zenhabits : breathe

What’s Wrong With the World? Not a Damn Thing

“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” -Eric Fromm

It struck me recently that a lot of people think they know what’s wrong with this world, and it also struck me that they’re all wrong.

Seriously — almost every political and religious group, every opinionated person, every publication with an opinion, has said at one time or another what they think is wrong with this world.

Conservatives think that we’ve become a welfare state (giving too many handouts to the poor), while many liberals think we’ve allowed too much corporate welfare (and I tend to agree with this more — we give billions to corporations and much less to the poor and sick). Others think that abortion is the problem, others think it’s declining morals, others think it’s infidels, and others say it’s infidelity. Other things that are wrong with this world, depending on the group: the media, young people, environmentalists, McDonald’s, criminals, gays, black people, white people, foreigners overrunning our country, bigots, radicals, the Establishment, poor people, corporations, lazy people, evil people, Fox News, the Internet … the list could go on and on, obviously.

So what’s really wrong with the world, in my opinion?

Not a thing.

The Prevailing World-view
It seems to be a prevailing world-view that the world is messed up, that there are just a few things wrong with it, and if we could only get those things to change, the world would be great. If we could just educate people and get them to realize what’s wrong with this world, things could change.

This type of view of the world — and like I said, I think it’s the prevailing view — stems from an ideal that many people have in their heads of what the world should be like. They might not realize they have that ideal, but it’s there. And the world will never reach this Platonic ideal, because it’s just this image of perfection that does not match reality. Reality and this ideal are incompatible.

So What’s Wrong With That?
Nothing’s wrong with that, actually. That’s how most people are, and I don’t think I can change that, nor would I want to. I thought it would be an interesting discussion, though, because I think this discrepancy between what people think the world should be and what the world really is can cause unhappiness.

If you want the world to be completely vegetarian and kind to animals, and it isn’t and won’t be in the foreseeable future, you will most likely be unhappy. If you want the world to go back to how it was during your childhood, or during your parents’ generation, and it isn’t likely to do so, you’re not gonna be happy.

The same is true of any of our ideals — do you have an ideal spouse? An ideal child? An ideal friend, mother, co-worker or roommate? It’s very possible that you do, and also very possible that the reality of the people in your life don’t meet these ideals. That might cause you to be unhappy with them.

When reality doesn’t meet ideals — and it rarely does — we become unhappy.

So What’s the Alternative?
I’m not proposing that you, or anyone else, change your world-view. If you, or anyone else, is happy with that world-view, don’t change it.

But there is an alternative, and I’m not saying it’s better. It’s the world-view I try to have: instead of having an ideal, stop looking for perfection. Accept the world as it is, and love it for what it is. Accept people as they are, and love them.

That’s not easy, even if it sounds trite and commonplace. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend you do, because 1) it won’t be easy; and 2) it could open your eyes to the pre-conceived ideals you didn’t realize you had.

What would be the result of this alternative world-view? Well, I think you’d be happier, if only because you didn’t see the world as a fundamentally flawed or evil place, and began to see the good in the world. This, however, is open to individual interpretation, and your own experience is likely to be different than mine.

Does this mean that we should give up on trying to make positive changes in the world? Should we stop trying to make the world a better place? Nosireebob! Don’t ever stop trying to do good things! Even if the world is already a good place, we can always find happiness and satisfaction in trying to do good, in trying to make people’s lives better.

But what about all the evil and suffering in the world? Should we accept and love that as well? That’s the toughest part, I think. It’s hard to accept that people are dying of diseases and famine and war and murder and abuse, and perhaps impossible to love that aspect of the world. You don’t have to love it, but it helps to try to really understand it. Why does this happen? What are the deeper reasons? At the hear of the deepest reasons is humanity — we are all flawed creatures in some way, and that’s what makes us human and beautiful.

Why would someone commit violence, for example? Because they are evil? There are numerous reasons, but at the heart of it is probably that this person was hurt, abandoned, abused, or neglected in some way, at some point in his life. That person needs our compassion more than anyone. And if we try to understand this person, or understand the heart of any violence in the world, then we can better apply the love and compassion that’s need to heal this pain and make the world a better place.

Like I said, this world-view isn’t easy. It requires a lot of compassion, and therefore a lot of understanding and patience and a willingness to open your heart in a way that the prevailing world-view doesn’t.

However, I think it’s worth the effort — at least, it has been in my life. I don’t claim to be perfect, and I admit that I fail all the time. I judge others, and condemn things, along with everyone else. But when I catch myself at that, and really examine the reasons why, I begin to see that I am making quick judgments, and not really trying to understand things. When I reverse that, and try to find the compassion needed, it changes me — in a wonderful way.

How to Love the World as It Is
So let’s say that you’d like to try this world-view. You’d like to love people, and the entire world, as it is, and not as you’d like it to be. How do you go about doing that?

There are six things I recommend doing:

1. Stop looking for perfection and ideals. Realize that you have an ideal in your head, and that it is probably incompatible with the world. It might be an ideal about a person, or about how things should be. The world, and people, are not perfect. Stop looking for perfection, and realize that it is already here.

2. Observe. Instead of looking at this ideal picture in your head, look at what’s really there. What is the world really like? What are people really like? The only way to know this is to observe. Listen to people. Look at the world around you. Gather data, from reality.

3. Understand. Now that you have this data, start asking questions. Why are people the way they are? Why did someone do what they did? Why does this problem really exist? Don’t stop at the first answers you come up with — dig deeper, and deeper, until you really understand something. Seek to understand before you judge, in all situations. Sometimes that will require imagination — you won’t be able to really know the root of something unless you personally investigate everything, but instead sometimes you can try to imagine what made a person the way they are, or a situation what it is.

“To understand everything is to forgive everything.” - Buddha

4. Accept. Once you’ve observed and begun to understand, accept that this is the way the world is. This is who the person is. The world isn’t going to meet any ideal — it is what it is, and while it will always change, it probably won’t change to meet your ideal. The person in question is exactly the same — they won’t meet your ideal, but are who they are. Accept this as fact.

5. Love and compassion. Once you’ve accepted things or people as they are … try to find it in your heart to love them, as they are. The way to do this is to see the good in everything and everyone, and if you’ve sought to really look and understand, you will find good in everything. When you see bad things, understand that this is because of suffering, and have compassion and seek to end that suffering.

6. Enjoy life
. The world is a wonderful place once you’ve accepted it for what it is and sought to love it. People are wonderful creatures, full of life and creativity and messiness and uniqueness. Accept this, understand it, love it. And enjoy this gift we’ve been given, for it is incredible. And perfect, just as it is.

“Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.” - Buddha

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