Friday, 27 October 2017

All the Problems in the World



You Can Hide Your Face Behind a Smile
So much bad news; so much anger. The president is in a nearly daily verbal food fight with the press and trades insults with the leader of North Korea (whom he has dubbed "Rocket Man" derisively). Our state has been burnt by enormous wildfires. Hurricanes.

And there is no escaping by ignoring the news and turning to traditional outlets. Our paid gladiators are protesting. Our actors are engulfed in a truly shocking, disgusting series of scandals.

When everyone is trying to "resist" something, what can we as a society do to try to combat the rising feeling of helpless despair?

I was thinking about this recently. “Society,” which I define somewhat proximally, is the people and environment I live among and within.

I live in San Francisco, California, so I focus somewhat on my own “society,” as it is the one I think I know best.

Your mileage may vary.

I'm not naturally an optimist (one of my favourite aphorisms, courtesy of Bernard Shaw, is that the power of accurate observation is often called "cynicism" by those who haven't got it. I'm not a cynic, but I do like to think my views are grounded and that they are accurate.

When asked how I stay focused and remain positive, I answer that what we need most (individually and collectively) is a refresher that your life is your own, and to a very large degree, you would be happier and much better off if you did not think of life as ‘relative.’

Do not base your happiness and sense of satisfaction on what you have in comparison to what the guy next to you, down the block, or across town has. My neighbour has a bigger house, perhaps. Or a fancier car. Or maybe he makes more money in a year or has more “power.”

In the grand scheme of things, none of these realities has any real, measurable impact on me. My happiness is not relative. 

Either my house is adequate to my needs, or it isn’t. I either have enough money to meet my basic needs and to try to enjoy a luxury from time to time that I really want, or I don’t. My wife and I went out to a nice dinner with our son last Sunday night. It wasn’t a Michelin 3-star restaurant, but we enjoyed it. There are people who can afford to go to Saison (a very expensive, fancy restaurant here in San Francisco) more than the once every couple of years that my wife and I budget. That in no way diminishes the nice family evening we had. 

Someone will always have more. I accept that fact.

Do not base your satisfaction with your life by the way others see you. Do not worry about the opinion of strangers. I like certain music, certain movies. I have certain political views. I am happy to share these with other people, and am open to listening. But I do not gauge my worth on how others see me. Long ago, I stopped seeking the approval of strangers. 

You can only be defined by other people when you let them.

Conversely, leave other people alone. Their lives are theirs and not yours. It’s not your place to condemn or criticise. That guy across the street who dresses oddly or has different tastes is different, not wrong. He is living his one life as you are. 

The world is made up with seven billion individuals, each with this one life - a singular gift; a unique chance. It's yours to do as you please. Enjoy it.

I used to read the baseball writings of Bill James. James is not any sort of spiritual genius, but he made a metaphor 35 years ago that has stuck with me. And it is this:

All of us are standing in a long, long line. We can choose to look to those to our left, see that they have more, and be envious. We can look to those on our right, see that they have less, and be grateful. It's all a matter of where you choose to look.


Be satisfied with what you have, and happy with who you are. Your worth is absolute and not relative.

I don't have enormous wealth, or a fancy house. I don't have a model's looks. 

There are plenty of people who have more. There are a lot of people who have less. In some cases, a lot less.

I try not to look left or right; I choose to look at myself and by OK with who and what I am


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