The primary underlying desire of all of us as humans is birth-to-death security. We will sacrifice our possessions, money, even the very stuff of our life – time – for it. This is fundamental human nature. It cannot be changed. But it can be interpreted and manipulated by social expectations, myth, and advertising to mean different things. Our current worldwide culture presents the belief that seeking money/possessions/power is the only way to be assured of birth-to-death security. The more you can accumulate, the more likely you are to be taken care of in the case of mishap or old age. Then, in our culture, we can use this stored energy (money) to manipulate (pay) others to take care of us during our infirmity. This belief system works especially well if we can’t recognize and don’t value the joy we as individuals bring to each other. (“Why would anyone want to spend time with me or take care of me without compensation?”)
This belief is beautifully illustrated by the fear and unwillingness people in our culture feel about sharing their children with other people. (“Why would anyone want to spend time with my kids, for free, without getting paid? If they don’t want money for babysitting, then they can’t be trusted, maybe they’re a pedophile…”) This value system is so strong that most people would rather pay a day care (where the caretakers may or may not even like children) than trust their children to people in the community who would love to share time freely with the young. This may sound crazy, but it makes sense given the underlying value system. Money/possessions/power is the only way to gain security, so it is valued above joy and harmony. What possible reason could anyone have for enjoying children for free when every hour they could be making money to gain security? The same rule applies to the elderly. Why would anyone want to spend time with older people unless they were being paid? In our culture of avarice, the only possible reason would be to try to get some money/possessions, save their soul (gain monetary support for the church) or get in their will by befriending them before they die. Even if an individual just simply enjoys spending time with the elderly, in our culture we expect that they should try to get paid for it. When a person takes up a crafting hobby, other people start to ask if they’re going to sell anything they’re making, because it’s simply expected that people try to make money at everything they’re doing even if they are just doing it for the joy.
People assume that others are out to get them, unless somehow they band together against others. For this reason, the people of our culture harbor a great deal of mistrust and uncertainty toward the others they encounter daily. Poignantly, many young children don’t seem to have as much of this attitude that is so common among adults in our culture and are willing to interact with strangers, for better and for worse. It is true that trust is gained over time in human relationships, but the level of fear and mistrust between everyday people indicates that something is out of balance with our deeper value system.
If you value end results and outcomes and are content to trade daily harmony for the promise of future joy and comfort, then the pursuit of possessions and power is the best way to gain security and create an environment where people only want to be with you if it means monetary gain for them. If you choose to value people (of all ages) and strong relationships, then you secure a much less illusory and longer-lasting security through interdependence and a very real benefit of sharing your life with more people who actually want to learn and grow with you. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of valuing money/possessions over health and people is a willingness to forgo enjoying yourself in the moment (by forcing yourself to work for money) so you can have a payoff later (retirement). Or on a more day-to-day level, you find yourself thinking, “This feels grueling, but I will be happy when it’s over” (after work, or this weekend, or when it stops raining, or when it’s not so hot out). In this way you “spend” your life postponing present moment enjoyment and attempting to wrest whatever material possessions you can from your fellows. In the pursuit of possessions and power, you value only the exterior display of wealth and beauty and remain in an adolescent mindset.
We are made for so much more.
Let’s release our fixation on external beauty and validation. Let’s choose to value inner treasures, to assert that mature humans are more than what they wear, buy, or where they’ve traveled. We can find validation and self-worth by means other than possessions, power, and money. Let’s live for the present moment and be happy now. Gratefulness is the key to happiness, and being in the present moment is the key to being grateful. No matter what, be looking for ways to feel grateful. The ego, that adolescent part of each person that would rather be right than see truth, disappears when our awareness is in the present moment. When you choose to live in the present, you no longer feel compelled to react in ego-protective emotional outbursts and can freely accept whatever circumstances present themselves.
Finding joy in the moment and not working to the point of exhaustion not only benefits your quality of life, the lowered stress level is likely to increase your longevity. Taken collectively, the destruction to the environment and the emotional and physical pain endured by the people of our culture can be greatly lessened or even ended if we remember to live for our purpose. Our purpose, as indigenous cooperative peoples worldwide have shown us for thousands of years, is to grow in patience and wisdom and experience all the stages of human development – child, maiden, mother, and crone – while supporting each other in this process through patience and mirroring.
This is not to suggest that we should attempt to go back to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of our ancestors – such a shift is simply not realistic for all of us right now, and would mean abandoning many useful already-built materials and infrastructure. Merely changing our tools and technologies will not change our values. Remember, ancient Rome and ancient Egypt rose and fell with much the same value system but with none of the computers or cars of our modern era. By the same token there is no reason we can’t change our values while also utilizing modern technologies. It isn’t what tools we use but how and why we use them that really matters.
The present historical moment offers an opportunity for us to make a shift. We have utilized fossil fuels to create a massive excess of materials, tools, and infrastructure. At the same time, much of the world economy now operates on wage labor/slavery, which is grueling but less constraining than the violently enforced unpaid slavery more common in the past. The element of personal freedom in wage slavery allows the possibility, however minute or difficult it might seem, for people to choose a different way of living. Even factory workers living on a dollar a day have the option of pooling their limited resources to enable each other to opt out of back-breaking 14-hour days and reclaim time and energy for their health and relationships. Indeed, necessity often impels people to coordinate with each other in such circumstances in order to care for children, the elderly, and the sick. This is also where networking can really be of benefit. There are many people with large amounts of resources in the form of land, capital, or housing, who are looking for a way to create or support something different and could use willing hands to help manage their resources for the collective good.
Ponder the possibility of living with a small group of people who love and respect you as you are and yet are still willing to offer you honest insight even if it means losing your company or the revenue you contribute. Imagine living with people who notice when they are feeling upset or triggered and instead of reacting, choose to take some space and wait before acting. Imagine living in a culture where the joy of learning and the process of co-creation is valued for the emotional and spiritual benefits, not just for the marketable goods that might eventually come of it. Imagine working four hours a day and enjoying the workplace and companions, knowing that you will be able to pay your rent because you have six or eight people to share in the payments and who will carry the load if you get sick or injured until you can contribute again. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to come home still feeling vibrant and wanting to play with your kids and stretch or read an interesting book instead of being so exhausted that you eat some fast food and sit in front of the TV until you have to start another grueling day? Imagine that a person’s patience, kindness, awareness, and wisdom were the traits most admired and sought after, instead of your ability to wield power and control and wrestle resources from others. This isn’t a utopian fantasy; people have lived for thousands of years this way.
If other people are content to chase power, that is fine. All experience is valuable and there is no reason that some or all of us can’t also learn to value the nurturing adult and elder stages of our development and not just fight against perceived oppressors who are really just the same as us in cultural training. It seems better for those of us interested in something different to draw people in by allowing them to see from our example how much better life can be if we do our emotional work. It is the same approach many indigenous peoples have applied to raising children: indulge them until they choose to let go of childish avarice and ego to become more like respected role models (parents and elders) who, through the joy of the co-creative process, have learned the benefits personally and communally of giving instead of taking.
This book has attempted to illustrate that the thought patterns and quality of life experienced by the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Romans, the English Empire, the American pioneers, and even worldwide today is all the same and focused on fear and coercion. People work to exhaustion and beyond trying to get enough ahead to be able to support themselves when injury, illness, and debility take effect due to disharmony and lack of awareness caused by fatigue and fear.
It is important to remember not to point fingers and place blame because even though some types and colors of peoples were beaten and enslaved by this mindset and way of life more recently, all of us have ancestors who once lived in relative balance with each other and with the community of life. Nearly all of our ancestors encountered this one powerful and militant strand of culture which through slavery, avarice, and war killed or absorbed all the other ways of life in the world. Have compassion for your fellow domesticated and damaged companions on this journey. Remember, all our peoples were destroyed and enslaved whether within the last few hundred years or the last few thousand. When you see apparent injustice and cruelty, remember where it comes from. It isn’t that the perpetrator needs to be punished more but rather that they need the most kindness and attention to heal themselves.
This awareness needs to be extended equally to the wealthy as to the poor, and everyone between. All are scared to lose what little they have acquired, knowing that even mansions and bank accounts can be taken away in minutes by a glitch in a computer system or upheaval in the stock market or even by your children or loved ones through legal wrangling. And the result is stress and disharmony at every level of society, leading to all levels of illness and dis-ease: heart attacks, cancer, and psychological disorders that were unheard of or extremely rare for our pre-historic ancestors.
Even though it may seem harder or more challenging to learn patience and acceptance, it is directly in each of our benefits to get along and support each other. Better four hours of labor plus one hour of interpersonal work with your friends and community members than 12 hours of grueling labor to be alone. The emotional and interpersonal work involved in sharing our lives can be stressful as we all have much to learn, but the process of navigating emotions and interpersonal conflict makes us better people by strengthening our patience, compassion, ability to remain grateful and humble, and communication skills.
Remember, one of the best ways you can begin to make a values shift is to choose to take space for yourself and wait before you respond in emotionally loaded situations. Notice when your hackles are rising and give yourself time and space to figure out what you are feeling and why and cool down before you choose how to act. Like all learned behaviors, it takes time and patience to learn new habits and drop the ones that aren’t serving. As the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Nor was it transformed into a more nourishing way of life instantaneously. But if you stick with a new habit, it gains momentum. The first few weeks of regular exercise after a long period of inactivity can feel grueling, but as you strengthen and gain balanced routines the added vitality and health really start to show.
Now is the time to make the transition. We can choose to use the last of the oil to support a shift into a different way of being with each other on a personal, national, and global level, or we can continue as we are until the last precious drops are gone and we slip into small-scale barbarism and warfare as has happened in our culture many times before. Now is the time! Network. Meet people of like mindset. Band together and improve your life, not next month or next year but next week or even today. Post a profile on the Bridgers website or another place – you have to start somewhere. We are all in this together, so we might as well put our faith in other people and build a bridge to a hopeful future together.