I am about 200 or so pages into book 2 of The Century Trilogy, “Winter of the World” by Ken Follett. What is so compelling about Follett’s portrayal of our recent history in this epic series is how he helps the reader to see the primary motivating factors at work in human nature through various cultures and periods of time. We see how those who seek power so often and repeatedly use brutality, fear-mongering, propaganda, and scapegoating to manipulate the masses so that their power can be maintained and expanded. We see how political ignorance and lack of self-awareness allows the masses to be easily manipulated, especially in times of economic hardship when many are unemployed and where access to food and other necessities becomes precarious. It is painful to read about the history of humanity, I find, because I see people repeating the same dramas and tragedies over and over again, killing, torturing, and maiming so many innocents because of fear of chaos, fear of the unknown, and desire to feel strong and in control. Books like this are important, because they take a step back and show us the bigger picture, creating a tapestry in which we can see how are woven together over time the causes and patterns of individual and collective human choices.
We live in a time where there is much uncertainty, most of it created as consequences of decisions made by captains of industry, politicians, and finance over the last hundred years or less. As human populations explode, we live in a world in which global trade, industrialization, uncurbed building and farming, extensive mining of natural resources, and the use of technologies have expanded around the world with little to no respect for the equilibrium of our home planet or for the quality of life for future generations. In America, workers have few rights or protections, and the social fabric of most communities and work places is weak. Life is stressful and unpredictable, and there is little kindness, truly intimate friendship, solidarity, resources, or compassion to depend on when things get tough.
In America, many people are taught to be tough and self-reliant. Our minds are increasingly trained to believe that we shouldn’t depend on anyone else for help or support. Those with the most resources carefully mold us to increasingly believe that we cannot or should not resist when protections such as health insurance coverage, retirement benefits, job security, protections against foreclosure, wage increases, and other social advantages are progressively stripped away to increase corporate profits which benefit high ranking CEOs and shareholders. Basically, our collective social security — the strength of our social structures and our communities are being progressively weakened by greed, which is the illustration of selfishness –a clear lack of solidarity, empathy, and kindness.
What kind of society does this value system build? What do our captains of industry, finance, and politicians have in mind for the future of our country and our people? Do they even think of us, of the legacy they are creating for our children and grandchildren? Do they care? The wealthy live in gated communities, and their children go to exclusive private kindergartens, primary schools, secondary schools, colleges and universities. All doors are opened for their children and families. They can afford to feed their families grass-fed organic steak, all organic vegetables and fruits, and provide them with the best healthcare. Some of these same people run CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or large scale farms – please click on link to read a very informative article about the consequences of these feedlot farms on human and animal health), which promote incurable diseases in animals and humans (LA-MRSA – antibiotic resistant bacteria). Ordinary people are encouraged to buy a wide variety of toxic products which harm animals, our environment, and human health. Meanwhile, the wealthy live in an insulated world, and by sucking dry all of the wealth from the bottom levels of society, these privileged individuals today are in the majority of cases living without connection or empathetic relationship to the remainder of humanity. They use and profit from our work and our collective resources while making few, if any, contributions to the greater good of all humanity. This unbounded narcissism is very destructive for all of us, even ultimately to the top 1%, even though they think they are immune to the harm that is and will continue to result from their greed and selfishness.
I believe that there will always be people who are greedy and hungry for power and wealth. Throughout history, there have always been people who seek power, and there will always be such people. This temperament is part of our collective human DNA. In nature, variety spells strength, and we need to develop all aspects of humanity and human nature to fulfill our collective destiny. Unbridled individualism without altruism, however, leads to a lack of creativity and a lack of growth, and ultimately spells disaster for any civilization. Our society and civilization are losing power collectively because of an excess of greed, which is also causing a great divide between the wealthy and the rest of us. We need the collective form of kindness, or altruism, to advance as a society. Progress in science and the arts fall behind when greed is unchecked. Today, pharmaceutical companies and health insurance companies care more for profits than they do for people or for creating new treatments and medications for diseases for which we do not yet have cures.
What the greedy do not understand is that everything in life is interconnected. We cannot make a choice, think a single thought, without it impacting our entire body – each and every cell – as well as every part of nature. Many people think they can live freely without consequences, without boundaries, but they are wrong. To cause harm is harmful for all of us. When animals are fed an unnatural diet on the large scale industrialized farms and treated with cruelty, the food they produce is unhealthy, and their manure is toxic. Their pain and suffering is also an invisible product which is registered by each and every cell in our bodies, even if we never saw the animal we consume face to face.
Nature is a living, sentient being, and everything we contribute, negative or positive, has an impact and multiple chains of consequences. We need to be careful and caring…in other words, acting with as much awareness and love as possible, when we make our everyday choices. This is the only way to live well in our world. We cannot eliminate suffering, but we can live with compassion and gratitude. We can minimize pain and cruelty with our intentions, and with the decision to live to the best of our ability, serving others with our talents, and choosing to be subservient to Nature. By listening to our intuition and to our hearts, by pausing before thinking and making decisions with the simple question in mind – how will my action affect the rest of the world? – we show caring and kindness. Our decision may reveal itself to be wrong. Our choices will sometimes cause harm. But by caring, we increase the amount of love in the world. This healing effect will help us to make better choices as consumers, as neighbors, as wives, husbands, parents, friends, employers…
The American experiment in individualism and unbridled capitalism has shown how destructive selfish pursuit of profit and “success” can be. The pursuit of wealth may not be “bad” in itself, but if the primary goal is not to serve others, and disregards the greater good of all people, animals, and the environment, then this pursuit is self-defeating and not sustainable. A strong economy and a powerful civilization can and should be built on kindness and altruism. Sustainable businesses that promote local community and compassionate farming are not incompatible with some level of profit, but the greatest profit of all would be…increased happiness and satisfaction. Meaningful work and using one’s talents to serve others lead to the most satisfying life choices. All of the smartest people with the biggest hearts know that giving is superior to receiving, and that the more you give, the more full your heart and your life will feel.
Can we cleanse the plastics, the endocrine-disruptors contained in the chemicals and pesticides in our homes, foods, fields, schools, and workplaces? Can we ban the large disease-promoting farms that cause so much pain and suffering to farm animals and to our health? Can we educate consumers to stop buying the products that harm our bodies and our country? Can we choose to transform our country by changing our values, by deciding to invest in all of our children and promoting their talents? Compassionate society is possible, but we all need to take part and become aware of our own hearts, our own shadows, and of the collective shadow we have inherited. We need to speak up and to own our own dreams. We need to elect leaders who hold the best interest of all human beings, animals, and the environment at heart, and who work with us to create a better world…by caring and with vision. Short-sighted narcissism is leading us toward global natural and human disaster. Kindness is the tool that can heal the world, our economy, and teach our children that life is worth living, and that the price of freedom is an awakened and a compassionate heart.