I was listening to a podcast conversation between Douglas Rushkoff and Sherry Turkle recently. Both scholars have written and spoken extensively about our relationship with technology. Both have also at different times been in rooms surrounded by tech billionaires.
At one point Turkle wondered “What do they know that I don’t?” when thinking about how they have amassed their fortune, whereas she has lived on a more modest academic’s salary.
After a few moments of consideration, she corrected herself realizing, “It’s not ‘what do they know that I don’t know but what have they forgotten that I haven’t.’”
She was referring to the values, experiences and perspective that we all – not just billionaires – often lose or forget as we go through life. It can start out small. A simple questionable decision or compromise that we justify to ourselves in the name of some greater good. But for some this can become a death to our integrity born by a thousand cuts.
Some people, indeed entire cultures, have certain customs or practices intended to prevent this from happening. At one point, this was a central role of religion and church services – a weekly reminder of our moral obligation to each other and the universe.
It has often fallen on the family and its traditions to keep our values in check.
Recently a student told me of a custom in Lagos where it is expected that parents take care of children and then eventually the roles become reversed. One way in which this is manifest, is that the child is expected to give their first paycheck to their parents – as a way of recognizing all the parents have done for the child up to that point.
The parents can elect to keep the check, spread the funds around to other family members and/or return a portion of the check back to the child with a blessing. This custom applies not only to their first check of their first job but to their first check for every job they will ever have. It is little wonder that there are very few nursing homes in Lagos and other African countries. Children instead either build their parents a small home next to theirs or invite them in to live with them.
It is easy to forget so much, as our lives become filled with the trappings of modernity and the constant demands on our time. But losing your moral compass is on a whole different level than misplacing your phone.
Remembering things such as who we are, why we are here, who has helped us along the way, what is really important to us, and what we truly value is not always easy. But it is absolutely essential to a well-lived and happy life.