I recently asked a large, diverse group of people for their opinion on “society’s biggest plague” today.
Their answers were thoughtful and determined, but not particularly surprising. Greed, disconnect, materialism, entitlement and an obsession with technology were steadily repeated, like the pattern of a predictably knitted sweater.
The bad news: these social epidemics are indeed rampant within our current culture. They show up in magazines, on television, in schools and corporations and even in our own homes.
The good news: they all have one thing in common—their ability to be immediately eradicated from our lives.
Each of these issues is rooted in perspective and choice. Not one person said lack of food or water, lack of shelter or lack of education for girls. Our biggest plagues on society are things we can control, at least within our own lives. We are rich beyond our wildest dreams, even if we are struggling to make rent or car payments, for the simple fact that our most difficult issues are feelings.
It is not unusual to be most frustrated with others over things we see in ourselves. For example, if I believe that Facebook, iPhones and social media are the worst thing to happen to modern day society, there’s a good chance I’m annoyed with my own tendency to fall into the technological abyss.
Feelings of guilt about my own issues give rise to anger, and the easiest way to prevent self-blame is to direct that blame elsewhere. Self blame is a hot coal to hold onto, so I’m in no way suggesting that we turn the anger inward. I’m simply saying we should remove the anger completely.
We are human beings, prone to making mistakes all day, every day. It’s amazing most of us live past the age of 25! Spending any of our preciously short time on this planet by playing the blame game (whether we’re blaming ourselves or others) is a complete waste. We are better off focusing on what we think is wrong in the world and doing the opposite.
It’s much easier to inspire others through our actions than to try changing bad behavior with finger pointing and criticism.
As rich as we are, our emotional wealth pales in comparison to the developing world. It takes so much to make us happy because we have everything we need, and a ton more. Greed, disconnect, entitlement. These plagues on society are caused by an excess of everything and access to everything.
When we can have whatever we want whenever we want it, where do we go from there? Whether we’re discussing technology, material possessions, or a feeling of superiority over the rest of the world, society is endlessly hungry for more.But on an individual level, we have the choice to change. It’s more than possible, and shockingly easy. Achieve this, and the world around you will take on an almost Matrix-like surrealism as you begin to turn inward and find your joy and happiness from within.
The transitional point in my life, when I finally turned inward and stopped basing my happiness on possessions, achievements and praise, was when I hit financial rock bottom, lost everything and had to rebuild. I went from a six figure income to total loss, and at that moment stopped caring what other people thought—I had to. Continuing to care would have been too painful.
As difficult as that point in my life was at the time, it gave me the tools to create the life I want. It broke me down. It humbled me. And I don’t know how I got so lucky, to be shown the error of my ways so early in life. To be given such a powerful, enlightening lesson…and still have so much time left on this planet.
It doesn’t always work that way. As a mother of three young children, this lesson is even more powerful. Nothing is more important to me than their happiness. As a human being, I’m sure at least 30% of my parenting style is screwing them up…but there’s really no way around that.
The only thing I know for certain is that my kids are told (and shown) that life is meant to be lived in whatever way they wish to live it. They also know that most people don’t follow that path. I tell them every day, “Don’t even listen to me. I might not know what the hell I’m talking about. All I know is that I’m happy in my life. What makes you happy…only you can decide. But decide to be happy, dammit!”
The moral to the story: we are fortunate to have the ability to choose the lives we want to live. Let’s choose well.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Milena Trickovic/Pixoto