A Question of Priorities

It seems to me that a lot of human beings make political decisions based upon some pretty dubious criteria. For example, I know a man whose home is in pre-forclosure. In his yard there is a sign that reads “Sportsmen for Walker,” referring to Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin. The problem is that Governor Walker couldn’t give the tiniest little damn for people like this man, who lives in an impoverished neighborhood off of downtown Milwaukee. Never mind that this man’s financial interests are not well served by keeping Walker in office, he must have heard long ago that only Republicans care about hunting and fishing. Never mind that this man is in his late sixties or early seventies and has some trouble getting around, meaning that his hunting or fishing days are probably mostly behind him, his recreational activities are more important than having a roof over his head. To be honest, I just don’t understand that kind of thinking.

Abraham Maslow famously articulated a hierarchy of needs. At the base of that hierarchy are food, clothing, and shelter – yet we often see people making choices that seem to put their ability to secure food, clothing, and/or shelter in jeopardy so that they might pursue some higher level need. We all probably know someone who tends to buy cars that are way beyond their means, perhaps on the theory that when they can’t make their rent because of their car payment and have to live in said car at least they will be comfortable.

Then there are the people who quit their job without having another one lined up. I know quite a few people who have done this, and not all of them were young and inexperienced. Some have quit in a huff when their emotions got the better of them, others overestimated their ability to find employment, and still others weren’t thinking at all, but they all ended up in the same place – unemployed.

I remember taking driver’s education, lo those many years ago. Back in the day they talked a lot about “the big picture” when you were driving – looking not right in front of you but down the road so you could see what was developing. It was key in the new concept of defensive driving, which gives you some idea of how many years ago I was in driver’s ed! To be honest, I don’t know if they still teach “the big picture” in driver’s ed, but I am beginning to think the concept is so valuable – and so over looked – that it should be taught in every field of human endeavor, most especially politics and spirituality.

We need to always consider the long-range effects of our choices, not just on ourselves but on all of society. If your neighbor’s dog takes a crap on your front porch and you step in it on your way out the door to go to work the next morning, you might be tempted to shoot your neighbor’s dog – but hopefully you stop to consider the potential consequences and choose a more sensible act, like burning down his house. (Just seeing if you were still paying attention.) Of course, a reasonable person wouldn’t take either of those actions, but in situations that aren’t quite as obvious we often make choices that are bound to hurt us in the long run. I believe we make those choices because we don’t trust enough in our own reasoning ability and so take what others tell us as gospel – and that is never a good idea.

Human beings tend to act in their own self-interest. One of the tasks of spiritual maturation is developing the ability to consider not only my own self-interest but also the broader community’s self interest. Sure, it’s convenient to dump my used motor oil into the storm drain, but as I mature I come to realize that the negative impact of such an action on the environment outweighs my convenience and I choose to dispose of it properly. I realize that hunting and fishing licenses are a not inconsiderable source of revenue for the State, and so I won’t put my home on the line for fear a politician is going to make fishing illegal. I realize that while we all like to live comfortably, people who are struggling to survive have very little to lose and may resort to violent actions – even in my comfortable neighborhood – and so I recognize the benefit of sharing.

Of course, there will always be people who prefer to live in a cocoon of denial about the realities of life. They are the people who, when social unrest breaks out, are always completely mystified as to how such things can happen. I guess their really is a difference between intelligence and common sense. Maybe it’s the gene pool self-correcting, but I am optimistic enough to believe that we can all learn to pause for a moment and consider the consequences of our actions. We won’t be perfect on the first try, in fact we may never be perfect, but I believe we could create a much better world with even a fifty percent success rate. Why not give it a try?

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