Archive for category Spirituality

The miasma of domination

Have you ever wondered… what it’s all for? Why bother waking up everyday just to repeat the same old grind, the same old depressing life, day in, day out? You are not alone….

The World Health Organisation estimates 350 million people of all ages, globally, suffer from depression. Depression is the leading cause – the leading cause – of ill health worldwide. More women are affected by depression than men and at its worst depression can lead to suicide.

There are glaring social inequalities explaining why so many people are so unhappy with their lives here on the planet. It is not just by coincidence or chance. We know from our day to day living that when we are unhappy, it is not by chance or accident. There are always reasons, whether these are recent, or have existed for a long time, as far as can we remember. It is just that the reason or reasons for our unhappiness may be circumstances or social situations that are beyond our control. Unless, we are responsible for our own depression by something we said, or did, or even thought! Yes, depression can be temporary, or can last over long periods of time – even years.

But let’s first take a look at our social condition as the human race, and what would contribute to so much misery! I posted an earlier article about the structure of domination in human society. This follow up post looks at how systems of domination create social dysfunction through exclusion of marginalised groups. Social exclusion is the process by which certain groups are systematically disadvantaged because they are discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, caste, descent, gender, age, disability, HIV status, migrant status and along the lines of any other demographic out there. Discrimination occurring in the wider society and its’ institutions both stems from and occurs among families at the level of the household.

Unequal power relations in social interactions between individuals and groups all lead to deficiencies in social participation, social protection, social integration and power for those at the lower end of the power spectrum. These exclusionary processes are seen across the four dimensions:

  • Political exclusion, which includes the denial of citizenship rights such as political participation and the right to organise, and also of personal security, the rule of law, freedom of expression and equality of opportunity.
  • Economic exclusion, which includes lack of access to labour markets, credit and other forms of capital assets.
  • Social exclusion, which takes the form of discrimination along the lines of; gender, ethnicity, age, etcetera, which reduces the opportunity for such groups to gain access to social services and limits their participation in the labour market.
  • Cultural exclusion, which refers to the extent to which diverse values, norms and ways of living are accepted and respected.

The Impact:

Globally, 836 million people still live in extreme poverty (measured as living on less than $1.25 a day). There are about one in five persons who are affected in developing regions, the overwhelming majority of whom are found in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. This then translates into poorer levels of health and education, particularly when poverty is combined with remoteness and lack of infrastructure and social services.

The psychological aspects of marginalisation described by Eyben and colleagues (2008):

‘The injury done to people who experience discrimination on the basis of labels they are given by society and entrenched ideas about their inferiority or societal taboos around sex, death and dirt goes well beyond that of economic deprivation and lack of political voice. When people are treated as lesser because of the colour of their skin, their sex, what they do for a living, and where they live, they can come to internalise a sense of lack of worth that profoundly affects their sense of what they can do and what they are due by society’ 

What Next?

Advocating or agitating for social change can be undertaken by excluded groups forming and/or participating in organisations that represent their group interests. And where possible, potential partnerships should be built between the state and civil society to drive transformative agendas.

At individual level, we need to be constantly reminded of and affirm our worth as human beings; who are just as deserving. When our minds, bodies and spirits are constantly beset by adversity; we must seek deep within our spiritual core for groundedness. And by spiritual; I don’t mean religious, as institutional religions are as much to blame as regressive cultures and educational systems in perpetuating systems of domination. It is to remember that there is so much more to us as individuals than just marginalised bodies living in human society. We are essentially spiritual beings having a human experience. And it is in this spiritual centeredness that we must seek refuge.

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Spirituality as Freedom

There are parallels between our spiritual lives and our carnal (physical) lives. The two states of being are intertwined.

Take the life of a child, for instance. When we are born, our first experience is losing the comfort of our mothers’ bodies. It is suddenly cold, and loud and bright. These new changes lead a baby to cry. It is suddenly different. Then we calm down as we try to perceive and learn about our new surroundings. While you are still in utero you can hear your mother’s voice so by the time you arrive you can instantly recognize her. Babies are short sighted and can only see clearly within breastfeeding distance therefore are more familiar with their mother’s face and also learn the mother’s smell within days of birth.

Having made this connection at/and before birth with our primary caregiver, we then trust that they will protect and provide for us through a safe and secure life of personal and physical development.

We become curious about our spirituality (as with our physical development) when we seek to understand abstract concepts about life and death, and our reason for being.

We are handed a social blueprint as a starter pack in the form of religious and cultural traditions from the community we are raised within. These blueprints are not necessarily without problems; chief among them being the need for social conditioning for purposes of conformity with tradition. On the outside, this might appear to serve purposes of unity with the community perceiving and believing the same thing/s. On the other hand, coercive conformity for purposes of social control along structures of domination is hardly the starting point for personal growth and spiritual fulfillment. As individuals with personal prerogative and agency this must not be subsumed for the ‘greater good’ through attempted erasure of our attempt at self-determination and self-discovery. The so-called common good for the wider community, which is composed of many individuals, cannot possibly come through the suppression of individuals’ freedoms.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama asserts in ‘Ethics for the New Millennium’;

‘Religion I take to be concerned with faith in the claims to salvation of one faith tradition or another, an aspect of which is acceptance of some form of metaphysical or supernatural reality, including perhaps an idea of heaven or nirvana. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma, ritual, prayer, and so on.

Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit — such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony — which bring happiness to both self and others.

While ritual and prayer, along with the questions of nirvana and salvation, are directly connected to religious faith, these inner qualities need not be, however. There is thus no reason why the individual should not develop them, even to a high degree, without recourse to any religious or metaphysical belief system.

This is why I sometimes say that religion is something we can perhaps do without. What we cannot do without are these basic spiritual qualities.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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