We should at various times and in various ways draw from all other paths of life, but give no one our exclusive allegiance. At one moment one of them is the more appropriate; at another moment a different path is the more appropriate. Life should contain meditation, action, and enjoyment in almost equal amounts. When any aspect is carried to extremes we lose something important for our life. So we must cultivate flexibility, admit diversity in ourselves, accept the tension this diversity produces, find a place for meditation in the midst of activity and enjoyment, and so in the dynamic interaction of the various paths of life. One should use all of them in building a life, and no one alone.
Charles Morris, Varieties of Human Value, page 17
When I was studying at Harvard Divinity School, I also studied in the Social Relations Department, and it was through this exposure that I found Charles Morris, Dr. Morris was teaching at Harvard for three spring semesters, and I was fortunate to be able to study with him. Although he was a philosopher, he was the one who did the scientific research on human values and how the different value patterns relate to each other. His book, Paths of Life: Preface to a World Religion, was a real eye-opener for me as to how science and religion come together in seeking the different choices we can make in shaping a life in the new world.
Let’s take each of these components separately and look at their uniqueness and also how they fit together. If we are to be effectively active in the world, we first need to develop a meditation and/or prayer practice in order to keep our balance and make it possible to handle challenge and stress. Peacemakers are often so convinced of a particular point of view that they don’t listen to other views and often get caught in some form of violence. Such onesidedness can easily cause wars. Meditation helps us be in touch with our higher nature and to act from center rather than from prejudice and misunderstanding.
What concerns me about many spiritual people is that they avoid dealing with social concerns and feel that everything can be resolved through prayer or meditation. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King are two good examples of people who knew that social change does not come easily, and that we must be willing to be involved in following through with what we know to be right. Action is part of the whole self, though the forms of action can vary widely. Street demonstrations are sometimes the only way to bring an issue out into the open and get it resolved, but there are many other ways of taking action that are more positive. I confess that I often assume that some other individual or group will take the action to solve a problem, and that all I need to do is to point out the problem. It is true that we cannot solve all problems, but we can act to make change on something we know about and that is close to our heart.
Enjoyment also is part of life. It is good to be able to laugh at ourselves, and to relax when we have completed an action. Getting to know people better is often aided by a laugh in common or just a chance to have a meal and share informally. Looking at pictures of family or vacation sights can also be healing. Families having at least one meal together every day is very important in helping to keep the family together. Going on a trip can also produce bonding. I often hear people talk about the importance of people having fun with what they are doing. One of the challenges of good teaching is finding a way of making something that could be boring into a task that contains an element of fun .
For many years I have talked about our central task as being the creation of a peoples’ equivalent of the United Nations. The U.N.’s primary task is to work with nations and to get the various nations to work cooperatively with each other. Attached to the U.N. is the Nongovernmental Organizations (NGO’s), which consist of profit and nonprofit organizations fulfilling various tasks that are more suited to groups rather than nations. The NGO’s are part of the U.N. and are at least to some extent under the control of the United Nations. A separate organization is needed that works with individuals, groups, and networks and which has its own goals and methodologies. There are a huge number of such organizations in existence today, but the challenge is to get them to join together and set out to take care of the problems of the human race, the environment, and the major issues that continue to plague everyone’s existence.
As an example, Bill Moyers, who regularly brings up issues that need attention, recently mentioned the problem of charter schools. Originally, charter schools were supposed to be supportive of public schools and to act as a supplement when needed. More recently they have become a source of moneymaking and a threat to the public schools. In our democracy we do need outstanding public schools, and they needed to be understood and supported by the people. A weakened public school system is a loss to democracy and needs to be improved. A society centered around the dollar sign is not a strength but a weakness in a robust democracy. Values must come before money or we are in trouble. That is our current condition and desperately needs our attention.
I’d like to end my message by pointing out that a new form of human interaction is emerging. It is called “collaboration”. People are starting to come together not just to listen to a speaker or a panel, but to share with each other and to build their strength in order to handle issues that need attention. May our coming together on Sunday mornings help to build our capacity to collaborate and to work for the well-being of all.
May peace prevail on earth!!!