Most folks say they hope for “peace on Earth,” especially during this season when that message is loud and clear.
Many also wish for a happy new year.
The question is what is happy and what is peace. The answer is simple and complicated at the same time.
To some, having more material wealth is what apparently makes them happy. To others, knowing that real wealth is being in spiritual harmony with humanity, a Higher Power and the natural environment.
Spending time hanging out with regular folks, especially in Myanmar, led me to the realization that being at peace and happy has little to do with material wealth. I met many folks who would be considered poor by Western standards, but it was obvious most didn’t see themselves that way.
It was more about having a strong spiritual foundation, family and community. According to their beliefs, being rich might even interfere with spiritual growth.
Most folks there believe in the teachings of Buddha, which are, in many ways, the teachings of Jesus. The rich Hindu prince Siddhartha gave up his wealth and meditated for years until he reached “Enlightenment” under the shade of a bodhi tree, or Ficus religiosa.
This is reminiscent of the teachings of Jesus quoted in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, going something like this: I tell you the truth. It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.
Wow, that is heavy!
However, the concept is repeated in the Babylonian Talmud, Quaran, Old Testament and basically all the major religions.
In more modern times, some promoted the concept that the richer one becomes shows God’s blessings. It seems, though, the more we have, the more we desire more.
After being in several so-called Third World countries this year, I was reminded that being poor is a classification based a country whose citizens have a low annual income or gross domestic product. We just returned from Myanmar, which is considered one of the poorest countries in Asia.
Most folks are devout Buddhists and do not see themselves as poor. The average income per capita is about $1,300 per year. Many are subsistence farmers and at the same time live almost sustainably, using agricultural practices of their ancestors.
As long as they have food, home and health, they profess to be living happy and peaceful lives. This does necessarily hold true in big cities such as Mandalay, Yangon, Hanoi or Saigon, where modern influences created a consumer culture.
Perhaps the key to peace and happiness is that it should be coupled with faith, hope and the greatest power of all, love.
The world’s great religions place importance of loving one another, our Creator and all things created as essential. There are those who distort the message for political or economic power or control. Some even place themselves and their group above others and this leads to unresolvable conflict misery.
The question is, can love help us have ethnicity without ethnocentricity?
Can we appreciate that we are unique without putting down someone else?
It is so easy to fall into the “us and them” mode of thinking that it takes constant mental push-ups to see all humans as connected. We might even expand that connection to all living things.
One way to practice is by noting our attitudes about other inhabitants of our global ecosystem.
For example, let’s take a look at our beautiful Hawaii gardens. They are composed of plants from around the world. Some of these plants arrived long ago, transported by ocean currents, winds and birds.
Hundreds of varieties were brought here by the first human inhabitants. These include kukui, coconut, ti, breadfruit, banana, sweet potato and many others. Later, each group brought the plants associated with their culture.
When it comes to our gardens, we might then see things differently. We see it is essential to protect what is unique to Hawaii, but simply labeling life forms as native versus alien and then to infer that one is good and thus the other must be bad is a disservice to all.
Our gardens give us opportunity to do our mental push-ups and acknowledge the value of each of the diverse life forms, including insects, lizards, frogs and birds.
Most non-native plants introduced purposely benefited man. With diversified agriculture essential for our economic survival, it is important we don’t hamstring ourselves so we are unable to grow a crop that is of benefit to our community and economy by maligning all non-native species.
Our responsibility is to recognize that our communities include many other life forms, most of which are unique and need our special protection, and at the same time to recognize the need for non-native species including those introduced by the Polynesians and other ethnic groups.
The message for our future is that it is time for all members of our island community, including environmental groups, agricultural interests, the visitor industry, politicians and others to work together on plans that focus on good management of our resources.
It is not a time to be confrontational. We can learn to manage our polarities if we can shift our patterns of thinking. There is a lesson to be learned in how we treat all the varied life forms in our island gardens.
Maybe if we learn that garden lesson, we will treat one another better. It is the essence of aloha.
Our New Year’s resolution can be to see the spark of good in all things and all people, even though we don’t necessarily like some of them.
My personal resolutions is to consciously do three good deeds a day. It might be picking up a hitchhiker or simply sharing a smile with someone who is homeless and living on the streets. If all else is too much, plant some trees.
It is worth a try anyway.