Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What You Put In

We hear a lot about how bad the world is today, but that’s not really an idea I can get behind. If you stop and think about it, the modern world is a pretty great place to be, over all. It’s not perfect, by any means, and there is no doubt that it’s not great for everyone but, if you’re in a part of the world where you have the time and ability to read these words, if you’re in a part of the world where social media has any significant impact, odds are good that you’re in a part of the world that is more great than not. There are exceptions to every rule, but the people who complain the most about the ills of the modern world are almost always the same people who can complain by smartphone in between song downloads and instant weather updates. Perspective. There may be things we don’t like about the world around us - and there probably always will be - but we shouldn’t let that blind us to all of the good that is available, not least of which being that we currently have more ability to change the world than any previous generation in any previous society has ever known. If you don’t like where the world is heading, don’t just check out. Do something about it.

Keep in mind, though, that it is not solely your world to change. We all live here, and we all have to share. If we spend all our time kicking over each other’s sandcastles because they’re not built how we would build them, we won’t have much time left over for building sandcastles of our own. I don’t like Will Ferrell movies, so I don’t watch Will Ferrell movies. Simple, right? I’m not going to run around trying to prevent Will Ferrell from making movies, because that would be a huge waste of my time. I have a limited amount of that time stuff, and there are no free refills when I use it all up. The time I’m going to use on movies? I would much rather use it on movies that I’m going to enjoy than use it against movies I don’t enjoy.

Are you making the world better, or are you just complaining because someone else likes things you don’t enjoy. Those really are not the same thing. They don’t even have as much overlap as some people seem to believe. Yes, I will usually dislike things I perceive as making the world worse, but the world is not made worse simply because I dislike something. The relationship is a bit more complex than that.

You will have to fight against those things which you perceive as bringing down the world sometimes, but don’t lose yourself in that fight. If you aren’t spending more time enjoying the good than objecting to the bad then what’s the point? You can’t make the world more positive by embracing the negative. You can’t get more family time by spending longer hours at work. You can’t eat more ice cream by loading up on broccoli. You can’t read more good books by focusing all of your attention on books you dislike. You can’t be a light by spreading darkness. Make the world better, but don’t do so at the expense of what is already good.

You get out of it what you put into it. That’s a pretty standard rule for living, and it governs most of our social interactions. If you spend more of your time on the negative, you’ll usually get more negative. If you spend more of your time on the positive, you’ll usually get more positive. The flip side of that is, if other people are putting in something different than you, they will probably get back something different than you. You can’t just assume that you know what they’re getting out of an experience if you don’t also know what they’re putting in. You might not need to walk a mile in their shoes, but you will probably need more information than is provided by a simple status update.

There is an old story about two wolves that live inside each person, one light and one dark, one positive and one negative. These two wolves are constantly fighting for supremacy, and the one that wins is the one you feed the most. You need them both, and the fight will never truly end, but which one do you want to be more in control? I think most of us have the same answer to that question, but we often forget to act as though that is the answer.

If you want to make the world better, you have to be better. It starts with you. To be honest, it often ends with you. There is a huge chunk of reality over which you have no control. There is another not insignificant amount of reality over which you have only limited control, sometimes very limited. These two blocks make up the majority of life, by far. The amount of life that you really get to be in charge of, and that you can make a healthy difference in, is mostly confined to the space between your ears. Start there if you want to make a change.

If the world doesn’t seem to be what you believe it should be, make a change, but start where you will likely do the most good. You get out of life what you put into it, so make sure that what you are putting in will lead to what you want out. Don’t expect the world to change while you just sit still and watch, and don’t expect to pull out rainbows if all you’re putting in is rain. Be the change you want to see and you will see that change. If you want a better world, it starts with a better you. Be the best you that you can be.

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