How did the metric for a successful life become measured in money? Are the 1% of people on this planet who have more money than the other 99%, the only ones who are happy or successful? This not normal. It isn’t, and it shouldn’t be. I wonder if you asked any of the 1% at their deathbed, if they were happy or successful, what their answer would be. A study was made recently of terminally ill people, and they all said that if they had to do it over again, they wished they had spent more time with family, nurturing friendships, taking better care of their health, and enjoying nature or traveling. None of them said “to make more money”.
We are destroying our planet. It is not just climate change. No question about it. I first became aware of this when I was 14 years old, and discovered a book in my grandfathers library about the Mediterranean coastline. I avidly read the section that encompassed the area where I had spent all my summers swimming and diving. In it, the book described the marine fauna. I went to my grandfather, who had contributed to that section, and told him that the book was incorrect. That I had been diving in this area, with my uncle, since I was five, and the fish that were described, such as grouper, snapper, sole, etc., did not live where it was stated in the book. That I had to descend 20-25 meters to find the same fish the book said were available right on the shore. My grandfather told me that the book had been written in the 1930’s, and at that time it was true. This was in the early 60’s. In 30 years they had killed everything that lived close to the surface, and forced marine life deeper in order to survive. At that time, raw sewage was being pumped into the ocean, usually through a large pipe that spewed untreated human waste a hundred meters from the beach.
Later on, this was reenforced when as a young Marine pilot I would fly up and down the eastern coastline on training missions. In 1967, I remember flying above 4,000 feet and clearing the grayish smog that seemed to cover most of the country. Above 4,000 feet you could see 50 miles on a clear day, below that maybe 10 miles. In the late 70’s I noticed that that the smog had climbed to over 10,000 feet. Not occasionally, but permanently. Then at the turn of the century I saw that the haze extended to above 15-20,000 feet. Sometimes flying back from Europe at 35,000 feet, or higher in an airline, you could see the blanket of haze just below you as you approached the US coast. Because it was gradual, it didn’t seem to worry people.
When I went through Navy flight school a group of astronauts, of the future Apollo 11 Mission, was going through helicopter training at the same time as I was. One evening, at the Officer club, one of the astronauts told us that if Earth was the size of an apple, the atmosphere protecting the Earth was only the thickness of its skin, and we needed to protect it. That was in 1967, and I never forgot it.
This has improved a little in recent years, with cleaner fuels, but it remains there. A gradual deterioration in our standard of living seems acceptable. It is not. Eventually the planet will not sustain life, as we know it.
Why are we destroying our planet? Today we have more wealth, technology, scientific recourses, yet we have more conflicts across the globe. To some it seems that we have lost our human dignity. Everything is about growth and accumulating wealth. If we look at history, and the great Renaissance, we find the great minds focussing on art, music, science, religion and philosophy. Today the only focus is wealth.
Business is not a zero-sum game. For someone to win does not mean that another has to lose. We need to stop the relentless growth at the expense of others. As long as the goal is wealth and positive quarterly reports, we will sacrifice the real future. The future is not defined by quarterly earnings. It is defined by what we create collectively as human beings. Are we giving our descendants a better world for all? Or are we staging for a revolution? Our environment is not sustainable as we are currently operating. Socially or as a planet.
Today everybody is scared. Fear is used by parents to make their children do their bidding. Fear is used by politicians to tell you that if you don’t vote for them, the world as you know it will end. Fear is used by schools to tell you that if you don’t get an advanced degree you will not be able to survive. Young families are getting into very serious debt to get advanced degrees from American universities. Degrees that won’t make them happy, but they believe they need, in order to be happy.
Today, more people in the developed world are committing suicide, than are killed by wars and crime. Why?
One need only to look at what is being promoted by society. Success is money. Conform so you can fit into the groove and make more money. Kids who don’t immediately conform are given Ritalin, thereby quenching their thirst for life at a very young age. The media promotes people who are focussed on wealth. The heroes are sport figures, movie stars, reality show stars, and moguls. Liberal arts are shunned for professional or technical curriculums. Where are we going to find the next Michelangelo, or Mozart, or da Vinci, or Shakespeare or Gandhi?
According to Howard Greene and Matthew Greene’s Hidden Ivies: Thirty Colleges of Excellence, they define the goals of a liberal arts education in the following manner: In a complex, shifting world, it is essential to develop a high degree of intellectual literacy and critical-thinking skills, a sense of moral and ethical responsibility to one’s community, the ability to reason clearly, to think rationally, to analyze information intelligently, to respond to people in a compassionate and fair way, to continue learning new information and concepts over a lifetime, to appreciate and gain pleasure from the beauty of the arts and literature and to use these as an inspiration and a solace when needed, to revert to our historical past for lessons that will help shape the future intelligently and avoid unnecessary mistakes, to create a sense of self-esteem that comes from personal accomplishments and challenges met with success.
What separates us from animals is the ability to be free to create and love, and the desire to share with others. We are able to do this in the art world today, but not in the economic world, or socially. In the economic and social world we are still in the dark ages, fighting each other tooth and nail. Competition “Uber Alles”.
Since the downfall of the Berlin Wall, the global focus has been on growth. Growth for the sake of growth without considering the social and geographical ramifications. In life, growth is one of the natural stages. It comes right after birth. Growth stops at some point and one then matures. As it should. In your body, if cellular growth continues relentlessly, it is called cancer. Eventually it kills the host.
We need to shun what they are promoting. Tune out from the relentless media voices that want your money, or your vote. Do something for the pure joy of helping others. Walk barefoot on the grass. Pay it forward. Take long walks in the woods alone, while we still have them. Sing, while you have a voice. Dance while your hips and knees work. Nurture children. Rescue a pet. Read poetry. Love someone deeply, without fear.