An Imbalanced Pursuit of Happiness!

Just like individuals band together to create families and families come together to create societies, our collective conscience creates the conscience of the society we live in. Since our societies depict realities that stem from our collective conscience, it is important that our perception of those realities is firmly rooted in a moral and just socio-economic system. The realities that stemmed from the collective conscience of the founding fathers of our nation were once beautifully summed up in what we now know as the Declaration of Independence.

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

-Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Today as I look at the state of affair of our union, I see a nation slowly drifting away from the foundational framework laid down by the founding fathers for the governance of our collective state of affairs. I see a free market enterprise system out of balance where statutory loopholes are frequently exploited to undermine fiduciary responsibilities. I see financial profitability playing a central role in guiding our decision-making processes. The unalienable right of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness has now become a privilege no longer for the masses.

Our poverty rate is now the third worst among the developed nations according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). According to , our nation’s household participation in the food stamp program has increased 20.28% since 2009; while one out of every seven mortgages in the United States was either delinquent or in foreclosure during the first quarter of 2010. In spite these alarming statistics of economic and social suffering of the masses, Wall Street paid a whopping $144 billion in compensation and benefits to its executives for 2010; a 4% increase from the $139 billion paid out in 2009. With homelessness growing at an alarming rate, healthcare costs skyrocketing and debt spiraling out of control, certainly we the masses are in pursuit of a very distorted reality of happiness.

If our individual consciousness is fueling our collective consciousness then it behooves us to closely examine our own selves to decipher the root cause of this socio-economic imbalance. A good point to start is a little bit of inward reflection. One of the greatest Sufi mystic poets from the region of Punjab in Pakistan, Bulleh Shah, talks about our struggles with this respect in many of his poems. I’ve tried translating a few lines from one of his poem:

We’re so occupied with attaining outward knowledge
That we never spent time knowing our souls
Our thoughts are shaped by externalities
Yet we never contemplate what the heart holds
We’ve reached the limitless skies
But we’ve failed to reach our heart’s inner folds

Inward reflection is the ability to self-monitor our own adherence to accountability, commitment and transparency with the filters of morality and ethical codes of conduct in our own lives. This type of self analysis is innate to the human souls who are mindful of the oath of conscience they took when they took on the responsibilities that came with the unalienable rights endowed to them by their Creator. Because with rights comes responsibilities. We have the right to make profit from our businesses, but we also have the responsibility to show restraint when it comes to wasteful use of our resources. We have the right to be ambitious and dream big, but we are also responsible for taking time for introspect and inner reflection. We have the right to grow and prosper, but we are also supposed to respect the laws of nature so that we don’t pillage and plunder. We have the right to improve our own material wellbeing, but we are also supposed to help the less fortunate and the needy.

Intrinsic to long term sustenance of our Declaration of Independence is the adherence to a balanced governance framework; a framework that is built on the pillars of accountability, commitment and transparency. Balance has to be the core component for universal governance of our affairs. It is this balance that in turn induces equitable and sustained prosperity. And this balance cannot be achieved unless we learn to reflect inwardly.

“Surely, God does not change the state of a people until they change the state of their own souls” (Qur’an 13:11).