Way of Life vs. Life
By Jane Lee Wolfe
Years ago I taught a religion class to Sixth Graders. There were twenty-five children in the class. We’d discussed fairly routine subject matter most of the semester. On one of the last days of the class, I asked them a different question: “If you could live only one week in the lifestyle you are living now, or you could live indefinitely in what you perceive to be Soviet Communism, which would you choose?”
Twenty-five children chose one week living the life they had now.
I’m sure anyone could find millions of ways to poke at this question and find it unsuitable and the answer therefore bogus. I’m OK with that. But the question did bring to the surface a big fear of mine: That white, USA, immigrant people confuse life and way-of-life and think they are the same. This does not seem to be true for indigenous North Americans; they seem to realize and understand the difference between these two things, and honor life more than way of life.
I believe the way-of-life = life equation is still deeply rooted in the way many of us descended from white immigrants look at things.
Although this class was long ago, I believe the way-of-life = life equation is still deeply rooted in the way many of us descended from white immigrants look at things. For many of us, the ancestors immigrated to the USA for way-of-life reasons. They came because they wanted a way–of-life they couldn’t have in their home communities. And that is a good reason to pick up and move.
What is fearful, however, is confusing way-of-life with life. Let’s say there are those of us who believe God is the author of life, its creator. For the way-of-life = life believers, this means God is the author of our way of life, its creator. Life and way-of-life are the same. For those who believe God is the author of life and believe life and way-of-life are different, life/existence is what God has allowed us, and that is what is holy and should be honored.
We become deeply distraught when our way-of-life is at risk of diminishing or worse, facing destruction.
It’s a problem. Those of us who deeply believe that God has gifted us with way-of-life want that way-of-life to be sustainable throughout all generations. We become deeply distraught when our way-of-life is at risk of diminishing or worse, facing destruction. We are willing to fight fiercely for our way-of-life. We want those who are not on board with our way-of-life to disappear or be converted to our belief.
On the other hand, those who believe life and way-of-life are different, and believe life is more sacred than way-of-life, feel run over by the way-of-lifers, and often are run over by them. To them, that you exist and that I exist is more important and valuable than how either of us lives. Respect and tolerance, compassion and kindness are due each one of us simply because we exist. Our ways-of-life may be different, but that’s OK; we are all of us alive, and that’s what matters.
Respect and tolerance, compassion and kindness are due each one of us simply because we exist.
A good thing for each of us to do is become conscious and aware of which definition of life means more to us: way-of life or existence. Once we know which definition suits us best, we need to decide if we should attempt to change or not. Restructuring of belief is not done in a day but restructuring can happen. If we are comfortable with the way we are, then we need to be honest and open about that with ourselves and with those we live amongst. Knowing ourselves then sharing ourselves forthrightly are the first two steps we must take to enter and help form a strong, flexible and sustainable world.
Restructuring of belief is not done in a day but restructuring can happen.
Jane Lee Wolfe is a parishioner of St. James-Woodstock, Vt. and Director of Bog Chapel, Inc., an educational not-for-profit organization that focuses on the spiritual health and spiritual fitness of human beings, from youth through old age.