A budget speech from any Chancellor of the Exchequer can generally be relied upon to stir the emotions. Yesterday`s speech by George Osborne was no exception. The following extract though is about a very different kind of `budget`- that of a `life well-led`. It`s taken from the `The Ethics Of Responsibility` by the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, and perhaps provides us all with a few fundamental reminders of the things that should really be `taxing` us.
`More than any previous generation in history, we have come to see the individual as the sole source of meaning.....But this selfish quest must surely be wrong. A life....spent pursuing the satisfaction of desire is less than satisfying and never actually provides all we desire. So it is worth reminding ourselves that there is such a thing as ethics, and it belongs to the life we live together and the goods we share—the goods that only exist in virtue of being shared.This speaks to one of Judaism’s most distinctive and challenging ideas: the ethics of responsibility, the idea that God invites us to become, in the rabbinic phrase, His “partners in the work of creation.” .......Life is God’s call to responsibility and this ethic is the best answer I know to the meaning and meaningfulness of life.
When I first became a rabbi, the most difficult duty I had to perform was a funeral service. New to the position and the people, I often hardly knew the deceased, while to everyone else present he or she had been a member of the family, or an old and close friend. There was nothing to do but to get help from others. I would ask them what the person who had died meant to them. It did not take long before I recognized a pattern in their replies.
Usually they would say the deceased had been a supportive husband or wife, a loving parent, a loyal friend. They spoke about the good they had done to others, often quietly, discreetly, without ostentation. When you needed them, they were there. They shouldered their responsibilities to the community. They gave to charitable causes, and if they could not give money, they gave time. Those most mourned and missed were not the most successful, rich, or famous. They were the people who enhanced the lives of others. These were the people who were loved.
This reinforced for me the crucial distinction between the urgent and the important. In praise of someone who had died, no one ever spoke about the car they drove, the house they owned, the clothes they wore, the exotic holidays they took. No one’s last thought was ever, “I wish I had spent more time in the office.” The things we spend most of our time pursuing turn out to be curiously irrelevant when it comes to seeing the value of a life as a whole. They are urgent but not important, and in the crush and press of daily life, the urgent tends to win out over the important.Happiness, as opposed to pleasure, is a matter of a life well lived, one that honours the important, not just the urgent.
Happiness is the ability to say: I lived for certain values and acted on them. I was part of a family, embracing it and being embraced by it. I was part of a community, honouring its traditions, sharing its griefs and joys, ready to help others, knowing that they were ready to help me. I did not only ask what I could take; I asked what I could contribute. To know that you made a difference, that in this all-too-brief span of years you lifted someone’s spirits, relieved someone’s poverty or loneliness, or brought to the world a moment of grace or justice that would not have happened had it not been for you—these are as close as we get to the meaningfulness of a life, and they are matters of everyday rather than heroic virtue.`
Extract from `Ethics Of Responsibility` Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.