“One of the problems that comes from being raised in a patriotic and chauvinistic culture like ours is that we are bred from birth to believe in our own superiority (italics added). It’s not only patriotism that instills this conviction. Our religions, our ethnic back grounds, our educational and cultural training, and the media advertising we are exposed to all teach us, sometimes, inadvertently, that we’re supposed to be better than the next guy…
…when we start to glimpse the possibility that we’re here for reasons other than owning a house on two acres and a four-wheel drive vehicle, we get the opportunity to take a look at our judgments and to see how they get in the way of our inner growth.”
~Elaine St. James, # 65. Stop Judging Others,
from Inner Simplicity: 100 Ways to Regain Peace and Nourish Your Soul, p. 148-149.
Best, better, worse, worst.
I get into friendly arguments about who the GOAT is. The Greatest of All Time. I say Tom Brady. Others claim Joe Montana or Peyton Manning or some other loser. I’m sure it’s Brady, but I might vote for Lenny Dawson, who took the K.C. Chiefs to a Superbowl win a couple of centuries ago. But that is because I lived just outside of Kansas City at the time. If I’d lived in Dallas I might say Troy Aikman was the best. In Green Bay, well there you have some choices.
Isn’t it amazing that we feel superior about something – our team, our religion, our state – that we adopted or was passed down to us just because we happened to be born in or live in a particular place? Or that others are less because we happen to be lucky enough to have more?
One thing I admire about many people who really are the best in their fields is that they seldom brag. They don’t need to tell the world how good they are and they are always talking about how they are working to get better, smarter, more skilled, more thoughtful, more contributing. They always talk about how talented and dedicated their team mates are, and are so respectful of those on a different side or path.
The best realize how far they’ve come but also just how much further they can go.
Sure, competition in every field – business, sports, innovation, getting a job – is one factor that can raise our game. And some qualities – I’d say kindness, sharing, and love others are a few – are “better” than others, and people can argue which ones are the “best”. And it’s admirable to work hard and earn success.
But when we believe that we are a better person – because we were born rich, have a BMW, went to a good school, have real experience instead of just book learning, and on and on and on – any quality that can make us feel that we are superior to someone else – haven’t we lost sight of what is really important?
Then we come to someone like John Woolman. In the mid-1700’s, Woolman was a successful tradesman and tailor. About that time, he “grew uneasy on account of my business growing too cumbersome” (p. 41). He was becoming too successful, with excellent prospects for growing larger, but at that time he “felt a stop in my mind” (p. 41).
He decided to reduce his business.
May I repeat that?
He decided to reduce his business.
How often do you hear about someone doing that? Usually, people are working 24-7 just to get “ahead” and it’s pretty easy to forget what we claim is most important along the way. Woolman, in contrast, saw poor people having to buy on credit and then giving up everything they owned when they couldn’t pay. He advised people to buy what they needed, and not just the most expensive.
As Thomas Kelly writes, “Woolman never let the demands of his business grow beyond his real needs. When too many customers came he sent them elsewhere, to more needy merchants and tailors” (p. 94).
Woolman could focus then on living a life of simplicity and doing what he felt was most important. A devout Quaker, he was an itinerant preacher and abolitionist. He cared for the poor and protested war.
In other words, he organized his life to be simple, humble, and worthy rather than to be simply rich, powerful, and burdened with the need to have more.
As Kelly says, “We Western peoples are apt to think our great problems are external, environmental. We are not skilled in the inner life, where the real roots of our problem lie” (p. 91).
In the end, don’t you think becoming “better” means becoming a better person, as we develop skills, dispositions, and habits which make us “better” people over time? It’s not, “I’m better than you, “ but “I’m a better person today than I was yesterday or last week or last year”.
Thinking about life that way presents a positive correlation – the deeper our inner life, the more humble we become. The more humble, the more integrated and substantive our inner life.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to feel that rich inside ourselves?
As Frederick Tolles writes in the introduction to Woolman’s journal, “The metaphor of love as a clear stream circulating through all creation was integral to the fabric of his life and thought: and the crystal purity, the functional simplicity, of his style was the mirror of his spirit” (pp. XI-XII).
Kelly, T. R. (1996). A testament of devotion. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
St. James, E. (1995). Inner simplicity: 100 ways to regain peace and nourish your soul (1st ed.). New York: Hyperion.
Woolman, J. (1961). The journal of John Woolman, and A plea for the poor. New York,: Corinth Books.
For more about profound living, check out http://www.profoundliving.live.