During the holiday shopping season of 2011, we witnessed a few isolated incidents of violence as one person had acquired a desirable product that someone else wanted. While millions of us went about our shopping without injuring anyone, incidents like these are powerful illustrations that remind us to keep our focus on those things which bring more lasting pleasure in our lives.
These incidents can serve as a reminder for each of us to reflect on the example we are setting in our own lives. Are we living our lives with increasing, or decreasing, reliance on the latest products and services which entice us further into the web of dependency? With every thought, word and action are we moving closer to or further from increasing self-sufficiency and internal freedom?
Products have never proven to provide lasting pleasure. Just look at anti-depressant medication sales, prescription medication addiction, illegal drug use and alcoholism, as well as addiction to shopping and food over the past several decades. The richer we become as a nation and the more products we buy with our money, the more frequently we as a people turn toward anti-depressants, illegal drugs and alcohol, overeating unhealthy foods. Subtly, and without much notice, we’ve become a nation of addicts floundering in a futile effort to assuage feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and sadness.
While the U.S. comprises only four percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. We, as a nation, have more criminals behind bars than any other nation in the world. Is this because people in the U.S. are criminals? Or is it because we have followed some really weak examples and drifted too far from the core human values which determine the destiny of any nation? Is it possible we have a nation of addicts who are lost and prone to commit crimes in an effort to feed an addiction they believe will help them deal with their internal misery?
Have we, as a nation, forgotten that no product on earth can replace the joy which comes from living a simple life committed to a set of core human values which allows us to sleep well at night and not look over our shoulder during the day? Do we even teach our children that living a life committed to core human values permits us the undying pleasure of a steady hand and a clean soul? Do our school children know that there are core values which exist in cultures across the globe and, absent these core values, humans are prone to suffer?
I remember when I was sitting with a tiny young boy, maybe 12 or so, who had been sent to boy’s camp for breaking the law. He was seated in an office where I was looking at my files and planning my day as a volunteer working with the 100-plus boys in the detention setting.
“What are you in here for?” I asked.
“Bur-gur-ee?” he said with a question in his voice.
“You mean burglary, with an L. Bur-gla-ry,” I repeated so he could hear the word correctly. “Say that. Bur-gla-ry.”
He said the word correctly.
“That means you went into someone’s home when they were not there and took some of their things. Right?” I asked.
By the size of him, I knew the drill. He couldn’t have been more than 70 pounds, at most.
“You probably were the one they had go through the window and open the door, right?” I asked.
“Yeah. Well, it’s not good for you to take things that you have not earned. I bet it feels bad, right here,” I said, placing my hand on his heart.
He dropped his head and started to cry.
“It’s ok,” I said, putting my hand on his back. “I want you to sit up straight.”
“Keep your head up and listen to me.”
He followed my instructions.
“One day, you will learn that it does not make you feel good to hurt others or take their things. That is what we call integrity.”
He looked up at me with eyes that spoke of a desire to know more.
“Have you ever heard the word called integrity?” I asked.
“Nah,” he replied, as if sensing he was missing out on something.
“Integrity is a powerful word. Integrity means you are a soldier for good. You agree to protect others, not harm them, and that you will never take anything that does not belong to you. That is being a soldier for good. That is integrity. Integrity will make your heart feel really good,” I said before he was taken into the two-minute meeting with his probation officer to receive punishment for an outburst which got him into trouble.
As he walked away, I hoped something would stick deep within his heart which might surface later and motivate him to seek more information about core values such as integrity. His prognosis for the near future, however, was less than bleak. It was almost pointless to tell him about integrity because he was not being returned to an environment where integrity could exist. His mother was likely not around much, since it was highly probable she was both mother and father, unless she was incarcerated. If it was grandma raising him, she was likely overwhelmed. In the neighborhood where he was living, the other situationally orphaned boys of the neighborhood had probably adopted him into their gang and were the father figures he longed for and needed. Bur-gur-ee was just something his “adopted family” of lost boys did, without question and without conscience.
Why is integrity not taught in school, I wonder? It is not associated with any specific religion, so it can’t come under fire for the “separation between Church and State,” concept contained in the First Amendment to the Constitution. How did core values somehow get tossed out when we decided religion should be something done outside of government-funded buildings, anyway? Why didn’t we keep the core value teaching component of religions inside our nation’s buildings when we shut out the churches?
It is not a religious belief but, rather, an inevitable fact that lasting pleasure, the kind that cures the suffering currently afflicting our nation, only comes from making choices which are old fashioned, outdated, and unvalued in today’s society. They were the values taught by religion but certainly not exclusive to any religion. Those things are: honesty, integrity, humility, honor, loyalty, working diligently, being a person of your word, maintaining cleanliness of body and mind, sharing and being generous of heart, displaying acts of kindness and compassion, just to name a few.
Religion taught us those things, but religion need not have the exclusive claim on core values. Consequently, what has emerged is a short-term, pleasure-seeking society addicted to the quick fix of illusionary pleasure. Rest assured that if it is not the subject of a reality television show, then it is likely to be a core value leading toward internal happiness. If it appears on a reality show, it is possibly an example of what is weakening the core of our nation.
This fact remains: as a nation, we are only as strong as our weakest citizens. If there is any segment of our population that believes an item can secure happiness, then we are witness to the kind of thinking which erodes the very fabric of any country. While there are those who, unfortunately, have drifted from living a good life and traveled far from the shortest path to internal freedom, their plight is a valuable opportunity for us to check our own potential to fall off course. They provide an example of what happen when we travel too far from the core values which ultimately make us happy.
What is the solution to the problems resulting from a nation with a large segment of the population focused on possession of today’s latest trinkets? The answer is not to hand out trinkets for all, as that only perpetuates hunger for the meaningless. The answer is that each one of us has the opportunity to dig deeper into the timeless happiness which comes from living a life rich in core human values. Then, to solidify our own internal happiness, we may become an example for others through our choices. Those individuals who are able to survive the misery caused by misconception will be those who turn their focus to that which guarantees internal happiness: timeless core human values which have been promoted as holding importance in nearly every religion and every culture known to man.
As this year turns into the next, 2012 holds within it the possibility of becoming the Year of the Example. Rather than an example of excess and frantic struggle for internal peace, maybe you can join the increasing number of individuals who are choosing to set an old-fashion and yet timeless example of living a life focused on core human values.
Maybe 2012 is your year to decline to participate in anything which erodes your own fabric of lasting internal happiness. It is always possible to complain about the greed and gluttony of others and feel slightly better about your own life. It is also possible to witness the misdirection leading to the suffering of others and use it as a reminder of your own human frailties, turning, rather, to strengthen your world from the inside out. Will you choose to complain or seek a deeper solution within your own life?
The solution to our nation’s problems is not found outside of ourselves. It is not about fixing the other person or instituting a global change of the system. The only lasting solution is found within each individual, when the individual’s core values are so profoundly strong, that others are changed as a result of the example being set. It’s only when people change their own internal systems, that the systems of governments and organizations can accommodate the change. Until the individuals within the system change, the system cannot sustain change. Systems do not change people for the better because only people can change people for the better. This change comes only through examples, witnessing others who are living, walking, and breathing examples of all that is possible when one’s choices in life are consistent with core human values. There is enough power within one single individual to change an entire world. Lasting change only occurs when one single individual makes the commitment to be the example for others to follow. Then, when enough individuals change, the system will automatically self-correct to accommodate the emerging needs. The system is the servant of the individuals it is intended to serve. It will change when the individual changes.
If you choose this coming year to be an example of good in your very own household and neighborhood, you are choosing to have the most lasting positive impact on our world. No act is as powerful as a living example of core human values in action. And, by your choices in 2012, you will show to the world what is important to you. Know this: as the clock strikes the magical hour when one year is considered the past and a new opportunity emerges, 2012 will become yours to create.
With this new year there comes an inevitability: every human being will be an example of something. Will you be an example of how to perpetuate the cycle of suffering with your choices, just another person on the pile of our nation’s miserables? Or will you join the increasing number of individuals who have grown weary of the struggle for a momentary pleasure and who are now setting an example of getting out of their self-imposed prison by going inward for the answers?
This year of 2012 calls for you to think before you follow the human lemmings headed over the cliff in one big product-driven consumer orgy. 2021 is the Year of the Example, of those blindly falling over the cliff and of those who are standing firmly committed to the core values proven to provide inner peace.
Be mindful of the example you set by your thoughts, your words and your actions. Tend to every moment of every day as if it defines the very core of who you are. In a very real way, it does.