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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Give the World Beauty

Recently I've been thinking about what we're giving, or rather taking from, the world.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) is aiming to educate the world that "Nature's budget" has finally run out.

The socially and environmentally aware economic "think-tank" says that the world has slid into "ecological debt", having used up all the natural resources the planet can provide for 2008.

What this means is that humans have used up resources such as forests and fisheries faster than they can be regenerated and producing more waste, mainly carbon dioxide, than the planet can absorb.

But this is nothing new. We have been increasingly "overshooting" nature's budget each year since the 1980s - so why should 2008 be any different? We still haven't had the "wake-up call" we need to realise that we need to give as well as take.

Human beings are currently using up the capacity of 1.4 planets, and consumption is increasing.

According to the foundation, the failure to live within our ecological means is the root of many of the most pressing environmental concerns, including climate change, collapsing fisheries, declining biodiversity and factors contributing to the current food crisis.

And while I was thinking about how we could give as well as take from the world, I read the news about a legendary artist who knew exactly how to do that passing away at the age of 83.

A Human Legacy

Hollywood actor Paul Newman, who was anything but Hollywood, was always a favourite of mine due to his inherent decency.

In 1994, he picked up an Academy Award for his charitable work, which included the establishment of summer camps for children who suffered from life-threatening illnesses. He also donated profits from his Newman's Own food range to a number of charitable organisations.

For a man who is quoted to have said, "I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out", if there is one thing to learn from the iconic actor, it was that he was a man who always stopped to think about what we are giving to the world.

It is hoped that more than his films, his human legacy will inspire people to take up the baton of philanthropy he left behind, which is as relevant today as it was in the 1960s and 70s - or even the 80s and 90s.

A Little More Beauty

In any decade, this world is a beautiful place; if we but take the time to look around we can glimpse wonders at work everyday.

As a child watching a spider weave its web fascinated me, and it still does even today. A spider is not only creating something essential to its well-being, but creating something beautiful, too.

When I was introduced to the works of Islamic spiritualist Mevlana Rumi from the Seljuk Dynastic period, he reminded me of a spider, spinning a web of words about something so intrinsic to him, God and humanity, but in a most beautiful way, through artistic means.

Yet, what have people from his region done with his legacy? Instead of becoming better humans by trying to understand what he says, different cultures have tried to own Rumi and stamp their own racial identity on him, as though whether Rumi was Persian or Turkish or Greek actually matters.

Trying to own or claim the man as part of a racial heritage is not necessary, he is part of our cultural and human one. It is true that without the patronage of the Seljuk Turks there might have been no Rumi (and he lies interred in his adopted home place of Konya today), but without Rumi - well there would be a little less beauty in the world.

And what the late Newman did so well, and what the arts is really there for, is to give a little more beauty to the world. That is why we should neither belittle nor knock the arts as just a pastime, as puritanical religions down the ages have been wont to do, either.

And instead of trying to work out which part of the world belongs to which nation or which religion, we need to protect and give back the beauty we have taken from the world, but it must not be done half-heartedly.

Give, Give, Give

Subsequently, when I have my say on my blog, I prefer to avoid preachy, sermon-esque posts for a variety of reasons.

Mainly because I believe words are powerful tools that we must use responsibly, and because imposition doesn't work well with free will. We must all find our own way, and in doing so will be better people for it.

On my own journey I've realised that for all that I have taken in my life, each year I need to give more and more, and that as much as I can give, it will never be enough.

But we keep on trying and we keep on giving. We keep on making some beauty to give to the world.

Because, as Rumi knew all too well, that is what makes us at once most human and most divine.

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