The Passover starts this evening. Every time I celebrate it, I ask myself what my personal "exodus" of the year is, that is, from what bondage I liberate myself. Probably the most significant personal "exodus" I've experienced so far is what I thought liberation from the bondage of working part-time in multiple locations. But since I was finally liberated from this ten-year bondage more than ten years ago, I've come to realize that actually I'm in bondage again, though of a different kind. This new bondage is called the rat race.
One insightful about the rat race - Losing the Rat Race, Winning at Life by Rabbi Mark Angel - "found" me, as it were, last week. Here are some lengthy quotes from the book that have been resonating with me since I first read them last week:
[W]e cannot genuinely "win" at life unless we "lose" the rat race. Stated another way, a life well lived is characterized by calm wisdom, a transcendental sense of life's meaning, and an ability to love, empathize with and help others. It does not view life as an eternal and meaningfless battle to get "ahead."
People in the rat race are busy trying to keep up with and surpass the Joneses. They are driven by jealousy, greed and competitiveness. They do not see ultimate meaning in their lives, but want as much as fame, fortune and fun as they can get. People in the rat race usually are not evil or corrupt, although some are. Many are simply drawn into the race because they have not thouroughly thought through their philosophy of life or do not have the independence of spirit to stand up for their values and ideals. They are driven by conformism or quasi-totalitarianism. They surrender their freedom and autonomy in order to play the game of life according to the rules of the rat race.
What are the characteristics of the rat race?
- An inordinate emphasis on external matters - good looks, wealth, power, popularity, fame.
- A profound feeling that life is a great competition, that we must not allow ourselves to fall behind.
- An acceptane of standards set by others; a drive toward comformity even at the risk of betraying one's own values; an internalization of standards that compromise our freedom to make responsible choices.
- A willingness to abandon ethical standards in order to advance oneself.
- A realization at some point and on some level that the rat race is ultimately meaningless. What I achieved by "winning"? Has "success" brought me real happiness?
Actually it was only after I decided to leave what seems to me now the rat race that I realized that it's the rat race. I started to feel instinctively more and more signs of spiritual dissonance, until I couldn't silence and ignore this dissonance itself. Having read this book, especially the above quotes, I understand rationally now what I started to feel instinctively.
When I was first granted "citizenship" of this "Egypt" I'm official leaving soon, I couldn't imagine that the time would come one day to leave it even of my own free will, following my intuition and conquering the fear of the uncertain "Canaan" awaiting my arrival.
Not only am I taking a "long short way" (instead of a "short long way") like the Israelites who left Egypt to enter Canaan, but also am I planning in my "Canaan" to help others help themselves find their own "long short way" from their "Egypt" to their "Canaan".