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The Essence of Moral Living

By Gary Girdhari
Guyana Journal, March 2008

Most of us go about our daily routines quietly just ‘to make a living’. The humdrum of life remains the same – work, some time for family, weekend shopping at the supermarket, and maybe some socialization. In between, the TV screen is the central focus of news and entertainment. Reading a good newspaper, magazine or book is rare these days because we just don’t seem to have the time anymore, and also because our attention span is getting shorter. So dependency for information is primarily the TV or local gossip.

Education, which we are told begins mainly at school, is geared to pass an exam and, sadly, not meant to cope with the core fundamental issues of life, namely, respect, tolerance, love, care for all living things, care and respect for the earth, and so on. We are exhorted constantly to pass the exam, and told that such education is necessary to get a job in a highly competitive (and corrupting) “job market”, which of course is true, but at the expense of neglect of the core values. For the rest of our lives we are left to be educated by the TV, i.e., to believe and accept what they tell us, or their version of the truth. (Luckily some of us who are able to purposefully navigate the internet for other version of the same truth may obtain valuable information, knowledge and wisdom; but such sites are usually not “mainstream”.)

They tell us regularly what we must wear (every season); what to eat and drink; what music we must listen to; what gadgetry we must have (and there are so many ‘new and improved’ ones); how many TVs, cars, computers, iPods, et cetera – all through the power of advertising and so-called news. In short, our whole reality is “constructed” by them in a reinforcing and continual bombardment of slick infomercials. Without voluntarily agreeing to this skewed symbiosis we unconsciously abdicate our individuality, creativity and independence, and submit to the system. And then they tell us that this is “free” market. What a twisted contradiction in terms! Alas! In the process we become as a blind being led by the fool.

Of course, it is all clear to some others that this system is deliberate, intended to take from you (your individuality as well as your money) and make them richer and richer. They are very smart. They take from you and they make you smile and feel happy that you are making them rich and not realizing that you are getting poorer in the process. They make products that appeal to our children who in turn appeal to us to buy these products. The brainwashing process essentially robs us of more than our money... it takes our family, especially our children, and more particularly our teenage girl children – just observe of how they speak in ebonics. The process does severe psychological and cultural damage – it robs us of our morals and values, and reduces us to nothing more than animals.

This pattern is seen most trenchantly in the United States, but also in virtually most parts of the world; and we allow it to happen because our thought process was “constructed” to perpetuate the biased relationship in favor of the rich and powerful. Explicably but not surprisingly, it is precisely this system that is the cause of the runaway mess the world is facing – pollution, depletion of non-renewable fossil fuels, elevated green house gases, deforestation, melting of the polar icecaps, erratic climate change and global warming, disease agents that are becoming immune to medicines, and, in addition, greed, corruption and wars.

We are infused with false values from birth; we are surrounded by immense excesses (in the midst of extreme poverty); and we are brought up with the notion that more is always better. We are told repeatedly through mass media indoctrination (the recency and constancy hypothesis) what to believe and accept. And because our attention span is short nowadays and our memory is short-lived, we relinquish our independent thought processes: “if it’s not on the TV, then it’s not happening!” In a way, we are being brainwashed to do things that are counter-intuitive and which work against our best interests.

(Generally, people in affluent societies are unable to fully comprehend and conceptualize the extreme conditions of poverty – hunger, diseases, illiteracy, homelessness, starvation, destitution and backwardness that plague the “wretched of the earth” in many poor nations – because “it’s not on the TV”.)

Thus to redeem ourselves (and it’s never too late), it is becoming increasingly necessary for all of us to be vigilant, to re-think the uneven relationship, and re-structure our ‘accepted’ wisdom and behavioral pattern.

In the United States (as elsewhere) Governments are not making a difference to aid the ordinary citizen; in fact, governments may be part of the problem. Because of self-interest of politicians and their cronies, approaching them is like throwing water on a duck’s back. Regrettably also, Edmund Burke’s Fourth Estate is gradually losing its original advocacy role. (Read recent poll) Therefore, if they will not work in the interest of the citizenry, then it is up to the people to take control of their lives.

(Scattered throughout the globe are some individuals and organizations that are doing their lot to make a difference, but the entrenched political and economic odds against them are powerful and vast….)

Owning your house or apartment with full furnishings, or having a car or two, and the other amenities for luxury, does not give anyone the right to do as one pleases, even in a “free” market. Going to your church or minding your own business is not good enough. These alone do not constitute morality. It does not mean that such individuals are immoral; they are better described as amoral. Morality is not an abstraction to self-indulge in a vacuum. In my view, morality is a reflection on our behavior toward our fellow human beings, the animals and plants, the oceans, rivers, streams and lakes, and the earth (what East Indians call dharti mata). Minding your own business is good – to a point; but it may be regarded as selfishness in another manner of speaking.

Since I believe that all human beings are related to one another through the passage of time, I feel that being “your brother’s keeper” is good motto to live by, not to question it like Cain.

In April 2004 I wrote Human Rights in a ‘Civilized’ World and I quote:

“Today we are still complacent, and pretend self-righteousness. We lift our heads high invoking God and hallow His name, and pretend that we are holier than thou…

“How does humanity address the complex of issues that gives rise to the inhumanities that afflict and infest the so-called “civilized” world? There are many answers to this question – as diverse as there are peoples. The major powers have failed. The NGOs [non government organizations] are failing. Human beings have failed miserably because of self-interest, parochialism, religious obsession and extremism, and plain greed….”

How can we effect change? Simply put, we can act individually (then locally, then globally). For a start, remember ‘charity begins at home’.

Some ideas for a more sustainable lifestyle may thus be considered (and you can add your own):

1. Walking more, driving less – when possible, walk to the supermarket, stores, and to work. Use train and bus. Car-pool. Leave the elevator and take the stairs if possible – saves energy and good for the cardio. Use small fuel-efficient cars. Drive within speed limits – saves gas. Add bicycling to the list.
2. Saving water – repair faulty faucets; take short showers; don’t run the water unnecessarily, e.g., while brushing your teeth (use a large cup instead); don’t flush after every pee. ('If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down’.) Upgrade to low volume tank or place a brick or two in the tank to use less water.
3. Lower your thermostat during the winter rather than up – just 1 degree can cut heating bills by about 10 percent and save energy; also helps reduce pollution. If you feel the chill put on a cardigan or jumpsuit. A little sacrifice won’t hurt.
4. Check your closet – you may be in for a shock to discover that you have more than your needs. We always seem to want, but do we really need? However, when you do buy, look for green ethical label.
5. Shop for foods that have a green label, organic if possible, from companies that adhere to good environmental, labor and human rights standards. Take your own shopping bags; avoid plastics whenever possible (Read: Editorial,"We must act in environmentally responsible ways" Guyana Journal, December 2007). Eat out less; cook the healthy way, less junk foods. Drink more water (filtered if you prefer, not bottled) and less ‘juices’.
6. Use energy saving appliances and bulbs in the home – these save energy, water and reduce pollutants.

In all cases, try not to contribute to the problems by over-spending, over-fishing, over-hunting, over-harvesting natural resources such as timbers – which can deplete the rich source of our sustenance.

I quote again from my article: “I remember reading the parable of the hummingbird: The forest was in flames, and while all the other animals fled to save their skins, a hummingbird collected beakful after beakful of water from the river to pour on the fire. ‘Do you really think you can put out the fire with your little beak?’ asked the lion. ‘I know I can't do it alone,’ replied the little bird, ‘but I'm doing my part.’”

Can we do it? Yes, we can – one day at a time. It takes will power, the right attitude, discipline and an independent mind. We can’t purchase these; no one can give us these. These qualities are within us – to be developed. Be a humming bird!

The writer is the editor of Guyana Journal.

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