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Lost Horizon 
Not very long ago I ran across a copy of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. As you probably know, it’s a simple tale about idealism in which worldly Hugh Conway finds himself in the Valley of Blue Moon at a lamasery called Shangri La.
Those familiar only with the movie starring Ronald Coleman aren’t aware that in the book Conway doesn’t have a brother, isn’t world famous, and doesn’t meet Jane Wyatt. And in the end there’s no assurance that Conway has found his way back to Shangri La.
I have always wanted to think that there were parallels between this fantasy and our own high valley. We too are dominated by a single mountain, and we are a bit sheltered from the worst weather. Some of our permanent residents do seem to live a very long time, though none approaches the book’s Father Perrault’s 259 years.
The philosophy governing Shangri La was an enviable one. As Chang put it, “…we have found that the principle [of moderation] makes for a considerable degree of happiness. We rule with moderate strictness, and in return we are satisfied with moderate obedience. And I think I can claim that our people are moderately sober, moderately chaste, and moderately honest.”
I think it’s fair to say that lately we’ve seen far too much immoderate and intemperate behavior in our valley, both in rule and in obedience. The voices of moderation have been cast aside in favor of absolutism; you’re either with us or against us. In fact, the vast majority are moderates who would like to be associated with a way of life similar to Shangri La’s. In the movie, but not in the book, the High Lama says at one point, “We have but one simple rule: be kind.” How different a place this would be if, in the last year, everyone in this valley had lived by that simple rule. Instead we have had rudeness, spitefulness, vengefulness, vindictiveness, intolerance and all manner of unkindness. We defend our behavior on the feeble grounds that “We know what’s right.” That notion, of course, has been responsible for more misery and death than any of us can imagine.
Shangri La, of course, never existed, nor could it exist. We are far too mean-spirited and realistic to allow such a place to exist for even a moment. Hilton was an incurable Romantic, and we live in the real world, where such a story is just an escapist fantasy written in the depths of a depression.
In our own Blue Moon valley, if you were to look someone in the eye and say, “I believe we should be kind to each other,” you might be greeted by an air of profound puzzlement or with open hostility. The most likely prospect, however, is that the person would smile sweetly and agree with you and then carry on as before.
It would be nice to have a High Lama to lead us in the ways of moderation and kindness. Unfortunately, if that is to happen it appears we’ll have to do it ourselves.
Happy New Year.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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