As I’ve mentioned before, my dad was terminally ill most of his adult life. He didn’t have his kidneys so had to dialyze three times a week for over twenty years. If you had asked him what he wanted most in life he would’ve likely said to be healthy. Or being healthy would’ve certainly been on his top five. That’s because for him something that most of us take for granted was front and center in his daily experience.
This year has centered a few things for me that I don’t normally even consider.
For the last five years or so I’ve had a list up next to my desk wherever it was that I was living at the time that said, “What Do I Value.” It was a guide of sorts to how to make decisions about which paths to take.
The original version of the list was: Family, Friends, Financial Security, Health/Access to Outdoors, Mental Challenge, Peace/Comfort, and Natural Beauty.
It meant that if I were offered an opportunity to make a lot of money I might turn it down if it took me away from time with family or to a place where I didn’t think I could be healthy and get outside on a regular basis. (In other words, I ain’t moving to New York City anytime soon.)
The revised list reflects my experiences in following that priority list for a few years. Financial stability moved up a few spots. (Spend a year building up debt instead of paying it down and you remember that paying your bills on a regular basis is a nice thing to do.)
But what’s interesting to me now is what I didn’t even think to include on that list because I simply assumed it would be there. And that’s physical security and social stability.
I have the life I have because I live in a country where I am physically safe 99.9% of the time. No one (let’s hope) is going to bust down my door and steal what I have or kidnap me for ransom anytime soon.
Why? Because I live in a safe environment with the rule of law protecting me even when no one is around to enforce it. And I have steady access to food, electricity, internet, and water because I live in a country where social stability allows for these things to be readily available and affordable.
For many people around the world that’s not the case. They’ve lived their entire lives without physical security or social stability. Or any of the basic comforts that I take for granted living where I do. Their list of what they value or want in life would be very different from mine.
It’s easy for someone like me to assume that things will continue to be at least as good as they are right now and to only think of what more I can have or achieve, but that’s not always how it works.
So much of what I have today requires the ongoing support of thousands if not millions of other people working together to create that stable society. Functioning roads, electricity, water, internet, food, a stable currency, safe neighborhoods, etc. None of it exists without the cooperation and effort of millions. I get to spend my days writing for a living because someone out there is willing to spend their time growing food and someone else is willing to spend their time maintaining the electrical grid.
Now, being the paranoid sort of person I am, I’ve always sort of carried around this notion that the only reason I’m not dead is because no one out there cares enough to want me dead. (I’m weird, what can I say?) So it’s not like this was some big awakening for me that I’m vulnerable.
But I will say that this year I’m finally feeling nervous about how the bigger forces at work in my country will impact me and all those millions who’ve helped create this world we live in today. So with that shift in perspective I’ve added three new items to my list: physical security, social stability, and independence/health.
They’re far more out of my control than I’d like them to be. But not entirely. And at least now they’re on my radar so I can make choices that take them into account.