This story made me chuckle, and led me to reflect on the hold that our culture's values has on us. I hope it does the same for you.
Rabbi Harold Kushner tells the story of a bright young man who was a sophomore Stanford pre-med student. To reward him for having done so well in school, his parents gave him a trip to Asia for the summer.
While there he met a guru who said to him, "Don't you see how you are poisoning your soul with this success-oriented way of life? Your idea of happiness is to stay up all night studying for an exam so you can get a better grade than your best friend. Your idea of a good marriage is not to find the woman who will make you whole, but to win the girl that everyone else wants. That's not how people are supposed to live," the sage admonished. "Give it up; come join us in an atmosphere where we all share and love each other."
The young man had completed four years at a competitive high school to get into Stanford, plus two years of pre-med courses at the university. He was ripe for this sort of approach. He called his parents from Tokyo and told them he would not be coming home. He was dropping out of school to live in an ashram.
Six months later, his parents got this letter from him:
Dear Mom and Dad,
I know you weren't happy with the decision I made last summer, but I want to tell you how happy it has made me. For the first time in my life, I am at peace. Here there is no competing, no hustling, no trying to get ahead of anyone else. Here we are all equal and we all share. This way of life is so much in harmony with the inner essence of my soul that in only six months I've become the number two disciple in the entire ashram, and I think I can be number one by June!