It used to be the teacher, the preacher, and the house-calling doctor were the most respected professions in a town. These perceptions were not based on money but upon the contribution to the community. Ask the doctors who used to be paid in chickens and flour. Success as we define it in our culture now is visually represented by every day excess. We have forgotten that we can make coffee at home or pack a lunch. We fail to realize that owning a coffee maker is a luxury in and of itself; as is picking up lunch via a drive-through. Instead of going shopping for clothes before school starts each year, consumerism has become the very basis for our economy, and we shop as if we’re in a daily competition to acquire whether we need it or not. We’ve lost the differentiations between need, want, and luxury.
It’s time to reframe the conversation with our children to be about life-long contribution, service and meaning. When it focuses around the drive for the big house, the second house, the cars, and the logos; anyone between you and the stuff can become dispensable. Yes, consumerism creates jobs. However, when we create ideas and products that advance everyone and not just a few, breakthroughs support the foundation of advancing our human experience when those producing them are also treated with dignity. Thankfully, the next generations already speak of alternative homes, and little houses are becoming popular. Alternative vehicles are growing, and new technologies are appearing for new energy sources. Attention is still focused on reasonable wages and elimination of gender pay gaps. When these issues are addressed, it becomes possible for a life focus to be on contribution, service, and meaning and not just survival.
In this era of great transition, our children have the opportunity to become the leaders we need them to be and to live enriched lives that are not about measuring what they have but who they are becoming. Instead of oohing and ahhhing over the holidays when we ask our friends what Johnnie or Suzie is studying that may lead to careers of great wealth, what if we shifted the questions? What contribution is Johnny considering making with his life to his community? Where is Suzie planning to go on a mission trip? To what organizations are they volunteering their time? Have they decided what their philanthropic focus will be if they are financially successful? If we start asking different questions, it becomes a reflection of the values we have individually and as a society. Shifting expectations can shift the focus of the coming generations.
Not everyone gets a long life and has the chance to experience what for many becomes an awakening as mortality becomes a bright reality. During those mid-life years, we begin to recognize that there is only so much time to make a difference and that a larger bank account is not a legacy; though it can be stewarded well. Gifts of talent whether in writing, technology, teaching, art, medicine, craftsmanship, etc are just that – gifts given not for the benefit and elevation of the individual but for the deployment of the many. The more we move away from “I’ve got my own” and see what is around us, the more we can truly care for our neighbors – locally, nationally, and around the world.
Peter Diamandis writes frequently about abundance, the title of one of his books. He documents the increase in education and access to a variety of technologies and comforts that were previously not widely available. Yet it seems to me the more comfortable we become, the more generosity tends to slip through our fingers. As we enter a season, the holy-days, that emphasize the love we should be demonstrating year round, let’s think about what it truly means to be leaders – of our lives, our families, our communities, and in our world. Leading from love, generosity, and self-sacrifice increases the richness of our lives and our connectivity to our brothers and sisters in our human experience. Let’s reframe the conversation with our children to be about life-long contribution, service and meaning.