Last Thursday we hosted Professor Bill Simpson for a potluck “Agape Feast” here at the Homestead, as part of our annual Winter Retreat. It was a wonderful gathering with delicious food and lively conversation.
Professor Simpson talked about his recent trip to Egypt as a physical experience of “bridging the gap” between cultures, languages, religions and even food. He then brought this wider perspective to the issue of small-town politics, which can often create more searing, painful, and destructive dynamics than the tit-for-tat of international politicking.
If we are to create a more peaceful, vibrant, and sustainable society, we must start at home, in our own communities.
Enter the philosopher and “father” of Deep Ecology Arne Naess. Professor Simpson referenced an old, and well-worn copy of Naess’ book Ecology, community and lifestyle to give us a few examples of concrete ways we can learn to converse with and listen to those on the opposite side of the political spectrum, or those from vastly different economic, religious or cultural backgrounds.
It all starts by finding common ground – and food is a great way to start. (Hence why we hosted this event around a potluck!)
The genius of Arne Naess is his ability to relate global and historical perspectives to interpersonal conflict, and resolution. “It is a central norm of the Gandhian approach to ‘maximise contact with your opponent!’ …[therefore]…we shall give a systematic account of the rules for Gandhian nonviolence:
Act in group struggle and act, moreover, as an autonomous person in a way conducive to long-term universal, maximal reduction of violence!
Never resort to violence against your opponent!
Choose that personal action or attitude which most probably reduces the tendency towards violence of all parties in a struggle!
Never act as a mere functionary, a representative of an institution or an underling, but always as an autonomous, fully responsible person!p 148
Naess goes on to highlight why we might consider acting in accordance with these ‘norms’:
All human (and non-human?) beings have long-term interests in common.
Cooperation on common goals reduces the chance that the actions and attitudes of the participants in the conflict will become violent.
You invite violence from your opponent by humiliating or provoking him.
Thorough understanding of the relevant facts and factors increases the chance of a nonviolent realisation [sic] of the goals of your campaignp 149
Our personal, emotional and spiritual investigations into what it means to “Bridge the Gap” this week lead us to this question of how to really implement our insights into our daily lives. How to connect more deeply with strangers? How to find common ground with our neighbors or community members with whom we may disagree passionately? What speaks to you from the perspective of Deep Ecology as something that you can use to bridge gaps in your families, your communities, and even the world?