The sustainable way of life is brought about by virtuous practices consistent with a sustainable mode of living. There are many virtues in a different possible world. I will be brief because I have already published three volumes with the title, “Virtues for a different possible world” (Sal Terrae 2005-2006). I mention 10 virtues, without detailing their content, because that would take us too far afield.
Virtues of a different possible, and necessary, world
The first virtue is essential caring. I call it essential because according to a philosophic tradition that came from the Romans, passed down through the centuries, which is best expressed by several authors, especially in Heidegger’s central nucleus of Time and Being. Caring, it is seen as the essence of the human being. It ts a precondition for the group of factors necessary for life. Without caring, life would never have arisen, nor could it survive. Some cosmologists, such as Brian Swimme and Stephan Hawking, viewed caring as the essential dynamic of the universe. Had the four fundamental energies lacked the subtle caring to act synergistically, we would not have the world we have. All life is dependent on caring. Because we are biologically imperfect beings, with no specialized organs, without the infinite care of our mothers, we could not have gotten out of our cribs and sought nourishment. We need the caring of others. All that we love, we also care for, and we love all that we care for. With respect to nature, this requires a relationship that is amicable, non aggressive and respectful of her limits.
The second virtue is the awareness of belonging to nature, to the Earth and the universe. We are part of a great Totality that surrounds us. We are the conscious and intelligent part of nature; we are that part of the Earth that feels, thinks, loves and venerates. This feeling of belonging fills us with respect, marvelous amazement and security.
The third virtue is solidarity and cooperation. We are social beings who not only live, but coexist with others. We know from bio-anthropology that it was the solidarity and cooperation of our anthropoid ancestors that, by searching for food and bringing it for collective consumption, allowed them to rise to the top of the animal kingdom, and inaugurate the human world. Today, with respect to the coronavirus, what can save us is this solidarity and universal cooperation. Solidarity must begin with the least among us and the invisible. Otherwise, it is not universally inclusive.
The fourth virtue is collective responsibility. We discussed its meaning above. It is the moment of consciousness when each member of society understands the good and bad effects of their decisions and acts. The uncontrolled deforestation of the Amazon would be absolutely irresponsible because it would destroy the balance of the rains for vast regions and eliminate the biodiversity that is indispensable for the future of life. We need not mention nuclear war, whose deadly effects would eliminate all life, especially human life.
The fifth virtue is hospitality, as a duty and a right. Immanuel Kant was the first to present hospitality as both a duty and a right in his famous work, “In view of perpetual peace” (1795). Kant understood that the Earth belongs to all, because God did not gift any part of the Earth to anyone. The Earth belongs to all her inhabitants, who are free to go wherever they want. Wherever someone is found, it is everyone’s the duty to offer hospitality, as a sign of common belonging to the Earth; and we all have the right to be welcomed, without distinctions. To Kant, hospitality and respect for human rights would constitute the pillars of a world republic (Weltrepublik). This theme has great topicality, given the number of refugees and widespread discrimination against different groups. Hospitality is perhaps one of the most urgent virtues for the process of globalization, even though it is one of the least commonly practiced.
The sixth virtue is universal coexistence. Coexistence is a primary factor because we are all products of the coexistence of our parents. We are beings of relationships, which is to say, we do not simply live, but we coexist through our lives. We participate in the lives of others, their joys and sadness. However, for many it is difficult to coexist with those who are different, be it in ethnicity, religion, or political ideas. What is important is to be open to the exchange. That which is different always brings us something new that either benefits or challenges us. What we must never do is turn difference into inequality. We can be humans of many different backgrounds, be it Brazilian, Kechua, Italian, Aymara, Wampanoag, Japanese, Peruvian, Aztec, or Yanomami. Each form is human and has its dignity. Today, through the cybernetic mass media of communications, we open windows onto all people and cultures. Knowing how to coexist with these differences opens new horizons and brings us into a form of communion with everyone. This coexistence also involves nature. We coexist with the landscape, the jungles, the birds and all other animals. It is not just to see the star filled skies, but to enter into communion with the stars, because we come from them and with them we are part of the great All. In fact, we are part of a community of common destiny with all of creation.
The seventh virtue is unconditional respect.Each being, no matter how small, has value in itself, independent of its usefulness to humans. Albert Schweitzer,the great Swiz physician who went to Gabon, Africa, to care for the lepers, profoundly developed the theme. For Schweitzer, respect is the most important basis of ethics, because it includes welcome, solidarity and love. We must start by respecting ourselves, maintaining dignified attitudes and manners that move others to respect us. It is important to respect all beings of creation, because they have value in themselves. They exist or live and deserve to exist or live. It Is especially valuable to respect all human person, because a human is a carrier of dignity, a sacred being with inalienable rights, regardless of their origin. We owe supreme respect for the sacred and to God, the intimate mystery of all things. We must venerate and bend our knees only before God, because only God deserves that attitude.
The eight virtue is social justice and fundamental equality for all. Justice is more than merely giving to each his or her own. Among humans, justice is love and the minimal respect we owe everyone else. Social justice requires guaranteeing the minimum to all persons, without creating privilege, and equally respecting their rights because we are all human beings and deserve to be humanely treated. Social inequality means social injustice and, theologically, it is an offense to the Creator and His sons and daughters. The major perversity that exists nowadays is perhaps that of leaving millions of people in misery, condemned to die before their time. The violence of social inequality and injustice has been revealed in the age of this coronavirus. While some people can safely live quarantined in their homes or apartments, the great majority of the poor are exposed to infection and often to death.
The ninth virtue is the tireless search for peace. Peace is one of the most longed for conditions, because given the type of society we have built, we live in constant competition, called on to consume and to exalt productivity. Peace does not exist by itself. Peace is the fruit of values that must be lived out and bring peace as a result. One of the most certain ways of understanding peace comes to us from the Earthcharter, where is said: «Peace is the plenitude that results from correct relationships with one’s own self, with other persons, other cultures, other lives, the Earth and the Great All, of whom we are part» (n.16 f). As can be seen, peace is the result of adequate relationships and the fruit of social justice. Without these relationships and this justice we will only know a truce, but never a permanent peace.
The tenth virtue is the development of the spiritual meaning of life. Human beings have a corporal exterior through which we relate with the world and other people. We also have a psychical interior where our passions, great dreams and our angels and demons are found in the architecture of desire. We must control our demons and lovingly cultivate our angels. Only that way can we enjoy the equilibrium necessary for life.
But we also posses a depth, the dimension where the great questions of life reside: who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What can we look for after this terrestrial life? What is the Supreme Energy that sustains the heavens and keeps our Common Home circling the Sun and maintains her always alive so that we may live? This is the spiritual dimension of the human being, with intangible values, such as unconditional love, trust in life, and courage to confront the unavoidable difficulties. We realize that the world is filled of meaning, that things are more than things, that they are messengers and have another invisible side. We intuit that there is a mysterious Presence that impregnates all things. The spiritual and religious traditions have called this Presence by a thousand names, without ever being able to totally decipher it. It is the mystery of the world that is sent to the Abyssal Mystery that makes that everything be what it is. Cultivating this space makes us more human, more humble, and roots us in a transcendent reality that is adequate to our infinite desire.
Conclusion: to simply be human
The conclusion we draw from these long reflections on the coronavirus 19 is: we must simply be humans, vulnerable, humble, connected with each other, part of nature and the conscious and spiritual part of the Earth with the mission of caring for the sacred inheritance we have received, Mother Earth, for us and future generations.
The last phrases of the Earthcharter are inspiring: «That our time be remembered by the awakening of a new reverence to life, by the firm commitment to achieve sustainability and to intensify the struggle for justice and peace, and for the joyful celebration of life».
*Leonardo Boff is an ecotheologian and has written, in three volumes, Virtues for another possible world, (3 vol.), Sal Terrae, 2005-2006