What if...people are more important than things?

Once awhile, I would be reading a new book at the year end and in January of the new year, I would highlight the book as being inspirational to me as if it is a new year's resolution. The last time I remember doing it was in Jan 2011 when I was touched by the Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.


This year I was inspired to pick up the above book that I had on my shelf to re read it again. It was a special book as it was one that its author, James Michael Pratt, had autographed for me when I met him in the summer of 2006. Like re reading some books, especially the scriptures or the Words of God, one can suddenly be touched by a passage of words or even a whole chapter of the book as if it is being read for the first time but is not. Such is the wonder and complexity of our human mind of how it learns things or remembers them. This was such an occasion and I even brought the book from my library in Kuala Lumpur down to Singapore to share it with my youngest two boys for a family home evening lesson.

The book is about 12 timeless Virtues handed down to the author by his father, considered as an Everyday Dad. What led me to pick up the book was probably the fact that I am now, more engaged than ever, a single parent Father focused on the rearing of the youngest two children of the family. I guess I became desperate as I struggle handling teenagers of today who often are more exposed to values drilled into them by computer games and videos including influences from peer groups than what parents or their church would teach them about timeless virtues.

In the Book, twelve timeless virtues were saliently incorporated in the stories of each chapter but the name of each timeless virtue was not always the title of the chapter. Hence it was indeed inspirational that I would re-read Chapter 2 that was entitled, 'I should've bought LAX when it was a bean field ' to find that the timeless virtue in my own thoughts of this intended blog post was actually manifested in the chapter as I read the entire story.

Here are some excerpts of the story from chapter 2 :

" Sometimes  we miss out on opportunities that would have enriched us with temporal wealth. A bean field was one such opportunity for Dad. But then Dad thought a lot of what constituted smart business was really a bunch of 'baloney.' He viewed things simply and always with the best interest of others in mind. 'People are more important than things,'he always said.

Whenever I would hear him say that, I would wonder if that wasn't just his way of rationalizing why he never made much money. But I've since come to believe that was how he really felt - that those who spend their lives looking for 'easy street' or their 'one big break' are foolishly misguided.'A lot of people spend their entire lives looking for a free lunch, when in fact all they often find is just better baloney - or more of it,' he would laugh.

To better appreciate where he was coming from, imagine conditions during the late 1930s and early '40s in Los Angeles, where he graduated from high school and met Mom.

According to Dad, today's Los Angeles International Airport is built on land that was once a bean field. He claimed that he could recall when it was for sale for five dollars per acre.

'Dad?' I asked. 'Why didn't you buy it,if it was so cheap?'

'I didn't have five dollars.' was his simple response. 'Those were depression years. Five dollars was a lot of money back then.'

Dad's family was typical of most in those days. Subsistence was a day-to-day affair, and everyone was expected to chip in to help the family survive. They depended on crops from their own home gardens - produce that they used and shared with neighbors. There were no government entitlement programs, no social security safety net, no food stamps or anything else in the form of welfare in those days.

'Five dollars could buy a lot of baloney, son. Better to have baloney than beans,' he'd say.

It wasn't prudent by Dad or most other Californians at the time to pay $5.00 per acre for the bean fields in El Segundo, now the home of LAX. You could grow all the beans a family could eat in your own backyard. As a matter of fact, if you had ventured to buy the bean field, you might have risked the ridicule of your neighbors and friends.
'Fasten your seat belt, we are headed for a bean field,' I've been known to tell the passenger next to me.(when traveling to Los Angeles International) 'See, my dad used to make a dollar a day, and a dollar a day was a lot of money during the Great Depression,' I add. 'He says he could have bought LAX when it was a bean field. Only five dollars an acre too.' If my seatmate is still listening, I tell him about my Dad's other values - the real important ones. 'Son,' he'd say, 'there is just too much baloney in the world, and most things we think are imortant aren't worth any beans. People are more important than things.' By this time my fellow passenger is either grinning or can't wait to get away from me.

Dad wasn't able to scrape up the five dollars per acre to buy LAX when it was a bean field, but by virtue of hard work, he did manage to provide many thousands of dollars to finance the rearing of nine children and to pay his way through life.
Now when I fly in to LAX, I see the paved runway approaching, and I smile and think of what he taught; about what really matters most in life. I hear his cheerful voice. Then I whisper almost reverently; 'What might have bean, Dad.'

'Son, people are more important than things. Treat them right. And remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch, just better baloney.'

End of Chapter 2

What if... the truth is really that people are more important than things in this world? I started pondering about it at the start of the new year and wanted to write about it but the activities and events of the start of the year swarmed me! Before elaborating more on this thought, it reminds me of the story of a man in a large audience listening to two invited speakers sharing their thoughts about another timeless virtue i.e. "Money really isn't the most important thing in life."

He first heard from an elderly man, who never owned much in his life,and humbly shared sincerely from his heart of experiences in his life that taught him that "Money really isn't the most important thing in Life." Now after the speaker had finished sharing his testimony of what he felt was the truth,the man in the audience felt that as the speaker had a financially poor background, he probably never had enough money in his life to make him testify what he did, i.e. "Money really isn't the most important thing in life."

Now he waited to listen to the next elderly man known to be a successful rich businessman. To his surprise the rich elderly man also, at the end of his talk of sharing experiences of his life, testified of the same thing as the previous speaker! Now this man in the audience started thinking, well since he was such a rich man, he probably had so much money in his life that he took for granted its value and therefore made him testify what he did i.e. "Money really isn't the most important thing in life." So this man, despite hearing the strong and sincere testimonies of two different people,left the meeting that day convinced that Money is still the most important thing in life!

I share the above story with you first so that as I share my experiences and thoughts about the timeless virtue that 'people are more important than things', I will not be surprised that some readers would not readily believe me!

At a timely moment as this blog post is being written, a good friend of mine posted the extract below on my facebook wall :
(If not clear, the facebook post can be viewed by clicking here.)

My good friend and brother above is also inspired to share innovative presentations of timeless virtues of this life which not everyone may believe due to their own thinking or how timeless virtues are often forgotten in our pursuit of things. They may be overshadowed by more attractive titles on large bill boards and in our modern day can also be in the form of smaller icons found in gadgets that we carry around which constantly distract our attention!

Many stories indicating the possibilities of our after life and existence of timeless virtues can be found in the world and the following are my experiences and thoughts with relevant links to previous written posts included :

Physical realm

I believe my upbringing has a large influence of how I think and feel today. As I ponder about this timeless virtue that 'people are more important than things', I feel very strongly that this is true for several reasons. So reason with me in your own heart and mind as you continue to read my explanations on this blog post.

Everyone has a mother, as I had mine as one who gave birth to me and one who is the mother of my children. If you take a short moment to think about how much she had sacrificed for her children including yourself, what does this say about the truth of this timeless value in the eyes of a mother? I am sure her children are more important than all the things in the world.

Now next is how do we treat our mothers? I remember one of the questions I had that I had pondered about since I was an older child in school was 'Why was it that I treated friends in school better than I some times treated my own mother?' The answer didn't come easy as there were many times that this question popped up to my mind again and again when I found myself repeatedly saying something that was rude or hurtful to my mother which I had regretted after saying it. 

Like every other question in my life, if the answer didn't come immediately, I would be patient to wait for the time when it will be revealed to me and it was one day. Yes of course, it was all about taking people at home for granted and in this case was my mother who was closest to me and had spent the most time with me. We don't have our guard up or our mask on when we come home as this is the place where we can really be ourselves without any pretense. Our family would always love us in spite of our shortcomings. Outside of home, in school for example there is a set of protocols established of how we relate to one another, usually with appropriate gestures and protocols for communication. But these may be forgotten when we come home! Another reason can be that we always see our friends at their best as we may not be aware of how they live in their private lives while at home we tend to see all the weaknesses of family members and become judgemental.

How about Mother's? Do they take for granted their children at home in the way they deal or communicate with them too? For Asians, we have mothers or even fathers who have certain traditional expectations from their children in terms of respect where protocols or ceremonies of the Chinese culture are well established. So at the end of the day, what is the culture of a family and that of the country they live in are factors that have a strong influence on how much they believe that people are more important than things.

All the above shared thus far, seems to center on how we think and the influences around us that shapes our minds which can be classified to be of the physical realm.

The Spiritual realm
The turning point of my life to feel people are more important than things truly came about only after my experience of becoming a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the LDS Church whose members are commonly known as Mormons! Why so one may ask?

While the mind is a great processing house to regulate our flow of information and energy, as defined by Dr. Dan Siegel in modern times, scripture has recorded that the Spirit of God can fill our minds to influence our thoughts. In fact I can honestly say that when I made the decision to be baptized into the Church on 29 July 1979, in as much as I could recognize that the religious doctrines of the LDS church made more sense or had far superior coverage compared to other existing churches that I had studied, my decision to be baptized was still an experiment to me into the Spiritual realm that I had no experience of previously.

Short of receiving a visitation of God or his angels, my experiment that was to test the outcome of living life by simple faith and obedience, proved many things to me with such surety that I cannot afford to deny them to this day. If I did, I believe I would receive the wrath of God or his angels and no man in his right mind would want this. My call to serve as a missionary, my choice of work for my career, my focus on the family and family history work and my on going years of service in the Church officially and unofficially were all aligned to my belief 'that people are more important than things.'

Today my presence on the internet and my extensive travel to stay connected to people from all walks of life in all parts of the world reflects my continued interest in people. There is this soul in people that things seem to lack. Now I have lived a full life rich with a wide spectrum of experiences. There were times of plenty when I had an abundance of things. There were also times of drought when I had a shortage of things. If I shared my witness or testimony to you that people are more important than things, would you believe me?

I like to share a scripture referred to me recently by my good friend,Carlos E. Jeans Gilles, a master of facebook and who is finishing his book, 'In search of the soul of facebook.' It is Matthew 16:26, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

I hope my family members,even descendants of the future, as they grow and spread out into the world, would believe me. What if there were more people on earth who would believe than those who didn't, that people are more important than things? Would the world become a much better place?

Postdated events :

The Dalai Lama opens US senate session in prayer

Disappearance of Malaysian Airlines plane MH370 on 8 March 2014

Thanks to Ee Chien from Singapore who shared a blog post on facebook from a writer who is a frequent traveler with the topic Reflecting On Airline Safety And What Really Matters In Life. The blog writer's words sum it all up, "Miles don’t matter. The best premium cabin products don’t matter. Credit card sign-up bonuses don’t matter. Nothing matters, other than people."

The disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines plane MH370 on 8 March had become a baffling mystery to the world, spinning a host of other 'what if...?' questions despite the announcement by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on 24 March that the plane ended its journey in the Indian Ocean, effectively ending their hopes of a miraculous survival.

Malaysian Airlines plane MH17 crashed on 17 July 2014

Investigators blame Moscow for shooting down MH17 24 May 2018

Another Disappearance of a Malaysian plane belonging to AirAsia Flight 8501 on 28 Dec 2014

This post with some new 'what if...?' questions will continue in a new post found here.

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