Dear Readers, Writers, and all other Fellow Human Denizens of this World,
I look at life on our planet as an ongoing conversation and a series of experiments. It occurred to me, a few years ago, that there does not yet seem to be a “winner” in the contest to “discover the best way to live.” In that, when we die…as we cannot take our toys with us…what we DO take is identical, regardless of the culture, language, or material aspects of the society we lived in.
What we have, at the end of our lives, can be tallied in terms of emotions.
Here’s what I mean. Consider the life of a Bushman of the Kalahari Desert about a thousand years ago…and the life of a New Yorker living in the Bronx. Couldn’t be more different, right? Yes. Absolutely. And yet, these two individuals share the exact same set of possible emotions…
Joy. Guilt. Serenity. Embarrassment. Pride. Powerlessness. Shock. Sadness. Hope. And more…
At the end of our lives, I believe that every life – regardless of the “lifestyle” – contains a tally of our emotional experiences. Just think of it. Lying on your deathbed, in the sand, on a mattress, on a futon, in a hammock, on a boat…wherever you are, within your personal history and perhaps written down in the annals of your soul…there is a record of how you felt every minute of every hour of every day!
First day of school. First hunt. Rights of passage.
Losing your virginity. Marriage, dating, divorce, widowed?
First child. Death of the family dog, the family goat, the family yak, the family camel, the family penguin?
Hunger. Cold. Warmth. Food. Mortgage. Building the family yurt.
Fear of sickness. Pain of injury. Trust in the doctor, the medicine man, God.
Desperation from a plague of locusts, getting laid off, forced migration, an exhausting commute.
The details are different. BUT, the emotions we feel are the same. Recognizing this is vital, if we are to make the “changes” that are necessary to minimize (we can no longer prevent, as it’s already happening) environmental and societal catastrophe.
At the Earth Summit in 1992, George H.W. Bush forcefully declared, “The American way of life is not negotiable.” Bush Jr. and Cheney went on to repeat this mantra…attempting to convince all of us that every other way of life must SUCK! And, that the way of life that lines their pockets and the pockets of others in power must be the BEST! Really? The way of life they are hawking requires a highly disproportionate use of the world’s nonrenewable resources, leading to increasingly desperate methods of fossil fuel attainment (such as Fracking, tar sands, and Deep Horizon).
Seriously…who believes it is sustainable, logical, sane or BEST for 4% of the world population (the United States) to consume 25% of the world’s oil?
WHY DO WE DO THIS?
Because we’ve been sold a “materialistic song and dance” which touts the joys of working our asses off so we can own a bunch of stuff…while ignoring the trade-off in our emotional, psychological, and physical health. Did you know that 30% of Americans have a diagnosable mental disorder? Somehow, I don’t think the Bushmen could have survived with such high numbers. AND, in Japan…only 5% of citizens have a diagnosable mental disorder. In fact, when you study first world nations based upon the “income gap” between the rich and the poor, you find that the wider the gap – the greater the social problems (from mental illness to teen pregnancy to alcoholism to crime, to you name it). AND, the nations with the smallest income gap have markedly less. In fact, it’s a perfect scale, without a single outlier nation.
Watch this TED Talk…it is amazing, well-researched, mind-blowing…and powerful!
And so, I invite you to consider using “emotions” as a marker or criterion for judging the success or failure of a way of life. Not the designer clothing, McMansion, new SUV / sports car, perfectly manicured (poisonous and non-food producing) lawn, 2 carat diamond engagement ring, or that brand new iphone.
Attachment to the “trappings” of society makes true lifestyle change (as in how well you eat, how much you sleep, your connection with your community and your family, your joy, contentment, creative outlets, and sense of empowerment…to name a few) very difficult. It makes people believe they are being asked to “give up something.” Because sacrifice is often painful, once you phrase change in this way…people will resist.
BUT…we’ve spent the last four centuries trying to do things the “new way!” We celebrate our “advancement” as a society all the time! When did we decide that “advancing” was no longer good? Whether we want to or not…we WILL change…the question is, will we choose it or will it “just happen to us?”
If we take an objective view of the “emotional tally” of various societies throughout history…I believe we’ll discover that there are many ways to live La Vida Buena…and some of them happen to be sustainable, logical, and BETTER than the current American Way of Life.
Now…how can we illustrate this through our novels, short stories, and poetry?
Don’t miss my previous authors! Archived here: www.voiceofvashon.org/prose-poetry-and-purpose