I have been re-reading a lot of my recent posts, email rants, etc. and have decided that for Lent I am going to give up (or at least strive to give up) overanalyzing, fixating and reacting to the events of the day. I have returned to the realization that what I focus on becomes bigger and bigger and tends to color my mood and actions, or, as some have put it, what you think about you bring about.
Life is good. I don’t care what your circumstance is at the moment. Every single one of us living here won the lottery in life. We live in the greatest country in the world despite its flaws and missteps. We have codified in our country and culture that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is an “inalienable” right, meaning, it is fundamental and transcends even written law. While it has not always been practiced, we have established that “all people are created equal” as a foundational truth and we have continually strived to get better about recognizing and defending that truth. We have established in law that every person has the freedom to speak their mind, which means we each have the freedom to debate or ignore that person. We have the freedom to worship in accordance with our personal beliefs and are not beholden to a state-endorsed church or theocratic government. We have the freedom to collectively gather peacefully and protest or endorse activities or ideas. In short, we enjoy a degree of autonomy and opportunity that is incomprehensible to other nations, because we have the freedom to choose for ourselves.
We are far from perfect, but we are good and have been a force for good around the world. We have not historically been nor are we an expansionist nation. Our recent wars against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been to acquire new lands to add to the United States, but, rather to defend our interests abroad. (NOTE: I am not necessarily endorsing the idea of fighting wars in other countries, just making the observation that we aren’t fighting to extend our national borders.)
We encourage entrepreneurs and creative thinkers to challenge the norms and we reward their success. We have achieved great technological, medical, and other scientific breakthroughs because of his freedom to pursue chasing our dreams (and wild ideas) and we reward success. This has led to reusable rockets, self-driving cars, new medicines and medical treatments, hobbies that have become businesses, and the magic to literally create income out of thin air with the rise and proliferation of mobile and web apps. We are not just enabled, but encouraged to be creative and are provided the opportunity to live off the fruit of our efforts. If you are a woodworker, you now have access to a worldwide market for your creations. If you are a writer, you can sell and distribute your intellectual capital without having to rely on publishers, book dealers, etc. If you are a musician, you can teach, record and sell all from the comfort of your home and to a greater audience than the recording stars of the past. In short, we have more opportunity than we have ever had in the past, greater potential than ever, and encouragement and support to pursue whatever we decide to pursue.
You may be saying, sure, this is true, but PERSONALLY, life kind of sucks right now. I hear you and I have been there more than once. I really like the song Grand Illusion by Styx. Without quoting it all, the core idea in the song is summed up in the line “so if you think your life is complete confusion, because your neighbor’s got it made. Just remember that, it’s a grand illusion, deep inside we’re all the same.” Granted the song tends to lead you to the idea that nobody really is happy or content, but the truth in the song is even more relevant today. When we look at the human highlight reels of our friends and neighbors on Facebook, Instagram, etc. it is very easy to believe that everyone is doing fantastic and that we are the only ones having problems, but that is just a “grand illusion”.
Everyone has struggles and areas of their life that are difficult and that suck. Everyone has bad things that they have to deal with. Some are things outside of our control that have happened to us. Those suck the worst, but I have found that people tend to unite behind and support people going through those situations, and, frankly, today the ability to get support or to support others has gotten easier and better through things like gofundme, etc. Most of the things that suck, however, are a result of (gulp) our own choices and decisions made in the past and those take longer to get past. The only way to do that is to start making better choices and decisions now and day-by-day, over time the situations will improve and suck way less. Even that, however, underscores just how great we have it. Our past decisions don’t have to dictate our future. We have the freedom AND opportunity to change and better ourselves and our situation. This isn’t true for most people, and it definitely hasn’t been true historically.
In the past, your birth conditions dictated the rest of your life. Here, your birth conditions granted you the opportunity to mold your life and change it for better or worse at any time. You don’t have to follow a straight, mundane path from birth to death unless you want to. You can make it as exciting or as mundane as you want, because it is YOUR choice and you get to decide the risks you want to take. Rags to riches stories are universally popular, and WE are lucky enough to get to live whatever one we want, rather than just read about them. Our only responsibility is to make sure we pass that same freedom to future generations. That’s why I believe we are the most fortunate people on earth.
So, as we enter into this this Lenten season filled with snow and ice, Covid regulations, political churn, partisan bickering, and unease about what the future could bring, my advice is to use your freedom of choice, recognize that you live in a time, place and environment that gives you everything you need and all the freedom you need to define your future, and choose to be optimistic…pragmatic, but optimistic and then take a first step, any first step.
And remember, life is good.