Current human culture
More powerful than laws, more powerful than armies, is culture. Take an example. Whilst sharing is great for us on every level, and the health of our host, it is not so good for this creature we call The Economy, a beast that all politicians with any ambition to stay in power need to constantly feed with increasingly larger meals. To The Economy, sharing is the enemy, sharing competes for its food, and therefore sharing is the enemy of those whose bulging bank accounts depend on the growth of The Economy. Making all sharing illegal, however, would not be policeable, and it wouldn’t go down well with the voter. Instead, our politicians, social architects and marketeers chose a more subtle route, co-creating a culture where sharing isn’t illegal, but highly undesirable. It’s a culture that asks you why you should bother to share what you’ve worked hard for with someone who may or may not have worked as hard. A culture of scarcity that makes you worry about the other person breaking what you’ve loaned them, or not giving it back, leaving you feeling like the cheated one. A culture that states that if you have to borrow something, you’re not successful enough to have your own. There is no need for laws when such a culture of fear, scarcity and status makes people conform so voluntarily without them.
Culture also determines much of how we ‘choose’ to live our lives. As we humans are social creatures, the prospect of being socially ostracised, and the rejection and self-esteem issues that come with that, is a major influence on our behavioural patterns and the choices we make. It’s hardly controversial to suggest that a person’s need for conformity, a problem arising usually from a lack of self-assurance, dictates a lot of their behaviour.
Some of our social norms are pervasive and intensely oppressive. In Western civilisation, status is conferred on you by how much you own, where you live, what career you have, how much money you earn, how powerful you are, or the brands you sport. In each of these, the bigger or more expensive the better. If you choose to live moneylessly, or even a life of simplicity, you instantly forsake most culturally accepted indicators of success. Despite many who have swam against the tide reporting that making such bold moves enhanced their sense of confidence and freedom – to the point where they no longer care what people think – it can initially seem a very difficult path to take. They also realise, as Bob Dylan once penned, that “a man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do”.
One of the main concerns cited to me by people pondering moneylessness – or just simple living – is what their friends, family and community will think of them because of it. After all, having no money is stigmatised with a sense of poverty and being unsuccessful in life, even if your life has never been richer in real terms. Yet the extent to how deeply embedded social acceptance is within us has still surprised me, despite our claims that we dislike the very society we feel compelled to be accepted by. As Jiddu Krishnamurti once said, “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”, yet we often seem to prefer to make such adjustment than risk the exclusion that is perceived to come with living a healthy life.
People regularly ask me what they can do about this, how they can overcome it and live the lives they want to live. After thinking long and hard on the subject, all I could come up with was one word:
If we want to change our culture’s stories, and allow people to feel free to be whoever they want to be, we have to show courage. Billy Graham remarked that “courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.” Nothing ever changed for the better by people just going along with the norm. This change starts with you, and in doing so will, at the minimum, affect the lives of those you touch every day. That is worth living for in itself.
All you need to do to find this courage is to ask yourself what the most important goal of your life is: is it to just do what other people expect you to do, or to live your truth as boldly as you can? If you chose the latter, all that is required is for you to begin putting it into practice.