Friday, October 24, 2014

Embracing Simplicity

"A Single Blossom"

The other day I heard a very interesting report about the growing phenomenon of young Americans and Canadians who have converted to Islam and are now attempting to go to the Middle East and join radical militant organizations like ISIS. The report suggested that most of these so-called "Muslim converts" are actually not all that interested in Islam; rather, they convert and want to join up with fanatics like ISIS because their own even lives are so dull and unappealing.  They want more excitement in life. They are kids who have ben labelled "losers," and so they want more recognition and respect even if they are recognized and singled out because they have become vicious terrorists.

This story made me think about how the only people who seem to be recognized nowadays are either the heroes or the terrorists. We turn on the news and we hear all about the hero-policeman, the hero- firefighter, the hero-doctor putting his life on the line by treating Ebola patents in West Africa.  The others who are featured on the evening news are people like the young man in Canada who shot a soldier and then terrorized the Canadian parliament. Interestingly enough, people who knew this shooter said that he was always kind of a "nerdy" kid - a nerdy kid who had just converted to Islam and was on his way to Syria to join up with a militant group there.

Most people are not going to become terrorists today because they feel as if their life is stagnant and has reached a dead-end; however, in an age of "hero worship," I think there are probably lots of people who feel their life is far too ordinary. They feel "stuck in a rut,"sick of the daily routine, bored with what they are doing - certainly not the kind of people who will ever "show up" on an evening news report..

Several years ago, we attended our eldest son's college graduation ceremony, and I heard what was undoubtedly the finest commencement address I have ever heard in my life. The now-deceased chaplain of Harvard University, Dr. Peter Gomes, was the speaker that day as we all sat in an open-air stadium huddling under umbrellas as a light rain fell. 

In his speech, Dr. Gomes observed that colleges and universities from all across America  were gathering for similar graduation ceremonies on that day. He went on to surmise that in all likelihood the graduating classes were being told about their future greatness, how possibly a future doctor who will find a cure for cancer or maybe a future President of the United States might be sitting there among the graduates. Speakers everywhere were probably telling graduating seniors that the world out there is waiting with great anticipation for what you will bring to it. 

Gomes then went on, "What I want to say to you today is  'get real.' The truth is no one is out there waiting for you with bated breath, and I very much doubt any of you will find the cure for cancer or become president some day. You will all go on to lead pretty ordinary lives, to love and raise a family, put your kids through school, get up and go to work. Sometimes the sun will shine on you, at other times the rain will fall just like it is falling on us here today."

Dr. Gomes concluded by saying, "So go out from here and lead wonderfully ordinary lives, doing whatever you can to leave this world a little better than you found it." 

The stadium erupted in a prolonged standing ovation. 

The ancient Taoist, Lao Tzu offered this sage piece of advice for finding true happiness in everyday ordinary living.

Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity, 
reduce selfishness, have few desires.

You don't have to be featured on a news report to live a full, fruitful and productive life. The true hero is the unsung hero - all of us ordinary people doing our best each day, hoping that what we do might just leave this world a little better place than we found it. 

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