I think I started off in life by seeking an experience of noble feelings, epic emotions, deep sorrows and love. I ended up with something even better: I became a truth-seeker and a wisdom-lover. From this pursuit, I hope, I will be free from fear. Since truth will not change no matter how I feel, how I err, I can be assured that if truth is what I want, then it is inevitable that I shall get it, through whatever paths of stupidity I may invent.
My first encounter with Western culture struck me with its central theme of “fun”. The frequency with which this word is used in common language amazes me. Fun loving and fun seeking seem to comprise the core of this culture’s mentality. Fun is the center, the purpose, the praised achievement, the pride. “It is so much fun” is the highest compliment to the merit of anything. “He/she is so funny” is the highest compliment to a personality. Every effort should be for fun. Everything you do should be fun. Work is frowned upon among adults and early retirement is most people’s dream, much like learning is frowned upon among the young and indulgence is encouraged by their peers.
Fun is more the emphasis of Canadian characteristics than of other western nations. I remember my first public speaking course. When everyone was asked to pick a topic they were passionate about and give a talk on it, the three Canadians by birth each picked a hobby of their own such as kayaking, while I talked about the education of Summerhill, and a black student talked about the darkness of his Africa.
Canadians are concerned with how much pleasure they can derive from this limited life span. Their dreamy expressions when talking about traveling, camping, skating, rollerblading, skiing, hockey, snow-shoeing, birdwatching, whale-watching, sailing, surfing, rock-climbing, vacations, road trips, a show, a sports game, or an entertaining novel or movie confirm to me a hundred times a day what is considered the highest value in this culture: life enjoyment and personal entertainment. Anything deeper and heavier is not their favorite topic. Their planning revolves around evenings, vacations, retirement. For them, real life lies in fun activities; everything else is the price to pay for these fun activities and considered a necessary evil, such as work and chores. For all the drudgeries they endure at work and in life, they demand immediate pleasures for compensation. When they get such pleasures through whatever ways humans have invented, they consider themselves satisfied.
This inability to look beyond, or rather, the ability to not look beyond, never ceases to amaze me. Even if they don’t read history, they must know what is happening in other parts of the world. And even in Canada there is still much social injustice and absurdity.
The elevators in my apartment building have a monitor in each of them, showing commercials, movie trailers, daily tips, and trivial facts. A repeated tip for cleaning a dog’s tear stain almost drove me crazy. When there are people suffering from starvation or slaughter somewhere else on this tiny planet, it seems to me almost a crime to be concerned with your dog’s tear stain.
The unthinking crowd comprises the masses. They are the back and the bottom of this world: brainless, mindless, indifferent, driven by lower desires. You may try to yell, to kick, but they have not the ear to listen, and the skin is as thick as an elephant’s. You shall despair, if you want to make a difference in this soulless village.
Both media and education are dumbed down for the masses, to get market share. This continual dumbing down results in an even dumber next generation. The vicious circle goes on.
Canada’s short and peaceful history may be the root of this indifferent and self-content attitude. Lack of suffering makes a person and even a nation shallow and unsympathetic. Secondly, the rich natural resources and sparse population may be the reason for the light-heartedness. And finally, the poor and dependent economy contributes to the absence of ambition.
What I see is a nation willingly surrendering itself to mindless pleasures and nothing beyond. It is a nation that cannot produce a leader who can safely direct it to a future of choice. It surrenders its destiny to fate, to any unexpected turn of history. Such a nation consists of individuals who do not look beyond their life span and their immediate environment. Pleasure is both the means and the ends. Don’t talk about anything beyond, or they will hate you and call you preachy. It is a popular understanding that most people prefer to talk about anything but the meaning of life.
There is some merit in this culture. Over the years I have been partially assimilated into it. I have learned to appreciate its good cheer, its love of living. I have adopted its life-enjoying attitude. It is an antidote to the fun-denying, life-denying culture I came from. It is here, in this beautiful landscape, among these friendly people, that for the first time my life has become enjoyable.
However, the deepest part of me will never be assimilated. To divert me from a purposeful life is nearly impossible. After much suffering, I appreciate more yet value less the pleasures in life. They are not the essentials.