Working with ISMs

I have been reflecting on my earlier blog, Thoughts on Simplicity and Minimalism, and wondering about my uneasiness is with this word “Minimalism”. In that blog I talked about the connotations of the word “minimal”. Now I am thinking about the ..ism part of the word.

The world has seen a lot of powerful …isms in areas such as philosophy, religion, art and politics. They each represent a set of beliefs and values which attract like minded people and influence their actions. I am not going to mention examples, I am sure you can think of some that you regard as positive, and some that you regard as destructive, depending on your perspective.

What I am interested is the effect of ISMs when we become involved with them. I have been heavily influence by buddhism,  and learned a lot recently from minimalism, but I hesitate to call myself a buddhist or a minimalist. Let me try and explain the reason why.

When I come across a belief system or movement that resonates with my perspective on the world, there is generally an area of overlap, and areas that don’t correlate. If the overlap is large, there is plenty of scope to get involved. In the case of buddhism for example, I am very interested in mediation and mindfulness, and find it really useful to learn about the buddhist perspective.

Its the areas of mismatch that pose the greatest challenge. This is going to be the aspects of the belief system that I don’t relate to or accept, and aspects of myself that don’t seem to fit into the belief system. In the case of buddhism for example, I am not so comfortable with the more religious and mystical aspects of some forms of buddhism; and I eat meat.

It can be terribly tempting, if we are drawn to an ISM, to want to jump into it fully and give ourselves to it 100%. But what are we to do with the messy bits that don’t match up. Are we going to try to convince ourselves to believe things that don’t ring true? Are we going to give up on aspects of ourselves because we fear they won’t be accepted by the group we want to be a part of?

My approach to this dilemma to learn from and participate in belief systems, movements and groups that I think have something of value to offer, but only to the extent that they sit comfortably with my own perspective on the world. I aim to be conscious of the areas of mismatch and respect my own judgement. I also want to be alert to the impact of the ideas that are being put forward, and how they are impacting on peoples lives, as this is the most important test of their usefulness.

If I feel that there is a strong enough connection, maybe I will take on an ISM as a card carrying member. But at the end of the day, if there is a conflict of interests, or a difference in perspective, the group I want to belong to most is the group of people who trust their own judgement and respond appropriately to the real needs of the situation as it is unfolding.


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