Confucius said, ‘The good man makes the good family. The good family makes the good neighbour. The good neighbour makes the good village. The good village makes the good community. The good community makes the good state. The good state makes the good country.’ I suppose the good country makes the good world.
From The World of Charmian Clift, ‘Taking the Wrong Road’ (circa 1967/68).
When I came across this quote in ‘Charm’s’ essay I had to read it a number of times before the prescience of it fully sank in.
Years before the theories about (or indeed the tools of) ‘globalisation’ were circulating either in academia or in the marketplace, Charm had got to the nub of a fundamental problem (conundrum) at the heart of where we are now. The time-travelling aspect of this began to make me feel dizzy, as she begins with Confucius. Of course, Charm added her own logical extension to the saying, given she was widely travelled and ‘worldy’. Confucius, understandably, wouldn’t have been thinking about the rest of the world at the time of writing (saying?) the original.
Charm’s version, based on Confucius, is an iteration of the ‘Think global, Act local’ philosophy, which, in the latter form, has been around in an oblique way since 1915, according to Wikipedia anyway. I certainly grew up through the late 70s and into the 80s with the saying, and it had a big moment in the 1990s, and now again through the Occupy movement, and in many, many other forms in the current historical moment. Not that any one seems to pay much attention, but that is the nature of the conundrum, isn’t it. The very thing that is sucking the life out of this planet is providing the conditions for its ‘other’ to emerge as a counter force – the local.
The fraught relationship between the local and the global has been a preoccupation of mine for a long time, since marching in Hiroshima Day marches and Palm Sunday Peace Rallies in my teens. The logic of a view of the world that says we have to protect and preserve the thing that gives us life, and that we have to value humanity, equally, still prevails. If we were all good neighbours, then the world would be a good world. It’s so obvious it’s no wonder so many people get burnt out from fighting and turn to their own backyards.
And then, we’ve come full circle as, at the level of the backyard, the neighbourhood (I’ve always loved that word, from being breast fed on Sesame Street), the community, changes begin to be wrought. And as the power of the local grows, the abhorrent side of globalisation becomes more and more evident. As the community realises its fundamentals – food, water, shelter, equality – the protest slowly gains force. Sometimes the change is so slow that it is barely noticeable, until you’ve accumulated a fair whack of years behind you, and you can compare decades. Sometimes it just jumps out at you, and life takes on, at least for a moment, the magic and joy that should be the birthright of every human being.
In the lead up to the passage discussed above Charmian Clift writes, ” … the most profound statement I have ever heard [was] from an old man … And he said, ‘Nothing worth knowing ever happens beyond the distance of a mule ride.’ I have often thought of that since, and if we could all get back to mules, and town-criers instead of newspapers, we might settle ourselves in our various states a little more comfortably than we do at present. I don’t think that this idea is blinkering: it is Confucian rather: cultivate your own garden and let others cultivate theirs.”
So I dedicate this blog to Charmian Clift (1923-1969), a woman before her time. She should really be writing a blog herself. She also loved gardens and the natural world.
I envisage this blog as a forum for like-minded people (I guess that’s kind of the definition of a blog), those who have realised the fundamentals or who are beginning to realise them. I would welcome contributions from others, whether as guest bloggers or via links to related thoughts.
Note: The feature image for this page is a fragment of a drawing titled ‘Wayne Blackwattle’s Country’.