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Our Values Produce Our Life Goals

Live Youthfully Now front cover

Live Youthfully Now

Russell A. Kemp

Chapter 12
Our Values Produce Our Life Goals

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In an earlier period of education in this country, school readers were sure to contain material designed to give the child knowledge of what his elders considered the most valuable and worthwhile things in life, and how to choose them. Take, for instance, Benjamin Franklin’s story about the whistle, which stressed the idea of getting full value for one’s money.

When he was only seven, with money in his pocket just given to him by relatives, Ben heard the sound of another boy’s whistle. Eager to own one, he gave all the coins in his pocket to a shopkeeper for a similar whistle, without even asking its price. He then went proudly home, to show his family what a prize he had for the money.

The family’s reaction was prompt. His brothers and sisters and cousins told him he had given four times as much for the whistle as it was worth. They told him what good things he might have had for the rest of the money, and laughed at him so much for his foolishness that at length he cried with chagrin. Thoughts of what he might have bought pained him more than the pleasure he derived from the whistle.

Humiliating as it was at the time, this experience paid dividends as a valuable form of education, since it played a prominent part in establishing Franklin’s scale of values. He constantly referred to it in later life; he tells us that many times he kept himself from extravagance by saying, “Now, Ben, don’t pay too much for your whistle again!”

From this one incident, Franklin gradually established a scale of values by which he judged the worth of the things most people spend their lives in attaining. Many, many people, he concluded, gave too much for their whistles. He watched his contemporaries seeking favor at court, sacrificing even their friends to attain it, others ruining their business in attaining popularity, some sacrificing everything to accumulate money, and said silently, “You are all paying too much for your whistles.”

Finally, as he says in his letter to Madame Brillon, he concluded that most of mankind’s miseries were inflicted on them by false estimates they had made of the value of things, hence, “by giving too much for their whistles.” They had not educated themselves, as he had, in the art of judging values.

What better gauge of education could there be than the value scale it gives to the student? What sort of a “whistle” is his life going to pay for? Is he going to invest his energy, his time, and his precious years in such perishable things as pleasure, thrills, games, or entertainment? Or is he going in for money, a big car, a fashionable address? Will he sacrifice his health for pleasure, or for advancement in business? Will he sell his honesty and integrity for easy money? Will he drop out of school and take the first job offered at unskilled labor because he values education lightly in comparison with having money of his own? The answers to these questions, and many more, all depend on the value scale the student has been able to establish during his formative years.

Once established, a value scale is hard to change. Perhaps this is one reason why most religions complain that it is so difficult to change people for the better. We do not really change people; we change the values, the ideas they hold and to which they voluntarily or involuntarily submit every judgment, every decision. “What’s in it for me?” speaks of a value scale accustomed to very small measurements, and magnetized around self-interest. The holder of such a value scale thinks that he is shrewd, that he is “looking after Number One,” as the saying is.

But it is not always shrewd to consider one’s own convenience, one’s own comfort, when there is a call to service, or an opportunity to give of oneself in some way. A newspaper recently carried a story which might have come from an old McGuffey Reader: A woman died, and cut off her nephew, her only heir, with one dollar in her will. She left a total fortune of $957,868 elsewhere. Why? Because when he was a boy her nephew, to quote the newspaper account, “refused to shovel snow, carry out the rubbish barrels, or help her in any way.” His value scale evidently led him to refuse to do what his aunt requested, something she evidently considered he should have been glad to do. He lost a fortune as a result.

One could collect many such examples. In a Canadian bank, an old ragpicker was more or less shunned by employees when he came in for his small transactions. No one wanted to look after him, so the manager of the bank always took care of him personally. When the old ragpicker died, it was discovered that he had an estate of fifteen thousand dollars, which he left to the manager. No one suspected that he had that much property. He appeared to be quite poor.

It was only an innate kindness that led the bank official to look after the old ragpicker. He did not want to have the man’s feelings hurt. But wasn’t this an expression of the official’s scale of values? Did he not, wittingly or unwittingly, by his actions show that he valued people for their humanity, and not for their rank on the social scale or their personal appearance?

Like meditation, the wise selection of values by which one lives is a science and also an art. As a rule we select our values or form our scale of values almost unconsciously. Inherited mental attitudes, accepted social standards of our group, prejudices characteristic of our race (acquired or instinctive), all these usually cause us to form our value scale, and then we conform our thinking and our way of living to these standards, without in the least realizing that we are doing so.

But for the one who sets out to practice meditation with any degree of dedication or persistence, such blind and unthinking conformity is no longer possible. He will be touching, tentatively at least, the ancient wisdom that has animated all independent thinkers and spiritual pioneers since history has been recorded. New and startling ideas will occur to him. He will see himself and the values by which he really lives in a new light. He will begin to question them. And he will also look frequently and questioningly, perhaps take what is called “a long, hard look,” at the values most generally prized in the society of which he is a part.

This is inevitable. He is opening his mind to instant education through intuitive perception. His dominant thinking must be changed. His values must change. He must change. The change will not be dramatic, perhaps, but it will be lasting. It will be the result of real education, inner education if you will, which is the only kind that really counts.

Perhaps the present rebellion on the part of young students is an instinctive reaction to the forced feeding of facts and the cramming of memorized knowledge that has been dominant in our educational system. They want the slower but more lasting method of thinking for themselves, which results in education by unfoldment from within oneself. Their instinct is true enough. But since there is seemingly no time and no opportunity for them to be taught in this way, those who can respond to it should be taught a simple method of meditation such as we have been considering. By meditating on the word intelligence for even a few moments night and morning, their studies would be much easier and more productive.

Yes, the selection of the values by which we will live is worthy of the status of a fine art. Not only is this true in the sense that the ability to judge wisely and profitably between the many values human existence inevitably offers to us is a very scarce and valuable skill (at least as rare as great artistic talent), but the best means of attaining this good judgment in selecting values is the art of meditation itself!

It seems distinctly possible that the peculiar “sickness” of our society today is just the willingness, even the eagerness, of most people to adopt for their standards of value the things that will reward them the least and harm them the most. Consider the widespread desire for entertainment, and the equally widespread determination to be entertained, diverted, amused, and otherwise emotionally dandled in order to “enjoy oneself.” What a world of meaning there is in the term “enjoy yourself”! We seek so much entertainment just because we do not enjoy ourself. We do not know how to employ our creative powers of mind and spirit to produce enjoyment for ourself. So there has arisen a great and lucrative industry, the furnishing of entertainment to the masses. So many people can be counted on to watch a popular television show, that a minute of advertising time on this program costs almost a thousand dollars a second!

Entertainment obtained by watching such programs is effortless. It costs nothing in the sense of getting dressed up, or going out to assemble with other people, or paying an admission fee. The cost is all borne by the advertisers. So we have effortless entertainment with the flick of a switch. Yet the question should be asked: Is entertainment itself a true goal or value in life? And even if it is, is effortless entertainment a true value? When entertainment is so plentiful and so easily available that one can spend all his leisure hours being entertained with no effort, what effect does this have on his mentality, on his character, on his scale of values?

Is the desire to be entertained, amused, and diverted, to have one’s mind kept from thinking, or the desire to have one’s attention drawn away from cares and worries arising from one’s affairs, a desire that should be gratified without restraint? Granted that we all need some diversion, some means of amusement, is it possible that we are now obtaining diversion and amusement so effortlessly and so indiscriminately and in such quantities that entertainment has stopped fulfilling its original purpose, and has become a major value in life? (To many, these programs are like a habit-forming drug.)

Not only that, but the values expressed in these forms of entertainment are usually of the lowest order, appealing to the most primitive layers of human consciousness. Violence, force, excitement, conflict, all are staple ingredients. It cannot be pretended that the primary purpose of the average television program is to entertain the viewers; the primary purpose is to make sure of great numbers of viewers, in order to justify the vast sums spent by the advertisers for a fleeting moment of each viewer’s attention.

This means that primitive emotions must be aroused, in order to guarantee sufficient viewers, and since those in the entertainment industry are industrious students of psychology and human nature, they respond by playing endlessly on such primitive human emotions as fear and sexual desire, which they know to be the dominating motivators on the lower levels of the human psyche.

When you watch your next Western, keep this in mind, and see which of these two basic emotions it appeals to. It will probably be fear. Is not the villain menacing? Doesn’t the fear of death or injury (even if it is only injury to someone’s ego, or to his self-respect) permeate the action, ana lead up to the final, shuddery breath-holding climax? Of course it does.

Now try to answer honestly: Is a half hour or an hour of vicariously experiencing fear, of entertaining fear and even embracing the painful emotion of fear, beneficial to my unconscious mind? Don’t I, in my real life, scorn anyone who is unduly fearful; don’t I secretly scorn myself for surrendering to fear on occasion? In other words, don’t I admire courage, don’t I demand it so far as possible in myself and others? Of course you do.

Then if it is courage you want, and courage you admire, how are you going to develop it by practicing being fearful? How are you going to gain more of this supremely desirable quality called courage by saturating your psyche with the emotion of fear, as you do when watching such violence?

But it may be urged: “The hero displays great courage. You are thrilled by your admiration for his courage. You are vicariously experiencing courage by means of identifying with the hero ... so your vicarious participation in fear is more than offset by identification with courage.” Yet is this conclusion sound?

Which is the more common emotion in the show, fear or courage? In order to build up the drama, the fear is intensified as the action develops. And since the tension usually results from a situation where the villain keeps everybody in fear of sudden death, and the development of the plot revolves around the impossibility of dealing effectively with him (regardless of courage), you will probably find that fear predominates for all except a moment or two of the final action. So how much chance do you have to identify with courage?

We still have not answered the question whether entertainment, (if such an exercise in vicarious, painful emotion should be called entertainment) is a desirable end in itself. Is the seeking of entertainment to fill most of the leisure hours of worthwhile value, a desirable goal? Does it contribute to the forming of robust character? Does it strengthen anyone to face and perform his duties and responsibilities? Not when taken in continuing large amounts, or when it is made a chief end in life, we would probably reply. In addition, we should consider the possible effect of overindulgence in fear-arousing “entertainment” on our health.

There is a school of thought which holds that man’s subconscious mind cannot distinguish between simulated emotions and real emotions. Do we know whether our subconscious mind can distinguish between vicariously-experienced emotions and real experiences? And what effect does fear have upon the body chemistry? In her book “Let’s Get Well,” Adelle Davis says, “The stress of anger, fear, keen disappointment, and similar emotions can cause blood fat and cholesterol to soar in minutes.

Studies in psychology show that fear may be learned. That is, the subconscious mind can be conditioned to react automatically to certain situations or to a certain stimulus by being fearful. Are we learning to fear by indulging in vicarious emotions of fear hour after hour, day alter day, week after week, month after month, year after year? Does this account for the widespread anxiety which Dr. Arnold Hutschneker, in his book “The Will to Live, says is behind the nameless ailments that cause throngs of people to visit doctors’ offices? Many of them he says, are in excellent physical condition. Nevertheless they are sick, sick with hidden fear.

Can we be sure that being instantly and effortlessly entertained by having painful emotions vicariously aroused and experienced has no physical consequences? And even if it can be proved that there are no physical consequences, how can we know whether or not there are psychic consequences? Should we not play safe, and make such dubious entertainment a very minor part of our life?

Nothing has been said of the “entertainment” which appeals to the other of the two basic emotions, the sexual urge. Nothing has been said of anger, another violent and stress-producing emotion. Blood pressure soars, adrenalin is poured into the blood by both fear and anger. Considerable evidence is adduced by Adelle Davis to prove that arthritis is caused by exhausted adrenals which have been whipped up for years by violent emotions. Arthritis is widespread, painful, crippling. If fear and anger long continued can exhaust the adrenals and so produce painful, crippling arthritis, does it seem wise to produce artificially and experience vicariously the emotions of fear and anger in ourself and call it entertainment? Is this so-called entertainment really free? What is it costing us?

In any experience we invest time, as well as the enormous potential effect of our thought and feeling upon our mind and body. Actually there is very little in life that is free. Ben Franklin’s little homily about the whistle is all too true. We pay for everything in one way or another. And in many cases, there is no doubt that we pay too much. But there is one thing in life that really costs us our life: the goals we settle for as a result of living.

We pay for our goals, or for our values (the words are practically interchangeable), with our heart’s blood. We invest our life in attaining these goals. Or, if we are prevented from attaining our goals (or even from pursuing them) as great numbers of people are today by force of circumstances (such as the color of their skin), then we pay in frustration, anger, violent and destructive emotions.

Sydney Harris once said in his column, “Maturity consists, if anything, in knowing the hidden price of whatever you want, and truly judging whether you are willing to pay it.” In weighing or considering his scale of values, every person should ask himself, “What am I paying for?” If he can determine fairly well what he is paying for in terms of the investment of his life, then the next question is, “Is it worth it?” In other words, what are the rewards of your goals? Are they worth what you are paying for them?

Sobering thoughts, these, with which to conclude a book bringing an essentially joyous message. For years we have been hearing that a life span of 150 years is just around the corner. And now we have good medical authority for believing that the corner has been turned, that years of themselves need not age the body or cause it to die. Yes, this is indeed a joyous message!

The familiar saying, “Evervone wants to live long, but no one wants to get old,” is still true. Now we hold in our hands the knowledge, the spiritual knowhow, to make this dream come true. We have the increasing sanction of science to learn how to live without aging; even more, to shed the fear of aging that plagues modern man even in his late youth.

Yet what is the good of prolonging life, of overcoming the aging process, unless we have worthwhile things to do with the added years? What use to discipline ourselves, exercise our body and our mind, retrain our habits of a lifetime, only to pursue the fatuous goals of being amused, of killing time, of killing ourself little by little, as most people do today? Will we go to such lengths to buy longer life, then settle for the least possible values in return? That is not in my scheme of things!

No, the only things worth settling for (that is, paying for) are the eternal things, the eternal values. What are they? The best way to answer that question is to find out for yourself by meditating on eternal values. Only you can decide what are for you the highest values.

The true nature of you, yourself, the true nature of the life force that lives in you, the true nature of the world you inhabit, above all the true nature of the supreme Power behind all things, these are subjects of absorbing and perennial interest. Attainment of a better understanding of any of these vital subjects would be a goal worthy of anyone’s best efforts.

It should be clear now that the two terms meditation and eternal values are related. One is the key to the other. It is by means of the science and art of meditation that we gain an insight into those values (or goals) that have eternal value. They are age-old, and yet imperishable and forever new. Nothing can ever cause such values as honesty, uprightness, justice, truth, wisdom, peace, and unselfish love to be worth less. Every generation finds these things so essential to any really satisfactory mode of living that its members make fresh efforts to possess at least a minimum of these values in their life and in their social systems.

They are also “eternal” in the sense that they are inexhaustible. Since they are qualities of mind and heart that can be incorporated into our character, our possession of them can be as ageless and lasting as our own soul, which Christians believe to be immortal. Of one of these values the Bible says:

Happy is the man who finds wisdom

and the man who gets understanding

for the gain from it is better than gain from silver

and its profit better than gold.

She is more precious than jewels,

and nothing you desire can compare with her.

Long life is in her right hand;

in her left hand are riches and honor.

Her ways are ways of pleasantness,

and all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;

those who hold her fast are called happy.

      — Proverbs 3:13-18 (RSV)

We need wisdom to guide our love of living aright, above all things. Will the true, vital inner wisdom gained by meditation on eternal values enable us to live longer? I aver that it will. Will this vital wisdom enable us to live better and more fully, as well as longer? After you meditate on it, you can decide for yourself.

Will a day ever come when men will live as long as they please? I think such a day is in the making now. Will you and I live to enjoy that day?

I can speak only for myself. I am working at attaining such a state and such a knowledge right now. In this book I have shared with you much of what I know about the subject. Some of what I know cannot be put into written words as yet, or even communicated verbally. It can be intuitively grasped, however, and felt and lived. You can catch it by thinking of the inspiring examples given in this book, and by collecting your own examples from the news and other sources.

As we study and practice the expression of this wonderful quality of permanent youthfulness, we are sure to have inspiring examples of how well these ideas work. Certainly there must be more for us all to learn about this subject. But in the meantime, in the precious eternal now (which endlessly expands into what we call “time” and “human experience”), let us zealously make the most of the knowledge that we already have. Right now you and I know enough (and to spare) to keep us happily busy, to keep us learning and growing, and so to keep us young.

Of course you are curious (and so am I) about the greater knowledge and acceptance of these ideas which will inevitably develop in this field. But that too is good. Curiosity is a vital element not only in keeping young, but in keeping alive and healthy. Consider the following quotation from “The Menninger Story”:

“As the doctor recovered, one thing was clear to him: health always depends on the ability to keep one’s curiosity alive. There must always be something to look forward to as one goes to sleep at night. Each day must end with at least one question unanswered, one lesson yet to be learned. There must always be things that need one’s individual care, whether they be plants or human beings. When he dressed and went to his office again, he was no longer afraid of retirement.”1

Aren’t you curious to see how much of this information you can put to work, and how big a change you will make in yourself by working at it? If you will encourage that curiosity, and work at satisfying it, you will find life so interesting and thrilling and absorbing that you will live and live, and have sheer pleasure doing it!

I think my best word to you is: Never “settle down,” in the old sense of the expression. Never say: “This is it. I’m finished; I’ve only got so many more years to live. I’m going to spend the rest of my life just like this.” Anything that settles down sinks, doesn’t it? Do you want to be sunk?

Follow the good doctor’s example. Always have something going, something to look forward to as you go to sleep at night, even if it is just the golden, life-giving radiations of the sunrise in the morning. Always be learning. Always be studying. Always be determined not to settle for anything but the highest values in life, eternal values.

No matter what changes occur in our society in the coming years, one who lives by eternal values will be open-minded enough and receptive enough to accept the best in what those changes bring. He will never be out of date, or feel lost or out of tune with the times, because he will be in tune with that which is always as new as tomorrow morning: God’s ever-renewing life within him.

Now, assuming that you have read this book through, please turn back to the first chapter. There you read, “Time of itself has no power to age me.” Start knowing the satisfaction of proving that this fundamental premise is true. Then go on to each chapter in turn. Each will give you interesting and vital ideas that you can use and prove for yourself. There is no thrill equal to that of proving these things for yourself.

Remember, there is something in you that is eagerly awaiting demonstration of youth. That something is the life power within you. Do not let worldly doubts or skepticism or the drowsy pull of inertia lead you to disappoint the life power.

Clear your mind right now of foolish fears. Don’t listen to the “It’s too good to be true” objections. Just begin to cooperate with that marvelous inner livingness that lives through you (to the extent you allow it to do so). Let the infectious youthfulness of God’s Spirit fill your whole being, until you return to the springtime of life.

I have saved what is perhaps the most miraculous prayer of all for the last. Take it for your own right now, and dwell on it all through your study of this book. Here is the prayer:

Spirit within me, awaken me to the wonder of myself.

May the everliving Spirit within you guide, protect, encourage, and direct you, and give you the persistence necessary to find your own youthful maturity.

  1. Walker Winslow, “The Menninger Story.” Gerald Kennedy, A Second Reader’s Notebook. New York: Harper and Bros., 1959.