This is what I call fast: a couple of weeks back I have met him at the Warrior of the Heart training in Belgium, and a week later Steve, on his tour around Europe, already visited me in our home. Having him here for a few days and taking him around the country was really great, but what was the most meaningful thing for me was, as usual, the simple and sincere sharing of where we are at with our lives.
And the thing that touched me the most was when he was sharing with me his experiences and feelings of working voluntarily in the Kufunda Learning Village in Zimbabwe. Now, everything he shared with me was so damn inspiring that I immediately felt like joining in and contributing what I can to that beautiful project.
On the other hand, I have sensed the typical humanitarian sadness and frustration in his words. A general feeling of fighting an omnipotent and invincible dragon there. For every head that is cut off, hundred new fire-spitting heads pop up. For every problem solved, a thousand of new problems incarnate. For every child saved, there will be hundreds of children dying tomorrow.
We are not saving anything really. And it can be very depressing to face that.
I guess we are down to the question of ethics, the question on which basis do we choose, in our lives, what to do and how to do it. There are, generally speaking, three basic approaches, as far as I know.
The first one would be to just follow the rules and duties, imposed by the culture or authorities, the so-called deontological approach. They say I should be honest and not lie, therefore this must be the right thing to do and so I will stick to that. It is said that I should go out and help people and therefore this is the right thing for me to do and so I will do it.
The second one would be to think about the consequences of actions and go for the actions that will ensure me the consequences I want. If I lie, I might get caught and then I will be punished. This consequence I do not like and so I will not lie. If I will be honest people will like me, which I prefer much more than people not liking me, and so I will be honest. And if I will help people, than not only will people help me back, but the planet will be a better place and we will all be so happy, like in Hollywood happy-ending movies. Now, this is a very nice consequence, isn’t it?
But perhaps, if I choose to be honest and to not lie, people will, in some cases, be hurt and consequentially angry with me. Perhaps they will not like me anymore. So should I lie anyway? Just a little bit? Is there a good lie, the one that makes people happier than the bad truth? Hm, I am getting lost. And, why should I go saving the world if I know that I can not save it. If I know that everything is going downhill. If I know that the child I save today will die next week. Why should I do it and not somebody else (a classical excuse in consequentialist way of thinking)?
Frankly, the more I think of it the more I believe that the good old Aristotle was damn right in saying that thinking about consequences will not get us anywhere and with his suggestion that it is best to live by the ethics of virtues. When we are not concerned with the results of our actions, but rather with the question of how we want to proceed in our lives, what kind of people do we want to be. In this case I am choosing to be honest simply because this is what I want to be: a honest person. This is how I want to live my life. I do not even want to lie on a burning stake, for that matter. And I do want to be nonviolent and respectful towards others; not because some god was reported to have said so or because I believe I would get some sort of a reward for that, but just because this is how I want to live my life, even if it gets me in more troubles and even if this means I will not make all that shiny money.
So, back to humanitarian work and helping people: I believe the only thing that will get a humanitarian worker through all the ups and downs is this very approach of virtue ethics. Helping because this is you, this is what you want to do and what kind of person you want to be. Helping because this is how you want to spend and experience your own existence.
Now, the question for myself, of course, is: Do I dare to climb that horse or am I just trying to be smart here?
And I am back to the question of courage again.