20 Questions

‘Tis the season for year-end-giving and we are besieged with requests from well-intended charities. But wait a moment: the ‘aid industry’ has been churning out projects for decades, throwing zillions of dollars at chronic problems with little tangible proof that environments are restored, or suffering is alleviated. And so it behooves us – as in let’s stand in someone else’s hooves – and do the necessary work of changing ourselves from the ground up.

Many of us sincerely love the earth and each other. We have devoted ourselves to healing and social change. But that doesn’t mean we have overcome our own subtle greed or our unconscious habits of linear thinking that privilege humans over Nature, things over relationships, self over community, now over future. Somehow, we must literally change our minds. Here is my list of 20 questions intended to help us re-imagine aid and philanthropy, with the constant refrain to every response, How do we know?

  1. Does this initiative create conditions for All Beings to thrive?

  2. Is this project good for the Earth? i.e. Is it good for the soil, the water, the animals, the microbes, the air, the oceans, the ice and the people?

  3.   Is it peaceful?

  4.   Is it better than not doing it?

  5. What are the larger patterns that bear on the situation?

  6. Do I/we understand the situation, system, person, community, country, issue, context, history as fully as possible? i.e. What is the wide view, the overview, the outskirts view, the microbial view?

  7. Does it repair damage? For example, does it address trauma, restore watersheds, shift power in meaningful ways?

  8. Is it respectful? i.e. What do the people, animals, spirits of the place prefer?

  9. As a result of this decision/policy/action, do some benefit while others suffer?

  10. Is it good for future generations?

  11. Does something else need to happen first or instead? i.e. To listen more deeply; consult different stakeholders; make amends; perform the appropriate ritual or ceremony to open the way; share information that may not be widely known?

  12. Have we consulted sources of guidance other than linear thinking? What do the dreams, intuitions, synchronicities and auguries tell us? What would the heart say? The gut? The uterus? The testicles? The unborn? The ancestors?

  13. Is there unconscious/personal material to explore? In other words, are our motivations clouded by psychological trauma or emotional need rather than soulful understanding?

  14. What would Nature do? i.e. Does this decision/action/law/response/idea/plan function as a natural system would?

  15. What is the smallest, least intrusive gesture that will create positive change?

  16. What can we do to support resilience and self-healing?

  17. Has it been tried before? With what results and what consequences?

  18. How does the situation/approach/outcome change if we locate ourselves in a 50-year time frame? 100 years? 500 years? 1,000 years?

  19. What can be done with little or no money?

  20. Is the healing reciprocal? i.e. Does this work heal us as deeply as the people and places we are trying to help?