I know many of my readers prefer to see pictures with my posts, but this is one of my more thoughtful (and hopefully thought-provoking) posts for which I have no relevant photos to include. It is also a post inspired by a truly wonderful sermon our Dorcus Baptist Church Preacher, Steve Davis, gave this past Sunday (April 11). I have great admiration for Steve. He has a remarkable ability to apply common sense reasoning to the current issues and concerns that affect us using stories from the Bible as moral analogies to drive the point home. In doing so, he often finds a way to express himself and his ethical points far more clearly and plainly than I can. I feel privileged to hear his perspective on many subjects, some of which I have also addressed in my books. This time, his sermon (which he introduced by the same title) inspired me to write this website post and build upon his wisdom by adding a few philosophical points of my own. Thank you, Steve, for bringing this important subject to my attention.
As many of my readers know, the underlying theme for most of my writings is the concept of self-reliant living. Understanding the core moral and philosophical principles upon which true self-reliant living is based is necessary to understand how a traditional rural farming lifestyle is fundamentally different from typical modern urban and suburban living. It is the differences in the underlying core values that support these two distinct and diverging lifestyles and that ultimately made it so difficult for me to transition between the two. It also explains why I struggled so hard throughout my planning career to get my colleagues to recognize the different needs and issues that rural communities seek to address. I truly wish Steve Davis had been with me during those years.
In my first published book, Lifestyle Lost (2011), I laid the groundwork for the underlying theme of my writings by explaining what I mean by self-reliant living. I also contrasted it with the fundamentally different values of modern living I encountered in the outside world based upon my personal experiences of both lifestyles over the course of my life. Since my retirement, I have used many of my farm website posts as a way to further illustrate the most basic self-reliant values in the context of our typical farming experiences. Since I intend this post to be part of my final book, I wanted to make sure I stress the points Steve made in his sermon to more clearly explain how all the core values I discussed in earlier posts reinforce self-reliant living.
The main thrust of Steve’s sermon was to remind us that we need to accept more personal responsibility for our behavior in the conduct of our lives and how they affect other people. He encouraged us to be concerned about our own moral conduct first before judging other people for theirs. It was a reminder of our obligation to live in accordance with the “golden rule” to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. All the hateful and uncivil discourse and division in our society today clearly illustrates that we have lost sight of that simple moral principle, and I don’t see it getting any better by itself.
I have noted this issue in a number of my earlier website posts. For example, in my February 17, 2019 post entitled, Shame, (Post 112 in my prior book, Country Life at Peeper Pond Farm), I explained how the immediate and perfuse apologies we receive from front-line business customer service people are effectively insincere because they rarely have any authority or intent to actually fix the problem that has occurred; they only seek to disarm our anger over the impact it had on us. The insincerity of those apologies only reinforces the perception that big businesses have little concern for individual customers.
I also discussed why most people today fail to understand how the concept of shame should be internalized. I hear a growing number of people today internalizing shame from hateful personal attacks and insults made by other people. As a child, I was taught to feel shame when I did something wrong to other people, not when someone else bullied me. I will admit, I didn’t understand the significance of that message immediately. In fact, I attempted suicide at the age of 17 specifically because of the shame I naively internalized from disparaging feedback I got from my peers. That incident is detailed in my 2014 book, Reflections on My Lives: An Adoptee’s Story. However, I eventually learned from that experience not to be intimidated that way as an adult. Unfortunately, I find that many adults today still fail to understand how shame should be internalized. We need to learn this distinction and recognize that the shame we internalize from bullying is an emotional and self-esteem insecurity issue—not a personal integrity issue. It is quite the opposite when we feel shame for an error or transgression we have caused. This alternative interpretation of shame makes it one of the emotional influences that, when internalized correctly, helps promote personal responsibility.
As I am using the term in this post, “personal responsibility” is a conscientious commitment to serve and satisfy as many of our basic needs as is humanly possible. It carries with it a moral obligation to assume accountability for our own behavior and to make whatever changes or corrections that may be necessary to sincerely atone for any harm we may cause to others, whether intentional or not. It is a basic measure of human accountability and integrity.
Based on the definitions of shame and personal responsibility I am using, they are inherently good influences on our behavior that help instill personal integrity, empathy, and humility—all of which are widely recognized as desirable and ethical personality traits. People who seek to live self-reliantly must have a good measure of personal responsibility to do the hard work necessary to satisfy as many of their basic needs as possible, which (in turn) promotes personal freedom and integrity. In modern urban society, it is far easier (and more convenient) to rely on money and, where that may be lacking, the government to serve our basic needs. However, when you take that approach to life, you sacrifice some of your personal freedom (especially if it causes indebtedness) and lose a potentially meaningful opportunity to build greater self-esteem—which is another personal characteristic that appears to be an important issue to many people in today’s society. Go figure. I also assert that the all-consuming (addictive or vain) pursuit of money to buy the life we choose to live promotes a number of negative character traits, including greed, selfishness, gluttony, and narcissism, all of which are liberally displayed throughout today’s modern society.
Now, I can’t and don’t claim to be morally perfect in the conduct of my own life. Despite what I say and understand, I have made many mistakes of my own and have documented a number of them in my writings. In acknowledging that inherent human weakness, I have jokingly stated that I don’t claim to be perfect, just the next best thing. I don’t say that because I truly believe I’m the next best thing to moral perfection itself, I say it as a simple, light-hearted way to indicate that I do my best to be as personally responsible and accountable for my own life as I can. We are all inherently self-centered beings (first and foremost), and we all need some measure of shame to occasionally remind us that, in serving our own needs first, our actions and behavior may have unintended consequences for others. Therefore, I believe that our personal integrity is not always accurately measured by the specific consequences of our actions as much as it is by the moral accountability we assume for the consequences they have for others.
This insight may come as a shock to many people in today’s society who have elevated their personal beliefs and causes to the level of righteousness and acted selfishly, offensively, recklessly, and destructively in pursuing them. In so doing, many of them have degraded themselves into unrestrained social change bullies who have abandoned reason in exchange for brute force. In raising their specific cause to the level of righteousness, they have also abandoned any personal responsibility or accountability for their actions. As I see it, that win-at-any-cost approach is more conducive to social anarchy and war than it is to enlightened reason, self-reliance and personal freedom.
In my experience, we all face occasional obstacles, oppressions, and barriers to our personal aspirations and freedoms—as clearly demonstrated by my adoptee search and my ongoing effort to free the smallest dairy farmers from an unreasonably oppressive legal prohibition on unprocessed milk sales. I have struggled extensively with those issues, one of which (my adoptee search) led to success, while the other has led to a current stalemate. In all my efforts to overcome those governmental impediments (one of which was a civil rights issue), I never resorted to violence, civil rebellion or offensive intimidation to pursue them. In each case, I relied on thorough research and understanding and what I determined to be a reasoned, personally-responsible course of action. When, as I have noted in my previous website post (Post 183 – We’ve Got Milk), the West Virginia Legislature and Government made it obvious that they were not listening to our reasoned arguments for adoption of the West Virginia Farm Fresh Dairy Act bill I authored, I did not decide to storm the Capitol building or engage in violent, hate-fueled protest. Instead, I have chosen to seek out legal loopholes in the current law that will give me an alternative path to achieve the freedom I seek. To me, that is a measured, sensible approach that appeals to my self-reliant nature.
To my knowledge, no society or form of government has ever made everyone equal, self-sufficient, or free to do whatever they please whenever they choose to do it. Even those, like me and my wife, who pursue self-reliant living realize that we can’t possibly serve all of our individual needs on our own. We only seek to maximize our personal freedoms within a responsible social context, recognizing that we can only exercise our own freedoms in a way that does not infringe on the rights of others to enjoy the same privileges. It is that balance of rights that we must depend upon our government and legal system to protect. When either of them extends their reach beyond that delicate balance of rights, oppression or tyranny can result, of which there are many examples to cite throughout recorded history. That is where my vigilance is focused. It is also the best I can do to protect and preserve our traditional self-reliant lifestyle choices in a personally responsible way.