Recently I saw a television program about a dog kennel licensed by the government to buy and sell dogs—which they did, buying mostly from suspect sources and selling mostly to researchers. This particular kennel was being targeted by an animal rights group for abuses to the dogs. Indeed, the video footage presented reminded me of human death camps, only this time populated by canines.
After the evidence was turned over to authorities (it took months of undercover work to gather this evidence), it would be about another four years before the kennel was closed and fines were levied. And those convictions were not a slam dunk, looking like the process could fall apart many times. At the end of the program, with some issues like jail time still pending, the person who went undercover seemed a bit ambivalent—yes, finally a center for abusing animals was closed, but it was only one of many.
A class and my one-time reading of Dante’s The Divine Comedy does not make me a scholar, but as I recall, the nature of Inferno was that individuals knew there was something wrong, but had no other clues. In Purgatorio, people knew something was wrong and why, but had little or no idea how to correct the problems. In Paradiso, one knew how to correct problems. However, to “ascend” to Paradiso, one did not change either Inferno or Purgatorio, one learned how to navigate the landscape so they were not trapped. In effect, to enter Paradiso, one learned that something was wrong, why it was wrong, exactly what to do to right it, and finally, one put into practice what they had learned. Though Paradiso itself could change, along with the individuals in Paradiso, Inferno and Purgatorio could not change. The population of Paradiso attempted to help those in the other two levels to learn, which those individuals could possibly do, but there was no changing the essence of those two lower levels.
We can battle with the political, religious, philosophical/psychological structures on the planet, but that may be an exercise in futility. Was it Winston Churchhill who said that all politics are local? In life as we know it on this planet, it is not the big causes that will likely bear fruit, but the intra and interpersonal ones. It is acts of true civility, of true consideration, within and between each other that will enable us to change.
If we are looking for a noble quest, perhaps we might realize there is some measure of the greatness of the human heart and mind when we practice civility and consideration. Though I’m leaving out operational definitions of civility and consideration at this point, I suggest that both provide the best environment for learning and growing. So rather than fighting faceless structures, we might be better off polishing our hearts and minds and fine-tuning what we emphasize. When we speak and act with civility and consideration to ourselves and others, as opposed to emphasizing fears, or scarcity, or lack, or promises of what ifs, we are engaged in the noble journey, one that is not about undoing structure, but one that creates the engagements and corridors necessary for the living to breathe, roam, wonder, interact or not, and develop in their own time and space. Sugary sweet as it may sound, how better can we honor freedom?