The Values That Heal

Reader Contribution by Mary Lou Shaw

Farming, like no other occupation, requires us to examine and apply our inner values as a daily part of our work. Perhaps this is why I feel so at home when working with the soil and the farm animals. In the choices I make, I either cast my fate with nature or with technology. By aligning with nature, I choose to live by the values that nurture me.

This is very important to me. I have lived much of my life feeling disconnected from our culture and its values, and that’s a lonesome place to be. I see young people advised to follow lucrative careers rather than their hearts. I see many people increase their consumption because they are convinced by corporations that material goods will bring them happiness. I see these corporations and farmers treat the land and animals as commodities with hopes for bigger profits. And I see leaders in agriculture tell us that large-scale farming and chemicals are essential if we are to “feed the world.”

As a young adult I learned that my “disconnect” problem didn’t rest fully on my shoulders. I had the benefit of spending two years in the Peace Corps in West Africa and found contentment in a culture where the welfare of the community was given priority. Once an individual had enough to eat, it was obvious that having “more” gained nothing. The community’s inherent value was to share what they received. I felt at home and connected there.

This memory was recently refreshed when I worked with Native People in the southwest United States and in Alaska. Their ability to share extends not only to community, but to “seven generations to come.” Preserving resources for future generations is part of the consideration when hunting prey, gathering food or using water.

What is lacking in our culture that allows people to consume without thinking of consequences to others or to the planet? How have we come to treat the land, other species and each other so poorly? I think about these things as I look at the large fields of GMO corn and soybeans that surround our farm. I believe I’m beginning to understand.

Both religion and government give us rules to live by. Perhaps it’s because rules are “external” to whom we are as individuals that they don’t improve our actions as a society? I read Paul Woodruff’s book, Reverence, a few years ago and it certainly got me thinking about these things. Things like how to make some sense of what we’re seeing around us now.

I’m not schooled in philosophy, and so this is new for me. But reverence is an “old-time” virtue where we hold sacred all people, all species and the planet. This concept makes sense of the way I feel about our farm. I am connected to the soil, the domestic animals, the wetlands and all wild life. We are all co-dependent. As my actions reflect an awareness of their needs to survive, I am also aware of my dependence for survival on all living things. Being inter-connected feels sacred to me.

This awareness immediately enhances my quality of life. I go through my days with more joy as I pay attention and feel connected to the life around me. Reverence gives me the energy and joy of connection whether I’m on my knees in the garden or cleaning out the chicken house. Everything sacred. Everything connected.

Acting with reverence then goes out into the community. Reverence would make it impossible to have confinement operations where chickens, cows and hogs are treated as commodities. The humans who work in these situations would no longer be treated as dispensable. A society that acts reverently would no longer pollute our commonwealth–the water, soil and food that existence depends on. The planet would again be sustainable for us and for all generations to come.

Taking into consideration other people, animals and future generations involves another basic virtue of Fairness. Is it fair that profits are made by a few today, but there will be no clean drinking water for tomorrow? Ethanol plants and “fracking” take millions of gallons daily from underground aquifers. The water we leave for our grandchildren is not only depleted, but contaminated with chemicals. That’s not fair.

Translating a feeling into action is what makes it a virtue. And in farming, acting reverently and fairly makes all the difference. Once I become aware of all the creatures that make up the vibrant and living soil, how could I use poisons in the garden? When I’m walking in reverence through morning chores, how could any of these animals be treated as commodities? Even using the clothes dryer and putting more carbon in the air has come to seem both irreverent and unfair.

Attempting to act with reverence and fairness makes me feel that I’m on solid ground. But that still doesn’t make it easy. People think I’m being “cheap” to buy second-hand clothes and that I’m “strange” pulling loads of compost to the garden. I’m not so well-grounded that I don’t occasionally feel like standing on a soap box and proclaim myself “virtuous” rather than “weird!” So, as trivial as this may seem, it may take a third virtue, Courage, to stick to my guns. Perhaps just a baby-dose of courage for now, but I hope to develop the courage that may be needed for our changing future.

Reverence. Fairness. Courage. These aren’t new words. But when we live with actions that are consistent with their true meanings, I believe we can begin to heal the planet and the societies who live on it. And in my experience, when I’m “on-track” with these virtues, I feel an inner peace and joy. I feel a healing connection to all life around me.