Friday, January 12, 2018

Personal and Public Ikigai in the United States

What drives you?

This concept of ikigai (translated as “life-value”) has been on my mind recently. It can be thought of as one’s reason to get up in the morning. It’s where we find value and purpose. It can be expressed visually in the diagram here, produced by the Toronto Star. Right at the center of 4 key concepts lies our ikigai.

That which you are good at.
That which you love.
That which the world needs.
That which you can get paid for.

I’d like to consider how I think our own culture embraces this idea and ways it does not...yet.

That which you are good at.

Do we DO what we WANT to do or what we think we SHOULD do? My oldest sister passed away recently. At face value, she didn’t have much. She relied on social services and eked out a living many others would find difficult. However, she was very content with her decisions and I am so glad and grateful to learn this.

She raised her son, encouraging him to explore and get messy at times. She worked with and taught children for a number of years, focusing on the children’s interests and abilities and sharing her own style. She designed and worked in elaborate Halloween displays that many enjoyed. Later, she found value in volunteering at her nursing home. She built things. She helped other residents. She befriended many people over her 69 year lifetime, letting her spirit be what it wanted to be. It was a beautiful thing. People will remember her, for sure.

That which you love.

I absolutely love to write. I’ve been focused almost exclusively on nonfiction essays for the last couple of years, but I have many stories in my mind that I play around with when I have time. Writing this blog has been scary but so enjoyable. Talking with people about writing ideas and researching possible topics have eaten up many enjoyable hours. It has all allowed me to grow in terms of knowing myself and understanding the world more clearly. I feel driven to share my discoveries and remaining questions. I am so glad and grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to do and feel this.

There’s the rub. How many people have this kind of opportunity? Many people are forced to operate with only one goal: survival. Why? We need to consider what our systems encourage.

That which the world needs.

Do we feel safe enough and encouraged to do what the world needs? The recent scandal involving youtuber Logan Paul’s disgusting choices of behavior while in Japan demonstrate a response to what the world WANTS. He did what he did because he’s been trained to get paid for his destructive behaviors. There are many other examples today.

The world needs small-town people like my sister. We also need big-picture inspirers. The world needs risk-takers and connectors. It needs spirits that question and pose challenges to do and be more. It needs positive, perhaps offbeat humor and humble caring. Do we encourage these types of behavior? I don’t think so. Many want to cling to the status quo. Many are scared to stand out. Many cluster in homogeneous groups, finding the safety of anonymity a better choice than trying to do or be something else.

The Logan Paul example leads to the last part of ikigai. Along with seeking to behave in ways the world needs, we as a group must also financially incentivize what the world needs, not what it wants.

That which you can get paid for.

The unemployment rate may be really low, but when an announcement by Walmart boosting they will raise their base pay to $11 an hour is followed immediately by news that their subsidiary, Sam’s Clubs, is closing several stores, one is left wondering about the worth of that statistic. As reported January 11 in the Patch article Sam's Club Abruptly Close Wisconsin Stores, “After a thorough review of our existing portfolio, we've decided to close a series of clubs and better align our locations with our strategy." This appears to be another example of a corporation adjusting their strategies to maximize profits, despite the billions of tax cuts (on top of billions of earnings previously reported) they have just received from the current administration.

Capitalism does not need to be like this. Even some millionaires have stated they want things to be different, as reported by The Hill in November 2017. Corporations are products of people’s work. If the people work from a mindset of moderation and for the benefit of all customers (fellow people), laws and behaviors will evolve accordingly.

This concept of life-value is already deeply ingrained in our world.

The United States Declaration of Independence describes 3 inalienable rights (rights we are unable to give up, even if we’d want to). Today, we have advanced enough (or should have) so that document’s definition of “Man” now truly includes EVERYONE. Not surprisingly, all of these rights support this notion of ikigai, or life-value:

Life: That which you can get paid for. That which the world needs.
Liberty: That which you are good at. That which the world needs.
The Pursuit of Happiness: That which you love. That which the world needs.

Please note that the ikigai concept of “That which the world needs” applies to all 3 parts of our inalienable rights. Why? Because we have both a personal and public side to our 3 rights. For example, if I love to write, I have an obligation to the world to write something that will help and not harm the world.

We ALL have the right to have a life we value and which is valued by a bigger whole. If we can get closer to living the 4 statements I started this essay with, it is possible for more and more people. I repeat: it’s hard, but not impossible. We must ask ourselves what are steps we can take today and moving forward to help us get there.

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