each other regardless of outward appearance. That is, in my experience, a point of view which builds trust, inclusiveness and allows diversity.
In the next (penultimate) discussion paper, I will examine how these changes to my underlying points of view have impacted my behaviour towards and experience of others.