Newton’s third law of motion tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Buddhist principle of karma similarly teaches us that everything we do, every decision we make, has a consequence.
Philosophical determinism suggests that we cannot escape the inherent causality of human existence, and that our actions will inevitably give rise to consequences that reflect our essential morality.
Most systems of thought – scientific, spiritual, philosophical – observe this fundamental premise that at every level, one thing leads to another.
From the interaction of our cells at the molecular scale, to the physical and psychological effects of the chemicals we ingest whether by choice or via (our increasingly polluted) environment, to how the food and clothes we buy affect the people, processes and countries in the chain of supply and demand that we create. It all has an impact.
Faced with the imbalances that subsequently blight much of our over-exploited, under-resourced, conflict-riddled world, the question is – how should we live?
Kindness is the oil that takes the friction out of life
The moral philosopher Peter Singer offers a simple response: for those of us fortunate enough to be in a position where we can make the choice comfortably, we have nothing short of a duty to act, else there is something gravely wrong with our behaviour.
“...the failure of people in the rich nations to make any significant sacrifices in order to assist people who are dying from poverty-related causes is ethically indefensible. It is not simply the absence of charity, let alone of moral saintliness: It is wrong, and one cannot claim to be a morally decent person unless one is doing far more than the typical comfortably-off person does.” – Peter Singer, Achieving the Best Outcome: Final Rejoinder, Ethics & International Affairs, 2002
For the 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, it was simply a matter of compassion: the only way to live in a world that is inescapably full of suffering, is by the principles of voluntary justice and loving kindness. In others words, by actively recognising and promoting the wellbeing of others while preventing harm.
Practically speaking, we can easily apply these principles by supporting the work of charities.
I’ve worked for several NGOs, charities and philanthropic organisations over the years. I’ve donated to them, followed their work, questioned the value of what they do and how, and every time concluded that the world is a better place for the people who act thoughtfully on good intentions to make a valuable difference.
Which is why I’m taking part in Trailwalker 2017, a 100km trek in under 30 hours, in aid of Oxfam. The goal is bigger than me and my fellow team members reaching the finishing line physically and mentally intact. It’s about making our actions count by being part of “a global movement of millions of people who share the belief that, in a world rich in resources, poverty isn't inevitable”.
Enlightenment through peace and motion
The late great martial artist Bruce Lee famously said that: "Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do".
Lee's philosophy was inspired to a large degree by Taoism, which emphasises living in harmony with Nature by tapping into the fundamental life source, or energy, that binds all things. Lee's point was that as sentient, conscious beings, we have a responsibility to direct that energy wisely.
Walking the South Downs is a welcome push towards slowing down. It's a chance to get out and into nature, to physically and psychologically contemplate how we tread on the planet, to wonder while wandering in a way that puts the focus on our collective being as much as our individual doing.
Care to find out more? Visit our Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/teams/Teamabkt