I am spending this Memorial Day weekend in Idaho. Growing up in Tokyo and now living in Los Angeles, the hustle and bustle of the city life has become the norm for me. I even feel at home when I go back to Tokyo, smelling the polluted air, seeing the neon signs that never turn off, and walking amongst the thousands of pedestrians whom I will never see again.
However, once in a while when I do get away from the city, I am reminded of the remnants of what Earth was before men, and all the things that we have done and continue to do to destroy the only home that we have ever known. And what is it all for? To stimulate the economy? So we can live comfortably? What does that even mean?
It is silly to set out to provide a better life for men at the cost of the planet, because life as we know it requires the planet, but even if that was a worthy goal, it seems that we have not done a very good job at that either, as we have left behind so much of the population and made a society in which only the few benefit from the hard work of the many.
A student of mine expressed, “the idea that certain people are more important than others is the cause for all that’s wrong with the world.” I completely agree with her, and I would even go further to point out that we have somehow created a world in which the people who are actually important and form the foundation of a functioning society are seen as not important and replaceable (think chefs, janitors, teachers), while people who perpetuate the systemic inequality are seen as worthy of respect and what we should all strive to become (think corporate lawyers, politicians, and investment bankers).
Think about the message that we are sending the youth. Is it any wonder that so many kids grow up thinking that their worth is measured by how prestigious their college is, the amount of money they make, or the size of the house they own? This narrow version of success that society imposes on the minds of the youth is not only inaccurate, it is harmful. It doesn’t do much more than to reinforce the idea that most of us are failures in life because we have failed to live up to the unrealistic expectations, and worse, the few who do become “successful”, whatever that means, realize sooner or later that real success is to be defined by the individual, and to work toward any other version of success is to sell ourselves short; we will have spent a significant portion of the little time that we have been given pursuing the wrong things.
Happiness is a state of mind and a way of life; it comes from within, and it does not depend on what is happening around us. It does not appear magically when we reach some milestone, because the struggle and the journey of shaping yourself is where true meaning lies. Material possessions do not make us happy, because we already have everything we need. When we realize these truths, it frees our mind to start focusing on the right things; deepening our relationships with others, pursuing growth, and searching for meaning in our work that goes beyond trivial, meaningless goals, like purchasing tickets to an island getaway, or owning a luxury car.
This Memorial Day, as we remember the many who have sacrificed their lives for their country, it is only right to ask ourselves this; as we move forward, what is a cause really worth fighting for?
If our collective answer is to keep fighting to preserve the lifestyle of the privileged few at the expense of the lives of the rest, then we will have failed miserably.
(note: while many authors use the word “men” to mean all people, and some even have the nerve to make excuses about how it used to be a gender-neutral term and it should be interpreted as such, I specifically used that term in this post to mean it in an actually gender-specific way. Our societies have been set up to benefit men, not women. Most acts of violence throughout our history have been committed by men, not women. Most corporations that continue to destroy our planet are led by men, not women. So yes, I really mean men when I say men.)