By Donella Meadows
–November 30, 1995–
This morning before daylight my radio clicked on and I heard, through a sleepy haze, that Congress has passed and the president has signed a little-noticed edict permitting the export of Alaskan oil.
I pulled the covers over my ears. The oil industry wins again, I thought. The export ban was passed in the 1970s to prolong the life of our domestic reserves. There is, of course, much less oil under Alaska now than there was then. After decades of pumping our oil production is sliding downward. So we decide to export. Why? So oil companies can make money faster in the very short term.
I had nearly dozed off again when the radio reported that Congress and the president have cut the royalties that companies pay the nation for oil from the continental shelf.
That woke me up. Those lobbyists never sleep, I fumed. This Congress knows no shame when it comes to cutting services to the weak and taxes of the powerful. And this president will sign just about anything. It’s hard, waking up every morning to news that makes my soul sick. Especially when I have fallen asleep, as I have been doing lately, to the soul-stirring writings of Mohandas K. Gandhi.
“Most people do not understand the complicated machinery of the government,” said Gandhi. “They do not realize every citizen silently but none the less certainly sustains the government of the day in ways of which he has no knowledge. Every citizen therefore renders himself responsible for every act of his government. And it is quite proper to support it so long as the actions of the government are bearable. But when they hurt him and his nation it becomes his duty to withdraw his support.”
The actions of my government are not bearable. They devastate our natural resources and deprive our people. The politicians speak piously while practicing greed and divisiveness. They care nothing for the nation. I want to do more than withdraw my support from them. I want to tar and feather them.
“Man and his deed are two distinct things. Whereas a good deed should call forth approbation and a wicked deed disapprobation, the doer of the deed, whether good or wicked, always deserves respect or pity, as the case may be. ‘Hate the sin and not the sinner’ is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.”
It has spread to me. I hate those power-mad cynics.
“By a long course of prayerful discipline, I have ceased for over forty years to hate anybody…. but I can and do hate evil wherever it exists. I hate the system of Government the British people have set up in India. I hate the domineering manner of Englishmen as a class in India. I hate the ruthless exploitation of India, even as I hate from the bottom of my heart the hideous system of untouchability for which millions of Hindus have made themselves responsible. But I do not hate the domineering Englishmen, as I refuse to hate the domineering Hindus. I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open to me. My non-cooperation has its root not in hatred, but in love.”
It seems such a frail force, given the enormous power of the government and the money-crazed system that supports it. How can I love shameless exploiters — and what good would it do if I did?
“The law of love governs the world. Life persists in the face of death. The universe continues in spite of destruction incessantly going on. Truth triumphs over untruth. Love conquers hate.”
Say that again please, Mahatma. Say it stronger. Love and truth seem so absent from this world. I long for them, but I need to have my faith restored.
“The more efficient a force is, the more silent and the more subtle it is. Love is the subtlest force in the world…. Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment, and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment.”
Yes, but you’re a saint. You can summon love in the presence of fear and anger. I don’t know how you do it.
“I am as frail a mortal as any of us and I never had anything extraordinary about me nor have any now. I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough in me to confess my errors and to retrace my steps. I own that I have an immovable faith in God and His goodness and an unconsumable passion for truth and love. But is that not what every person has latent in him?”
Or her, dear Mahatma. The language has changed since your time to include us women too. I think you’d approve of that. But you would be so saddened at the way the rich heap up wealth to hide their fear, and the leaders scorn the poor, and the people trample over nature and each other in a hectic rush for excess, rather than rejoicing in enough.
“You must not lose faith in humanity. If a few drops are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty…. Each of us should turn the searchlight inward and purify his or her heart as much as possible…. No one need wait for anyone else to adopt a humane and enlightened course of action. Men [oh, sorry, now you would say people] generally hesitate to make a beginning if they feel that the objective cannot be achieved in its entirety. It is precisely this attitude of mind that is the greatest obstacle to progress — an obstacle that each [person], if [he or she] only wills it, can clear away, and so influence others.”
“To believe that what has not occurred in history will not occur at all is to argue disbelief in the dignity of [humankind].”
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1995