Somehow the idea that the greatest goal in life is to head out there into the world and change it, presumably for the better, has taken root.
Well intended notions like this survive because the underlying motive is pure. What’s left unexamined is whether the world needs the change I want to make, or if it’s possible.
I like to invert these ideas. Why do we think the world needs to change in the first place? And, more usefully, why isn’t it already close to where we think it needs to be? Mostly people talk about the big picture, like food security, access to water, education and all that stuff at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. Relationships feature somewhere down the list, but people want to change all that too.
The alternative to the frankly impossible challenge of changing others is to take care of our own corner of the universe. The need for change is obviated if you and I and all our neighbours and everyone else make sure our lives don’t require outside intervention. If we’re financially stable, if we don’t break the law, if we don’t seek to drain our community – all of these conscious acts mean we’re both an example and not targets for outside-imposed alteration.
Relationships are a subtle and yet still useful element of this idea that leading by example actually changes the world from the bottom up. Self-examination starts the process, by giving us the starting point from which to find the right person. Clarity of motive and understanding the work a solid and lasting relationship and, hopefully, marriage requires is next. Even the smallest introspection and honesty about our place in this process will improve our odds of being the best half of a whole we can be.
And if everyone did the same, how much less need there’d be for all kinds of expensive remediation. Fewer divorce attorneys, fewer psychotherapists, children more able to stand up straight and look life square in the face, much less waste of emotion as a result of shitty behaviour; all of this goes on, and yet few seek to take the steps towards changing these things for the better.
Bring it home. Let’s make ourselves better first.