By and large, industrialized societies enjoy a high standard of living. We take it for granted that since we are enjoying a high standard of living, we are also enjoying a high quality of life. Yet despite the high standard of living, many people feel far from fulfilled. There is exhaustion and frustration.
One reason is that we have been asking too many questions of one kind, and too few of another kind. Our knowledge of the laws of nature has progressed phenomenally. Yet there is uncertainty and disorientation in the realm of life, both in private and public.
People take it for granted that, as time passes, life gets better and better. Many are convinced that we have progressed far beyond our predecessors. Technology has progressed far beyond what was known even in the relatively recent past. Yet is our faith in the healing powers of technology justified?
Economic progress has contributed significantly to the higher standard of living; it also resulted in a degradation of the environment. In many parts of the world, population continues to increase rapidly, putting additional strain on the already thinly stretched resources of the affected countries.
The degradation of the environment has reduced the quality of life. Air pollution has become one of the leading causes of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases in many urban areas. The contamination of food by organic and inorganic substances has increased the risk to health from food sources. The contamination of seas, rivers, and lakes goes on unabated in many parts of the world. Noise pollution has increased the stress levels of those exposed to it.
Modern science and technology have provided us with methods of mass production. Do we have the wisdom to use the power of technology in ways that enhance humanity rather than in ways that destroy it?
Many of our daily activities are regulated down to the minutest detail. This includes moving from place to place, performing the tasks on a job, or going for a swim in a public park.
The rationale for having a large number of rules is that without regulations there would be chaos, threats to public safety, and a lower quality of life. The question, however, is whether we have not taken regulating people’s activities too far. How many decisions are now made for people by the business sector or the government? And what is the effect of all these restrictions on individual initiative, on enterprise, on the human spirit?
Marriages are unstable. Divorce is widespread. Various forms of abuse abound. Communities are threatened in many ways.
It is happening because in our rush to advance technology and economic growth, we have neglected the most important knowledge of all, the knowledge of life.
Many people and indeed entire nations are deeply in debt. The crushing burden of interest does not permit them to excape from the debt trap.
Friendships are precarious. People are having a hard time making and keeping friends. A few have never learned how to do it in the first place. Somewhere along the line they have been deprived of the opportunity to learn this essential social skill. Even those who were lucky enough to have learned something about making friends are having a difficult time keeping them.
Is it surprising that so many people feel alone? How many people are out there whose only steady companion is a newspaper, a book, or a television set?
Some try to make themselves feel better by taking drugs. The increasing use of anti-depressants and other drugs is an indication of this. People take drugs, both legal and illegal, for the same reason they take alcohol: in the belief that stimulating substances will raise their spirits or morale.
As a result of this “lifestyle,” many people now experience burnout. What is “burnout” and why does it happen to people? Burnout is a depletion of energy and vitality: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Your batteries run down and it feels like it. It’s very difficult to carry on in such a dreadful condition.
People burn out for many reasons. They do not realize just how taxing on their resources certain activities are. If the amount of energy discharged during periods of work is greater than the amount of energy recovered during periods of rest, it is just a matter of time before people burn out. The greater is the gap between energy spent and energy gained each day, the faster a person will burn out. The great danger of burnout is that it happens imperceptibly, and that it can be very hard to recover from.
Another reason why people burn out is personal attachments. Sometimes people put their trust in the wrong person and they get disappointed. There are not many experiences that exhaust and demoralize people more quickly than a relationship that goes sour. Breaking up is, indeed, hard to do. When a friendship disintegrates, the toll, emotional and financial, can be very high indeed.
We need to think about how we have re-engineered society and our selves, about what we are doing and where we are heading. Put everything on the table and examine it with a critical eye: our habits, presuppositions, goals and priorities. We must ask questions, many questions, especially ‘why’ questions.