Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer?

It is keeping peace and good relations between people,

as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.

- Prophet Mohammed


Day 21

As I mentioned, a few Friends were discussing Ham Seok-Heon yesterday. I got the feeling that they usually don't just sit around discussing famous Korean Quakers, but today they were using his thoughts as an answer to their questions and concerns. I didn't know enough about Ham to get that involved, so I kind of stayed on the sidelines and learned. 

The general conversation was on the topic of progress and the direction of the society. In this globalized world, distinguishing one society from the other isn't really necessary. We are all dealing with the same things, it's just that the timing is sometimes a little different. For instance, Korea is just now dealing with teenage criminals whereas the US has been dealing that for decades.  Koreans are shocked by the trend and are trying to place the blame on something or someone. Some will blame Western culture while others might say it's because of the Internet, nonetheless many will agree that something is wrong with society. And that was the overall feeling this one American Friend was expressing. 

We'll call him 'John' and the other Friend 'Min'. (Min is Korean and both men are in their late-thirties)
John: What's becoming clearer is that society has sort of lost control of itself. I'm not one of those people who believe the past was better, nor do I think running away is the option. I'm just becoming concerned that people are focusing too much on happiness above all else.
Min: I understand where you're coming from. I don't think society is unraveling at its seams, but I can see some distressing signs. I think if we were to look more closely at your concern, we'd run into an obstacle and that would be how to define happiness. 
John: Well, define it then. Isn't that the battle? 
Min: Teacher Ham said that if we "seek only for happiness, quite naturally the remnant will be dirty."
The conversation took some turns here and there, but the ultimate point was that if we focus less on happiness and being servants of people, then the meaning of life will reveal itself more clearly. This confused me a bit because Quakers appear to be extreme servants of people through their advancement of human rights and equality, yet I was missing the point. Quakers follow the words of Jesus and God quite closely--especially in terms of treatment of others--and it's this focus from which their service and dedication to God stems. 

Trying to discover the meaning of life is stressful and trying to pursue that meaning seems impossible for most humans. It reminds me of City Slickers where "Curly" kept telling "Mitch" about the "one thing" that makes life worth it and "once you know that one thing, nothing else matters."

By the end of the film, Mitch learned that his "one thing" was his family--something that he had taken for granted for many years. Fine. That was easy for him and all it took was a week in the desert away from them. Luckily, most thinkers realize that the meaning of life takes longer than an average Hollywood movie will allow. 

Ham said this:
If you do manual work, physical fitness quite naturally comes; likewise, if you seek the meaning of life, in the process of seeking, happiness quite naturally comes to us. 
The process of seeking is what reveals true meaning and happiness. Where to seek then becomes the real question and I think that where religion sets in for most people. For me, I seek true meaning in simplicity.
Human beings create the machine in order to get efficiency and some profit. We can divide people in two kinds: those who use the machine to get some leisure time, and people who do not use the machine and are in a sense exploited because they have no time to seek the meaning of life. Both of these groups of people have lost happiness in the process. 
 Less is more and if we listen to the words of Ham, then we'll at least know where NOT to search for the meaning. Society is created by people. It does not act on its own. People often believe it does so just as the economy is thought to do, but people are driving it and it can't not operate independently of us. We have to power to alter it in anyway we see fit. It seems to me that John would best find true happiness in his personal search towards liberation of himself and only then can he start to worry about "society". 

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