Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Why can't they be more like us?

A good friend and I were involved in a mutual self-pity fest. Actually, we were telling about some trials we are facing with people we love, and she jokingly said, "Why can't they be more like us?" We both laughed, and then we moved on in our conversation to some of our weaknesses, those blind spots where we are missing the mark in our own lives. For example, I am quick to observe and comment on behavior in others that appears addictive to me: gambling, drinking, workaholism, overeating, that sort of thing. But I am far more reluctant to label my affinity for candy as an addiction. I notice when others are excessively critical, but I see myself as appropriately observant and honest in my assessments. That sort of hypocrisy is prevalent in my thought life...

Following that conversation, I spent some time thinking about that question. I began to wonder what my family would be like if my husband and children were more like me. As usual, I started with the best attributes I have. I began to mentally diagram how much cleaner and organized our home would be. No one would have to ask me to find anything of theirs because they would put it away where it belongs. Dirty clothes would be in the hamper, and clean clothes would be folded or hung properly. Dishes would almost never be left in the family room because I almost never eat in there. I eat in the kitchen, as all reasonable people do.

Then thoughts and questions began to arise that were not as self-aggrandizing. What if they thought about each other and about me the way that I think about them? What if they experienced the same impatience and indulged in the same superiority complex as I do? What if my children imitated my way of doing married life - would that make for better marriages in the next generation or weaker ones? What if they handled money, accumulating debt or paying off their debts like I do? What if they exercised, ate, read, wrote, traveled, and lived as I do? What if they imitated how I speak to and treat the people I encounter during the course of the day, especially the people who annoy and inconvenience me? Would our world be better because they were more like me or would it be worse?

What if my neighbors cleaned up after their dogs the way we clean up after Maya? What if they trained her the same way we are training her? What if they invited each other for dinners and barbecues as openly and warmly as we do? What if they were as noisy or as quiet as we are? What if they followed the edict I am supposed to follow: "love your neighbors as yourself"? Would our neighborhood be more or less loving and generous on the whole?

What if my fellow church members lived out their faith as I do? If everyone attended the services and donated their time, energy, and money as I do - would our church grow or would it be forced to close its doors? What if they all prayed, read the Bible, and applied its truths as I do? Would the world be more or less interested in the faith I profess? Would anyone care to know more about what guides my life and serves as my source of strength, peace, and longsuffering based on how I live? On how I speak and think and act in the world?

What if the citizens of every nation drove cars like my cars, ate like I do, shopped like I do, and had homes like mine? What if everyone adjusted their heat, their air conditioning like we do? What if they used the same cleaning products I use, and consumed as much water and electricity as my family does? What if everyone donated to charity, got involved with politics, and held the same social, economic, racial, and religious beliefs and prejudices as I do? Could our planet support my lifestyle six billion times over? For how long?

And in a broader sense, what if other nations acted the way our nation acts? Imagine all the food that could be distributed if other countries gave as much as we did? What if doctors, nurses, medical technology, and medicines were shared around the globe to the same degree and with the same results that this country does? What about the way we treat the unemployed, the homeless, the working poor, the orphans, the widows, and the sick of our nation? Would we want our national system of care to be replicated around the world? What about the way we handle conflicts and disagreements with other countries? What if every nation chose to spread democracy and capitalism the way that we do? What if every nation that felt threatened by another nation acted as we have acted in the past fifty years, ten years, five years? Would our world, could our world survive?

Several years ago, I read a book that challenged me "to live simply so that others can simply live." Am I willing to live like that? Am I willing to do whatever it takes so that asking this question - Why can't they be more like us? - is no longer a rhetorical act, but a sincerely self-motivating one? I wonder: does the world need more people like me? Or does the world need more people like me to adjust my way of life, my way of thinking, speaking, and coexisting with others for the benefit of all six billion of us and not just me, myself and I?


a journey said...

Somehow in the process of 'surfing' I came across your website. Great thoughts in this post. I like how you where not just thinking and asking about yourself, your community and this country, but also about nations across the globe. I especially like this line ..."What if every nation that felt threatened by another nation acted as we have acted in the past fifty years, ten years, five years?"

Actually, though I need to 'bring it home' and think about your questions concerning my family. I stew, fuss and fume about them, but what about me? How am I doing?

GailNHB said...

Journey, thanks so much for your comment. Bringing the tough questions home is one of the toughest challenges of life. But also one of the most rewarding if we are willing to do the work and resolve them in a way that makes a difference.

Grace and peace, Gail