So many of our important questions require the willingness to be boldly honest about what really matters to us. Honesty is essential when we consider how we can be satisfied with the way we influence the world around us, or how to connect our passions with creating greater wholeness, or how to get what we most deeply want and need by creating less suffering and greater well-being.
Often we filter what we care about most deeply through an "acceptability test," deciding whether what we want sounds acceptable to other people. The criteria of what we think might be acceptable varies from person to person, and are often based on belief systems that were imposed on us. Whatever the criteria, though, this kind of filtering keeps us from honestly expressing what we most deeply want, which means that we have very little chance of connecting what we care about to creating wholeness in our lives and the world around us.
One filter I often hear people using is whether something appears in a particular religious text or is endorsed by a religious community. "Feeding the hungry is highly regarded by my faith community, and my 'scripture' considers it laudable, so it seems safe for me to really care about feeding the hungry." This is fine if your actual passion is ensuring that everyone has enough food, but the filter isn't necessary. If you really care about feeding people, you don't need the endorsement of a religious text or community to live into that passion for the hungry. Moreover, some religious communities decide that only certain hungry people are worth feeding, or they decide that feeding the hungry is a means to an end of promoting their particular set of myths. This turns hungry people into targets for proselytization and makes them the victims of the people doing the feeding. It isn't really caring to insist that hungry people listen to your beliefs -- or worse, profess to agree with your beliefs -- before they receive the food they need.
There's another problem with allowing a religious text or community to be a filter through which you judge what you care about. You may care about transgender people, and yet your religious text says nothing about transgender people (although people in your religious community will probably find ways to interpret your religious text so that it seems to). People in many religious communities are opposed to the existence of transgender people. So your personal reasons for caring about a marginalized group of people -- who have an acute need for acceptance and care -- are potentially trumped by outdated and fear-driven religious beliefs. If you just told the truth that you care about something -- or a group of people -- very deeply, it would be much easier to see how that care can lead to creating greater wholeness and well-being.
Religions with exclusive beliefs (i.e., you have to believe what we believe in order to go to heaven, or be a good person, or exist) are by definition anti-equality. If a group of people believes that their group deserves special treatment, in real life or in an imaginary afterlife, they cannot simultaneously believe in equality. This is why religious people often seem threatened by demands for equal treatment by marginalized people: Equality for all means the loss of religious privilege, which in the U. S. means Christian privilege. One cannot truly create wholeness in the world and cling to an exclusivist belief system that withholds compassion and care from people who believe something different. If you are honest about what you care about most deeply, you have a better chance of seeing how it connects with creating wholeness in the world.
Why am I being so anti-religious? Why can't I just write about being honest about how our deepest values connect to creating wholeness? Because it's a real challenge to be honest about what you care about most deeply when so many loud religious voices call equality evil. It's a real challenge to be honest about creating wholeness when so many loud religious voices promote an idea of inherent brokenness. It's a real challenge to be honest about what you value when so many loud religious voices are shouting about what you should value, based on their own strangely-filtered view of the world. Being honest about what you care about isn't always easy, but it is essential to being satisfied with how you influence the world around you.
Some people run into another challenge when they start being honest about what really matters to them, though. Their first honest statements might be fueled by fears they've been carrying around about themselves or other people, and what they think they care about is an expression of that anxiety. Perhaps you think that what you care about most is just that your child gets a good education and a decent job. Or perhaps you think that what you care about most is that the property value of your home stays high, so you think you're against certain kinds of people moving into your neighborhood. Or perhaps you think that what you care about most is proselytizing to everybody you meet so that they have a chance to believe what you believe about imaginary things.
It helps to spend enough time asking yourself why you care about what you think you care about in order to get to the most solid foundation. Sometimes it even helps for someone else to be able to ask you why you care about what you think you care about. When what you care about seems not to be life-affirming, you can ask yourself what you're afraid of, work to dismantle irrational fears, and dig deeper to get to what really matters most to you.
Things like the well-being of your child involve a lot more than selfishly working to make sure they get a better shot at a high-paying career than anybody else's child does. It doesn't create wholeness in anyone's life just to be handed unearned opportunities that they aren't actually prepared to engage responsibly. In fact, fostering authentic well-being in your child's life involves fostering well-being in other people's lives too. Unless you home school your children, groom them to run a family business, and never allow them to meet anyone outside of your isolated community (which may not be a recipe for wholeness), well-being for your children involves well-being in the places where your children learn and play. Caring about your child's well-being ultimately means caring about a neighborhood, or a school, or some environment outside of your family. That doesn't mean that you have to start a non-profit or quit your job to become a full-time volunteer. It just means that you live into your values with a clear sense of connection to the larger world around you.
So, asking why is a powerful tool to help reveal your honest answers as fears or as deep life-affirming values:
I care most deeply about proselytizing to everyone I meet so they can believe in Jesus and go to heaven.
Because if they don't believe in Jesus, they'll go to hell.
That sounds like a fear.
I mean, because I feel loved and accepted by Jesus and I want other people to feel that too.
So, what you want is for people to feel loved and accepted. Is proselytizing the best way to do that? Or is there an even better way to live into your desire for people to feel loved and accepted?
Maybe you have to ask why several times before you get to something juicy. When you come across a fear, you'll know it because it will not lead to greater well-being for the greatest number of people. Fears may have an Us vs Them component, and fears often crop up when we start thinking outside our comfort zone. Life-affirming values inspire us toward greater wholeness in our own lives and in the lives of people around us. They often allow us to see situations as both/and rather than either/or. The things we care about most deeply may call us toward something bigger than what we can accomplish on our own with our current resources. Or they may simply call us to do exactly what we're already doing, with a different attitude.
Whatever our deepest life-affirming values may be, if we want to connect them to how we can create greater well-being in our lives and in the world around us, we have to be boldly honest about what they are. We have to be able to say out loud to other people, "This is what I care about most deeply." And in order for us to do that, we have to figure it out ourselves, and that can take a bit of work. Many of us are so used to coasting along without giving a lot of thought to where we're headed, the prospect of even having a vision for what we want to create in our lives seems utterly foreign. It's alright to try a few things on before you settle into what really matters most to you.
Next time, we'll explore another challenge to being boldly honest about what you really care about. For now, try a little bold honesty yourself and see what happens.