The challenges before us today of economics, morality, and environment are huge and will ask for exceptional contributions from all of us. It may seem unlikely to group these challenges together; but the conditions, which have led to any one of these, may be the same for all of them. While there are so many reasons to be concerned, there also seems to be a sense of hope, which has been missing from our psyche for some time.
What can hope do for us? What has changed which might allow us to have this hope? Many sense opportunity and therefore hope from our recent national elections. There may be very little else on the outside of our lives to which we can point. But what about on the inside? It may be one of humankind's most valued attributes to have hope when there seems very little to be hopeful about. History has evidenced this powerful antidote to darkness in many ways and places. Certainly our holiday heritage of guiding and enduring light at times of overwhelming darkness speaks to this inner quality to which we are all entitled. Opportunity is nurtured by hope; and with a collective effort we, all of us, can equal an illuminating option in place of so many debilitating conditions in these times of so much uncertainty.
But of course hope is only where we begin. New opportunity must imply that we are giving up something that wasn't working very well for a new orbit, so to speak. What we may need to give up are the habits of the bottom line so that we may view the relationship between ourselves and our world from the top line once again. Without giving up our bottom line orientation of collecting and celebrating stuff, there may not be any real hope before us.
As we have oriented toward the bottom line, we have subjugated the best of life for mere addictive morsels. As we duke it out to manifest our material destiny; so much good, human virtue is replaced by shadows that obscure our kinship and value to one another. Competition as a means of gaining an advantage often forgoes connection to one another. Manipulation of one another is often tolerated and even encouraged, which often leaves deficits elsewhere, demeaning our common aspirations and excusing morality if it gets in the way of us getting what we want.
What would be truly exceptional in these times would be efforts beginning with us as individuals, which would resonate in the larger society. This would happen as what we see as necessary began to be reflected by common efforts around us.
On first impulse I can hear the protest, "Give up my possessions, the things I have worked so hard to have? Are you kidding me? Manufacturing of these materials is what keeps our economy going. This is the good life. What are you talking about?" Maybe what we need to say is that we and our world will benefit if we would agree to have less stuff.
How difficult or painful might we expect these new allotments of stuff to be? I can look at my recently diagnosed diabetes to be reflective. Sugar (lots of it), candy bars, and sodas were part of my every day. "It's over," my doctor assured me. "No more," she said. I left her office with a glucose meter and target sugar levels which would indicate for me how long I might see, when I might need to give up a limb, and on and on. My bodily conditions were going to necessitate a new way of living for me. These conditions will not go away, but with resolve and discipline I can manage my own decline. Sugar pills and pinpricks have indicated for me some success in this. With my sugar levels fairly stable I can have one Snickers bite a day. You should see me in my chair stretching out this tasty morsel for a full five minutes. I can honestly confess to you that I now receive as much enjoyment from this one bite as I previously did from five full-sized candy bars. The difference for me as I confront this disease is the value I place on my wellness. The prospects of a longer and healthier life trump whatever I slide into the bottom of my stomach.
Just as directly as I was informed of my physical condition and the habits of consumption that brought it on, we must heed the obvious. It's over; it can't go on like this. A renewed relationship with one another and our world must begin.
Our consumption of stuff has become excessive. The extraction of basic resources from our world to create and sustain this stuff has come at a great cost to the vitality of our world. Add to this the pollution resulting from manufacturing and moving this stuff around and it will soon be fortunate if any of us feel well. What must we see differently? The answer to this will be revealed in what we choose to value.
What our recent habits of consumption and accumulation show is that we value the bottom line; stuff, houses, cars, and money to name a few things. For the longer part of human history accumulation was confined to necessities, but in recent history it has often become a self-consuming habit, in which many of us have allowed ourselves to indulge. Unfortunately if we are living in ways which value the bottom line, then we may not have noticed that we are foregoing the top line of life, the world where we live out our lives as well as family and friends. With the bottom line habits of our recent past, we assume that these really important things are being cared for by government, social services, or of their own accord. We are so busy concentrating on our stuff that we are not accepting the benefits of being involved in the top line of life. We may be missing and missing badly regarding the qualities and values of life. What may be needed is to return to an orbit with which we were long satisfied but seems to have more recently been displaced. This orbit will be found on the top line of life; which values kinship, community, family, artisanship, faith, and the celebration of life in general.
I've given up most of my candy, but the little I am allowed I greatly enjoy. I am ready to join with you in breaking our habits of consumption which seemed to be fun, yet are leading us to a ruinous way of life. In their place we will rediscover more joy and value than we've had for some time. There will be time again for friends, neighbors, and communities. Attitudes of being connected to a bigger and giving world will comfort and gladden us as we come back to the top line of life, for life's sake.