A man may have a home, possessions, a charming family, and yet find all these things ashy to his taste because he has been outstripped in the marathon race by some other runners to the golden tape line. It is not that he does not possess enough for his wants but that others possess more. It is the more that haunts him, makes him deprecate himself, and minimize his real achievements. This is the cancer eating away at his serenity.
The time has come when a man must say to himself: “I am no longer going to be interested in how much more power or wealth another man possesses so long as I can attain enough for the dignity and security of my family and myself. I am going to break through this vicious circle which always asks the question of life in a comparative degree: ‘Who is bigger?’ ‘Who is richer?’ ‘Who has more?’ I am going to set my goals for myself rather than borrow them from others. I will strive to achieve a mature attitude toward success which is ambition for growth and accomplishment, real accomplishment rather than spurious, decorative, and vanity filled acquisition. I refuse any longer to destroy my peace of mind by striving after wind, and I will judge myself in the scale of goodness and culture as well as in the balance of silver and gold.”
Such a man is on the road to avoiding the neurotic materialism of our age. He is like the poet who does not tear himself to pieces because his sonnet is not equal to that of Shakespeare. He is like the musician who does not always despise his little fugue because it lacks the magic of Bach. He is like the poet or musician who learns to accept himself and to be happy with his own growth from year to year rather than paralyze his gifted pen or his talented ear by contrast with the giants and the immortals.
Psychology will help religion to diminish the worship of the golden calf among men as it aids men to become free of their over excessive demands upon themselves. When, instead of the pathological race for more houses and jewels, cars and refrigerators, bonds and stocks . . . . when, instead of seeking these fictitious goals, men learn a certain modesty about things and become genuinely contented with their real contributions and achievements – only then is serenity achieved. Only when we harness our own creative energies to goals which are of our own adult choice, not imposed upon us by the compulsions of unresolved childhood competition, can we call ourselves mature and happy.
By Joseph Loth Liebman
Taken from Light from many lamps by Lillian Eichler Watson.