On the Question and Nature of
Service to Humanity
A friend of mine had made what I considered to be an absurd statement about Dr. Cornel West’s comments concerning the president’s public comments (and/or the lack of those comments) concerning the recent spate of police killings of persons of color (who, by the way, were all citizens of this great nation thereby possessors of all the legal and constitutional guarantees to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the rest of us.) So, I asked my friend what was the nature of his particular concern about Dr. West’s statements which made those statements so objectionable to my friend? When he answered me with an extended paragraph reminiscent of a reply I might make, in length and style, I had to call into question my style of discourse.
At a moment of leisure sometime later I began to consider the discourse I had had with this friend of mine. The first thing that occurred to me was that he was reacting from a point of view of an rigid ideology which informed, intellectually and emotionally, a strongly held conviction which is a conviction I happen to disagree with. This lead me to ask myself what is the nature of ideology? Sadly, even though I feel compelled to ask the question, “What is the nature of ideology,” I am not entirely sure that I am able answer this question adequately. Perhaps, however, some description of my personal experiences with being ideological might be illustrative.
My first experience with being ideological started at the age of 17. It was then that I began to accept the teachings of a certain fairly regressive version of Christianity. I soon knew their doctrine and teachings at a level of near perfect recall. Before long I was able to recite “chapter and verse” quotes that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt the validity of these beliefs which I had adopted as the very essence of who I was. These beliefs had come to define who I was. During my association with this “church” the Apostle of the Church proposed what to me was a most intriguing concept: Animals, specifically domesticated mammals, had what he referred to as “rudimentary mind”. To my mind this made perfect sense as it seemed to confirm the observations I had made throughout my life yet had never quite articulated before. I applauded this development; however, for various reasons I soon left the church.
Disassociating myself from the physical communication with the body of the church did not, however, clear my mind of the indoctrination I had so long subjected myself to. This “clearing of my mind” would take a number of years and a return to the church to reorient my mind in a more inclusive habit of thought. When I once again began to attend the church I found that all the regressive elements that had precipitated my original departure was still the order of the day there; even more unfortunately, the more progressive and enlightened developments that had began to appeal to me toward my original association with the church had long since been abandoned, seemingly never to have been suggested at all.
It was not long before I left the church again because not only was the church’s doctrinal teachings just as regressive as ever the interim respite I had indulged in introduced me to a much more expansive mode of thinking about the world and all things therein contained. Plus, my experience upon my return of witnessing the shift backward in church teachings coupled with the ability to view, as if from afar, the manipulation of the laity for the material benefit of the top echelons of the church hierarchy provided the key to freeing my mind from the grip of their influence. Thus I was no longer held in thrall by their particular ideology.
However, being somewhat young and zealous I had not yet fully learned the lessons of my personal history, thus I was doomed to repeat those lessons.
I continued to adopt some of the ideologies of the various teachings I studied for some years to come. These periods of adopting new ideologies tended to diminish in duration and intensity with each succeeding new ideology adopted. I am now very hesitant to buy anyone’s “pig in a poke.” However, as my father taught me while I was but a child that “Knowledge is a wonderful thing for what you know can never be taken away from you.” One of the things I learned from “the church” was “to question all things and hold fast that which is good.” To their (and each succeeding teacher’s chagrin) I never quite quit questioning things even when “the authority” told me that I had found “that which was good.”
I have now pieced together a basic philosophy of life from parts of the various teachings of each of my chosen teachers and from the many other contacts throughout my life. It occurs to me that each and every person we meet in the course of our lives is a teacher for us if we but “have an ear with which to hear and/or an eye to see” with. I will now offer part of that philosophy for your consideration. While not the whole of my philosophy of life these two points are essential:
The first principle that I hold at this point in my life is “to question everything” and to never stop questioning even when I have found that which I THINK is good because if it is truly good it will withstand the test of further questionings. That is, that which is worthy of adoption as part of who each of us chooses to be is not concerned with our doubts that teaching or ideology because it can and will be proved over and again.
My second principle is to be as inclusive as I can be. Inclusion is the great principle of life for there is but one life: one life within which we live, move and have our being and all things are therein contained. It is every human, every animal, every plant and yes every molecule and atom in the universe. However this particular aspect is a bit aloof and impossible to execute considering the feeble nature of my limited mind, so I am forced to discriminate a bit here. Life on my home, the planet earth, is probably the very best I can hope to conceive in any degree of totality. And even that is rather difficult to wrap my brain around.
If someone is excluded from my sphere of concern the fault is not with them but with the nature of how I choose that which is included in my sphere of concern. This does not mean I have to agree with any given person nor do I have to approve of their actions nor even their thoughts. I may even find it necessary to work at cross purposes to their desires. What it does mean is that I have to have an overwhelming desire for their greatest good even if they fail to understand what that greatest good is. Please understand this wish of mine for their greatest good is not something that is to be enforced upon them; rather, it is my thoughts, words and actions which should tend toward that beneficial goal, but tend toward it in as peaceful a manner as is effective to use. Also, I am not allowed to consider the greatest good of any given individual or group of individuals alone. According to this philosophy I am compelled to consider the well-being of the largest group affected by my actions, i.e., the whole of humanity and the health of the planet if possible.
Thus I endeavor to do the best I can within my rather small community with an eye toward the greater whole. During this epoch of my life my sphere of influence is a bit larger than I might have hoped thanks to several persons of good will who has recently allowed me into their sphere of influence. Thanks, Katt and Lea for providing me with this larger field of service. This field while not utterly inclusive now extends [to some small extent] across much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and potentially into the entire state.
Back to the issue at hand: what is the nature of ideology. Ideologies can be regressive, progressive, conservative, liberal (you name it) but ideologies that are progressive today may come to be the regressive ideologies of tomorrow, or next year or century… Ideologies like any other phenomenological concept have a tendency to change with time and experience. This change, however, can be so slow and subtle that an ideology once thought to be good can become less beneficial without our ever noticing the change, thereby, without our consciously critiquing this shift in its social impact.
If the nature of ideology is, as I am suggesting, so fragile and fluid what is the answer for people who would choose to be “a person of good will”? Surely we cannot do without believing in some form of ideology? That would seem to make us empty vessels for those who would mold us in their own image or whichever image they might find most useful at any given time: to vote for a given candidate; to permit a war of aggression; or, to permit the oppression of particular groups of marginalized people to name but a few possibilities.
Thus having some ideology seems to be a prerequisite for a person of good will. But how can we know whether we have an ideology that best serves the needs of the world at large. (Remembering to be as inclusive as possible.) And, provided we have found that seemingly “perfect” ideology for the time in which we now live how can we know if and when that particular ideology becomes regressive? This seems to be very difficult to answer as each person must define regressive and progressive according to the experiences and circumstances of their individual lives.
The solution I will advance came to me from my second great teacher (great, so to speak, because their purpose was to teach as many people as possible.) This solution is deceptively simple yet it took me nearly four decades to understand its basic nature. Simply put, it is to be a person of good will and to surround ourselves with persons of good will regardless of variations in their particular ideologies. A second aspect of this solution is for us to be as inclusive as we can possibly be and to constantly and continuously be on guard for greater degrees of inclusion. All of this being motivated by an outgoing concern for those (as the Christ suggested) who are the least among us.
Once we have achieved the enviable situation of an association with people of good will, being constantly on guard to be as inclusive as we can while being motivated by a deep and abiding concern for service to humanity, should someone in our sphere of service no longer provide an attitude of good will then we should consider reconsidering a continued association with that given as a member of our inner sphere. Only persons of good will who through their service to humanity and the planet upon which our lives depend should be held within our sphere of activity.
When we find others of good will, even when they hold differing ideologies than we do, we should seek to work with them as closely as is practicable in our common service to humanity. We must also recognize that not all persons of good will will fit in any single group or organization. There are, of a necessity, many spheres of service to humanity and to the life of the planet which we all share in common. Each group of persons of good will will work in a greater or lesser degree with other groups to achieve our common goal of peace on earth and good will to humankind. While each of us in our public and private lives should be as inclusive as possible none of us have the right to demand others include us in their active spheres of service.
I have but one final comment: I am most fortunate in my latter years. I have a growing circle of persons of good will with whom to associate myself. And there are a rather large group of them who I believe not only have the traditional requisite good hearts but they possess the vibrant energies needed to actuate the basic nature of good will which informs their lives and actions.
Roger W Mills II