Our guest columnist is John Godolphin Bennett, from a talk he gave in 1972.
There is a crisis, and it is a crisis of people. We seem not to be able to live in such a way that we can avoid the troubles that threaten us, though we must, or face terrible outcomes. Therefore, if we’re going to think and talk about the future, we must first think and talk about people. What kind of people are we? Am I the kind of person who is responsible for there being wars on the earth, for there being injustice?
I may think I am not that kind of person. I am not a belligerent person. I don’t even wish to have anything to do with war. I have not the wish to impose myself on other people. But if I look at my behavior and I see that I take more than my share of what there is in the world—that I am able to eat not only all that I need, but even all that I want of food; that I am able to provide myself with comforts that couldn’t possibly be available on the same scale to everyone else in the world—then I am contributing to the whole injustice of the world, and the degradation of the planet.
All of us are in this position of making our contribution to the intolerance, injustice, and imbalance of the world and essentially there is no difference between us. We may see exaggerated manifestations and we may condemn those in whom these manifestations are so violent that we see the consequences of them. We say this group of people is responsible for the killing, that group of people is responsible for intolerance, another for taking undue advantage of material power, but essentially we are not different. Not in so far as we also take advantage of our strengths to the extent that we are able to.
The belief that what we can do we have the right to do is so deeply ingrained in us that it would require a long process to change, perhaps just as long as the process by which the respect for the individual was slowly engendered in the human race two to five thousand years ago. It may take a very long time to come to an understanding that we human beings cannot live by the principle that might is right and that what I can do I am entitled to do. But if we’re to arrive at this, or perhaps prepare for a future in which there will be an acceptance of obligations rather than assertion of right, what are we to do about ourselves?
We can’t make a new start unless we are prepared to see ourselves and recognize that every one of us—the most just, the most tolerant, the most pacific—is making his or her contribution to the total injustice and intolerance of the world. Unless we see this, then we haven’t really a starting point. Because if we think that we can solve the world’s problems in terms of other people being different while we remain the same, then we shall certainly get nowhere.
One of the principles of change is that we are not able to change other people, but there is a possibility that we can change ourselves. That is the possibility that we should explore and not concern ourselves with the defects of other people and the consequences of their defects in terms of social and environmental injustice.
Another principle is that revolutionary and violent change produces an equal force of destruction, and therefore even if an enormous force for change were at our disposal, we couldn’t use it suddenly or immediately and accomplish our aims. If change is forced, it quickly reverts to its opposite. Historically change has always come from small minorities and really great changes have only come gradually.
We are now passing into a period when attention on the individual and the doctrine of the right of the individual have clearly become so exaggerated that now it’s producing its own opposite. We have, through this concern with the individual, lost our concern for the human race, and lost our concern for the future.
Change is in the nature of harvest, the seeds of which have first to be sewn, then go through the whole process of lying for a time within the ground, of germinating, of appearing above the earth and finally in its own season giving the harvest.
We need now to develop a new kind of concern, that is a concern for life, a concern for the future, a concern for the human race, and be prepared to make sacrifices for the sake of this concern. And this will require a very great and very difficult change in our attitude towards the power and the strength that we have, not only as the human race but also as individuals.