Archive | January 1, 2013

Personal Freedom, or My Freedom vs. Yours?*

Sameness in oppositesPersonal Freedom, or My Freedom vs. Yours?*


This is taken from a blog, I pray the author does not mind, but the discourse needs to cast a wide net, as more and more explore this dimension of their lives.

In Islam, the most fundamental principle of freedom lies within tawhid, i.e. Unity in God/Allah. All manifestations of the Creator, i.e. creation great and so small that we build concrete over it, have the right. To have that right without creating imbalance in the Divine Matrix, is like a cloth. If all threads possess the same tension, then the whole fabric maintains its integrity, but if one strand of thread becomes weak, or is stronger than the rest of the threads, then distortion in the wave occurs i.e. one affects the other. When claiming a right over a slice of the pie, how many slices can one claim without laying claim to somebody else’ slice?  This is the lesson we have to learn, how to respect and honor ourselves without disrespecting others, including other life forms! It is a sin to cause harm to any of the Creators creation in Islam, a theme which runs consistently throughout its teachings, but a fundamental theme that the human ego has a tendency to override including to one’s own self!

By Syima Aslam,

Another year is on its way out and a pristine, new one is on the doorstep. Many of us at this time of the year tend to pause and make some promises or resolutions, about the type of new people we will become in the New Year.

Last year, for the first time ever, I made some resolutions and I have been reflecting on how true, or not, I have managed to stay to them both in letter and spirit. This reflection, has in part, been inspired by an essay I read by GK Chesterton, the less well-known contemporary of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, entitled A Defence of Rash Vows which made me think about the promises that we make, both to ourselves and to others, and how seriously we take them.

In the essay, Chesterton talks about how the vow has become an inconsequential thing. His argument is that it is actually the terror of one’s own self in modern times, or rather the terror of the weakness and mutability of the self, that has increased to such an extent that it forms the real basis to either an aversion to vows, or to treating them so lightly that they become meaningless. The essay ends with a rallying cry:

All around us is the city of small sins, abounding in back ways and retreats, but sooner or later, the towering flame will rise from the harbour announcing that the reign of the cowards is over and a man is burning his ships.

The imagery of these last lines is hauntingly evocative. The idea of a person having the willpower to take a stand at this level, not only made me pause and think, it also imbued me with a feeling close to despair at the loss of personal courage being highlighted. It accentuated the fact that an abiding characteristic of modern life is that it is full of small sins and sidesteps. There is not much anymore that resounds in greatness at either end of the personal scale; rather we fumble around in all the murky greys.

We no longer have a terror of our own selves in terms of not keeping vows or taking stands; instead, we actually celebrate this under a mantle of personal freedom. This often translates into the freedom to change and deviate from anything and everything at will. There is no longer any encouragement for taking a stand, moral or otherwise, and those who do so are derided. In my view, there is far more celebration of those who will break their word at will and manipulate situations to their own ends, than those who feel that it is morally right to honour an agreement both in word and spirit. Those who deviate are celebrated as clever, whilst those who do not are seen as being too stupid to grasp the opportunity.

When I first read the essay, I thought of the people I knew who could be depicted in this manner because of course it is so much easier to point the finger. But then I thought, why go so far? Why not take a good look at my own self? Where am I in all of this? What of all the promises I have made in life – the ones that I kept, the ones that I wanted to keep but genuinely found myself unable to do so and the ones that I broke, either without a thought or at least, without too much strenuous thinking.

This made me think – how important are words? Are we the ones who lend weight to our words or do they lend weight to us? Words and people are intimately inter-connected. The sincerity of a person is judged not only by their words but also by the accompanying actions. If I make a promise, the weight of that promise is equivalent to my weight and worth as an individual.

When the Prophet Muhammad asked the people of Mecca whether, if he told them that an enemy army was approaching from behind him, they would believe him, they said yes. This was an unequivocal testimony to the weight of his words and thus the weight of his character. In our current age, how many of our words, or even of those of national and international leaders, carry such weight? In the age of spin, has spin spun the weight out of our words? How often, now, can we talk about someone being a man of his word? Would anyone be able to say this about us? After all, it can only be said where the belief is present that as the word has been given so it will be done.

Of course, inevitably there are times when words fail. When word is given but despite every effort it becomes impossible to keep. The important point however is: was it genuinely impossible to keep or was it a whim inevitably disregarded? For there are times when words are spun like a web, when they are uttered not only lightly without any intention of adherence but also, deliberately used to create a false impression or to entrap. What is the weight then of the person uttering such words, not only in the eyes of other people but also, in their own eyes? Must it not cause you to sink in your own estimation when you know, that even as you speak them, your words are meaningless?

Do you, as a consequence, not become meaningless in your own eyes? Without the strength of our convictions to give weight and provide anchorage, may we not be blown about lightly by the breeze of any whim or fad? Is it perhaps not one of the worst aspects of our current age that not only have we lost the terror of this, but that instead we positively delight in it.

Repeat a LieIn contemporary culture we frame this concept in a slightly, but very significantly, different way to Chesterton. We no longer talk about a terror of the self or, that it is a terror of our own weakness that stops us making the level of commitment that a vow or promise entails. Instead, we talk about personal freedom. While I believe wholeheartedly in personal freedom and the right to self determination, I feel that the concept is one that is widening as we go along.

Nowadays, it can mean my personal freedom regardless of either the cost to, or the infringement of, another’s. It is this type of personal freedom that either stops us from binding ourselves fully or allows us to feel free to bind ourselves continuously but always with a sense of the possibility of retreat. The back door, the way out is always there, always in the corner of our eye. The concept that you and I will fight back to back and take on the world, cannot exist in this scenario because what if either of us has a change of heart at the crucial moment? Likewise, neither does this scenario allow for the burning of boats or bridges.

It is not that I believe that a person should live an unhappy life rather than admit that a particular endeavour may not have been the best thing to commit to. Life is not a straight line; we are subject to many twists and turns all of which also have an effect on our own selves. There have been times when I have felt that I am on a rollercoaster, clinging on for dear life with one very slippery hand, while my body free wheels willy-nilly behind me. What I am deploring is not fallibility but fickleness; the lack of commitment to anything, from an ideal to a person, the lack of appropriate weighting given to words, that is celebrated as personal freedom.

Should this freedom really mean that we can be whatever we choose, whenever we choose, no matter what the cost? Surely there needs to be a balance; a balance between self expression and a responsibility both to ourselves and to those around us. The cause of personal freedom should not mean that we sacrifice courage, steadfastness and the ability to take a stand not only for ourselves but also for others.

What we have to ask ourselves is – in our ‘more for me no matter what the expense to you’ culture, is the actual expense our own selves? In our search for more encounters, more intensity, more excitement, more thrills, ever-increasing satiation of the senses is it actually our own selves that are diminishing? Is it our own sense of self, our own integrity that is the casualty? After all, how many relationships can we taste, consume, throw away before we are so jaded that they become irrelevant or, conversely, we do. How many promises can we make and break, how many stands can we take and then forsake, before our words become meaningless and in the process so do we.


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Unemployed Coal Miners Creating their New Sustainable Reality with Solar Panels*

Unemployed Coal Miners Creating their New Sustainable Reality with Solar Panels*


A group devoted to creating alternative energy jobs in Central Appalachia is building a first for West Virginia’s southern coalfields region this week – a set of rooftop solar panels, assembled by unemployed and underemployed coal miners and contractors.

The 40- by 15-foot solar array going up on a doctor’s office in Williamson is significant not for its size but for its location: It signals to an area long reliant on mining that there can be life beyond coal.

People were skeptical when the idea was first floated about a year ago, says Nick Getzen, spokesman for The Jobs Project, which is trying to create renewable energy job opportunities in West Virginia and Kentucky. In the southern coalfields, he says, people have only ever gotten electricity one way – from coal-fired power plants.

“This is the first sign for a lot of folks that this is real, and that it’s real technology, and they can have it in their communities,” Getzen says.

“In no way are we against coal or trying to replace coal. There’s still going to be coal mining here. This is just something else to help the economy.”

The Jobs Project teamed up about a year ago with a solar energy company from the Eastern Panhandle, Mountain View Solar & Wind of Berkeley Springs, to develop a privately funded job-training program. The 12 trainees are earning $45 an hour for three days of work, while some local labourers are earning $10 an hour helping out.

Mountain View owner Mike McKechnie is also buying all his electrical supplies from a local business.

“We are not funded by any state organization. We’re doing this as a business because we want to grow the solar infrastructure and industry,” McKechnie says.

“We’re West Virginians, and we think it’s important. There’s a need here that’s not being met.”

Demand for solar energy has been growing in West Virginia, and McKechnie’s company has been expanding with it. Mountain View has tripled in size two years in a row and is likely to do the same in 2011. It now employs 15 full-time workers, five part-timers and a network of about a dozen electricians, plumbers, roofers and general contractors who do installations when McKechnie calls.

“This training model we’re unleashing in Williamson is something we’ve proven,” McKechnie says. “It’s not a pilot project. It’s something we’ve shown works.”

Besides installing the rooftop array, the trainees and three of McKechnie’s employees will also be doing assessments on seven other properties this week.

“What we’re doing is giving them a crash course. They get an introduction, and if they want to continue, then that’s who we’ll call in the future,” he says.

If they like the work, they’ll follow up with additional training in the Eastern Panhandle “to get them to a certain calibre, and then they’ll continue their training as we start to do work down there,” McKechnie says.

“We’re hoping they will go out on their own and find some sales leads and close those sales. We want to develop the entrepreneurial spirit so eventually they can go out on their own.”

McKechnie says he’s not worried about creating competitors because there’s plenty of work to go around.

“The public wants it and they can’t find it,” he says.

McKechnie uses only American-made solar panels, and representatives of his supplier, Oregon-based Solar World USA, are expected to be in Williamson on Thursday for the public unveiling of the project.

“We’re impressed with the focused enthusiasm and boldness of Mountain View Solar and Wind, and its partnership with The Jobs Project to spread the economic activity and financial savings of solar, and we want to do whatever we can to support and enhance the effort,” Solar World USA spokesman Ben Santarris said.

The rooftop array on the doctor’s office cost about $90,000 and McKechnie says it will produce 11.7 kilowatts of electricity, or enough to reduce utility costs by about 20 percent. The system should pay for itself in about seven years.

Getzen acknowledges many people can’t afford such an investment.

“It’s going to take a little while to get going,” he says.

But The Jobs Project is trying to figure out how to do projects without upfront capital. Already, he says, federal tax credits and grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture can help reduce costs, and people can seek low-interest loans.

“I just hope that through this project,” Getzen says, “we find many more.


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