Real Values

It's funny, isn't it, how themes sort of pop up like spring grass across vast prairies of thought. I have serendipitously encountered quite a few bloggers wrestling with the question of what is real to them. This is not an esoteric, 'do I exist if I leave the room' sort of enquiry, but rather an examination of value. More to the point, a re-examination, against cultural norms, of how value is defined. It's meaty stuff for the blogosphere. It speaks to what it means to be a reflective, deliberate adult and, as such, I find it essential, often neglected, and stimulating to observe. It's the kind of thing that inevitably (and I mean that literally, not the "usually/sometimes" meaning that seems common these days) forces a comparison to one's own values or the state of that enquiry on the home front. And that, to me, is an amazing benefit of blogging: universal human concepts shared across time and distance with a feeling of both immediacy and anonymity.

The anonymity of the web can have its downsides. Matt and Stacey of The Paleo Parents blog and healthy kids cookbook Eat Like a Dinosaur have built a loyal readership with their personable ways and realistic application of what can be a Stoic lifestyle. By any reasonable definition they're doing great - weight and symptoms lost, energy and focus found by both parents and children, enriched social connections - and still improving. But some segment of the population feels that sharing your personal struggles means inviting criticism of your journey. Some people think that social rules of conduct are suspended in comment sections and 'contact us' forms and think it's okay to write things like:
Stacy looks a mess to me, despite her weight loss, and eating meat x3 meals a day is NEVER going to make you healthy. full stop. Even the idea of it makes me feel ill... especially when it’s followed by a post written by Stacy saying how shit her health is. [source post]
As a result of these sorts of things, Stacey and Matt are considering shutting down the blog. Their recent post about how running a high-readership blog effects your life is worth reading. True to form, they've asked their readers for feedback on their situation and the replies are, as is often the case, just as worthwhile as the post itself. Clearly my blog doesn't attract the same pressures, but I think we all have self-constructed situations of obligation in our lives that we struggle with.

Beth at the blog Revolution From Home has a doozy of a question about which obligations are real and which only seem to be. She and her husband, with three of their four children, have moved to Mexico where he works on sustainable energy projects and she has begun a relationship with the Mayan women in a nearby village. The extremes of the three cultures she's now part of are pulling her apart. She writes:
My worldview — the foundation upon which I’ve built my thoughts, values and priorities — is in a vulnerable state of transformation. Illusions are dissolving quicker than they’re being replaced with anything half as easy, my comfort zones feel unwarranted, lavish and indulgent and the curtain of denial that once allowed for permissible passivity is now a tangled pile of weft threads at my feet. My daily life is steeped in a question I thought I had long since answered: What is truly worthwhile? [source]
She relates that villagers have no toilet paper yet "they never have to question whether what they’re doing is worthwhile" because it's essential for survival. This of course upends the notion of essentiality for someone from an affluent background - in fact it totally alters our sense of affluence - and demands that she/we reevaluate whether affluence and obligation are one in the same. "What" she asks, knowing what she does while standing in the surreal Candylandcape of a shopping mall, "does a healthy reaction look like?" Certainly the White Man's Burden isn't it. The "leaky bowl" of ODA is questionable at best because it is fundamentally undignified. Where is the model for personal action? Without the cognitive bridge of such a model, are we forced into dichotomies where one side must always be 'less than'?

Peggy Emch blogs from the hip. Her perspectives are not mainstream and she's good with that. In keeping with our leitmotif, this week it was NatGeo that brought her to ask, what is simple and what is deprivation?  What is primal and what is primitive? I like how busy the comments section has been; one reader pithily observed:
a professed craving for more minimalism is often just the desire for tidier clutter
I understand Peggy's dilemma about wanting a more fundamental life but being unable to imagine giving up the intellectual stimulation that technology allows. Is community as we know it in the digital age essential for quality of life? What is real and what is chaff? What is worth living for? How much of that answer can we choose, and how much is the mystical "human condition"?

Once you've purged the clutter, gotten back to basics, then geared up to be more basic yet (grey water system and a grain mill, anyone?), made an off-grid emergency plan, and started making camping the only holiday mode for your family*, are you living a more examined life or just giving yourself a gold star for hardcoreness? Conversely, can you have a two-job, two-commute, fully-wired life and know that your choices are all moving you towards the you you want to be? Where's the threshold?

How do YOU decide what's valuable enough to steer by?

*I could, sadly, provide links for each of those stages. I won't because they are manifestations of another's journey rather than fodder for my own

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