The Road to Happiness

I read a comment today that took my thoughts in a totally unexpected direction. The comment was:

It's going to take a cultural re-definition of "enough" to cause any real change. It used to be that building a business and earning a good living, having something to pass along to the kids was "enough." Now it seems that there's no such thing as enough, and our society is paying the price.

The commentator was obviously referring to material possessions, "riches", and later went on to lament that too many people think that "things" will make them happy. The thrust of the argument was that corporations, businesses and people in general need to put the right things first; that until corporations make community contribution as important as profits, things will only get worse.

There's some truth there, and it certainly is a great jumping off point for railing against corporate greed, the evils of capitalism and the moral decay of our society, but what struck me was the admission that our culture needs to change. Greed and self-indulgence may be indicators of a decaying culture, and I assume they would be detrimental to a society, but is that the root of it all? I'm thinking it goes deeper.

There are many people who believe that when left to their own devices, people will behave badly and are irrevocably self interested. So we have programs like Social Security because we cannot trust families to take care of their own, or employers to provide decent retirement plans, or people to plan for their own retirement because they are inherently bad. We must prevent them from being that way; we must protect them from themselves. They believe that the most efficient way to get rid of this "badness" is through the force of law.

To make it simpler, let's call the people who see the world this way "Enlightened." They know best and they want you to behave to the standard they have defined. You can't be trusted to behave properly, unless of course you are Enlightened, in which case you fully understand and endorse the need to impose the proper standard on the non-Enlightened.

There's another group of people, we'll call them the "Enthusiasts", who think that people aren't really that bad. They think that if given an opportunity people will do the right thing. They admit that mistakes will be made, and that egregious mistakes should be punished, but that typical people in normal circumstances, while they may not behave perfectly, will at least behave acceptably. They don't, however, like other people (i.e., the Enlightened) telling them what to do.

The Enlightened believe, and have faith in, their ability to make sense of the world. They believe that with enough knowledge of how the machine works they can pull the right levers and push the right buttons and make the correct changes that will get us all on the road to happiness.

The Enthusiasts, however, believe in something bigger than themselves and that this bigger thing actually powers the machine. It could be a concept like freedom or love, it could be God or it could be their family, community or country. They believe that putting their faith into something bigger, something that exists outside themselves and that they can respond to but not control, is the best way to overcome their own flaws. They have guidance that works on themselves first, before it extends to others.

How is it that the Enlightened ones, who think that people are flawed and basically evil, have come to put so much trust in their own abilities? Could it be that they place themselves above the "common folk"; that they believe only "others" are evil, that they themselves are doing just fine? To put it bluntly, are they trying to take the place of God?

I am a human being. Human beings are flawed and corrupt. Except me, of course. I am so amazingly self aware that I can overcome my own flaws and still have time to fix yours.

Isn't that crazy talk?

The culture needs to change ... "we are the ones we've been waiting for!"..."Yes We Can!"..."Change We Can Believe In!"..."Our Time for Change!." The ironic thing is that this is "More of the Same." It's the same belief that fools us every time, that human solutions can fix a spiritual problem.

The comment was part of an argument that "things" don't bring happiness, that intangibles like family and safety and community are what make us truly happy. It's hard to argue against the truth of that sentiment, but I do have a question. Who built that road to happiness? Where do we get the concepts of love and family and community, the "things" that inspire true happiness? Are they human inventions, or programs provided by the government, or are they a spiritual inheritance that we instinctively know to follow?

Despite my concerns about current affairs, I'm still feeling surprisingly Enthusiastic.

No comments:

Post a Comment