Each of the following beliefs is merely one way of looking at things. Which one improves our lives?
Money/possessions (power) make us wealthy and are the only way to provide security.
The way to obtain birth-to-death security and happiness, which all humans naturally desire, is through possession/power. This world is a scary, “dog-eat-dog” place, and the only way to happiness is to secure a haven that you own in which to hide away and accumulate things to keep you comfortable and entertained. When we live this view, we think “With enough money and possessions, I will be safe.”
Balanced lifestyle and kinship are true wealth. We are more likely to get security from knowing people who benefit from having us in their lives than from depending on money.
Our daily balance in life and our relationships are our greatest birth-to-death security. When we create mutually beneficial interdependence with each other, it is directly in each person’s interest to take care of others because each person’s contributions maintain the health and well-being of the group. Valued contributions may take the form of food production, shelter-building, healing, or nurturing the young, and also include each person’s joy, kindness, and wisdom which enrich and guide the group experience. When we live this view, we think “I will be taken care of if I invest my energy into being healthy and supporting the people in my life.”
From the perspective of our current culture, the world is mean and difficult. Humanity is crazy, violent, and dangerous, so our only choice is to try to get what we can and make ourselves safe. We believe we must build ourselves a fortress and a pile of money in order to be safe, even if it means working to exhaustion every day. Success is defined primarily by how much material wealth a person accumulates, which is presumed to cushion them against the harshness of the world, give them happiness, and guarantee that their physical needs are met into old age.
Whether we like it or not, material and financial wealth are the measure of personal value in our cultural world (a person is worthy if they are rich). This view keeps people, both rich and poor, in the “daily grind”: working exhausting hours at tasks they often don’t enjoy. Furthermore, the work we do for money often comes down to being willing to hurt other people and the environment. Generally, the more we are willing to hurt other people and the environment, the greater our money-earning potential. That is the essence of business culture: buy low, sell high, no matter what.
Despite our cultural belief that wealth provides security and freedom, it is important to note that the rich are equally as susceptible as the poor to the ill effects this belief. A rich person doesn’t necessarily feel secure, happy, or free, because they are acutely aware that their material wealth could be lost quickly through gambling, theft, economic shifts, or social uprisings. Wealthy and poor alike in our culture fear the lack or loss of power/money. The illusion that acquiring wealth/possessions brings security really only works for a small percentage of the population, and even those few trade their short-term health and happiness for the hope of relaxing and being cared for in the future.
Here is a true story to illustrate how the idea of security through possessions and power can leave a person not only overworked, bitter, and also poor. Imagine a man of this culture – your father, uncle, coworker, friend, or perhaps even yourself – who works for 35 years at a job which gives him no pleasure and costs him his health from back injury and stress. For most of his life, he postpones joy and pleasurable experiences, telling himself he will have leisure and security in retirement. He is told, and believes, that he will get $7000/month in retirement as a payoff for all his years of hard work and sacrifice. Yet one year before retirement, his company is sold, his retirement is plundered, and he is left with $2100/month, just enough to pay his basic living expenses (car, house, food, health care, etc). This is a far more common story than the myth of bliss and reward after a lifetime of self-sacrifice. And because he taught his children the value of hard work and accumulating money, they are scattered across the country chasing wealth and security in the hope that the reward will be better. Meanwhile the whole family suffers from loneliness and lack of healthy personal interactions due to the exhaustion and bitterness of the parents from so much overwork. More than that, they lack the wisdom and rewards gained from inter-generational interactions which are not valuable and rarely even occur in a “security through possessions” paradigm. The exuberance and vitality of youth can enrich the lives of elders, and the patience and wisdom of elders shared with grandchildren through story and song can allow adults in their prime to focus on the co-creation activities (see Glossary and Part II) so essential to their emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.
This is not to say that there is no interdependence or healthy inter-generational interaction in our culture, but that it is not common (especially compared with our ancestors) and not valued. Likewise, interdependence is not the only one right way to live. If some people want to work long hours for the promise of imagined security or the buzz of stepping up the ladder of “success”, that is fine — as long as they allow others the opportunity to try a different way.
You may be questioning whether the idea of security through possessions and power is truly an illusion. Isn’t it true, you might wonder, that people who work hard and save money are better able to afford food, housing, childcare, health care, and many other things? How else can a person feel a sense of security, when money is the key to getting any thing or service we need?
It is possible to feel secure by becoming strong in our ability to maintain our own health, find encouragement and reassurance within, and create mutually-supportive relationships. Imagine how it might feel for the man in our story if he had spent those 35 years prioritizing his health and his relationships. For certain, he would need to work less to have more free time to be able to do that. And if he worked less, he would have less money. Yet if he prioritized relationships and interpersonal skills, he would find ways to work cooperatively with others to live comfortably and support his family. Not only that, he could also become far more “rich” in life experience and wisdom: the ability to keep his emotional equilibrium, play with children, enjoy life, and accurately assess other people’s energy and emotions.
We don’t have to live an “every man get what you can” dream. We could live in small groups of 10 to 50 people, depending on each other for guidance as well as food and shelter. For the vast majority of human history and in the vast majority of human cultures, that is how people lived: working together to provide sustenance and shelter as well as emotional and spiritual challenge and support. In cooperative interdependence, each person doesn’t have to rely so much on material wealth because other people are there to help meet everyone’s needs. Some people cook while others tend the fire. Some go get food while others nurse the wounded or dying. Adults in their physical prime may work more physically to provide food and shelter, but elders who are seasoned in handling emotional challenges and who have already proven their physical skills are teachers and guides to adults, youth, and children. Each person is valued for their contribution rather than for their individual acquisitions (which usually come at the expense of the group – for one to be wealthy, ten must be poor).
Valuing kinship and health still allows things to get done: food gets harvested and cooked, tools get made, shelters get built. But the reasons for doing these things and the process of doing them are different. Rather than doing them in order to simply get as much done as quickly and efficiently as possible, we do them in order to take care of ourselves and our kin and to develop our physical and emotional skills. In a values system emphasizing emotional maturity and cooperation, co-creation is a priority: the experience of combining our energy with the materials and energies of the world (and other people) around us to create something which is valuable/useful to us and our kin. Co-creative activity is essential for our emotional stability, for our ability to see the world clearly, and to our trust that we can interact safely with the world because we are connected to it. By using our muscles, we grow stronger physically and improve our ability to manifest what we visualize. For all these reasons, it serves us to be active and to do and make things – as long as we do so within the context of our own health and balance and what is best for the group. Exercise machines and gym workouts provide one facet of fitness and health, but they don’t build confidence and grounding the way using our muscles to create a garden or build a stone wall does. Nor do they present an opportunity to provide for our kin and deepen our understanding of reciprocity and mutual support. By contrast, in a values system prioritizing power and possessions, productivity becomes our top priority even if it means giving up all other aspects of our development. Within this value system, even enjoyable creative activities become draining because we are in a rush to “get more done” and “be more productive” all the time.
Valuing kinship and health does not necessarily preclude technology or industry. The world is full of beauty and co-creative potential, from gardening to wood carving to making automobiles – what exactly we do is less important than how we do it and what we value. Steel tools or machines don’t inherently create imbalance – ideas and values do. Rome fell without any industrial machinery or fossil fuels. Romans used many slaves in the fields to produce ever-increasing supplies of food in their totalitarian agriculture, and nowadays we use machines and fossil fuels to produce ever-increasing supplies of food in our totalitarian agriculture. The basic cultural values that created (and collapsed) the Roman Empire are the same ones which continue to inform our current civilization. The point here is that letting go of modern technology doesn’t remedy our cultural illness. We’ll save ourselves by changing the way we relate to each other and the world, not by changing which tools we use. We need to learn to prioritize the harmony and development of each individual – to value people, in other words – ahead of physical productivity (getting things done/getting ahead).
In the cultural context of wealth = kinship + health, it becomes directly beneficial to us to be “wealthy” in kindness and joy because this increases our value to the community and we are then more likely to be cared for. If a person left the group or died, their joy and their being an example of strong emotional skills for the rest of the group would be missed just as much as (or more than) their help in “pulling the weight” of what needs to be done. Greed and meanness generate poverty for the group and create troublesome relations with neighboring groups, and these qualities lead quickly to ostracism. “Wealth” is measured in kindness, joy, and contribution to the group.
As we shift toward measuring wealth in this way, there remains the possibility that a person might not contribute enough physically to the group (i.e. not doing dishes or helping bring in food) despite being plenty skilled and capable. Can you think of a friend you’ve had who didn’t have much to offer in the way of contribution to daily chores but who was so funny and light-hearted that you didn’t even notice (at least for a while) when they ruined the CDs you lent them or made a huge mess in your living room? Just being around them brightens your day so much that a little extra effort seems totally worth it. Now imagine that friend with a value system which encourages a healthy amount of activity during the day and emphasizes contribution to the world and other people.
Most of the resistance people feel towards contributing comes from not wanting to be taken advantage of. In our culture, if a person works, they want to be paid in cash, not in goodwill and harmony. So, if they aren’t getting paid (except in food and shelter, which doesn’t “count” because they don’t own it themselves), then they feel exploited. Exploitation is what this culture is based on, so it is no wonder people are reticent to offer of their time and energy. Our culture encourages concern for individual monetary benefit above the welfare of the group, so many people don’t see “what’s in it for me” to do the dishes or sweep the floor for a friend. Some people have also simply never been expected to pitch in or may not see what needs to be done. As children they lived in a very messy household where no one valued keeping things tidy or they were coddled so they never learned the value of contributing to the group. In that case, a kind request for more contribution and an explanation of the importance of reciprocal energy exchange can be very helpful.
It may seem untrue that most people in our culture value money, possessions, and power so highly. Yet look at people’s actions: most people spend far more of their waking hours at work than with their family and friends. Also, most children by the age of 5 understand the clout and status attached to riches, and many proclaim their desire to become a millionaire. Think about your own life: If given a choice between making some extra cash or having some much-needed quiet time for yourself, which do you choose? Would you rather be able to “work” an extra 2 hours (and get paid), or be able to resolve a roommate dispute in 2 hours (and have a happier home environment)?