What if many of the world’s woes, while layered with complexity, were actually fairly simple to solve? The solution to war, peace, and famine, from the severe economic divide between materially rich and poor all the way to global warming?
What if the solution were pretty simple because the cause of the world’s woes was also fairly simple to understand, unfold, and well, correct?
While we may be surrounded by mental landmines and rabbit holes, as well as by politicians’ and many professionals’ investments in keeping things at least looking complicated to a trusting populous, I still suggest that solutions are easily available if challenging to implement, granted that.
There is always the good and the bad news. On the lighter, good side, so much in our world goes well. A huge majority of people get along, enjoy each other’s company, help each other out, laugh and play together, amuse and entertain each other and express profound goodwill, love, compassion and good cheer. People open doors for each other.
Neighbors bring a favorite dish to another neighbor either for the joy of sharing or because a neighbor is down on their fortune and needs a helping hand. Most people across the planet are doing for each other, playing with each other, praying for one another and serving one another in one way or another. If we were to look from ‘above’, we would be brought to tears of joy to see the numerous, angelic ways people enjoy and serve each other. Big hearts, open hearts, smiling faces, most everywhere you look.
Most healthy people want to have enough money for a sense of stability, and security, sending kids to school, some fun and for retirement. Their lives are about a lot more than money: the joy of family, friendship, community, often a religious affiliation, hobbies and the like.
The problem isn’t money or making a lot of it. The problem is what a relatively small group of people who run large corporations do to make that money. They are willing to put other people’s lives at risk, work them to the bone, pollute the water, air and soil with abandon, cause wars, manipulate with fear, weaponize medicine, food, and money, marginalize those who are hungry and homeless, not to mention, contaminate their souls. These are the severe symptoms and consequences of a serious mental illness called greed.
There is so much suffering in the world largely because of the greed of a few. War, famine, war and climate refugees. The formation of gangs around the world who terrorize people causing further immigrant issues is largely due to the lack of economic opportunity. If the cream is skimmed off the top by the Fortune 500’s and others, there is too little left for everyone else. Anger and resentment explode at the injustice and the world goes from a potential heaven to a very real hell.
This imbalance Nature abhors.
The U.S. used to have a significantly-sized middle class consisting of both blue and white-collar workers. These were the majority of Americans up through the 1970s when the ruling class began stepping up their interest in cheap labor and began outsourcing to China, Mexico and Southeast Asia.
While money and power were always important and world history attests to that, now they took another step in eclipsing balance, integrity and commonsense, national identity, national affinity and pride. Anything that could be off-shored to save money on labor and materials was. America’s manufacturing base and middle class begin to shrivel and shrink.
What began to matter more than ever was the bottom line and the ability to shave off pennies per unit of production, be it portable radios or sneakers. Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, animates the story profoundly and succinctly. This was done no matter what the cost to the workers or the ecosystem. Both were expendable when it came to corporate profiteering. This is greed in action. That is to say, possibly the most violent, destructive forces generated in the human species.
So this is the bad news, the darker side of the human experiment.
There are relatively speaking, very few people who are destabilizing the world—its economies, its body politic, its education, ethos and mores, very few. But because they have such an extreme amount of money and power as well as a good PR campaign, they appear to many as laudable heroes while they tilt the world in their favor and to our detriment.
Thankfully, people are seeing this more than ever, getting disgusted with what they see, that they have been “played” and are taking incremental actions to rebuild their personal and collective power. This is a very good thing for the survival of the species.
As they say, we are comprised of the angelic and demonic. We extoll the angelic in us and bemoan the demonic. It is the demonic, the weak link in the human psyche that needs most of our attention. It is the part in literally desperate need of healing before the eco-system collapses (for us) and we’re living on life-support.
When I said that the solution to so many human challenges is simple, it’s because what I said is the cause of our dilemmas is largely simple: greed, the issue in our society around which most moss has gathered. Unravel that and balance, inward, with each other, and Nature, can be quite quickly restored.
Greed needs to be recognized as the mental illness and addiction that it is, whereas, so bizarrely, it is lauded in our society and extolled. It should be treated as the mental imbalance that it is. In addition to psychotherapy, it can also be treated as pretty much any other addiction.
In that light, I also propose founding “GA”, Greed Anonymous. The 12-Step Program have helped many people, best as an adjunct to other work, often called “Shadow Work” that should be done around this. There are also nutrients that help to reduce cravings and heal dopamine pathways.
To hoard money far in excess of what someone may ever need to live, while others in one’s community are without even food to eat or water to drink is an initial, broad-stroke definition of greed and a reference to just a few of its harmful effects on others. One of its many harmful effects—to others and to oneself—is the deadening of conscience, of a heartfelt, compassionate connection to others who may be or are suffering. It evokes the question of why does it happen at all and once recognized, why does greed persist in the face of hunger?
Perhaps these questions are too rational for an irrational mindset that has come to dominate our culture that has normalized hunger, homelessness, war, racism, sexism and destroying Nature.
Mammals have an innate connection with each other, and have the extraordinary capacity to both sympathize, empathize, feel another’s pain (and joy for that matter) and place ourselves in another’s shoes. Perhaps this is an evolutionary development Nature built into the eco-system to help us to maintain our species as part of a collective survival mechanism. The very presence of the bonding, “love” hormone, oxytocin, is a testament to Nature’s effort to move us toward love and nurturance.
If one violates the balance of healthy connectedness, if one has too much of a necessary resource and another very little, it is felt like shock waves throughout the eco-system. It may be experienced as a transgression of Natural Law, it hurts but is all too often ignored. Nonetheless, one feels the impulse to restore balance to the system, an impulse toward health.
There is another organic impulse to share and care, to give of oneself, be it of heart, mind, compassion, love, and attention all the way to giving foods that nourish and even taste good. Why not?!
There is a veritable cascade of ‘feel-good’ hormones which flood the body with acts of giving. Endorphins are released and other neuro-transmitters which support an elevated state flow along with oxytocin.
Genes that are resonant with the flow of life force are up-regulated which in turn strengthens the immune system—the brain literally ‘lights up’ with connections and new neural networks are born. You could easily say accurately that when we are good to ourselves and to each other when we express positive emotions of love, gratitude, respect, play, integrity and humor, we become more intelligent.
As you would imagine, when one inhibits this natural flow, the higher potential of inner joy and human development gets stunted, contracts and doesn’t stretch its tentacles outwardly. It is as though fear is the dominating emotion, which is associated with the amygdala and reptilian brain. There is a tendency to fight or flee, to hold on, and yes, even hoard. It is not to embrace and love.
In effect, habitually bending toward the conditions or actions which breed more fear, excess anger and rage is nothing short of an illness. It is emotionally stunted growth instead of expanding emotional intelligence. This isn’t to say that a healthy measure of fear or anger in certain circumstances isn’t appropriate. We all know that these reactions play an important role in our lives—keeping us away from danger with anger, and loudly and firmly warning someone to avoid danger, In other cases, anger is useful for the expression of righteous indignation. The problem is the excess of either—that’s the imbalance to avoid.
What causes individuals to hoard? I suggest that it is a fear of not having enough, and reaches down into a fear of not surviving. On an existential level, I suggest, that it is a fear of ‘not being enough’ in one’s own eyes. So one gathers, gathers and gathers “unto oneself”.
If this were reversed, if such individuals could learn that they are certainly ‘enough’ in there, in others and yes, in God’s eyes, that they are ‘lovable’, they would likely relax the clutching and contracting.
If they relaxed, their ability to be more emotionally intimate with others would also expand as would then their sense of trust. They would be getting ‘fed’ from other sources. The joy of sharing and giving intrinsically accompanies this more relaxed, easygoing, comfort-with-life attitude and way of being. The impulse to hurt others, to be violent personally or through wars would also dissipate, including the war on Nature.
What was greed would become generosity and doing harm to anyone, anything, including Mother Nature would be anathema. Curiously, it is our so-called “civilized society” that causes most all the assaults on each other and on Nature. Indigenous people are inherently respectful of Mother Nature, Gaia, Pachamama and harmonize with her in so many ways, especially with the beautiful, dignified feeling for her of gratitude. What does being ‘civilized’, after all then, mean anyway?
If we lived from a state of gratitude and generosity, of seeing the interconnectedness of all things as the ancient wisdom teachings East and West teach us, one wouldn’t have to be obsessed with geo-political “what if’s” that consume literally trillions of dollars in an insane arms race and military battle.
Trust would be the air we breathe instead of its opposite which is, quite literally, “killing” us.
Psychologists haven’t yet identified greed as the profound mental illness that it is and so we collectively suffer from its ill effects.
The belief that “more is better” at any cost, the meme and archetype of our society, is the prevailing backdrop, what Werner Erhard called ‘the background listening”, of our actions. Yet, author E.F. Schumacher’s book title says so much in so little: Small is Beautiful.
The irony is that when we give, we feel so good. It’s as though not only our psychology but our mammalian biology were set up to share which, evolutionarily is what has helped us survive, our clan intact as scientist David Sloan Wilson has helped us to understand. The archetype represented in the Scrooges in history has shown us the pain of selfishness and the joy of giving.
Can you imagine if the wars we wage, the ecological damage we have caused for the last few centuries and continue to cause daily is a result of something as simple as this feeling of “not being enough, not feeling worthy”? Worthy of what you ask. Of course, it’s worthy of attention, parental attention, the giving of which is nothing short of the sacred act of sharing love. I suggest that it is the hungering for attention and a yearning to belong, for meaning and to be a valued part of a community.
When we unwind and unravel it all, I do suggest that much of the sick psychology that drives the people who perpetuate violence (of all types) is this simple. We have academic fields which make it seem so much more complex. But the needs of a human being are not so complex: love, attention, shelter, food, companionship, kindness, education, adventure, compassion, oxytocin, humor, stimulation, self-expression, communication, curiosity, meaning, a dash more love and a sense of community, meaning and belonging and a dash more of curiosity and adventure.
The vital point here is that the psychology of those bent on self-aggrandizement at the expense of others and Earth is understandable though abhorrent and curable. It is a lot of work but it can be accomplished. The funny thing is that greedy people give the idea of making money a bad name. In our world, earning money is a wonderful thing! But when this practice is distorted and skewed by the mental illness of greed, its esteem is lowered instead of it being enjoyable.
Nature seeks balance between the elements.
When looked at properly in the context of our contemporary society, the action of earning money can and should be deemed a sacred act and ourselves as sacred actors. It is a form of barter and allows us to exchange value, to empower each other and ourselves.
The issue isn’t money, but who we are in respect to money. Who or what do we become?
It’s just that, as with everything else in life, there are boundaries, laws and rules of proportion and ethics by which we as a society need to abide for the whole thing to work for everyone.
And we’ll all carry around the profound irony which is that when we share when we respect Nature and the rights and dignity of our fellow human beings, we prosper a lot more than just having enormous volumes of cash in the bank that in one lifetime, we couldn’t ever spend anyway.
In this case, the simple phrase: People and Planet before Profit can be the operating principle guided by consciousness and conscience.
With that simple proviso, the world could be such a better place. There are greater refinements that can and need to be made of course, but that’s an excellent, grounding premise from which to start.