“Without values there is confusion and chaos. When values disintegrate, everything disintegrates. Health disintegrates, poverty attains dominance over affluence, societies and civilisations crumble. When we pay attention to these values that society has always held sacred, then order emerges out of chaos, and the field of pure potentiality inside us becomes all-powerful, creating anything it desires” (Deepak Chopra)
Hyrum W Smith, author of “What Matters Most”, introduces his thesis of the power of living your values by relating the story of Mount St Helens, the volcano that erupted in 1980 with devastating force in Washington State. Dormant for thousands of years, the mountain started to give off signals that it was alive, but not feeling very well. It began to emit gas and steam from its cratered top and rumbling from deep in its core. In February 1980, a bulge began to grow on the north-eastern slope of the mountain – the bulge developed at about three meters per day and by May 1980, the bulge had expanded by 130 meters. Understanding the potential for a cataclysmic event, the governor of Washington issued an executive order requiring those who lived within a thirty-two kilometres radius of the base of the mountain to immediately evacuate the area. Most did, but a hundred or so who didn’t ended up paying for their resistance to move with their lives. On 18th May, Mount St Helens blew up – it didn’t just erupt, it exploded with such force that it lifted four cubic kilometres of earth over 18 000 meters into the air, turning it into burnt sulphur and ash in the process. In an instant, the mountain lost the top one-third of its height. Thousands of acres of trees were blown down and incinerated by the force of the heat and the winds that were generated. Southern Washington’s landscape had been changed forever.
Smith parallels the Mount St Helens episode to our far different world than the one that existed only a few years ago, saying: “It seems that more and more people have lost the compass that had guided them previously. I’m talking about the basic assumptions and deeply held inner values that were at the foundation of society throughout the ages. I’m talking about fundamental values such as respect for human life and for each other, and the necessity of cooperating and working together harmoniously for the common good. Because of the increasing tendencies towards selfishness, survival-of-the-fittest and might-makes-right attitudes, loss of reverence for human life, and the obsession with self-gratification, our world seems to be experiencing a Mount St Helens bulge that could blow up with catastrophic results at any time”.
Smith goes on: “The bedrock human values and assumptions in existence at the dawn of civilisation formed the foundation from which humankind drew its best instincts and produced its greatest accomplishments. Those bedrock values exist deep within every member of the human race, and when any one of us gets in touch with those values, we find fulfilment in life – fulfilment that transcends the baser motivations sometimes exhibited by humankind”.
Humankind needs to get back to the values that initially guided people in the beginning. Values affect behaviour and modify attitudes. Values that are practised have a contributing effect on life’s quality and the wellbeing of others. Values curb selfishness and engender kindness. Values uphold the dignity of the human being and result in showing respect. A bedrock of values engenders an understanding of human fragility motivating compassion and care.
Our world is on the brink of a values meltdown – a situation where there is no moral compass to guide relationships, behaviour, or conscience. Such a meltdown will end in disaster as the base evil of the human condition triumphs over anything that is right or pure. It needn’t be so. We all need to ban selfishness and self-centredness and get back to the bedrock of time-proven principle-centred values to bring change and freedom to our world. As G K Chesterton so beautifully writes:
“How much larger your life would be if yourself were smaller in it; if you could really look at others with common curiosity and pleasure… You would begin to be interested in them… You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played and you would find yourself under a freer sky, and in a street full of splendid strangers”.