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“Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life”

Inner City Blues – Marvin Gaye

When we build a society around a hyper-competitive form of centralized economics, generation after generation is indoctrinated with the idea that life is a zero-sum game. When one takes, another must lose.

Thus, we must live in a world of absolute scarcity.

All comers are in competition with me.

I must have a “better” address. I must have a “better” vehicle, a “better” job, “better” clothes, “better” memberships.

When I Jones my neighbors, I must be “winning.”

The comparisons are nearby, at arm’s length. The human brain more readily comprehends that which is local, not that which is distantly removed.

Yet, our world becomes increasingly globalized, and the negative effects of that globalization is what causes our lives to sink into oblivion.

But global thinking is difficult for us humans. The systems we must understand are too large, too involved, too complex. There are too many variables.

Thus, we fail to understand that it is not our neighbors with whom we are in competition. We are in competition with national governments, with multinational corporations, with international banks.

It’s hard to understand how these global institutions really work. Even those who sit at the controls don’t understand.

And the deck is stacked against us.

But in our sense of hopelessness, we tell ourselves we can’t fight those governments, those corporations. We cannot comprehend their complexity. We muster weak attempts of thought-effort, at best, about them.

So we lash out against those of a different skin color, those of a different gender, or the neighbors who have “more.”

They must be the ones who are taking from me.

And our lives continue to sink into oblivion, because we embrace racism, sexism and consumerism. It doesn’t do anything to help us retain our dignity, but it’s cognitively easier. It requires less thought-effort. We embrace it because we feel the need to blame others for our seeming “failures” for not keeping up with the competition.

Or we embrace it because we feel the need to feel superior to others.

After all, we’ve been indoctrinated to believe life is a competition.

We never question this sense of competition because we are completely consumed by it, flailing about within it, passing off all this misdirected energy as work, as effort, as survival, as “righting the wrongs” that have been done to us.

Yet, like quicksand, the more we flail, the faster we sink.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are worthless to us, because such ideals cannot be seen, cannot be compared, cannot be worn, driven or lived in. There cannot be any competition for these ideals because there is no absolute scarcity for these ideals.

And yet, when we peel away the crud, the scum, the pollution of racism, sexism and consumerism, all that remains is us. If we’re honest with ourselves, we all want the same things: a sense of recognition, a sense of belonging, a sense of value.

But we’re looking for these ideals in all the wrong places – the places of hatred, anger, envy, victimization, consumption – places that will never deliver for us.

The places that will deliver are in the well-lived life, in the liberties protected by our Bill of Rights, in our ability to pursue happiness.

Not “happiness” as in the 21st-century sense of an elusive chasing, but in the 18th-century sense of the word when that phrase was written: contentment… not hedonism, not narcissism, not consumerism.

Contentment, as in finding a sense of dignity within ourselves, not as in accepting mediocrity.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness provides no quarter for mediocrity, but presents us with the ultimate struggle: a struggle for meaning, for relevance, for belonging. It is a struggle in which we all find common ground.

It is the struggle.

The struggle for our dignity is where we should focus our efforts. Not on envy. Not on distinctions that divide us. Not on futile, endless consumption for the sake of competition.

We’ll never find our dignity as long as we believe we are in a winner-take-all competition to the end… the end of our lives, that is.

By that time, we have lost. While the act of death may or may not be undertaken with dignity, to be dead holds no dignity, for we all turn into compost afterwards.

The only dignity that remains after death is our legacy and what, pray tell, will that be?

If a “legacy” is nothing more than a building with our name on it because we gave millions to a university for its business school, what does that bring? A tarnished brass plaque in some hallway, and a name soon forgotten by the school’s faculty and students.

But if our life can be measured by the lives touched at a substantive level, be it one life or a million lives, then we have truly secured a legacy.

 

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