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A WORKBOOK AND ONLINE COMMUNITY
for Co-CREATING OUR SUSTAINABILITY ETHIC

Section II - Guiding Principles
Chapter 4 - A Principle Based Conversation

 

 

Rules are not necessarily sacred; principles are.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

How have you approached confrontation in ways that bring positive resolution?

Several years ago I was on the board of the Spiritual City Forum of Portland. Our monthly lunch meetings featured a speaker, followed by a brief time for questions intended to stimulate dialogue, then a dialogue at each table. Our program theme was to better understand the sustainability teachings of various religions. I invited a Jewish colleague, Shamu Fenvyesi, who was studying Environmental Sciences, and who I thought ‘walked his talk' both as a Jew and a steward of the Earth. He spoke eloquently of Jewish Law - the commandments, our covenant with God, and some of the scriptures related to our relationship with the Earth. He shared a Jewish story intended to alter our thinking by touching our emotional and spiritual core. And he spoke of Jewish ethics: our belief in 'original goodness' and the notion that there are constant, ongoing, ethical breakdowns that must constantly be repaired; how it is our responsibility to perform virtuous acts toward humankind and the Earth; and how it is a gift to perform these acts because they are all part of a virtuous cycle.

OO_II-4_2009-02-09

Shamu's talk was wonderfully received and the questions that were asked to stimulate the dialogue that would follow reflected people's appreciation. As the question period came to a close, a gentleman in the back of the room asked, "How do you reconcile your way of being with Israelis shooting Palestinians in their olive groves?" Silence followed his question, and we moved into the dialogue portion of our program.

When the luncheon was over, I asked the gentleman who asked the difficult question if we could have coffee together, and we set up a date. I felt as if I had to organize my thoughts well and in a non-argumentative way. And I decided to see if I could develop a construct that stimulated generative conversation. The construct, 'Archetypes of Religion' follows.


Archetypes of Religion diagram

[Click Here to View Picture]

The ‘pie' above represents any and all faiths, with each ‘slice' being one faith tradition. And there can be a slice for those who claim no faith at all. Each concentric circle encompasses a part of each slice, and represents a guiding principle that I believe exists to one degree or another in each faith tradition.

The gentleman I was meeting with, John Nichols, brought his wife Caroline with him; they are both of the Baha'i faith. We shared the chart and each of us readily understood that Shamu, the Spiritual City Forum speaker, was coming from the circle at the center of the drawing, his primary guiding principle being ‘All Living Systems are my Siblings.' The Israeli shooting at Palestinians in their olive groves probably believed a literal interpretation of the Old Testament and that, ‘God is on his side.'

I have used this chart on many other occasions as a way of stimulating Interfaith understanding and dialogue. It seems that each of us usually operates around more than one of the above principles and may perceive the Guiding Principle differently. It would seem as if the outer circle has embedded in it a world view of ‘scarcity' - win/lose, no sharing - while the inner circle has embedded in it a sense of ‘abundance' - infinite in terms of love and blessings, but finite in terms of nature's capacity to produce, heal, and cleanse. An interesting observation that has been made is that the two guiding principles in the middle are perceived quite differently depending on how influenced they are by the outer principles. ‘Do Unto Others,' if most strongly influenced by a sense of abundance, elicits virtuous behavior. But if the influence is scarcity it becomes ‘an eye for an eye'. ‘We are all interconnected' is somewhat the same in that from a scarcity perspective, we perceive ourselves as a ‘collection of objects,' but with an abundance perspective, we are ‘a communion of subjects.'

Discerning difficult subjects through the lens of Guiding Principles serves as the framework for dialogue, and may provide a very different and healthy perspective for overcoming conflict.


Reflection

We have all had experiences in our life where adhering to rules was most important to maintaining order or safety, but we have also had situations where rules stifled creativity or even dictated that we do something wrong. Think about a time in your life when you were compelled to ignore a rule and instead applied a guiding principle that you thought would better serve the situation.

What was the situation including the rule broken or ignored and the principle applied?
Was your action or behavior honored or vilified?
Did you influence a change to the rule?
When you deal with difficult life situations, are you more or less likely to turn to principled behavior?

 


Rev. 2009-02-09 MOM




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