…a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…
~ Lao Tzu
Part I: Introduction
Sometimes we need to go back to basics. The proverb above is ancient (that is, “old”). The aphorism’s “classic” truth about a journey’s beginnings is not diminished by the age of the phrase. The idea is timeless. Yet to an alarming extent, our modern society eschews things “old” as unimportant, lacking worth. We do so as a component of our own demise. Perhaps we should begin to re-examine some of those “old” ideas that have provided strength and resilience in EveryDayLife.
NOTE: This post represents the preamble of a much larger article (too large for this context). The “point”, including a description of a self-start exercise will appear in a later post. This part of the journey represents a worthwhile and necessary beginning.
A few weeks ago we looked at the Sophia Burns article which considers the most recent Star Wars movie and its surprisingly populist message—a reversal from previous iterations of the series. Ms. Burns’ article (accented by this blog’s previous post) presents the idea that The Last Jedi highlights We, the People as the “star attraction, so to speak. We, the People need to rise up and become the heroes on whom we heap so much responsibility. The problem for most of us, of course, is that if we are not already active in some way—active in behaviors which can change our world—we seldom know where to begin. How do we individually, then collectively, begin a process that will yield the kind of a society we say we want?
Working from Home
If you want something in your life you’ve never had,
you’ll have to do something you’ve never done.
Too often, when we think about sociopolitical change, we assume we should begin by voting some person into office or by supporting the passage of certain legislation which represents our notions about how the country should proceed. Some of us even take to the streets in an attempt to make our voices heard. Just as often, some of these attempts at change merely replace one set of politicians with similar individuals or reactive policies which will be overturned by the next administration. Despite superficial partisan packaging, the new regime too often “governs” in accordance with the same self-servicing paradigm as the previous set. In other instances, the “new” legislation collects attachments and amendments which compromise portions of our lives which were not the focus of the proposed legislation. The more radical, protest route too often finds such attempts mere fodder for our modern news media culture to twist to benefit their own fiscal desires (i.e., they get to make more money) rather than presenting the “truth” driving the protests. Ultimately, proposed solutions become no solutions at all.
Given this apparent impasse, how about an end run, that is, an attempt to circumvent the political status quo we have come to love and hate, rely on and distrust. With such a love-hate relationship, if not a full out end-around, perhaps a dual-pronged approach to our problems might be in order. In addition to casting a vote for some other person to change the world, why not also focus on a world in which we can wield almost complete control over change? Why not focus on the world within us? Well, there is at least one barrier to doing this approach, just one tiny person who stands in the way.
All Hail the Great and Powerful Narcissus
A myriad of blogs which focus on “why I feel so bad” and “how can I feel better?”, too often come across as shared misery and dysfunction born of a narcissistic preoccupation with a perceived inability to cope in the world—a world for which no responsibility has been taken. Too many blogs appear as elaborate selfies that depict isolated individuals pitching images of themselves over a wall, so to speak, toward other equally isolated individuals so they can commiserate regarding the desperation of our times and ourselves. Mesmerized by self-indulgence, many of us fail to perceive the paradox of our experience. On the one hand, we want to feel good in the world. On the other, we consider the “outside” world as the metric by which we should gauge if we are “good enough”, if we “measure up”. Doubting our ability to meet this standard, we present to the world a brave face, an illusion of “coolness”, of prowess and simultaneously presume our ill feelings about EveryDayLife arise from our inability to cope with the events of the day. We look to the world to validate a mask of ourselves rather than our actual selves. Assuming the world will not accept us as we are, without the preening and the incessant attempts to “fit in” to this world’s standards, we bury the truth of who we are. Through this process, individuals establish the habit of both pretense of worth and an undeserved self-condemnation.
What we are is nothing; what matters is where we are going.
As the German romantic poet Johann Höderlin urges, we need to reach beyond limited views of ourselves and attend to our intentions. What do we want from ourselves? What do we want from the world? Perhaps more importantly, what do we want for ourselves and the world? Ultimately, what we really want is to be content or happy (most of us think that means “to feel good”).
I believe the purpose of life is to be happy.
At times, to feel good and to be good might not necessarily be the same thing. For many of us, even when we manage to feel good, we do so with a trepidatious eye constantly glancing back over our shoulders, fully expecting the bad stuff to sweep over us again. Such an emotional pendulum is neither peace nor contentment; such is addiction to momentary gratification. Conversely, how can we manage to see ourselves as being that “good” feeling we crave? How do we forge a self-identity filled with self-respect and confidence?
If we want change, we have to commit to initiating it. We cannot—we dare not—wait for others to do it for us. We usually will not understand the nature of what we should do. The ‘what’ will come. First, we must make the decision and accept the responsibility to act. We have to commit to the act of leaving the comfort of the familiar—to leave home—and venture into the unknown.
The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure. The process is its own reward. ~Amelia Earhart
A WordPress blogger recently posted an article lauding the tenacity of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. We often look to “great people” who perform seemingly unbelievable and inspiring acts of courage. Many of us feel good when we think of people like Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, or Nelson Mandela. We enjoy the vicarious thrill of great minds like Albert Einstein, Karl Marx or Werner Heisenberg. Still others of us puff out our chests when we imagine being in the presence of the likes of Adolf Hitler. We look to such people and their apparent historical impact and too often allow the second hand brush with significance to suffice, to sate our desire for personal greatness. We are most often “inspired” to think larger thoughts, but seldom move to emulate the behavior of our self-selected icons of grandeur. We too willingly accept the notion that “we could never do that”.
How do you imagine each of these people began? Mother Teresa was a simple nun who, moved by her encounter with poor folks in India, simply decided to help them. Albert Einstein, with below average grades in university, sought, unsuccessfully, to become a teacher and escaped unemployment by becoming a patent clerk. Dr. King suffered from depression and, as a youth, attempted suicide. Mr. Hitler as a lowly art student with little talent lived in homeless shelters for a time. No great shakes here. These are just people, like the rest of us. And yet all acted to create significance in their wake.
… to Find Heroism
We all want to feel good. Transcending the “good feeling” that comes from a tasty meal or sex, most of us want to feel good about ourselves. Yet we crave this good feeling about ourselves in a world we have most often not addressed directly. Our relative passivity toward the world (the relative lack of actions to change it) places us and our view of ourselves in that world at a disadvantage. Rather than allowing the world to define us, we must learn to define ourselves, to become our own standard of “good” and consistently live by it.
In this quest for salvation, in our trek to discover the heroic in life, we face two components. To truly feel good about ourselves, we must address both of them. First, we need to address ourselves, who and what we are, coming to understand the vagaries of the persons we have individually become. Face to face with ourselves, we then have to redirect the focus of our activity in a self-defined “positive” direction. Second, we also need to do the same for this world in which we have attempted to be “good enough”, to work to change that world to become the context we want to live in.
We each bear the responsibility for our inner and outer worlds. We must face ourselves and our apparent limitations rather than merely soothing our life experiences, self-indulgently smothering ourselves in momentary comfort accomplished through escapism, feigned self-esteem gained in a selfie-world, or attachment to stilted sociopolitical or socioeconomic categories (tribes) that only manage to define themselves by excluding or dominating other people. In like manner, we need to address the world we live in—its problems and limitations—rather than merely trying to feel good in it. To do this, we have to overcome all resistance to the idea that we are free to choose. Without such freedom, change cannot happen.
[ End of Part I ]
Part II picks up at this point, with the idea of how we are free, how we are bound by habitual behaviors, the various forms assumed by the profound yearning within us and a ways to step out from the expected to something completely different.