I have just returned to the office after two weeks at the farm, far away from the madding crowd on the Warren River, a little over three hours south of Perth.
Life lessons from the farm
The farm is home to my bees, all of whom were hard at work extracting nectar from the abundant blossom and converting into the most delicious honey I have ever tasted. The farm is also the place where I read, reflect, learn and write, often for days on end.
Read more from DJC: Why I don't eat animals
Perhaps the only thing I consider as important as this is taking action after all that intellectualising.
During the second week, a good friend came down for a couple of days, providing me with the opportunity to discuss in detail -- with someone I respect for her intellect and honesty, among other things -- the issues I had been reading, reflecting on, learning and writing about.
We talked for hours and hours. It was suggested that I was talking a great deal for a person who values his solitude in environments where no talking happens at all. The fact is, I do find solace in solitude, but I also enjoy the opportunity to debate ideas, with a bolshy woman who speaks her mind without reservation – as indeed she should.
On a number of occasions, I lamented the increasingly self-centred behaviour of the human beings that make up our community and our world.
I'm genuinely concerned about self-serving parents who smoke with their children in the car, polluting their young lungs; parents who buy their children junk food to save time, encouraging obesity; people who smoke while walking down the street, exposing others to the risk of lung cancer; drivers who throw rubbish out the window of their vehicles, polluting the environment we all share; and the wealthy who vote in favour of tax cuts, which build inequities.
To me, all of these issues are black and white. They can be addressed readily if we, as human beings, only choose to be less self-centred and place a higher priority on our responsibilities than our rights.
We hear people telling us that they have the right to smoke, but don't they also have a responsibility not to?
We often hear parents saying that junk food saves them time in their busy lives, when it may be better of them to ask if they have a responsibility to do whatever it takes to bring up a healthy child who will learn good eating habits and not become obese? We often hear the wealthy bemoan the tax they pay, taking full credit for their success, rather than full responsibility for doing what they can to help others.
Because of the self-centred behaviour of human beings, I have lost faith in humanity. While there are people I like and respect a great deal, I struggle to have any regard for the human race.
It seemed to me that anyone who questioned behaviours like those discussed here and did not realise how selfish they were being was not much of a person. I struggle to think well of anyone who continues to smoke in the car with their children in it after they've asked themselves what effect it is having on them.
But this is where my friend made an interesting point, that these people don’t ask themselves such questions.
She went on to explain that such people might actually share my perspective if they asked themselves the question and were presented with the facts. The fact is though, that many of them don't ask themselves the question. They behave as they do, day after day, without critically evaluating their behaviour -- with some not even clear on what that involves.
I have been writing strident articles with aggressive headlines for a few years now, offering a progressive and socratic view of issues. My objective has always been to encourage change through objective, critical and lateral thinking.
As Bertrand Russell once said, "most people would rather die than think - and most people do''. But encouraging thinking is the only way I know to facilitate optimal sustainable change.
But my conversation with my wise friend suggests to me that rather than offering aggressive headlines, I should ask more questions.
I need to focus on asking the questions that people don't think to ask themselves, present some facts, and leave it to them to draw the right conclusion.
It also occurs to me that this is completely consistent with my general philosophy on life, that the answers always matter less than the questions. Questions considered genuinely encourage thinking.