I have been travelling a bit recently through the midwest, in Texas, in Connecticut, and in New York. Perhaps more than during any of my other travels, this time I have notice the tremendous diversity that exists in the Country. Except on the most basic of levels – food, clothing, and shelter – Americans seem to lack obvious common concerns, and values from one part of this Country to another are very diverse. If you doubt that, all you need to do is watch how people who pass one another on the street interact in different parts of our Country. If that doesn’t convince you, airport behavior will. Some of you will be surprised to learn that in some airports it isn’t necessary to ask passengers waiting to board the plane to not block the gate so that other passengers can board. Others of you would call those who don’t create human road blocks sissies.
I can’t help but wonder, in light of just these two small indications of our diversity, how we could ever develop a spirituality that would be one size fits all. On the surface, compassion would seem to be a much harder sell in the northeast and New England that it is in the Midwest – but such a judgment would be an over simplification of an underlying problem.
The essential problem, in my estimation, is our pace of life. The developed nations have all bought into the notion that frenetic activity is a sign of a productive member of society. I would like to dispute that conclusion, and in fact say that just the opposite is true. Human beings are social animals, and the fact that those parts of our world where the pace of life is faster are the very places in which people don’t seem to have time for one another. Even in those places where people seem to have time enough to acknowledge one another on the street, people are way too busy.
A solution will be possible only when we each come to a determination of how much money is enough. If our culture contines to buy into the death dealing notion that there can never be enough then we will remain bound to a lifestyle that not only dehumanizes the other, but in fact dehumanizes every human being. It will only be when we finally are honest with ourselves and each other about the truth that consumer capitalism cannot bring happiness, that there will never be enough material goods to make us happy because happiness cannot be found in things. Happiness is found in living fully and compassionately in the present moment – and learning to do that takes effort and commitment, more effort than elbowing other people out of line at the airport. It’s also supremely satisfying.
I do hope we learn to choose happiness before we experience abject misery.