Bring Meaning to Work and Purpose to Spirituality

With these words David Brooks of New York Times characterized the current debates on and steps taken to address the national budget crises:


The entitlement programs for retirees and seniors are overwhelmingly responsible for the budget deficits at both the federal and state levels. Yet, the vast majority of deficit reduction measures being proposed and taken by either political party are aimed at the youth: education and extra curriculum activities. Why is that? “The future has no union” captures its essence: psychology trumps economics in politics and cultural affairs in general.


I attended a college reunion in Philadelphia during the past weekend. A classmate of mine, a very successful entrepreneur, is visiting us from China. It’s been 30 years since we left campus as the first generation of college graduates after the Cultural Revolution. None of us had a clue of what were to unfold for us and China in the next 30 years. Circumstances and even luck certainly played a role in how each of us turned out to be today. But fundamentally, it comes down to how we chose to respond to the tumultuous changes both inside and outside China. Some prospered, others stayed behind; some are content and happy, others disappointed and even bitter. Why is that? The willingness to take risks and invest in the future has a lot to do with the eventual outcomes. My friend recalled succinctly the moment when he left a “secure” government post, turned down lucrative political appointments and chose instead betting the fortune of himself and his family on creating a private enterprise on the sandy beach of a fast shifting Chinese business landscape. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those who chose the security of the old planned economy saw their safety net evaporates as the industrial revolution took off like a rocket in China. Over the long run, entitlement programs do not generate wealth or security. Education and entrepreneurship do. The nation that is willing to invest in the latter will end up leading the world and those who don’t, as did China for several thousand years, will be left behind. That’s the law of natural selection in cultural evolution.


Last but not the least, there has been a raging debate within liberal religious communities on the relative importance of social justice and spiritual harmony. For the past a few decades, many have chosen to concentrate their energy on fighting for bigger share of political rights and public welfare than integration of their values with spiritual fulfillment and environmental harmony. It has had a net impact of re-enforcing the two-party political polarization without a 3rd alternative. The so called “religious liberals” disappeared as their theological base has been attacked and destroyed from the right and the left. Nobody is willing to put a stake in the future any more which is necessarily unknown and requires nurturance of creativity, just as education and art programs do. If the only unions left are for the material benefits of the poor or the rich, civil war is the inevitable outcome as is happening in the Arabs world. The question facing every intelligent being is if and how we could shift our energy, however slightly and slowly, towards the big hand of nature. It takes the growth of mental complexity to accomplish that. Mental complexity grows only in individuals who are willing to deal with reality authentically and passionately. Have you discovered your one authentic swing lately?

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