If we could grow up to become really considerate of other people, we could overcome the challenges of our time. It is this we lack, more than money or technology.
Modern technology and economics have certainly made life easier for billions of people. But the challenges we face now in the 21st century are mainly challenges of the mind. I don’t mean necessarily insanity and such, although of course mental health problems are widespread and very troubling. Rather I mean what we might call “spiritual problems”, although they should be obvious even to those who don’t believe in spirit. Perhaps we could call them “problems of attitude”?
The error of our times is to try to fix attitude problems with technology, economics or legislation. I will not say that these are entirely ineffective. But they can be compared to fixing a leaky roof by placing umbrellas. Not only does it look absurd to those who see it from outside, but it is a short-sighted “solution”, suitable only for those who have no responsibility for the building and are planning to leave soon with their whole family. Hopefully we won’t all be in that situation with regards to this world.
For example, there is now plenty enough food in the world for everyone to eat their fill, and then some. But that is not exactly what happens. True, obesity is now actually afflicting a greater number of humans than is starvation, but there is still starvation. It usually only happens – at least widely – in countries at war or civil war. So it is certainly a problem of attitude, although not necessarily the attitude of the starving. (Although that can certainly happen too, that they are one of the sides in a war, and have some responsibility for it. That is not always the case, though. And in most wars, it is the stronger who attack the weaker.)
Speaking of obesity and health challenges: I know, I know. There are various hormone and metabolism problems that cause people to gain weight at an unnatural pace. It seems unlikely, however, that a fifth or so of the population have mysteriously mutated over the course of a generation or two. In any case, there are good news from science: Even if you are heavier than recommended, this will do little or no harm if you are physically active, exercising at least at moderate intensity for half an hour a day or so. (Or an hour every other day.) So unless you have a mutated metabolism and also a broken spine, you should be doing fine. If you have the right attitude, that is. The attitude that makes you force your body to do things it does not particularly like sometimes.
Unfortunately, many people really exercise their mind making up excuses instead. If people would eat when they were hungry and stop before they were full, and be physically active at least some minutes each day, that alone would stop the huge growth in health expenses in the rich world. I am not kidding. Sure, there are many expenses that come because we can treat illnesses that were fatal in the past. Treatment for these is typically very expensive. But living a life of moderate self-restraint will dramatically reduce the risk of falling gravely ill. Mind you, we are talking of risks here, possibilities and percentages. It is not like the law of gravity which is very simple and predictable. So you can eat right, exercise regularly and die horribly anyway. But on a large scale, like that of a whole nation, a more responsible lifestyle would have a dramatic impact.
Then there is the whole thing about fearing death. Now, this is an attitude that I sympathize with personally to a very high degree. There are few things I want less than death! But even so, here is something to think of: A very large part of the medical expenses in an average human life happens in its last year. This is independent of the age. If you live to 90, most of the expenses will be in the year from 89 to 90. If you live only to 50, most of the expenses will be from 49 to 50. Of course, this is not without exception, but it is the rule. In other words, a great deal of our hospitals, our doctors and our medicines are employed to prolong life by months or weeks. Of course, in some cases we just can’t know. There is a chance, even if it is small, of survival. And there is nothing we want more, usually.
Still, if we are actually old and we have an illness that is anyway going to end our life within months, I feel that there should be an option to submit to the course of nature. I am told that in America this is what happens if you are poor. But for those who have nothing to fear from death, I feel that it should be an option even if you could afford to stay around for a few months longer. In days of yore, it was not uncommon for old people to feel that they had accomplished what they came to Earth for. “Now let thy servant depart in peace.” I can’t say I feel like that now, but I hope to be able to say that some day. We may long for eternal life, but it is folly to think that science can do that for us, even with tax-financed health care.
Another attitude problem is that we consider our personal luxury more important than the planet. There has been some progress in this, in some parts of the world. But not enough. We are still destroying the biosphere at a terrifying speed. Species go extinct all the time. Fertile soil is washed away or blown away by the wind because of thoughtless agriculture that leaves the soil open to the elements at times when flooding or drought occurs. Forests are cut down that protected the soil, wetlands are drained that absorbed floods. And of course arable land is covered with roads and buildings. So far we have managed to keep food production high enough, higher than ever actually. But we cannot afford to lose more arable land as population is still set to grow. And we should not unravel ecosystems except in the most dire emergency.
In short, the great challenges of our times and probably the next generation as well, is our attitude. As long as we think in terms of money and not time, of luxury and not happiness, of receiving and not giving, of being done to and not doing – as long as we think in this way, it will be difficult to solve our problems, and new ones will appear. The roof will leak in more and more places until it collapses on our heads. For now, we have only this one planet, and we must share it with each other better than we do today.