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by David Truman

Goons are running the world, yes?
You know better, right?
Now, what are you going to do?

The spiritual dangers of sitting on the sidelines

The challenges of wise action

The requirements of age are steeper than those of youth

If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem

Watching yourself get killed on TV

Where do you draw the line?

It's time to wage peace

Why experience can erode participation

Youthful exuberance goes a long way towards making life -- well, ALIVE. Of course, youth and exuberance also makes it easy to mess up, and -- hopefully -- to learn lessons. As we gather knowledge in the school of experience, we become more and more aware of the complications, the things that can go wrong, the things to consider, the things to avoid. That's not necessarily as helpful as it sounds. We become more capable of avoiding mistakes, but often, we reduce our mistakes at the perilous cost of reducing our LIVING.

Active participation in life is certainly discouraged by bits of learning like the following:

"Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread."

"Discretion is the greater part of valor."

"Look before you leap."

"Be sure mind is engaged before putting mouth in gear."

No question about the wisdom of looking before leaping. But as time goes on, what if we keep looking, but we definitely leap LESS? Then, eventually, if we follow that track, we finally leap so little, we hardly leap at all. The more we learn, the less we live. We are, in effect, out of action. Is THAT helpful? Is it WISE? Learning is useless when learning results in irresponsible withdrawal from the field of ACTION.

There are many variations of this increasingly passive mode of living, and therefore, many ways to refer to it, justify it, even recommend it. To name a few reasons for increased passivity, we may call it:

Pulling in our horns a bit.

Taking a little time to regroup.

Getting it together (when it reality, if we are growing at all in this phase, the chances are we are growing apart).

Nevertheless, oftentimes what is really happening is we are:

Getting paralyzed with fear.

Getting jaded, and set in our ways.

Dying while still alive.

Those of us who think of ourselves as spiritual students in the cosmic school of life, and who pride ourselves on seeking and gaining true wisdom, need to ask ourselves: "Is our learning making us more helpful members of human society, or less helpful?" And when we talk of our membership in human society, it would be appropriate to consider our social participation on ALL levels -- from the closest intimate relationships to the largest scale of world affairs.

The spiritual dangers of sitting on the sidelines

If the wise default from life participation, the trouble with that is:

1. The wise stop getting wiser. And most likely, we actually become LESS wise, and more negative. The following factors contribute to this result:

Learning -- at least positive learning -- practically ceases if active participation ceases. As a result of experience, it is somewhat natural that EVERY person, of every age, will TEND, increasingly, to become the OBSERVER of life. We need to beware of the tendency to withdraw from the fray, because it can be damaging to our CONTINUED learning. When there is less experience -- you know, that stuff we learn from -- we necessarily learn less and less.

What few lessons we learn tend to be negative ones. The lessons we learn after we pull in our horns can only reflect what happens AFTER we stop living, or when we live too cautiously. Generally, those dismal lessons all point to the same conclusion: passivity ruins life.

We become spiritually isolated. Social atrophy, and lack of fresh thought and healthy feedback, can be most dangerous, spiritually. Crotchety and crusty old people get into DEEP ruts because, without the input that comes from real involvement with the world around them, they get stuck in their minds -- and in certain repetitive patterns of thinking. Too often, as a result of self-isolation, the negative, withdrawn conditions we associate with old age are found in people of all ages. It is not unusual to see a teenager who has so completely withdrawn from life, they may as well be in a convalescent hospital, or an insane asylum. And THAT, needless to say, is NOT healthy.

2. True SPIRITUALITY fades. Spiritual teachers of all ages have recommended disengagement from the world for solitary meditation and spiritual devotions. But even so, ALL sources of spiritual wisdom are aware of the serious spiritual pitfalls of self-isolation. There IS a need for solitary reflection and contemplation in spiritual life -- but not THAT much. The usual person ALREADY has a tendency to be too passive, too inhibited, too cowardly to be fully active in life. Those are NOT tendencies to feed.

Being passive is not necessarily right, and nor is it generally right. Often, people do not realize that they are spending too much time alone NOT just because they are circumspect, contemplative, and diligent in the pursuit of enlightenment -- but MORE because they are cowardly, overly self-protective, and afraid of living. Spirituality is not a spectator sport. We betray ourselves, humanity, Godliness, and God when we neglect to act on what we know, and neglect to speak up for the Truth we know is True. Faith without works is dead; and conviction without action is little short of sinful.

3. The UNwise and least discerning run the show (and create many disastrous problems in so doing).

Consider, as a simple case in point, biological reproduction. While many highly educated and sophisticated couples, ecologically sensitive to world population problems and perhaps daunted by other social-economic trends, are having just one baby or remaining childless, people who are less educated, less concerned, and often less healthy -- emotionally, physically, and economically -- continue to multiply.

The long term effect of this imbalance is not simply the slanting of gene pool, but also, the dilution of the INFLUENCE of thoughtful people -- because they are not playing the game, because they are not having children, because their children are not there to play the game, etc.

Similarly, in the context of human relationships, we often see that the more conscientious and circumspect person will allow their less discerning, less self-suspicious partner to dominate boldly, but foolishly, to the detriment of both. As an old hymn says, "Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne."

4. SEEING the increasing wreckage, the cycle of disintegration from life accelerates. More and more people give up on life, build walls around themselves, and settle in for a long hard winter.

Taken as a whole, the four dynamics just listed create a vicious circle that helps no one, and hurts everyone.

The challenges of wise action

It takes a tremendous volume of deep experience to gain wisdom. But because of the challenges involved in learning through experience, frequently wisdom is acquired but not put into action. It takes a strong spirit to overcome the often discouraging effects of our experience and avoid the vicious circle described above. Here are some pitfalls that prevent putting wisdom into action:

Getting negative and clamming up. Some of the wisdom of the wise can easily be interpreted as negative or daunting -- and therefore discouraging to more innocent souls. Men and women of experience may not want to bother others with the conclusions they've drawn, knowing that they may not help anything, and they could actually hinder, by discouraging others from pursuing the experiences from which people LEARN.

Being uncertain how to manifest what is good. Some of the wisdom of the wise is clearly POSITIVE -- wonderfully so. Even so, we don't always see our way clear to bringing that known beauty, that recognized value, INTO MANIFESTATION. It takes more reflection to figure out how to bring wisdom into life. That reflection -- and the specific action plans that come from it -- is an important piece of being a responsible world citizen.

Not having the energy to take action. Although some trips and tumbles come with the territory, the naive, simplistic thinking of the young and inexperienced has some REAL advantages to it. One of them is ENERGY. Pure, unconflicted thought liberates TREMENDOUS energy. Powerful focus brings to life huge energy that the "older and wiser" don't tend to have.

The school of experience takes a toll on the reserves of optimism and energy for other reasons as well. One of them is the fact that energy comes from involvement, and therefore, as involvement diminishes, energy diminishes -- MUCH faster than would otherwise be the case. People who wish to be helpful in life had better beware of this pitfall, because clearly, it is an example of the poor get poorer principle: The less we act, the less energy we have to act. So, realizing that energy comes from involvement, we do well to stay engaged.

The requirements of age are steeper than those of youth

It's relatively easy to act when you see everything as black and white. So undeniably, the requirements of age are steeper than those of youth. We can only count on the fact that the capacities of age are also greater.

Here are the most important of those requirements:

We must find more courage to take action. (This is the part where you can help save the world!) The older and wiser KNOW that there are downsides to every choice; we know many of the risks; we know the limits of our effectiveness. But, if we want to live and help life, we must take action ANYWAY.

An experienced physician is a good example of the courage wisdom requires. As a new graduate, eager to apply what he had just spent years learning, he confidently diagnosed problems and prescribed treatments. Over his years of practice, however, he learned through experience that illnesses don't always behave in life like they do in textbooks; symptoms may have multiple causes requiring different therapies; and sometimes the most hopeful of treatments fails to work as well as anticipated -- or even produces unexpected side-effects. All of these lessons could make him unwilling to render a medical opinion, and reluctant to prescribe a cure. Fortunately, the doctor has a strong commitment to caring for his patients. Obviously, in the face of their suffering, his lack of certainty cannot justify inaction. So he does the best he can, accepting the downsides of his choices and the limits of his abilities, because he knows that in order to do ANY good at all, he MUST ACT.

We must switch gladly to new, higher motives. (This is the part where you can help save the world in a good way!) While wisdom enhances discretion and discernment, wisdom does not necessarily lead to inaction. Far from it: Wisdom often recommends actions of many kinds. What wisdom REALLY does is improve the basis for action -- by ruling out lower standards for action, and setting higher ones. Here's how that works:

As we accumulate the wisdom of experience, we grow relatively LESS inclined to take action in the reckless, selfish, and stubborn spirit of youth -- and less inclined to act on naive compulsions of any kind. THEREAFTER, if we are to remain involved with life at all, we must be involved for OTHER -- presumably BETTER -- reasons. Where foolishness and impulsiveness leave off as causes for action, wisdom, understanding, and compassion MUST kick in. Why? Because otherwise, most likely, there WILL be no action.

There's another part to this challenge: As we gain in wisdom, and we no longer take action for as many foolish reasons, we must embrace better reasons to take action. But as our standards rise, our character strength must rise, too -- to keep pace with the improved standards. We need the moral capacity and the force of spiritual will to actually ACT on those higher standards, for better reasons.

Needless to say, if we cannot overcome resistance to ACTING on the basis of the higher, righter standards we have come to recognize in our wisdom as TRUE, we will be paralyzed -- we will not act. In that case, quite possibly, our "wisdom" is LESS than useless, both to us and to the world we would otherwise serve (if we were less restrained by fear, or if we had more heart, more will).

If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem

To understand the deterioration of the world events, understand the deterioration of a single relationship. We have all seen relationships where both parties were "watching and waiting to see what would happen." Of course, since both people were taking a wait-and-see attitude, what happened was NOTHING. Needless to say, that was depressing, so the relationship deteriorated, and eventually dissolved.

The moral of the story is, standing idly by and watching life can easily be a very powerful cause, with very destructive effects.

If the problem is unreasoning, irrational action, and you yourself participate by acting in that fashion, then you have become part of the problem. But it is another kind of problem -- which may indeed be the GREATEST problem we have -- that people who CAN take rational and appropriate action neglect, for any reason, to do so.

Life needs HELP. Can there be any question about that? Life needs intelligent people to STEER it, and participate in it -- not just WATCH it. If we procrastinate too long, by the time we decide to take action, there may not be much we can do. Remember this: IN THE ABSENCE OF timely corrective steering, and in the absence of wise participation, matters can only get worse. So HELP!

Watching yourself get killed on TV

We leave you with an analogy that should be powerful enough to motivate anyone. It is admittedly tough to swallow, but it shows EXACTLY what is the problem with the passive strategy of looking on from the sidelines, while circumstances go from bad to worse.

In this day and age, real war footage has become a favorite subject for television; it's good for ratings. As a result, it has become possible to view war as a spectator sport, even as a bit of entertainment we watch from the comfort of our sofas. But there must be a limit to that. That is, it may be interesting to watch war on TV, as long as that war is somewhere else, half way around the world. But what would you do if that war you were watching "moved in next door," into a neighboring country? And then, what would you do if, God forbid, that little war just snuck across the border into YOUR country -- and came to your own TOWN? Would you then watch the action on the tube as the fighting advanced onto YOUR street, and as soldiers moved towards your house? And finally, would you watch on TV as a soldier comes into your living room and shoots you, personally? If not, where do you draw the line?

Where do you draw the line?

How close does it have to come before you feel implicated? Can the disaster you fear at last still be reversed at that point? And what about this question: Is the suffering of the people half way around the world inherently different than the suffering of your neighbors and family?

Now what will you do?

It's time to wage peace (click here for suggestions on how to wage peace)

Listen to the war mongers on TV, speaking to millions. They assume that you either agree with them, or you WILL agree with them. Well, what IS your position, actually? Among those millions, are you one who is in FAVOR of war? If not, what have you done to make your feelings known?

All of us who value peace had better find some way to wage PEACE. What does it mean to wage peace? Are we supposed to go out and fight in the wars? Not necessarily. But maybe it means we had better go out and fight AGAINST war -- PEACEFULLY.

And we had better do so with great energy -- enough to make a DIFFERENCE.

by David Truman

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