Mary Pipher tells an endearing story in the fourth chapter of her book the Green Boat about her granddaughter, Kate. “I asked, ‘Kate, you are the big sister and the oldest. Why can’t you be as brave as your sister and brother?’ She wailed, ‘Nonna, they are little. They don’t know enough to be scared.’” P.73-74 And there in is the rub as they say. Ignorance is bliss. Knowledge in the short term can sometimes be a curse because our inappropriate sense of security and comfort is disturbed.
Social Activist Mother Jones is reported to have said one time, “My business is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” And the question when it comes to climate change is how to do both.
Those greatly distressed, depressed, pessimistic, filled with a sense of impending doom need understanding and then comforting by standing in solidarity not with their dysphoria but with their knowledge of what is happening on our planet. Human consciousness and science at this point is to be celebrated for it is a great blessing which gives us the evolutionary advantage of being able to influence the life of the planet. We become aware that we, human beings, are not just pawns and victims in God’s creation but co-creators who have the power to influence our own evolution.
Pipher recommends transcendence as the means of comforting the afflicted in the sense of rising above and moving towards wholeness or what Unitarian Univeralists call in their seventh principle, the interdependent web of all existence. It is a comfort to know we are not in this climate change thing alone but have the company of all other living creatures and with a healthy respect we can, as Pipher puts it, revive ourselves in our capsized culture.
Unitarain Univeralists who are not just church goers but people who have made the faith a way of life are in an especially positive position to not only save themselves, but others, and the planet, based on the values articulated in the seven principles. Unitarian Universalist values while counter cultural in the United States provide a travel plan as it were to get from our current state of affairs to a more desirable society and planet in the future.
Different Unitarian Univeralist thinkers advocate for different virtues as a basis for an ethical imperative for Unitarian Universalism. Rev. Galen Guengerich advocates for gratitude as being the basis, while Rev. James Ford advocates for the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and respect for the interdependent web. As a student of A Course In Miracles, I advocate for forgiveness as the basis of an ethical imperative for until we can acknowledge the brokenness and suffering of human beings and animals we can’t be grateful, or respectful or see the goodness in other beings.
There are many things that can provide solace in the face of a sense of impending doom, and while there are no silver bullets or magic keys, probably one of the most important antidotes to depression and despair is forgiveness, first for ourselves and then for others who have offended and hurt us. As the palliative care physician Ira Byrock has written, the four most important things that need to be said to a dying person are: I hope you can forgive me. I forgive you. Good bye. I love you.
Ignorance can be bliss but sometimes short lived, and while awareness can be disturbing it usually is the grace of God afflicting us when we are too comfortable letting us know that God needs us to get to work.