My father’s generation grew of age during the Great Depression, then they went off to save the world from fascism, and came home to work hard at realizing the American Dream. All of this deeply impacted how they ordered their priorities and right at the top of their ‘What is Important’ list is personal integrity. When I was about ten, my father handed me something he’d clipped from Readers’ Digest: “The Ten Points of Personal Integrity”. All of them were obvious, but he clearly wanted me to know that this was something of utmost importance, not just to him, but to anybody who wanted to consider themselves a decent human being. I carried that list in my wallet for years, until it finally disintegrated into small flakes of blurry print.
For the so-called, “Greatest Generation” personal integrity is not merely an after-thought. For them, it doesn’t matter how much money you have amassed, how many accolades in the workaday and professional world have been bestowed, how finely and elegantly one has adorned their life with all the accessories of material wealth. All that is just the window dressing of a person’s life. What matters is that you are an honest, trustworthy and decent person.
I grew up in a community and segment of society in which I was exposed to a large number of people who had a great deal of money. Even as an adolescent, it was boldly apparent to my young mind that most of them were struggling to be happy. Many of the men drank too much, and it was often whispered news from my mother that poor so and so had had a ‘nervous breakdown’. This is so far from what most people imagine being rich would be like that I continue to marvel at why so many people think that obtaining material wealth will solve all their problems. Sure, it would be nice to not have to worry about bills being paid, but, the acquisition of true affluence is an illusory goal. It makes only the most vain and self-centered people happy, mostly because they are foolish enough to think that bathing oneself in luxury is what constitutes happiness. For a young soul--still wet behind the ears in terms of their spiritual evolution--perhaps this will suffice for a while, but there comes a day when all the STUFF just seems meaningless. And, one might suddenly wonder why they were so foolish as to think they could buy happiness.
Eventually, a person will look at the world around them, and see that many people are suffering in a myriad and terrible ways…and at that point, it becomes just a little difficult to continue playing in your own pristine sandbox, as if all of THAT didn’t exist. As a soul matures, their deepest passion and utmost concern becomes how to participate in the world appropriately, not how to isolate themselves from it. An old soul wants nothing more than to make a difference, and knows that true happiness lies in doing whatever is within their power to weigh in on the side of compassion and Oneness. Such a person automatically assumes that we’re all in the same lifeboat, and nobody should think they will survive if it sinks. Therefore: BAIL! In whatever way one is intuitively guided, one needs to commit their energy to making the world a better place.
But, we’re living in a world where a new generation is taking up the cause of endless acquisition, bottomless consumption, luxury beyond imagining. These ‘young Turks’ want it all, and, amazingly, they believe they are entitled to it. Yes, they actually believe that it is their right to plunder society at large, whether it be as financial managers, as investors, or as owners of piratical businesses…it is their RIGHT. They have a belief system in place that has given them permission to act as modern day pirates. Perhaps being a Wall Street hedge-fund manager is how they sail. The top such pirate last year made 3.4 BILLION….uh, that is three THOUSAND, FOUR HUNDRED TIMES A MILLION buckaroonies, folks. In his mind, I have no doubt, that was all justified. The list is endless. There is an ad on t-v presently reminding us that one particular health insurance CEO makes $57,000….PER HOUR. Hey, good on him. And, does his company pay him such a lavish salary because they have figured out how to meet the needs of their insurees….or because they have figured out how to deny as many of those needs as possible? You guess.
The sad truth is that this new generation of robber barons are feeding on us. We be the flock of wooly-boolies down there in the field, and they be the pack of wolves who have figured out a myriad of ways to eat mutton. But, let’s bring it down to a more personal level, just in case you haven’t watched a loved one die because an insurance company wouldn’t cover them…or because somebody couldn’t afford insurance at all.
In a society where the primary goal of a host of people is to gain the upper hand, regardless of ethical and moral considerations, the rest of us are indeed the prey. Once Honor is dealt a final death-blow, relegated to obsolescence, all bets are off. The kids who are presently cheating their way through college will not suddenly become honest and forthright professionals. They have already chosen the path of least resistance and will continue to do so…because to do otherwise requires a deep and abiding conviction that Honor, personal integrity, is critically important to life. To live your life according to a moral code, with Honor, requires effort and even courage. Nobody said it was the easiest way to go. They will be the next doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers and business people who shape how our lives are lived, not just their own. It will be their approach to their own lives that impacts every single person, because we are all intertwined to a degree that it must.
Here’s an imaginary example, though I have no doubt that it mirrors a real situation out there somewhere...perhaps many: A woman goes to her doctor, and has her annual mammogram. It is sent over to the doctor’s office and somehow gets buried in a stack of paperwork. (You know this is way too believable, right?) When it is finally seen, it has a warning from the radiologist attached to it saying that he/she has some questions about it and that a follow-up should be done. But……months have passed….and now it appears that the woman has developed breast cancer at a level that could be difficult to treat with good odds of success. She had assumed that no word from the doctor's office meant her mammogram was normal. The responsibility for this woman’s safety has been undertaken in such a sloppy fashion that now her life is possibly in danger. And, the first thing that occurs to the doctor is, “Holy s—t! This is going to be a law-suit.” So, measures are taken to obscure how badly the ball was dropped, and the emphasis is immediately on how to minimize liability for the doctor and his/her practice. The woman could even lose her LIFE, because self-interest has greater weight than doing the right thing.
Now, take this single example and extend it out across the professions, the trades, the business world…and you will begin to see an apocalyptic vision of what our lives will become, if Honor is truly beaten to death. Living in a society where people are out to preserve their own interests, to accumulate all they can, even at the expense of others, and where a Machiavellian sense of “…do whatever you need to do to accomplish your goals” predominates, will be a nightmare. The quality of life that we have cherished so much, that we have spouted about as being the highest in the world, that we claim is available to anybody who reaches for it, works hard and is a good person…will evaporate.
We are already seeing the signs of this transition. Over 60 million prescriptions a year are being written for anti-depressant drugs. More and more of them are being prescribed for CHILDREN. The American Dream is already on its way to becoming a nightmare, all we need to do is sit back and let the lowest, greediest and most lustful instincts of a few, become the predominant life philosophy of the majority and we’ll be there.
Honor evolved for pragmatic and very necessary reasons. It was early on recognized as the ‘glue’ that would allow a body of people to become a community of individuals who all depended on each other. That has not changed. What has changed is the overriding acceptance of this knowledge being replaced by a growing rejection of it. The credo of materialism has given birth to its natural offspring, GREED. Without constraints, without the knowledge of how harmful this will be, greed will continue to be adopted as the most appealing approach to living. We are continually immersed in a warm, aromatic bath showing us what the joyful bliss of having luxuries would be like, from the latest greatest piece of technology to twitter our senses, to the most powerful and glamorous vehicle, the right house, the best vacations...and endless stream of, "Yes, yes. I want it! Oh, give it to me", STUFF. People sit in their humble homes and see an endless stream of ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’ paraded across their screens. So, of course kids grow up thinking that this somehow constitutes a system of values. This is the ‘default’ viewpoint in the absence of a more clear knowledge of what it takes to become a truly successful person. With the dissolution of so many families, with electronic media doing the bulk of child-care, with the disappearance of the church, tribe, village and sense of belonging…to anything….is it any wonder that it would come to this? My then 14 y.o. grandson, in California, was asked what he thought about getting his driver license and it somehow came out that he wanted a Cadillac Escalade…but, there was no idea that he would have to do anything at all to get it. Holy Cow, Batman!
How sad is this? Many members of the Greatest Generation with whom I have spoken about these changes not only agree that this is what is happening, but have even said they will be glad to be out of here. They have come to the conclusion that their legacy is being ignored and that the 'new way' is so far from what they believe America could be that it will be a relief to be done with it. Many just shake their heads, and a few have tears in their eyes when we speak about this.
In the next installment of this series we’ll take a look at our options. They aren’t as simple or clear as one might suppose.
Murad Sayen, in Maine