The vast majority of our precious time & energy is spent chasing after these accomplishments.
Exponential year-over-year increases in corporate profits fail to deliver the deep happiness we hope for. Despite being (financially) richer than ever, we in 'developed' countries experience progressively rising rates of anxiety, depression, burnout, bullying, partisanship, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, hoarding, every imaginable addiction, mass shootings, suicides, destruction of the air / soil / water, and mass extinction of plant & animal species.
Our exclusive focus on personal material gain appears to be a serious mistake.
Can we take a close look at 'character'?
“People with character ... tend to have a certain level of self-respect. Self-respect is not the same as self-confidence or self-esteem. Self-respect is not based on IQ or any of the mental or physical gifts that help get you into a competitive college. It is not comparative. It is not earned by being better than other people at something.
It is earned by being better than you used to be, by being dependable in times of testing, straight in times of temptation. It emerges in one who is morally dependable. Self-respect is produced by inner triumphs, not external ones. It can only be earned by a person who has endured some internal temptation, who has confronted their own weaknesses and who knows, ‘Well, if worse comes to worst, I can endure that. I can overcome that.’
My general belief is that we’ve accidentally left this moral tradition behind. Over the last several decades, we’ve lost the language, this way of organizing our life. We’re not bad. But we are morally inarticulate. We’re not more selfish or venal than people in other times, but we’ve lost the understanding of how character is built. … Without it, there is a certain superficiality to modern culture, especially in the moral sphere.”
David Brooks "The Road to Character." Random House, 2015.
May this Covid 19 pandemic help lift us out of "the shallows" and re-establish the centrality of depth of character.
Below, a poem from a time of great hardship, which forged the character of our grandparents & parents to not only survive, but thrive, despite two World Wars, the Great Depression, and countless profound personal existential challenges ...
And People Stayed Home
Kathleen O'Meara's poem, written in 1869, after the famine
And people stayed home
and read books and listened
and rested and exercised
and made art and played
and learned new ways of being
and listened deeper
someone met their shadow
and people began to think differently
and people healed
and in the absence of people who lived in ignorant ways,
dangerous, meaningless and heartless,
even the earth began to heal
and when the danger ended
and people found each other
grieved for the dead people
and they made new choices
and dreamed of new visions
and created new ways of life
and healed the earth completely
just as they were healed themselves.