What Do We Truly Value?

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying.” A frequent topic of conversation amongst us as human beings is what we value most in life. What do we hold dearest to our hearts? The most common answer is, “My children” or “My family”. Let us take a moment to compare the “words” that describe this “value” and ask, What does that actually mean? How does one manifest that in the actual relationship with family? If we value our children most, then why have most of us agreed to a society where, in most family units, both parents work in full time jobs, some even take on extra hours and/or join a multi-level marketing organization selling candles, vitamins or adult products at night.
Current statistics tell us that the average Canadian male parent spends 22 minutes per day, per child. The divorce rate in Canada has been over 50% for years, with the divorce rate in second marriages being 75%, and third marriages, 85%. So if what I value most is my children, how do I need to conduct myself, meaning live my life in a way that is in alignment with such a basic, culturally and socially appropriate way of being? A recent North American study shows that families who ate at least three meals together per week – at the table, not in front of televisions or computers! – that the children in those families were 75% less likely to become involved with drugs or criminal activity. Instead of eating meals together, the majority of us choose to have our lives dictated by virtue (or lack thereof) of our obsessive and excessive consumption; such as bigger houses, bigger cars and trips to Disneyland. We strive for more and more “stuff” without realizing that small blocks of so-called “quality time” (like forcing teenagers to go camping when there is so little bond anymore with the parents) is too little, too late and can never replace the simple act of eating a meal together.
What can be more basic, more appealing, than the Maslovian needs of food, shelter and love? The Way It Used to Be Fifty years ago, imagine if someone had produced a one hour documentary on prime time television (back when there were only three channels) or a front page article predicting that in fifty years, both parents would work full time, they would put their young children in “daycare” or for the well-to-do, have a nanny; that we would go from eating five pounds of sugar in 1950 to over 100 pounds in the year 2000 (not counting fruit); from growing 60% of our food on Vancouver Island, to less than 6% today; that we would spend more time “surfing the ‘net” than walking along the surf at the beach (and all other forms of recreation and exercise combined). The documentary would continue, explaining that by the year 2000, 50% of Canadians would be over weight, 35% would be obese, 25% of all Canadian children under the age of 18 would be slated for Type 2 Diabetes in their life and many of our young people would suffer an epidemic of allergies and asthma, even showing signs of arteriolosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) from unhealthy fats, from sources such as french fries and gravy purchased from vending machines in our provincially (tax-payer) funded public schools.
The fact of the matter is that documentaries like this were, indeed, produced back then and those people were ridiculed and discredited by “experts” and scientists alike. Beginning in the 1960s, we were told that computers and robots were going to do most of the work – from building cars to roads and even cleaning our houses. Oh, and I almost forgot, we were also told that computers were going to completely eliminate paper! That we were going to have so much spare time that we would need to invent new “objects of leisure”. The Winnebago was born out of that kind of thinking. How It Is Today Here we are today, and we buy our children cell phones so we can keep in touch with them; but more importantly it equips them with the “newest technology” (and status symbol) where they can live in a “virtual reality” of text messaging, video games, avatars, constant listening to music (which by the way, has now been shown to permanently damage their ears because they raise the level of volume to compensate for street noise around them) and incessant need for more and more stimulus to keep from being bored. We taxi them to and from school in SUVs because we wouldn’t want them to get tired from walking or get kidnapped by the bogeyman. And of course we need them to be fresh for the succession of various activities like hockey.
To top it off, we feed them meals cooked in microwaves which completely kill any nutrients or goodness that might have been in the food (if it wasn’t pre-packaged). Imagine if you were a parent from 1950 or even 1960, back when we had one car per family, one telephone, one small black and white T.V. with rabbit ears, a small house, often without a single car garage. No big box stores, no $100.00 running shoes and no children being stabbed for their brand named jacket or hat. In my first seven years of school, I remember one, and only one, child that came from a “broken home”. Yes folks, believe it or not, we survived. Many of us, with five or six children in a house, the same size as many north Nanaimo garages. Which, by the way, are often so full of “stuff” that people can’t get their $50,000.00 SUVs into them. Working Class Poor Another metaphor, and I think a prime example, of how our culture has lost its way, is visit one of the many fast food joints in your town and notice how young and how old some of the employees are. Arguments that some are there because they “like it” and they want to acquire work skills aside, the fact of the matter is, that the vast majority of them are there because they have no choice or at least they feel compelled.
Some in the “no choice” category are our grandparents whose pensions are not indexed with inflation. Something as simple as replacing their aged car or leaking roof requires that they return to work, taking a minimum wage job in order to finance such expenses, making payments on an inflated interest credit card. Remember, these are people who worked 50 or more years of their life to build the society of which we now all benefit from (at least most of us do). In the “compelled” category, we have teenagers, most of which work for a so-called “training wage” that is below minimum wage (which by the way was more genius by this current provincial government to assure more profits in the pockets of those who donated to their campaign). These young people, our children, are working there (regardless of what they say) because of the immense social pressure that they feel to demonstrate prowess through the brandishing (no pun intended) of shiny, glittering, social-status-assuring material objects like the newest and might I add smallest, cutest, colour-changeable iPhone. Time So when we say, the most important thing to me is my children….
I love them more than anything in the world…. what does that mean, exactly? How does that look? If the most valuable thing we can give them is ourselves, our “time”, exactly how do we love them? Is climbing the corporate ladder creating a better relationship with my spouse and children? Is striving to obtain more and better material objects superseding being present with my loved ones? The one thing that I wish my parents had given me more of, is certainly not objects, instruction, advice, lectures or punishment (now called consequences); i wish they had given more of themselves, more of their time. That they had shown more genuine interest in me as a person, as a human being. That they would have shown more interest and asked me, rather than told me, what my hopes and dreams were. And rather than pushing me towards a career or university with the under current of thought being what would bring me a higher income and therefore more material objects, therefore social status, therefore the all-elusive North American dream of happiness! So What Can We Do? An approach is to make oneself a list of personal values. Values such as: family, connection, community, children, nature, animals, justice, honesty, fairness, love, kindness, compassion, spirituality, self-esteem, understanding, creativity, contribution….
Once they are on the table, we can then examine if how we are living our lives is actually in alignment with those values. Often people ask, “Where do I begin?” Cut off your cablevision, if not unplug your T.V. entirely; have at least three family dinners together per week, set the times to ensure that they happen; have other regular family activities, schedule them or time just flies by. Buy a clothes rack and put up a clothesline. Make a new effort getting to know your neighbours, have a neighbourhood garage sale or neighbourhood picnic. Go for walks and bike rides in your neighbourhood together, be friendly to everyone you meet. Go to farmers’ markets, together. Start a garden, together. Look in your blue box, together, and discuss how your family can reduce the consumption of products that require recycling. Exchange music with one another and then share, at dinner, what you got out of it. Find someone elderly, and/or alone, on your street and have them over to some of your family dinners (nothing is more powerful than thinking of others and being of service – this is the easiest way to bring out the best in ourselves).
Have a family conference to investigate how collectively you all can reduce the amount of time eaten up by “making a living” and increase the amount of time devoted to “simply living”! This means that some of you work part time, work more from home or simply quit your jobs. It all boils down to more time at home, together, living more simply; less time in the car, less shopping, needing less “stuff”, less consuming and much more time (rather than as a human “doing”)… newly experiencing “being” a human “being”! Surely, we all have a responsibility, on an on going basis, to assess and to re-assess what we truly value and to take honest stock as to what degree our actions are in alignment with our words. People, when interviewed on their deathbed, do not say, “I wish I had spent more time at the office”… all of them say, “I wish I had spent more time with my family.” As the old saying goes, “it’s never too late”. Let’s start now.Dirk Becker is an organic farmer, agricultural advocate and public speaker who is okay with people getting mad at him… if it facilitates people reassessing their own lives.