Of Tea and the Greater Good.

One of the things I am most afraid of in life is speaking aloud, I just freeze, and then when I do speak, it is a high-pitched, unnatural sort of voice, even though I do not have such a voice if I were to just talk normally.

Probably the thing I fear the most, is myself. I fear myself the most, I fear hurting others, or even making them feel awkward. I fear placing expectations on others, but most of all, I am afraid of myself.

Every time I hear about some horrible crime against humanity, I feel it, this sudden and inexplicable fear that if the circumstances were right, and I lost my character, and allowed my emotions to overtake reason, and so forth, what is it that separates the one who did this horrible thing, and myself. I find myself applying labels to myself that are not true, only because fear makes them more than they are. Even though all people capable of being horrific monsters, that doesn’t mean all people will be horrific monsters, but I cannot ignore that not all people are saints, even if all people are capable of being saints.

I subject myself to endless self-examination, and it is never just a
cup of tea, that I’m enjoying as a good and perfect gift given to me, as an object of beauty and wonder, a miracle in itself, that a leaf, a humble leaf, placed in heated water would blossom into this elixir of deliciousness, and would provide me with more medicinal benefits than we can imagine. A simple drink which around countless tables traditions have been formed, families and friends brought together, and has ceremonies passed down from generation to generation, all centered around this beautiful thing we call tea.

Yet, even tea has a dark side, and we live in a world where people are considered less important than profits, worse yet, sometimes people are seen as being nothing but a source of profit. Slavery’s not dead, and I think it would be foolish to assume that all tea, worldwide is entirely ethical everywhere. There must be some injustices somewhere in the tea production process. The world is brutal to the widows, the orphans, the wandering strangers, it is brutal to the disadvantaged, the hurting, the poor, the needy, it is brutal to all, but especially towards those who are already at a disadvantage in some way. Why do you think it is nearly always minorities that are picked on, blamed, bullied, and so forth? Even in America people are excluded because of what it is that they are, not who they are. I am a human being, I happen to be male, I am a human being I happen to be ‘white’ as they say, which really is a bad term to use for people, in its self-contained racism, I am a human being, not a child or an adult. I am a human being. Human beings, wherever they are, and whatever it is they might look like, they diserve dignity. I look within myself, and I see prejudices of my own, I see places where I support rather than fight against injustices against my brothers and my sisters of the human race. We are of one blood, we are one family. These are my brothers, these are my sisters. All of them. Do not harm my brothers or my sisters if you do not wish to stir up my anger, my wrath even. Don’t even think about it. Yet, here I am, harming them myself. How? My tea.

Because of how it is that the process of growing, harvesting, processing, distributing, and so forth work, I am convinced that there is bound to be ethically questionable practices somewhere in that process. From the field to the store, it is a long chain to not contain any suffering, I do not believe it, not even in fair trade teas. Which of the four brands of tea I have immediately in front of me in the form of tea bags, only one of them says anything about being fair trade certified.

I’m not blaming the tea companies, or the workers, or the grocery stores. But I do blame the systems of the worlds economies that place profits over people. We need to fight for human dignity above our own rights.

Then I look at myself, and I am struck with how much that is nothing but meaningless sentiment. If I truly believed in the inherent dignity and worth of my brothers and sisters I wouldn’t just sit here spouting off words about it, but would actually be doing whatever I could, wherever I could, even to the point of giving myself away if you will, becoming physically spent, emptying myself, so that perhaps a little suffering of these people might be relieved as a result of it. I hate that humanity suffers, and that both by doing something, and by doing nothing, in the end humanity still suffers. Yes, it is good that I feel that injustice, in whatever form that might take, is something to fight. But, to be honest, I feel powerless to actually do anything meaningful about it.

What can I do? I am no one. I hold neither power, nor authority. Only words, and a vision of a better world. But my frustration is that I feel like there is nothing I can do that will make a difference, an actual difference, and a positive one at that. How am I to judge whether or not something is going to cause more suffering later if I became involved in trying to stop a little suffering at the present time? That can happen too. In the fighting of a little suffering, a much greater suffering is brought about later. Would it not have been better for us to not relieve the little suffering in the moment? Or, is it true that whatever the consequences may be, we have a moral obligation to do what we can to help others in the moment, trusting that some good will come out of it, even though more evil is produced in the end? Is or is that not, our responsibility?

Yes, it is tempting to go out there and fight for people’s rights. But, hold on a second, the questions must be asked: Will this bring about more suffering? And what of those we fight? Do we fight against people who deserve our pity, or do we fight against the ideas that they hold? At what point does a person become so responsible for the ideas that they hold that they are no longer worthy of holding human dignity? I am distressed at how quickly blame is thrown about and basic human dignity is thrown aside, we are quick to tear down, slow to build up. I am distressed to find that I myself am one who does this. Give me any political leader, for example, that I do not like, and I would be to my horror, inclined not to give them the respect that, whether we agree with them or not, they deserve, first as human beings themselves, and because all authority is given by God, and whatever purpose he might have for placing these particular people in authority, well who am I to question the judgement of God in regard to his choices of authority. These men, no matter what they are, even if they are the most immoral, worst sort of men, are still the Lord’s chosen ones. I might not always know why, but I firmly believe that the disrespecting of authority is by no means a just way to fight suffering and evil. Evil works never produce good. Never. Nothing good can ever come out of my disrespect for those who have been placed in a position of authority over me.

But here’s the thing, respect doesn’t mean agreement with the ideas that they hold. It is the ideas, and not the man, that we are at war with. It is always the idea, and never the man. All humanity is created in the image of God, and as such, everyone is beautiful, everyone is deserving of dignity, of respect, as human beings. There has never been a human being alive that was not meant to be beautiful, not meant to hold dignity, and honor.

Yet, I ask myself. Why do I continue to drink tea? Even though I hold the knowledge that almost every cup is tainted by the tears, and the blood of my brothers and sisters, I still persist in drinking it? Why is that?

Tea is just a small example, there are thousands upon thousands of like examples, that we do every, single, day. It feels rather like attempting to fight a monster that grows two new heads for every head you manage to lop off. (Sorry for the gruesome imagery, but it does the trick.) I feel truly powerless when I stand and observe the suffering of humanity. It feels pointless to resist it.

Yet there can be no greater crime than to flee. It isn’t pointless to resist it, and even though it feels like a fight that we cannot win, we must try. It is our duty, and it is how we may honor those who we love, which is our fellow human beings. Our brothers, our sisters. These are the people we love, and these are the people we are fighting for. We must be careful in our fighting of the monster of suffering, that we do not harm these precious ones. It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between the cause of suffering, and the one who is suffering. The monster of suffering is a master of disguise, and he will imitate those whom we ought to be fighting for, not against, so well that we far too often, attack not the monster, but the man. We must take great care in our fight against injustice, not to hurt unjustly.

We must not join the monster. We must resist, even though suffering is cunning, seductive, persuasive, and powerful, and seemingly invincible. We must resist him. We must always resist him.

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge the monster within. We have no hope of fighting the monster without, if we are being deceived  and are bound by the monster within.

This is the part of me I am so afraid of. I tend to refer to it as my inner Voldemort. He is utterly ruthless, and self-seeking. Where I might, in truth, desire to show compassion and genuine interest in the lives of others, seeking to invest my time, my resources, even my life for their benefit. Here is the thing, the inner Voldemort comes along and starts screaming things like: “Stalker, pervert, selfish little idiot! Give them some privacy, keep your distance! You’ll make them uncomfortable. You’ll offend them! What if you do something wrong and end up hurting them? What if you become like that guy you heard about on the news and… You’ll mess up, you’ll do more harm than good, you’ll hinder them. you’ll stumble them, you’ll only enable them, you’ll only make things worse, for them, and for yourself. Don’t do that, they are a threat to your safety. Be afraid of that guy. Don’t have anything to do with that girl. Don’t be seen with that man. Don’t let that person touch you. Don’t let that woman be seen in the same room as you. Be afraid of saying anything to him. Be cautious when speaking to her. You’ll come across as some sort of (morally) sick person, don’t talk to them. They’ll only think you’re flirting. They’ll be afraid of you. They’ll be intimidated by you. They’ll feel like you’re judging them. Don’t listen to them. Don’t believe what that person says. Don’t trust that guy. Don’t give the benefit of the doubt. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t don’t don’t.” He’ll even point at me and start telling me things like: “You’re worthless, you have nothing, you are nothing, you have no worth, you have no dignity, you are an evil man, you have absolutely no business helping people, you must have bad intentions, you must be acting selfishly. You must hate them, you must not love them, you are acting, you are a hypocrite  you are a sinner, there is nothing good about you. You have nothing to offer, you will do more harm than good. You will deliberately hurt people. You are a liar, you are a perverted and sad excuse of a human being.” And I probably don’t need to go on, I’m sure whoever reads this will know that inner Voldemort’s voice all too well. I’ve yet to meet a human being that hasn’t suffered the torture of having his voice constantly nagging at you, telling you that everything is completely, absolutely, and utterly, without hope, so why even try to do good. It is a voice of condemnation, and I do not know if there is anything more damaging to humanity than condemnation.

Here is the thing, how do I get around the nagging little voice that not only tells me all those things, but also whispers in my ears, that there must be at least ‘a little truth’ in the accusing words.

People talk about the devil. In the scriptures he is referred to as “The Accuser of the brethren ” But for all intents and purposes, we can refer to him as “The Accuser.” here. I’m not sure evil looks like what we picture in our heads, so much as the one who speaks these utterings to us. That is what evil looks like. The words of the accuser, wielding the weapon of condemnation. I cannot deny that my soul is thus tormented, so therefore, whatever else might be or not be, I have to believe in the existence of my enemy. How can I ignore the wounded soul, not only of myself, but the wounds I see in my brothers and sisters. In all of humanity, we all suffer this common suffering, this voice that tortures us day and night, haunting us, killing us, destroying us. But above all, tormenting us into madness, if it can.

Part of the problem is that there is a part of me that joins the accuser’s army. A sort of betrayal of myself towards myself. Some call it the flesh, I tend to refer to it as either ‘the unman’ a term I borrowed from C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy, or in my own private musings as ‘my old zombie self’. It is also rather like a Dementor out of the Harry Potter universe, it has a natural allegiance to that which is evil. So, upon encountering the accuser, it doesn’t resist him, but joins with him and starts screaming at me too, and like the Dementor, it desires to consume my soul. It is my anti-self.

And, those who have not Christ, this is what they are left with, just themselves and their anti-self. No wonder it is spoken of as being dead. If we have any hope of victory over the unman, over the inner Voldemort  over the old zombie, over all this evil within us. We have to rely on life, and life devine, being breathed into our souls, giving us a living spirit to live, so that we do not have to be all that we have left to us without it. Hense, why we need Christ in order to overcome the unman. As the self, we have not in ourself, the ability to defeat our anti-self, so we must have the power of another to do so. That is one of the things that Christ accomplishes for us, is the defeat of the anti-self.

I do not need to heed the voice of the accuser, anything he might have to say, even if it is true, has already been dealt with, nor do I need to pay any attention to my old zombie self. He is dead, and dead he ought to remain, heeding him only gives him undue attention, and attention is what he thrives on, it is his lifeblood, without it, he remains where he ought, dead.

The voices in my head, they speak lies. That is all they are, the words of liars. I need not heed them.

So, the question remains. How can I drink tea, and do so in good conscience?

First, I acknowledge that though this world is a world of suffering, the tea I drink is going to inevitably cause part of that, but it also will accomplish a great number of good things along the way. I already mentioned a little of how tea is good for society as a whole, by bringing people together. If we let it, tea could save the world, truly, I am convinced that there is a great difference between that which can’t be solved by talking about things, tolerance even if that doesn’t mean acceptance  understanding even if that doesn’t mean agreement, and remaining calm, and finding something to unite us, and tea is something that has the ability to unite us, and that which won’t be solved, even if we are tolerant, understanding, calm, and enjoying the unity of the tea table. Can’t or won’t? There is a huge difference between that which can’t be done and that which won’t be done. A small change of perspective, but it makes all the difference.

Second, tea, like all good things, is a gift. And I ought to receive it with thanksgiving. It is a beautiful and wonderful gift, a good gift. It is for me to have a thankful heart for the gift of tea.

Third, abstaining from drinking tea will cause suffering as well. Does this mean I shouldn’t try to select the most ethically sourced teas? Of course not, no matter how small a difference, every little difference still does make a difference. It is the little things in life that make all the difference in the end. It is fighting suffering, in little ways, that help bring about the end of suffering in much bigger ways.

Perhaps being a good steward is more about paying attention to what brings about suffering amongst our fellow men, and I’ll throw in the environment and creatures and so forth, than it is about our finances, and acting according to what is the most, at least that we can judge, ethical option available to us. Perhaps it isn’t about that which is cheaper, but about that which is the more ethical of things. It is a stewardship of ethics, not finances, perhaps finance is a part of that, but it’s not the point of it.

It might mean having to say no to something we enjoy, instead of having our demands met at the price of blood, whether in human suffering, or in suffering in animals. (For example, the egg, there is a terrible price to be paid for cheaper eggs. A lot of cheaper eggs are because the chickens are not kept ethically, they suffer cruelty, such as confined spaces, overcrowding, having to be kept on so many medicines just to fight the diseases caused by this kind of farming’s methods, and so forth.) A lot of times, not always, surely, but a lot of times, products that might be cheaper financially, have the price of blood and suffering attached to it as well. Now, price is not an indicator of ethics, by no means, even the more ethical of technology companies employ components at least, in their products, that at some point in the production are either harmful to humans or to the environment.  (Yes, call me an environmentalist if you’d like, I call it being a responsible steward of your living quarters, in this case, the planet.)

Now, please, please, please, don’t misunderstand me, I do not wish to condemn or place guilt trips on people, that is the last thing I’m attempting to do, what I do wish, however, is to create an awareness of the possibility of, and sometimes outright existence of, suffering in our everyday lives, even if it is in things that we cannot see, because the person who suffers for our choices is a thousand miles away, in a different country, or different city, or even our neighbor, we just don’t see it. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. I’m just not convinced that blindness and ignorance is the answer to these problems, so while I don’t want to make people feel guilty, I do want to implore them to learn about these things, and to do what little they can, even if it is something really, really, little, to help.

If we as a whole, do our littlest part, then change can happen, I’m sure of it. And small changes lead to bigger changes. Perhaps in fifty years we’ll have an ethics-centered economy rather than a profit-centered economy.

I dream of it, and even if remains a dream, I think we should still dare to dream it rather than to just say that things will never change, and there is nothing we can do to change it. It might not seem like much, but the little things really do make all the difference in the end.

And I still have not solved the tea dilema, but even in writing this I’ve started asking myself questions about just what is involved in my cup of tea here? Even the asking of questions is a good place to start, it is much better to ask questions, even if you do not presently see a solution to it, than to mindlessly consume I suppose.

And while I must acknowledge that I need not heed the voice of the accuser, that does not excuse me from behaving in a responsible manner. Responsibility is still an important thing to hold, and it is to my shame that I lack it in several places. Including, I feel, not seeking work as diligently as I ought, for no other reason than to be supportive of my parents. I wish with everything, that I could provide, for example, a new iPod touch for my mom, and a faster computer, she gets stressed out about both, and I don’t like seeing her stressed out about something that if I had work, I could very easily solve for her in a matter of a month or two of diligent saving. This is but a small example of the burden I have on me about not working at the moment, I really do want to work, so that I can give back to those who have given me so much, and while I like being with my family, if I did move into my own place, it would relieve my part of the financial burden of the family. My biggest problem? Ideas, and lack of knowledge. I have no idea, at all, what it is I’d like to do, and even when something comes along, I have no idea at all, about how to get started, or even how to attempt it. That is part of why i started this blog, so that I could directly combat the fears that are keeping me from seeking work, and the single biggest motivation I have for desire to work is to help relieve the burden I see upon my parents. If I happen to obtain a few funds for my own benefit, great, but what I really want is to help improve things for those around me with it. Again, a small thing perhaps, but for me, this is an area where I am not currently working in a manner that is beneficial to those around me, and to the world as a whole. Fear is the culprit behind my hesitancy, listening to the inner Voldemort telling me of my inadequacy  and just simply being ignorant. These are factors, and perhaps I’ve turned them into excuses. That is wrong, and I hope that I can soon find something. Even if all it is something small. Forgive me, my pride is also a huge factor, if I truly cared, I wouldn’t care so much about what it is that I do, but I do care, what it is that I do. I can hear in conversations and such the subtle disapprovals of some jobs over others. Lets face it, CEO’s are often more esteemed than janitors. But, neither can function well without the other. All jobs are important jobs, I, however, have bought the lie that I am defined by what it is that I do, not what it is that I am. This is one area where I need to see a reformation of my thinking in, how it is that I approach the idea of working. So while fear is a factor, my pride and ego, are really at the heart of the problem of why it is that I am not content with doing whatever it is that is required of me to accomplish the greater good of bringing relief to those around me, in my case, that is my parents.

There is a mini-series/movie that deals with a lot of these questions, called North & South, it is a 2004 BBC drama that ask questions about suffering, present suffering and relief or what is the suffering caused by the overall picture, the idea of standing up in small ways for matters of the conscience, and the responsibility we have in helping those around us. It might seem a bit ‘old fashioned’ to some, but it deals with some very fundamental questions that still apply to the world we know today, and humanity is still humanity, regardless of when they live.