doing good things: it’s a bore

The question of good and evil is a big one. Most people would like to think of themselves as “okay”. Maybe not terrifically good, but at least not terrifically bad. Sure, people make mistakes and are cruel from time to time, but we each like to believe that our good mostly outweighs the bad. Religions often emphasize and try to encourage people to be moral, with greater or lesser success. Even people that consider themselves horrible people still tend to count some of their actions as beneficial to the whole good, and even people that consider themselves ultimately saints know in their hearts that they’re imperfect.

Adding onto this difficulty, there are questions of circumstance. If someone is struggling to survive, surely it isn’t necessary for them to help others since they are exerting so much effort in other worthwhile things? But also, we tend to overestimate how busy we are to make ourselves feel less guilty for not doing more. Helping the poor. Giving comfort to those in need. Being kind and compassionate when there is no external motivating factor like the desire to be seen as socially good.

Some argue that all humans are good, just get pushed down the wrong path by a terrible situation. Some others argue all humans are evil, and we have to fight our instincts to accomplish something good. Still, others feel that a binary of right and wrong is too simple and we should act with the understanding that circumstances are almost always morally ambiguous.

We might not know, and there will almost certainly be disagreement about the particulars, yet regardless we must realize that there is a drive, either internally or externally to do good things from somewhere. If there wasn’t, how would our species have survived this long? What about all of the cooperative relationships and groups that operate every day? Humans can be altruistic, at least to a limited degree. The problem with the argument is that there are so many options and opinions flying around that it becomes easy to justify doing nothing, even when we can do far more. It’s easy to feel like Injustice is so widespread that an individual can do nothing to help. But this isn’t the case. Even if an action is nominal, a good act can still impact someone else’s life for the better. There’s the hope that individuals will all do little things on their own and together that kindness and compassion will make the difference on the whole. However, it’s difficult to feel fulfilled as a tiny dot on a giant balance. Furthermore, even the most basic actions can have many results; who decides the overall absolute value of “goodness”?

Discussions of morality make people uncomfortable because it is almost always associated with shame. We feel like we haven’t done enough. Frankly, we probably haven’t, and if we are honest with ourselves, we know that our behaviors likely won’t shift in the future either.

So what’s to be done? In our hearts, we know what we have to do, and it’s boring.

The way for most humans to realistically enact change isn’t exciting. Not everyone can or should join the Peace Corps or start a charitable nonprofit. What impacts people is donating to charities who have actual pragmatic goals and ways to achieve them. What impacts people is joining a local club that does blood drives. Working at a soup kitchen. Being around people who are in need is uncomfortable, and we don’t want to deal with the realization that they are human as us. You don’t have to give up everything in your life, you just have to give consistently and practically. It’s dull. It won’t make you feel like a saint, it will more likely make you annoyed because you have yet another commitment to tack on to a large pile. It matters anyway. We can always do something good for others, our situation just dictates what kind of good we are capable of giving. We should do what we can, and what that means will probably change over time. Doing what we can where we can is a much better option, however, than being paralyzed with shame that helps no one.

turns out, you need other people, and that’s how it’s supposed to be

Any expert is a proxy that will simplify the books and knowledge you don’t want to spend the time learning about. Theoretically, you could become the foremost expert on North Eastern moss, but we trust the sites on Google that break it down more effectively into what we need to know. Trust is involved for so many of our actions because we are limited individuals. There is only so much time in the day, and only so much effort and focus we can exert. When we find ourselves at a loss, we ask. Or rather, we should ask.

Even though we are social creatures that thrive and require social connections, we also have a deep desire to be independent. We want to be able to exist without our social matrix. “Surviving in the Wilderness” videos get so many views because we want to know that we could do it. We want to know that we aren’t dependent on others, that we have value in and of ourselves. The issue with that line of thought is that almost all of our values matter in relation to other people. We want to be individuals, almost in spite of our relation to a network, but that in itself creates a relationship. We value other people, even though we may claim that other’s opinions don’t matter.

So, what do we do? Give up any semblance of individuality and commit to the needs of the whole without complaint?

Absolutely not. We need other people, but that doesn’t destroy the value of the individual. Some differences, some values should not be thrown away just because the majority disagrees. It is good and important that we want to be independent. By interacting with the group and offering up the differences we have, we both gain value as an individual and support the whole. Sometimes we don’t realize how we have value, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Simply by living and experiencing things, we can offer different perspectives, different natural abilities,  and even just being there to listen to others can do incredible good.

We can do great things as individuals but pretending like we don’t need other people will only make us miserable. So ask others when you don’t know what to do. If no one knows, then take your best guess and maybe you’ll be able to help someone else that falls into the same situation.

what to value

Our work should be prioritized. But so should our relationships, our mental and physical health, and our values. There are so many things that matter to us in different ways, but it’s difficult to put them into a hierarchy, because it depends on circumstance. We care about so much, and that makes it difficult sometimes for us to know what the “right thing” to prioritize in each situation is.

Frankly, sometimes we will never know if we did the right thing. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances where each option has a uncontrollable downside. We look at our situation and know that there is probably a better way to go about solving it, but we can’t see it. In the original Star Trek, Kirk is almost always placed in a pick A or B choice where both are horrendous options. But he finds a C, and things turn out okay, even if it’s a huge risk.

We should strive for our option C, for being able to do as much as we can for all of our values. There are few situations in which C will not exist. However, just because it often exists doesn’t mean we see it easily. We see nothing easily but that which we want to see, and nothing is easier to see than a bad end when we’re under pressure. We don’t know what we want, what the most desirable ending is, and even when we do, we don’t know how to get there. There are so many unknowns we must constantly juggle. But practice makes perfect. Even if we don’t know how to balance things right now, doing our best will eventually teach us what to not do. There is a time for everything, if we make it.

risks and ladders

Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t done what you want yet. It doesn’t matter if you’re a wreck right now. It doesn’t matter, because it’s not the end. Every moment doesn’t feel like a new chance, but it is. Most of the time, the bars and limits we have are those we put on ourselves. If you want to do something more, you can achieve that.

It’s easy to think that couldn’t be the case. We think that if we want to go see a new movie in theaters, we have to go with friends. You don’t, you could go yourself. We think we can’t switch careers, because we wouldn’t even know where to start. Fine, you don’t know where to start, but knowing that means your first step is finding out what the steps are. We think that if we don’t stay or become a certain way, we’ll be alone forever. Surely, there is an importance to listening to what others have to say and heeding their advice, but at the end of the day, there is a line between listening to others and letting them rule your life.

Everything to this point matters in that it has built you up into who you are right now, but that doesn’t mean you have to play your hand out exactly like it’s expected. We are in a processing of growing, and its going to take a while to get to where we want to go. It’s terrifying to abruptly change, and there are many things that seem way beyond us– and that’s okay! Changing overnight is a difficult and natural thing. What is good is teaching yourself, step by step, to creep towards those goals of yours, pushing what’s comfortable for you. This moment is a chance. This moment too. If you don’t take it now, seriously ask yourself if you ever will.

when 17/18ths of the buttons of the control panel of life are closed off

Many things are out of our control, to the point where we may think everything is sometimes. It isn’t. We influence the world just as the world influences us. We are not static beings in our environment, but rather dynamic individuals.

Having faith that things be okay is difficult, because honestly, sometimes things won’t. We’re not going to be able to succeed every time, or get the answer we want, or fulfill our responsibilities. Still, as the world throws obstacles and situations of all sorts at us, it’s important to remain calm. Know there is a chance you’ll fail, but also know that there is a chance you’ll succeed. Try anyways, for the things you know you must do. Maybe the problem will be too big for us to handle alone, but that’s okay, because we are never alone.

Failure is always an option that might occur. That’s okay. It’s a part of the natural waves and crests and troughs of life that we won’t feel or do our best every day. But no situation is so straightforward that you can count it as a 100% failure in the first place. We can learn from anything, take the good parts of any situation, grow from our confusion and struggles! Yes, many things are out of our control, but that doesn’t mean our actions and choices are pointless.

‘thank you’s are a little awkward, so this is how you do it

There is no shame is needing someone. Turning down offers may seem polite in certain circumstances, but if they offer food and you want food, who benefits from that situation? Giving makes us feel better, and encourages us to be even better people. Accepting a gift or a favor from someone makes them feel like they are generous, kind people, and you get a gift or favor in return! But the awkward part, the part that gives us the most grief, is what to do afterward.

Gratitude is strange. It makes us tense, because we have these emotions, and yet we might not always know how to express them. ‘Thank you” on it’s own may seem too short. In order to remedy the situation, here’s a quick crash course on how to say thank you:

1. Start out with thank you, and/or some sort of exclamation like, “WOw!” or “Oh wonderful!” This first part initiates your response and if it seems like their gift has made an emotional impact on making your life better, the first reception of the gift should be exciting.

2. Explain why you love the gift. If you don’t really know what it is, ask in an interested way about some details of it. Even if you know what it is, pointing out some immediate details that catch your eye that you like. Some situations are more difficult than others, but do your best and practice will makes things easier over time. Noticing the details makes people feel like you are going to use every bit of it.

3. If you can, directly say how this will improve your life. Lay out a difficulty you have that this problem will solve. Again, people want to know that what they are giving you matters to you.

4. End with another thank you. It’s hard to get angry at somehow for being overly thankful, because generally we tend to not be thankful enough.

If you can, the best way to show gratitude, is to do something kind back, especially further on down the road. Remembering and helping them when they need it means something. Hopefully receiving gifts should make us more gracious to other people, and a consistent show of love helps all of our relationships.

spell out where you’re at

Traditional weddings are a lot of planning, stress, and drama. Whenever you have large numbers of people to organize, then you throw in personal bonds that may or may not be the most sturdy, and ideas of how perfect the day needs to be– it’s significantly stressful. However the most important part is the promises made.

That’s the meat of the event at the end of the day. People will leave the venue, the set up will be packed up, flowers will wilt, and family and friends will scatter back to their personal corners of the globe. The thing that lasts is the idea that, “I love you, and I am committed to you and this relationship”. In practice, maybe that idea isn’t meant or kept. But when we look at the ideal traditional wedding, the point is that this couple is being upfront about their feelings and intentions and promising to keep those intentions alive every day. No matter your romantic relationship status, we all can do with more honesty and love.

Promises and depth of connection don’t have to limited to romantic couples and special days. Each day, how we interact with those close to us is our way of speaking a promise to them. Maybe it’s, “School comes first, but I’ll help you after,” or “I like hanging out with you but I don’t trust you with my personal struggle” or any of a large number of things. We don’t have to be super close with a large number of people, it is difficult, exhausting, and has little benefit. What we can do, however, is look at those people who are close, or who we want to be close with. We can decide to actively be honest and loving to them because they are special to us. By reminding ourselves, we hold ourselves accountable to treating them like they deserve.

escaping your head

We get in our own heads so much that we don’t realize how difficult we make things for ourselves. Spending 80% of your energy criticizing yourself for being indecisive about something, means 80% of your energy taken away from making a decision. A lot of times, our own dread makes our responsibilities 10× more difficult. At the core, we tend to make a huge fuss emotionally and mentally, when it’s really not that big of a deal.

But it can be a part of your wiring! How do you suddenly not care about things when you’ve been in the same mindset and same pattern of thoughts for most of your life? It doesn’t matter if it isn’t a big deal if you make it a big deal. We can’t let ourselves think that there’s no escape, however. Probably, we will always be inclined to thinking too much. However, what we can change is how we react to things, and in the process, our own thought patterns.

We can change. We can always change, even if it feels like we won’t ever. Furthermore, we can always change for the better. There is always hope as long as we are alive, but the point is to capitalize on that. The first step is to be thankful. Forcing yourself to be grateful puts you in a mindset that looks for the good things. Make a list of ten things you are grateful for every day! The second helpful step is to meditate or pray, getting yourself away from the small picture problems and putting things into context. Then, trying to be positive. It’s hard. It takes practice and it doesn’t come easily, but forcing yourself to be positive is the practice that helps it become easy. If you need, therapy is helpful to anyone and everyone. But for things you can do on your own, be thankful, put things into context, and be positive. It’s weird, and it’s hard at first, but it really does make a difference in your life.

where are you looking

When we are in a good mood, we automatically see the silver lining. When we are in a bad mood, we seek out the storm clouds. Sometimes there are things that are unavoidably terrible and miserable, but those things are rare. Most times, we can fight our tendency to look at the negative bits of life.

Life is ambiguous and relative in many ways. We are dependent on context and what we’re comparing things too. It’s hard to not compare because in many ways, we’re comparing machines. In order to be adaptable and problem solve, we think in ways that compare our situation to past situation. We need to look at our choices and make the best ones. We need to look between people and decide who we want to be around. All of these comparisons are driven around a negative bias, this extra emphasis to be wary of what’s going to hurt us and make us feel terrible. We might not be looking for the Best solution, just one that isn’t going to cut off our heads. But that wariness that we need, it can make us hone in on the negative aspects of our lives in unnecessary ways.

We need to compare in order to exist effectively. It’s not a curse, its just a handy tool that we sometimes end up using too much and on situations that don’t need it. If you sit there and tell yourself that everything sucks, how can you expect to be able to he see anything but that? We can’t just stop our thinking habits on the drop of a hat, but we can start making the change little by little. Force yourself to look at the big picture. Give yourself something else to do that isn’t misery-making. Remember that we look for what we want to see.

what a fan

A fan works, in the simplest terms, by little weird curvy blades swhooshing around really fast. In many ways, this should be our goal in life! To have a cycle and a goal and to carry it all out for the sake of someone besides ourselves. As we know from history, stories, and psychology, we are our best selves when we are focused on other people.

When we get overwhelmed with life, it’s usually because we aren’t looking at it from a community perspective. We see our own problems the easiest because they are the most salient to us. We know that we were late because we had a crazy morning that resulted in spilled coffee and the like. However, how willing are we to take that perspective for someone else who comes in late? We don’t see the morning, we just see the entrance and we assume that they must not care as much.

In a similar way, we can become consumed with this idea that if our plans aren’t fulfilled or carried out, everything will be over. We make our own life the be all end all. But how realistic is that? It’s actually a glorious thing that we aren’t the center of the universe. It means that we can ask other people for help. It means we can find a place to go if the worst case scenario rolls out. It means that even if our personal point A to point B can’t be connected, that we can make another plan. And maybe going from point C to point D is something you wouldn’t have expected to make you as happy as it does!

Other people exist. It’s a bit annoying at times, but it’s also an incredible gift if we have the right mindset. It helps us, but it also means that we can help other people, and that’s something really precious.