To get out of the rat race, the pundits will tell us, we must simplify our lives. clean out our closets, be frugal with our pennies and adopt an attitude of gratitude. Slow down, seek quiet and always remember that less is more.
There are two distinct groups in today’s world, The haves and the have nots. The haves possess money, privilege, creature comforts and lots of options. The extent to which their lives are frantic is often a matter of the choices they make. By taking control and making better decisions, the haves can improve their quality of life. Not so for the have not's. Lacking resources, opportunities, education and power they struggle to make ends meet.
As a society we have choices to make. We can leave the disenfranchised to pull themselves up and out of despair by their own bootstraps.
Or we can heed the worlds of Mahatma Gandhi who said
‘"recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any sense to him. Will he able to gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny?
In the 1980’s, Tom Wolfe coined the phrase the “ Me Generation” to describe the self-indulgent, egocentric lifestyle so many of us chose to live. The Me Generation spends amply and wastes lavishly, often taking pride in overdoing it. The Me Generation focuses on I, me, mine, pausing only to say “Enough about me, what do you think about me?”
Perhaps it is time to ask whether we can afford this behaviour anymore. In a world where many eat like pigs but many more go hungry; In a world where millions have everything they desire, but many still have holes in their hearts from sorrow, alienation and suffering; Can we afford the inequity? Can we turn a blind eye to the desperation all around us?
The writer Ayn Rand once noted in an interview that
“man is not a sacrificial animal. He has the right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others, nor others to himself”
There is truth in this statement. But a balance needs to be struck between self-sacrifice and the common good.
“Furthering the common good does not require that we forgo self-interest, but rather that we are able to see our own interest’s linked to those of others” as Frances Moore Lappe commented in Rediscovering America’s Values “ It requires a society that enables citizens to express the very human need to act on our deepest values as well as on our private interests”.
This means finding where the interests of the individual and the group overlap. Perhaps it means asking: Isn’t it time to move from the Me Generation to the We Generation? To reach for the common good ? To put more effort into service and sacrifice? To remember the words of the Roman Pliny the Elder who once wrote
“ For mortal to aid mortal – this is god”
To take to heart the worlds of Virginia Woolf who once said
“One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them”
It doesn’t take much. Everybody has something to offer and small gestures mean a lot. You can begin to reach across the divide
by taking your hand out of your own pocket and using it to lift someone else up. It isn’t only about writing a check. Money is one way to help.
We can also give our time, love and attention. Mentor a child. Visit the sick. Bring a hot meal to a hungry family. Offer counsel, support , a listening ear. Share our surplus of clothes or our knowledge of how to get out from under. Every little bit counts. Perhaps the goal is best put by the early twentieth century French critic Charles du Bois who once wrote that
“the important thing is this; to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become”
Lest we forget that to those whom much is given, much is required.
Welcome to the We Generation.
The Little Secret That Can Change Your Life: if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat (2005) – Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data - Davis, Joann. ISBN 1-57324-255-1. Search Amazon.com. In stock 5/09/2011 $12.95
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