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.

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.

Rooted

The current fashion for proceeding through life seems to revolve around floating along on a cloud of shared trivia and shiftless experience. We’re completely up-to-date on everyone else and they’re likewise up to speed with us, no matter the depth or value of our experiences.

As someone else (I forgot) said (and I’m paraphrasing), never have lives so unlived been so well recorded.

I think it’s true with coupling, too. Linking with another person is not simply about choosing to link with them, as per online social networks. If we’re to give ourselves a chance of lasting, we need structures, both individually and as a meshed unit. Discipline implies self-control, which leads to being the best we can, which eventually leads to freedom.

By freedom, I mean the kind of joyous interaction rooted in an accurate knowledge of ourselves and our nature. Without the strictures implicit in gaining a solid grip on our place, feckless coupling and its consequences are our destiny, and our children’s, too.

This is what I call personal geolocation; locating our place on biological, intellectual and spiritual planes. Think of it as a kind of 4-D map. (Time is the 4th plane.)

Where are you? Only when we find – and maintain – a known position should we think of co-locating with another. This doesn’t mean our place is fixed. Far from it. Change is inevitable and should always be anticipated and planned for. In life and relationships, those who know how to deal with change put themselves that much closer to success.

One thing I’ve learned this process is that we’ll never precisely share the same space on the planes as another. The best we can work towards is keeping relatively close…which is where the discipline and self-control comes in.

Good luck.

Seeking Shelter

It’s the fault of McDonalds. The fast food “restaurant” people taught us that we can have the same food – precisely the same food – no matter where we are and irrespective of the time of day. Everything that comes out of that place will look, feel, smell and taste the same, reliably and at an acceptable cost.

Even the downside of the whole experience doesn’t matter that much. Pink slime, underpaid staff and questionable ice machine cleanliness are realities we all accept because food is only the vehicle for what they sell. Their real game is safety and an anchorage. When everything else is changing, THIS remains the same.

Finding couplehood is at least in part about the same thing. A best friend, a lover, a confidante: the ideal yin to our yang is – or should be – a safe port and refuge from a world where change is unavoidable. We accept some of the downsides of relationships to gain the repose of certainty in at least one person.

Trouble is that unlike your favourite drive-thru burger joint, people do change. Like a ship’s captain sleeping soundly in his or her cabin, content in the knowledge that the anchor is holding firm, we merrily carry on. But what is really happening on the sea floor? Is the anchor hooked tight or one big wave away from slipping?

The question becomes: Can we ever think that we’re in a safe harbour, or will we always be steaming?

Change-Up

Lots of men find themselves stuck in high school when it comes to relating to women. This, a consequence of poor attention to knowledge about relationships, detrimentally affects both sexes, creating misunderstanding and resentment.

Here’s the problem: when guys are beginning to date and relate to females, they learn specific behaviours. Teenaged females react to certain modes of bloke communication and interaction, so our typical young man learns those lessons.

Women then grow older and change. Experience modifies the way they look at life and themselves, and as a consequence they expect men to provide different inputs accordingly. Unfortunately, men don’t apply the lessons of change they’ve seen in their lives, and don’t stay up with the updated female view of the universe.

Move on a few years, and the dating scene looks dire. Grown men applying the same techniques they learned as callow youths find themselves rejected by mature women looking for something else entirely. We can call this a mismatch; I prefer disaster.

It wouldn’t be so bad if we’re just talking dating. Sadly, we’re also talking marriage, and those who feel the most stinging repercussions are the children.

Guys get stuck – early on – and women are on the move – all the time. That’s what we are all dealing with.