Is life all about the amount of money you make? Money seems like a very abstract measure simply because “making money” has very little humanity to it; after all there are relationships, experiences and family and friends that are also such a big part of our lives. We also have principles, values and spiritual paths that guide us carefully about values that should be adopted. So how can we measure the richness of our humanity? Perhaps one way to measure a life is on the choices that are made; perhaps referencing this to who we are and what we consider to be our purpose. It is well known that “you get what you measure”. Measuring our choices may be significantly better than our current cultural method of merely measuring money, especially if the baseline is taken from your own declared purpose in life. I wonder how many lives would be different if, at each choice, we asked ourselves the questions:
- Which of these choices would make me/us feel happy?
- Which of these choices would allow me/us to increase our knowledge to enrich our lives?
- Which of these choices would serve others the most?
- Which of these choices would meet my own values the best?
- Which of these choices would serve Mother Earth and our future generations the best?
It is very easy to base all your decisions based on money, indeed, we are culturally encouraged to do this – have you wondered why this is? Perhaps it is by design? Following this idea, have you ever made a decision that ignored money? I can tell you it was very difficult. The pandemic has caused many people to reassess their quality of life and they have made many decisions that have not been based on money. Many years ago I used to be a corporate salesman and I then chose to become a maths teacher. My salary dropped to a sixth of its previous amount. Who would make such a choice? It was a very positive experience for me but how could I explain it to others? Without a doubt, we do factor other concerns into our decision-making process but inevitably money is always a significant factor in our decision making. This is a surprise because “money” is only the idea of value, it is not real.
There is no surprise that money factors so highly in our decision-making, even if we do realise that money is not real and just an idea of value. Money poorly reflects “value” because there are so many things we value deeply that do not have a price: love being the obvious example. Money factors so highly in our thinking in our Western, first-world culture because, sadly, most of our choices are about what we buy, we are consumers. When the detail about how we, as a species, are destroying the planet’s atmosphere, climate and biomes is now so clear we still think of ourselves as consumers. It brings to mind an image of humanity behaving as locusts over the whole planet, consuming everything in sight. This behaviour is called wetiko: consuming to excess.
We each have many thoughts and ideas, 60,000 – 80,000 every day but it is not until we make a choice that we impact the world. Most choices are fairly trivial: what we choose to eat or the time we choose to go to bed for example. Other choices are more significant like our career choices, where we choose to live and who we vote for. Regardless, each choice we make impacts our life directly and, in a small way, this choice will also impact the planet. How do you go about making your choices? If the vast majority of your choices are based solely on affordability then are you thinking deeply enough about your choices?
When you know who you are and you have found your purpose, your reason for being on this planet, then it becomes very natural for you to measure your choices against this knowledge. If you know who you are then your choices will reflect your values consistently. Making choices that go against your values becomes very difficult and if you still choose against your values then it raises the question: are these really your values at all? Similarly, not choosing in alignment to your purpose is equally difficult and it makes achieving what you want to achieve take longer at best and, at worst, make achieving what you want to achieve harder or even impossible.
Choices are key. It is through the choices I make and their subsequent consequences, which I have to accept, that I am able to learn. Once I have learnt enough about that aspect of my life, through the choices I have made, I start to evolve: to become a better version of myself; to have greater understanding. These small forward steps in my evolution gives me a wider perspective and deeper understanding of my values and my subsequent choices improve. It is a grand, virtuous upward cycle: each choice I make informs me better for all my subsequent choices. As my understanding and perspective improve, my relationship with my values also improves, this leads to even better choices and even higher values. Sometimes a particular choice may lead me awry. I have discovered, even with the best of intentions, that even my very best choice available at the time will not work out. Invariably poor choices lead to difficult and sometimes painful situations, this I am sure has happened to us all. At the time of such choices my knowledge and understanding are not complete enough to choose the best option but I will learn from the experience. This happened frequently when I was younger, so long as I did not lose the lesson and learnt from it then my understanding and knowledge deepens; this is the path of wisdom.
In our society we have a myriad of laws and rules. These laws and rules have been put in place for a very good reason. They are in place to inform and guide you. Yet they should not be followed blindly especially if these laws or rules seem to go against your values. Your choices need to be your own. Each choice further defines who you are and takes you closer to your purpose. Following other people’s laws and rules mean that you are following their purpose and not necessarily your own. However, making a choice means you do have to take full responsibility for that choice and you have to live and learn from the consequences.
For example, let us consider a situation where, whilst walking along a riverbank, you see a child, just ahead, fall into the river and start to struggle. You now have a choice to make and it is a choice specifically for you. This choice will be subtly different from anyone else put in the same situation. What skills you have are key: if you can’t swim then I would suggest your range of choices that you have are less than others who can swim. Police officers have been in the same situation and they have extra choices because of their responsibility and equipment. Yet still a choice needs to be made, even if you choose to do nothing it is still a choice. There are stories of Police Officers in this exact situation where their first choice is to use their radio to inform their control room. Their control room has immediately advised and ordered them not to go into the water themselves. This is normal, the control room has a duty of care to their police officers and entering the water is the most dangerous response. In this situation it is always best to effect a rescue from the river banks. However, if you were the police officer and there is no way to reach the now drowning child, what would your choice be? Police officers have been placed in this situation where the choice seems to be to potentially watch a child drown whilst waiting for help or to jump into the water to rescue the child and risk both your own life and losing your job for not following instructions.
In such situations there is no right or wrong response. In fact, in most choices there is no right or wrong. Each choice is specifically there for you to make, based on your own ideas. Have you decided what you would do if you were in the situation with the drowning child in the previous paragraph? In the same way that your values should inform you regarding your choices, it is also possible to make a choice and then see what values you are currently using. If you did make a choice to the previous paragraph’s situation are you pleased with that choice? More importantly, are you pleased with what you understand about your own values? I am always very disconcerted whenever I make a choice and the choice does not align with my values. Either my understanding of my values is wrong or I do not hold my values very deeply. Of course, this is a hypothetical situation and what you think you would choose cannot be guaranteed to be the case in real life; at times, we all manage to surprise ourselves with our choices.
In our culture today, there are two serious problems with our ability to make choices. Firstly, we are not taught that our choices reflect our values. Nor are we taught that our values can change and, indeed, can be chosen. Secondly, we live in a world full of rules. A myriad of rules that vary slightly from one group to another when you consider fashion choices and entertainment. Some rules are enforced and there is no instruction on how to negotiate around those rules that are enforced that do not meet our values. When it comes to the law, for example, only compliance is acceptable. In the main, the law is eminently suitable for keeping people safe but what happens when the law and your values come into conflict? It happens rarely but when it does, are you more likely to follow the law or your values?
Choices are extremely important. It is the learning you make through your choices that guides your evolution; choices encourage you to understand more deeply, to think more widely and become wiser. Your choices also inform you about your own values: how deeply you hold them and whether your values are serving you or whether you should consider changing them. Many of our choices are prescribed: either by the law or by our own culture, our narrative. We are “conditioned” by our culture to the entirely unnatural pursuit of “making money”. Our culture conditions us so well to this behaviour that it is very rare for anyone to mention it. Of course making money is unnatural, it is a human idea and only humans follow it.
When we all realise that humanity is on course to becoming extinct (making most of the rest of life on this planet extinct in the process) relatively soon unless we change and consider the damage that humanity is doing to the planet. Further, we are each contributing, in a small way, to this extinction primarily because we have been conditioned to “make money”. Can I suggest that, with all this in mind, we take a firm hold on our highest values and make different choices? We, as a species, have been given a lot to be grateful for: this beautiful planet is one of those things. Another gift we have is free will. We each have free will to make our own choices. If you are following along with everyone else then this is a choice you are making, even if you are not thinking about it, you are still making that choice. What changes are you thinking of making? How will this affect your choices?