The other day, I was listening to an old Powder Blues album, and a line in one of their songs went something like this “I read the paper this morning people… same old bad news”. I thought that was a good example of a timeless lyric, since newspaper headlines always seem to be discouraging. That was my perception, but was this actually true? Is the world as depressing today as it was in the early 1980s, when this song was written?
On a whim, I decided to try a little experiment: I was going to be an “information sponge” for a few days, and try and capture the “zeitgeist” of my immediate environment. I read the papers, watched the news on television, listened to my co-workers and the Go-Train riders, and read the posts of my Facebook friends.
If I could describe the spirit of the times in one word, it would be “discontent”. News outlets reported on disasters and tragedies; rapidly-assembled groups were protesting the big things, and individuals were complaining to their friends about the little things.
At the beginning of our lives we seem to be content enough – babies are always laughing and smiling – and in our youth we are optimistic, invulnerable and idealistic. However, something happens to our rose-coloured outlook soon afterwards. As pop singer Jewel Kilcher remarked during a television interview a few years ago, “Most people have all of the idealism squashed out of them by the time they turn 25”. Ironically, the older we become and the more capable we are of making a difference in the world, the more we seem to gripe about our situation. The proverbial “grumpy old man” is an example of someone whose life has beaten him down.
Yes, we live in a decidedly imperfect world, but we shouldn’t let it discourage us. I believe that we have a choice: we can keep complaining about our situation and allow life to beat us down, or we can find serenity, hope and even a purpose to our existence by looking at the world from The Bob Angle. I also want to address the central questions that are shared by all of us: Why am I here? Why was I put on this Earth? What is my purpose in life? What exactly am I supposed to accomplish?
The key to finding meaning in our lives involves a subtle shift in our perception. Instead of bemoaning your circumstances, I want you to look at your life, your community, and even the Earth itself as a project. The world is a work-in-progress, and you are a leading authority who has been summoned to help improve it.
A number of television shows are based on this idea – The A-Team, Monk, The Mod Squad, Super Friends – there is a mystery or some intractable problem that no one is able to solve; therefore an expert (or an elite team of experts) has to be called in. You are a part of this elite team.
According to Chuck Hillig, an author and lecturer who has written several books on enlightenment “Everything that’s happening in your life right now is not happening to you, it’s happening for you”.
The way I see it, if the world was already perfect, then you wouldn’t have been born into it. You were born on this planet because there was a deficiency that only you could fill. You have an innate ability, and some things come naturally to you. You don’t know what they are yet, but as you mature, you will discover, nurture and develop them. Over time, you will find a way to use your unique combination of skills, talents and abilities to to identify and solve problems that others cannot, and to help others in a way that no one else can. Ultimately, you will make this planet a better place for everyone. This is your purpose; you are here because the world is imperfect.
Let’s suppose that you lived in a secure, upscale, gated community. Everyone in your community was well-off, ambitious, generous, charitable, and a genuinely nice person. Everyone knew each other, got along well, were always happy to help each other. Now let’s suppose that a stranger approached the gate, peered through the bars, and asked to join your idyllic community. How would you respond? I’ll wager that you wouldn’t be too eager to accept any new person into your community because you don’t know him – you don’t know if he’ll be a positive addition to your neighbourhood. After all, your community is already a paradise and it couldn’t possibly get any better.
Now let’s suppose that your gated community has just endured a major hurricane and is now in a serious state of disrepair – almost every house has missing shingles and broken windows, basements are flooded, there is garbage strewn about, some trees have been uprooted and everyone’s garden is ruined. Unfortunately there are no plumbers, roofers, or landscapers in your community. Once again there is a knock at the gate, and a stranger wants to live in your neighbourhood. This time, he announces that he is a professional landscaper. Obviously he is now more likely to be welcomed into your community – while he won’t be able to single-handedly restore the community to the paradise it once was, he does possess skills that are valuable and that will benefit many people.
As I’m sure you’ve heard many times: life is a journey, and not a destination. Think of the happiness you feel when listening to a favourite piece of music; remember that the purpose of a piece of music is not to arrive at the final note. Utopia is the destination; building a Utopia is the journey.
In a previous article, I used a jigsaw puzzle as a metaphor for life, and I believe that it also applies here. Suppose that you bought a spectacular-looking jigsaw puzzle. The image on the box was breathtaking and jaw-droppingly magnificent – something that might be better-suited on a museum wall. Then when you opened the box, you discovered that there was only one piece – the puzzle was already complete. At this point you would quite understandably feel ripped off. The finished image would certainly look striking and resplendent, but you had no hand in constructing it. Therefore your first thought might be “There’s only one piece – there’s nothing for me to build! Where’s the fun in that?”. While the ultimate goal of a jigsaw puzzle is admiring the completed image, the joy of the jigsaw puzzle lies in its incompleteness.
While we may dream of one day living in a Utopian society, when we (or our descendants) finally get there, creativity and innovation will cease, since there will be nothing left for us to do. I think that most of us have an inherent desire to change the world – to improve it, and to leave it in better shape than it was when we found it. We each possess a unique combination of skills that allow us to do this, and in my opinion, that’s why we’ve been invited to live on this planet. Life is a project, and we are the master craftsmen and craftswomen – let’s identify and take inventory of our skills, see what needs to be done, and get to work!