One often hears among the criticisms of modern culture that people, particularly the younger members of society, impatiently expect quick results; e.g. people more readily go into debt in order to have the trappings of the good life instead of saving up for them or the demand for medicines to deal with medical problems rather than do what is required to eliminate them or take shortcuts which sacrifice quality for speed or choose to eat fast food rather than cook or forsake test cricket for the one-day or 20/20 versions, etc.
This tendency to demand quick fixes gives rise to all sorts of problems, both short term and long term, but nowhere are the effects so severe as when it affects how we treat others. In the first place, placing a premium on immediate gratification is very self-focussed. We selfishly want our desires met NOW. If others have to pay for our self-gratification, now and in the future, so be it; although to be fair, most people never give a thought to the cost to others.
Of course, if we are going to follow Jesus, the prime directive is to put others first: “Love God and love your neighbour as yourself”, and according to Jesus, even your enemy counts as the ‘neighbour’ whom one must love. Yet we have a world full of problems that have arisen because the opposite has been the norm by which most people function. Let’s look at a few of them.
Terrorism has been a particular feature of the evening news in this millennium, yet the basic cause of terrorism is well-known. When people are oppressed, deprived, forced to the bottom of the pack, made victims of prejudice and rendered powerless to do anything about it through normal channels, sometimes the only choice left open to them is violent rebellion. Karl Marx considered revolution inevitable in such circumstances, and while this has not proven to be absolutely inevitable, every example of terrorism today seems to go back to an oppressed people. Instead of addressing the source of the problem that motivates the terrorist activity, not only to we label them as ‘enemy’, we fail to follow Jesus command to love them, choosing to kill them instead. This is a strategy for short term victory, but long term disaster. The collective failure to love the other almost always comes back to bite future generations.
We have gaols full of people paying their ‘dues to society’ for crimes committed, but when one looks at why those crimes were committed, it is often goes back to deprivations in the lives of the criminals, a result of a society in which some people are denied an equal chance at life. Punishment – the quick fix – is preferred to the structural changes to society needed to eliminate much of the ‘need’ for criminality, and provision of the resources required to allow the criminals the options of reform and restitution.
Drugs and alcohol daily wreck lives in one way or another. Instead of directing resources to deal with the causes of substance abuse, our society is preoccupied with criminalising the production, sale and use of drugs and taxing alcohol, i.e. treating the symptoms rather than getting to the reasons people turn to such substances in the first place.
To see a blatant example of people wanting to hold on to what they have, one only has to look to concerns of ‘border security’ in the U.S., Europe and Australia. Rather than deal compassionately with the tide of desperate and hurting humanity wanting nothing more than a safe home, we focus on ways of keeping them out, just because it is easier. Forget the mountains of data that shows that, in the long term, new arrivals add more to the nation than they take; forget the sad history of ‘border protection’ as it has been exercised in Iron Curtain countries and, more recently, Israel, we, selfishly, just want a quick fix. There is nothing more inimical to the gospel proclaimed by Jesus, and nothing more calculated to cause unrest for future generations.
These are only a few of the ongoing problems that have stemmed from lack of concern for the other, and the failure of long-term vision to be given priority over short-term quick fixes. Of course, the nature of democracy doesn’t help. Oh, for a government that can see beyond the next election!
The solutions to what appear to be insoluble human problems are inherent in the teachings of Jesus, Buddha and other enlightened individuals. In fact, for the most part, they are all corollaries of a single human problem: the inability or refusal of human beings to look beyond their own concerns to the good of the other; the demand for satisfaction of one’s own desires regardless of the cost to another person. As St. Paul said, the whole of creation is groaning in travail waiting for human beings to grow up.