On one of my social media feeds, a man I’ve met only briefly but who I hold in high regard posted (paraphrased): “In a cosmic sense, man isn’t far above the cockroach and we might do well to remember that.” Another comment was made that there is a distinct difference between those who recognize that and those who don’t. I put forth the comment that even though the original statement might be entirely true, that didn’t reduce the fact that cockroaches still strive to live and survive. A short while later the whole post was taken down and I was left wondering what I had said wrong… or if my comment had perhaps made the person who posted it think about his statement.
Upon further consideration of the man who posted it and the outlook espoused, I began to ponder the differences in values, our ages, etc. It occurred to me that I know several people who, during their “work years” – those years between 25-55 years of age, held or operated on values that focused on reality: the needs of life, self-respect, accomplishing goals, etc. But then when they got to retirement age (or close to it), their values seem to change a bit but it’s difficult to articulate what they change to. They become more spiritual?
Using the example of one man I know, he spent the years immediately after high school in the Army. After he completed a stint of service in the Army he entered a county police force and spent 25 years as a police officer, serving and protecting. He surely saw some of the ugliest side of our society. During those years his values focused on his work ethic, the morality of his actions on the job, his duty to provide for his family, and the importance of self-reliance – as much as is possible in today’s society. Then he reached retirement and became, for lack of a better word, a hippy. He embraced travel, a focus on appreciating the beauty of the world around us, charity and generally enjoying life.
The interesting change was the difference between his outlook about discipline between when he was working and after he’d retired. For a great deal of his life, all that spent in uniform, he clearly valued the need for discipline and the structure that it provided. He not only disciplined himself but also expected and appreciated the discipline others imposed upon themselves. After he retired he seemed to almost completely dismiss any need for discipline and did completely dismiss the thought that anyone else should ever discipline themselves. Live and let live… no matter what that entailed seemed to be his new outlook.
Now, keep in mind: I’m not talking about “discipline” as in strict military structure, corporal punishment, a complete lack of compassion, etc. I’m talking about discipline as in getting up at the necessary time to prepare yourself to get to work on time; performing your job function to the best of your ability; treating people with courtesy (as much as possible) and respect (when earned); paying your bills, etc. I mean “discipline” as in simply living your life in a responsible fashion, meeting your commitments and generally obeying the laws of the land (I say “generally” because everyone I know bends traffic laws, so none of us is perfect).
With the man’s change in outlook from one of relative discipline to an almost complete lack of it and the attached complete lack of expectation of it from others, the explanation for the change was twofold: First, no explanation was necessary. His change of outlook was no one’s business but his own, and… Second, life was too short to focus on the unimportant stuff. He intended to spend the remainder of his life focused on the beauty around him and not stress all the trivial things so much of society worries about. You know, things like tax rates, civil rights, politics, government, education, etc.
It dawned on me that the cockroach doesn’t worry about any such things. It worries about finding food, procreating (however cockroaches do that) and then, completely unaware of its own mortality, dying. The cockroach’s lack of awareness, however, doesn’t change its circumstance in any way. The cockroach can’t appreciate the beauty around it, the ugliness, its blessings, lack thereof, or potential for impacting those around it.
Man can. We are far more aware than the cockroach and while that might bring with it an unrealistic sense of self as compared to the cosmos it also brings with it the need to feel satisfied in our basic needs and, if we have any sense of initiative or are goal driven, a sense of accomplishment. That sense of self-accomplishment could be viewed as arrogance if you look at it from the cosmic perspective. On the other hand, the hunger of a single individual or even of a whole society could be viewed as quite trivial when viewed from the cosmic perspective.
My point is this: different people have different values. Even the same person at different times in their life, depending on their education, background, culture and more, has different values. What I valued at the age of 22 is far different from what I value now in my 50s. What I value now as compared to what I’ll value in my 70s, 80s or 90s may change, but I pray one thing: I hope my values never evolve to the point where I am dismissive of my own opinion, the informed opinion of others, or the value of life “on the cosmic scale.” I don’t ever want to stop taking life seriously and I certainly don’t want to trivialize meaningful and important events that occur each day.
Does this outlook ad potential stress to my day? Yes, absolutely, and most of my friends will readily tell you how much I avoid or manage my stress. Still, to me, there’s a minimum level of concern an adult should hold and show if they are going to remain viable and valuable in today’s society. To me, when you look around and see nothing that is of any concern to you; when you’ve reached that spiritual plain of existence wherein nothing physical matters and your only concern, 100%, is what comes next, then you’ve attained that point of dismissing life and welcoming death.
Yes, I hope that one day I can meet death as a welcome friend who will escort me to my next realm… but I don’t ever want to stop appreciating life and participating in it actively.