Don’t Change The World

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.

Where Are You Going?

From first meeting to stable marriage is a long and stimulating journey. When someone new arrives in your gravitational field, the longevity of the relationship is uncertain at best and a gamble at worst.

Once someone gets somewhat close and there’s a prospect of him or her being even closer, the dance of independence and proximity begins. How much do I want this person to be a part of my life? How often do I need or want them to physically be in my presence? Critically, how do the answers to those questions fit the other person’s?

The permutations of freedom and being together vary with every couple. For some, being in the same room is the key; for others calm comes from the frequency of communication (no matter where they are) and for others it will be both.

Figuring your own style is a start. How you accommodate the other will depend on how much you are prepared to change. As always.

Stone

The self-help industry will always exist. It’s the most lucrative scheme out there for one simple reason: we’re all imperfectable.

In other words, once you set upon a path of self-improvement, there really is no end point. When we have a meal, there’s a beginning and an end. Read a book. Study for a degree. All of these activities have a time at which the activity ends and we can look back at the achievement.

Not so the idea of being better. In part because we’re so complicated, and partly because ideals are amorphous, big goals are oftentimes impossible to reach. Especially vexatious are notions of “being a better person” or “finding happiness” or worse yet “finding a soulmate”. By definition there is no end-point for these endeavours.

It’s easy to see how the guru and enlightenment business thrives. When there is no point at which they (or we) can say: Stop. My work is done, the entire enterprise becomes process. Goals recede and approach, but like a mirage, they never quite come within reach.

All of this is not to say that we cannot modify specific behaviours. I can stop drinking alcohol. Or going for dinner on first dates (always a bad idea). I can prevent myself from perpetuating relationships that are dead. I can change my financial situation by spending less and saving more.

You get the idea.

And it’s a window on the bigger picture, that most of our internal mechanisms are established much earlier in life than we might think. The time to set yourself up for success (sound like a SH guru?) is when you are three, four and five years old. Oh, wait. We’re not sufficiently self-aware to do such a thing at that age. Only now, when we’re adults do we have that facility, but now it’s kinda too late.

What to do? In my opinion, be specific, as I hinted at. Modify one measurable behaviour at a time, and stop blathering on about the “better person” nonsense. If you can’t define and reach an end-point, it’s not do-able, and because we’re human, we won’t do it.

Future Imperfect

The more we digitize, the more we expect digital precision.

We look at our iPads and the HD video thereon, and sometimes wonder at just how pristine and perfect it looks, right down to the blemishes (okay, acne) on actors’ chins. It’s astonishing.

The problem with reliability and crystal certainty is twofold. One, our inbuilt sloth slumps to apathy because we no  longer need to fix anything or work-around failures. Who repairs their own car any more? We turn the key or push the button and go. The effort is minimal.

Secondly, and more subtly, the very fact that so much is now done for us (auto correct, navigation, shopping, cooking) creates the expectation of the trend continuing. Soon enough, we won’t even have to decide which products we need to buy; our fridge will order the food, our cars will book themselves in for an oil change and the bed will wash the bedding.

Unfortunately for us, automating people isn’t any closer. Understanding others still requires time and work, and that’s just to get to the first few levels. Figuring how and whether someone new can fit into our individual character likewise is as far from perfection as ever – we’re really counter digital creatures.

Despite our cleverness at harnessing the world around us, some verities will remain true for a while yet. Until robots synthesize humour, empathy, insight, selflessness, willingness to overlook mistakes and a shared vision for a future together, we’ll be applying these human characteristics on our own.

Job Interview

We’re subject to our biological drives. You know what I mean.

Unfortunately, biology has as its major interest big picture stuff; continuing the species and…well, that’s about it.

In the meantime, we have to live our lives. That involves working, shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking out the trash, paying tax and repairing the dishwasher.

Note that we have two jobs working simultaneously. One is the long-term family creation and perpetuation position; the other is maintaining the infrastructure. From the first flows the second, but while we have emotional, intellectual and gut investment in the first, the second is often an afterthought.

Maybe we’d choose better if we interviewed for both at the same time.