There are lots of things that could be improved about the world, and many things to be unhappy about. You’ve probably got a long list of such things, like everyone else. Now, what are you going to do about them? No, really, what are you going to actually do?
Very often, the answer is: “nothing productive”. And when that’s the answer, better to focus your energies where you are prepared and able to take meaningful action. Then work on accepting the rest. Yes, this is difficult, but it’s worth doing.
Note: I’m writing this post as a reminder for myself.
The alternatives aren’t good: you could carry around malcontent and then let it out when triggered. You can vent, complain, debate, argue. You can discuss endlessly. You can develop a habit of reading things that make you mad or let you feel righteously indignant. Of course, none of these actions has much chance of meaningfully addressing the problems you see with the world, except perhaps by accident. You’re using up time and energy merely reacting to the mismatch between the state of the world as it is and the state of the world as you’d like it to be.
Meaningful action occurs when you recognize the mismatch between “the world as it is” and “the world as you’d like it to be” and then take deliberate action designed to have some impact. Maybe that deliberate action will be effective, or maybe not; either way you’ve made progress.
Deliberate action can take many forms, the key is just that it’s deliberate. You take the action intentionally, with some idea of what impact you hope it will have.
It all sounds sensible, and yet the world is just full of people who do lots of talking and not much doing. Why is that? Here’s how it can happen:
First and foremost, you want to be comfortable. So you get a job. Rarely does the world pay you to do exactly the things you care most about, so instead you settle for something “in the ballpark”. Maybe it’s a good job, maybe it’s pretty interesting, and you get to work with some fun people. Great!
Meanwhile, your job takes up a lot of time and energy. You find that when you get home, you don’t have as much energy to laser focus into meaningful action. You want to unwind a bit. And if you’ve got a family, you have very little free time outside of work as it is. With the time and energy you do have available, maybe you make some focused effort at something, but it can’t be sustained enough to have a real impact and you get discouraged.
Over time, you might develop into the kind of person who stops caring about all that much. After all, what impact can one person really have?
Or perhaps that drive to try improving some things about the world is still there for you, a little itch in your brain. But since you aren’t really doing much about that itch, you have some cognitive dissonance. You might say that solving world hunger or doing something about gender inequality is something you care about, but your actions indicate that your priorities are to be reasonably comfortable and entertained. You take some actions reactively, almost at random, related to your mental itch—somebody says something you disagree with on Twitter and you get into an argument about it. You get into long discussions on reddit. You start posting and commenting angrily on Facebook about various items in the news. Your actions might become more about convincing yourself and convincing others that you really do care, though subconsciously part of you recognizes you’re a bit of a fraud. Meanwhile, the world isn’t getting any better on account of your actions, and maybe you’re turning into one of those negative, resentful, unpleasant people who always seems to be complaining about things.
The human capacity for self-delusion is almost limitless. Don’t go down this road. Be honest with yourself. What do you think could be better about the world, and what are you going to do about it? Act accordingly.