Wow. So much to write about when it comes to seeing and connecting to self, others and the creative process in different ways. Right now, the theme that is capturing my attention most strongly is values. I have been having numerous discussions this past week about values and what it means to live by our values. For example, the other day a friend of mine turned down a contract when he found out the organization was funding an organization well known for corruption. He had been deliberating whether or not to work with this organization for some time. Then he found out about this connection and decided it was the straw that broke the camel’s back (or the drop that made the vase overflow, as they say here) and said “I’m sorry, I just can’t work on this project.” Earlier this year, I was reading Gandhi Wields the Weapon of Moral Power by Gene Sharp. This book, which centers around three case histories from the Satyagraha movement, emphasizes the importance of sacrifice. So it is that I’m thinking a lot about sacrifice, privilege and values.
This friend, let’s call him David, at one stage said to me “I guess maybe I just have to be honest with myself that really I’m taking this job for the money.” This was in part a response to me saying “Look, if you’ve got all this concerns about how they work with the community based groups then either walk away or try and be a force for change within the system.” We’re talking here about a large first-world funder working/funding in a third world country (this is how it has been put to me by people from here). The usual criticisms that can often be applied to funders in the US and the UK apply, with the extra layer of first-world/third-world power dynamics. I’m going to leave all that for another post (though in the meantime direct you to Liam Barrington Bush’s latest on funding relationships– Give Trust, Get Accountability).
“I’m doing this because I need the money.” The more I thought about it, the more surprised I was that David said this. This seemed inconsistent with his values. Also, I found myself thinking “Hang on, surely, you could make different choices. For example, you could say no the job and get a smaller apartment so your rent would be lower.” At the same time, I couldn’t help but look in the mirror. “In what ways is one set of choices in my life – by which I think I mean choices based on my attachment to a certainly decidedly middle class and super materially comfortable way of living – influencing other choices I’m making. How comfortably does the whole package of my choices sit with my moral values?”
Recently, talking about this subject with another friend the other day, we agreed that this this is a dilemma of middle class privilege – what I like to call ‘bourgeois angst.’ My friend added that she has friends who are ready to go to jail, are literally (given the context here) ready to die in the name of acting to promote social justice. They are willing to sacrifice their lives. This hardly compares to sacrificing a bedroom, no? Yet, bourgeois angst is nevertheless and important issue. By virtue of our upbringings or where life has landed us as adults, we can find ourselves living in a particular way, setting particular standards, adopting particular cultural norms. Entrenched as we are in ways, standards, and norms of living, we can find it very difficult to walk out from what has become so familiar to us. And at times, walking out can sometimes create distances between us and people who matter to us. Such challenges may not be life and death, but they still count as challenges that can leave us feeling like we are making big sacrifices (bigger than abandoning one bedroom, but smaller than accepting a prison sentence or death).
I don’t really have a main or final point here. It is just that in the context of discussion I’ve been having and of a friend walking away from a job because he feels following his moral compass is more important than income security, I’m just wondering – “What sacrifices – however big or small – are you (am I) prepared to make in order to stand by your (my) moral values? What are you (am I) willing to give up, let go of – materially, intellectually and emotionally – in order to become more aligned with your (my) moral compass?