There was a study done about the biggest problems in urban middle schools. It was a study done with teachers in 1940 and then repeated in 1990 with a sample of teachers from the same schools. The list in 1940 was comprised of talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, getting out of turn in line, wearing improper clothing, not putting trash in baskets. Then for the list in 1990, the biggest school problems were drug and alcohol abuse, pregnancy, rape, robbery, assault, suicide. That only took 50 years. Now just let the implications of that sink in for a second.
It’s easy to get freaked out and say, “Isn’t that horrible?” But just for an experiment, let’s just look at it. It’s certainly a more intense climate than it used to be. I could do one of those lists and comparisons for practically every dimension of our lives. The amount of resources left, the rate at which fish are getting contaminated, the radioactivity that is entering the system of the planet through nuclear waste, increased number of homeless people, people who have fallen through the cracks of the social system, and so on.
What I experience is that the rate of intensity is exacerbated by the technology in our lives; the rate of ethical, social, and philosophical shifts that are occurring.
I mean, I have lived through the coming down of the Berlin wall, and the break of the Soviet Union, and the break of other ‘isms’. We haven’t gotten through capitalism, but we’re through communism, but life isn’t these ‘isms’, it’s human. I feel that you and I, in the remainder of our lives, face some profound changes. We face the potential of coming very close to chaos.
There was a time just a couple of generations ago, where the head of a company made five times what the lowest employee made, and everybody was comfortable. Now CEOs are making 95 times what the lowest person is making. This is the way in which individualism, out of balance, without a sense of identity within groups, or within a community, with these wonderful prefrontal lobes, started to run amuck.
No longer are we concerned with the seventh generation, so we are using up the resources of children and grandchildren at this moment. Now all this is the way it is, I’m not just giving interpretations. Some of you have spent your entire life creating a secure situation and now that very word, “secure”, is in jeopardy.
How stable are our lives? How stable is anybody’s life? What happens when stability is threatened is that people contract. If you’ve got an investment, and then it all starts to change, and you can’t quite stop it, and your team can’t stop it, you contract, your heart closes, you go up into your mind, and when you get into your mind, you cause a lot of trouble.
The mind, in the service of fear, causes the quality of the thinking to become about things, so it sees everything as an object. All people become “them,” and “they” must be dealt with in order to protect yourself.
I think one of the most powerful images I ever read was in Elie Wiesel’s book Night, in which he describes a moment in the concentration camp where his father is weak and about to die, and his father has a crust of bread, and he has been so loving and devoted to his father and at that moment, he has the thought of, “If he’d die, I’d get that crust of bread.” It so shattered his belief in his God, his spirit, that it colored everything for the rest of his life. He couldn’t handle what he considered to be the deepest evil of thought in himself. But it’s in human beings, it’s in all human beings.
We’ve all seen greed that has been so insensitive to the suffering it’s causing, and in part, we are party to it.
You and I are in training to find a place in ourselves, and in the way we live our lives, where we don’t freak out about changes to our dependent form of existence. A place where we don’t freak out in the presence of change or increasing chaos.
It’s gonna be at that moment of chaos, where those people who have some tiny degree of equanimity will be the thing around which we can coalesce in a stable shift that is healing, instead of one that ultimately ends in destruction.