Individual Responsibility – A Spiritual Perspective —by Peter Russell
If you went along to your doctor because of a bad stomach pain, and all the doctor did was give you a pill to take away the pain you would not feel very satisfied. A good doctor would ask what the cause is. Is it something you’ve eaten? Is it a virus? Or perhaps just stress? But lets find out the cause and treat that as well as the symptoms. Otherwise the problem is likely to keep recurring.
We need to be doing the same with the various problems facing humanity at this critical time. As well as doing all we can to repair the damage we have done to our planet, and to ensure we don’t do more damage in the future, we also need to ask what is it in ourselves that leads us to behave as we do? If we don’t ask those deeper fundamental questions I don’t think that we are ever really going to get out of the crisis we are in.
We like to think of ourselves as the most intelligent species on this planet. But it is now becoming clear that we are destroying our planetary habitat. If we carry on as we are, we wont be here in thirty or forty years time. Yet despite this awareness we don’t change our behavior. We continue destroying our habitat. Is this intelligent? It’s more like insane.
The question we must ask is Why? What’s wrong with us?
Some people argue that there is an intrinsic fault with humanity. We are self-centered, short-sighted, greedy beings, and that’s it. If that were true we may as well pack up and go home now. There’s not much hope. But I don’t think the problem lies in the way we our brains are wired, but in the way we think–in our attitudes, our assumptions, and the programmes that run us. What we think is important in life. In other words, our values.
The Real Bottom Line
When we begin to look at our values we find that there are several layers to them. On the surface we may value things like possessions, money, social status, the roles we play. But then we need to ask why do we value these things. If you look deeper you find that these things are important because they may give us a sense of security, stimulus, acceptance or attention. But why are these things important to us? What’s beneath them? What is it we really want? What is really important to us at a fundamental level?
The answer comes down to something very simple. We want to feel at peace in ourselves; we want to be happy. Basically we are looking to feel OK in ourselves.
This is our true bottom line–how we feel inside. Usually when we talk of the bottom line we mean our material or financial bottom line. But the one thing we all want is to feel happy. We may call it different things–inner peace, fulfillment, contentment–but the truth is we want to feel good inside. I write a book because I get some satisfaction from doing so. I go swimming because I enjoy it. Even things I don’t actually enjoy at the time, like going to the dentist, I do because I believe that I’ll be happier later in life if I put up with a little discomfort now.
There are two points to notice about this fundamental drive. First, it is common to each and every one of us. As the Dalai Lama once said, “In the final analysis, the hope of every person is simply peace of mind.” In this respect we are united. Even the people you don’t particularly like, the people you think are stupid, the people you judge as evil, your apparent enemies, and your closest friends, we all want exactly the same.
The diversity amongst us stems not from what we each want at a fundamental level, but the ways we try to find that contentment. Often the way one person tries to find ot conflicts with the way another person is looking for it. The conflict lies in the assumptions we have about what will make us happy. But underneath we all seeking exactly the same thing.
Second, and most importantly, what we are looking for is something internal. We are looking for a better state of mind. Its an internal goal not an external one.
Looking in the Wrong Place
There’s nothing wrong with seeking a more satisfying state of mind. Where we have gone wrong is the ways in which we seek it. And that is where our values come in–the assumptions and programming that we bring to bear on events. We’ve got locked into a belief that says whether or not you are happy and at peace depends upon what you have and what you do. In essence this belief system says that your internal state of mind depends your external circumstances.
Now that belief does have some validity. If the reason you are not happy is because you are sick, or hungry, or cold, then there may indeed be something in your external environment that needs to be changed. You do need to do something, or get something.
Several hundred years ago, before the Industrial Revolution, the reason most people were not happy was probably to be found in their external circumstances. There was a lot of disease, the winters where hard, food often in short supply. We today with all our luxuries can easily forget just how hard life could be in former times. We live in a totally different world. Most of us–and by “us” I mean those here in this room, the more fortunate members of the human race who have the time and money to be able to come to a conference like this–have our basic needs for food, water, shelter and clothing taken care of. If we are still not happy and at peace the chances are that it is something inner that missing. It could be that we are not feeling recognized, or not loved. Or a lack of meaning and purpose. Or a feeling of insecurity. These are all inner needs. But what happens is we are caught in this belief that says if your not feeling happy go and do something, go and get something, go and be somebody. Our attention is focused on changing the world “out there” in order to satisfy some inner need.
This belief is fed to us from the day we are born–by our parents, by education, by the media. I know my parents just assumed this was the right way to bring me up. They were trying to be responsible and ensure I had a good life. I remember when I was about twenty-five, I’d been to visit my parents and was just leaving the house when my mother decided to give me a little talk. She said “You’ve been to university, you’ve done well and got your degrees, you’ve traveled round the world, don’t you think its about time you got a job” Being in a more reactionary phase of life, I asked “Why?” My mother replied that there would come a time when I wanted to get married, buy a house, be able to go on a holiday, and such things. I kept asking “Why?” and she kept coming up with reasons why it would be a good to get a job. Finally, probably out of some frustration, she said “So that you can be happy. of course”. I said “But aren’t I happy?” She looked at me and said “Well I suppose you are, yes” And since then, whenever the subject has come, she’s said, “as long as your happy, that’s the main thing”.