We don’t need radical changes or significant sacrifices.
We don’t need to work ourselves to the bone.
Small tokens, little gestures, moments of thinking beyond only ourselves are enough to affect not only our own lives but the rest of the world as well.
As a species, we tend to fluctuate between extremes, never stopping ”somewhere in the middle.” Instead of trying to find common ground where everyone could bend their rules just a little bit, we fight tooth and nail to change the other side’s whole belief system. It’s always on them to adapt our way of thinking and outlook on the world, not the other way around.
Because we know better what’s best for everyone, right?
So we dig trenches and moats, we build brick and stone defenses to wall off ourselves from those who dare to think differently. We split all of humanity into them and us to feel safe and secure in our worlds. We are still living in caves, only now they are modern, very comfortable, and hi-tech caves made especially for our minds.
And still, our cave is better than others’.
Human evolution spans a couple of thousand years*, give or take a millennium or two. We dropped from the trees, stood up straight, and walked on our two legs. We found ways to shelter ourselves and harvest food, create tools, and survive in harsh conditions. We discovered language, math, biology, capitalism, religion, tyranny. We build cars, computers, paint, write poetry, build beautiful and yet terrible things out of atoms, and share our knowledge over the invisible waves in a matter of seconds. We find ways to expand. We are the conquerors of the physical world, and we know how to build rockets that can carry our frail bodies to the Moon and back.
Yet we still tear our history to pieces, who did what to whom and why, four, twelve, forty-seven generations back. We hold grudges, we show disrespect, and we don’t appreciate anything. We can’t seem to understand why some cultures do things their way, not ours. We can’t stand others being right. We are full of hate, anger, and we envy the most superficial, unimportant things. We don’t know how to disagree peacefully — we have to win every argument no matter the cost. We feel the need to convince others their way of living and thinking is wrong simply because it’s not our way.
We are so focused on the physical aspects of existence. We are so determined to build more new things and discover new ways to produce more intricate artifacts of our evolution. In our push to improve our lives, we focused our efforts almost exclusively on the outside, seemingly forgetting about improving our inside. Although there’s a surge, a rise in philosophy’s popularity, people like professor Yuval Noah Harrari are predicting we are entering an age of spiritual evolution, yet when you check out the news, read Twitter, or Facebook, you won’t see this progress being present all that much.
Quite the opposite, actually.
All you’ll see is one side accusing and berating the other.
As humans, we are flawed. And yet, we do almost nothing to improve those flaws, improve how we think, and try to understand why we do what we do. For some reason, we are satisfied with thriving in this state, never fully developed, never growing beyond our capabilities. When presented with a choice, we gravitate towards instant gratification instead of long-term betterment. When presented with an ambivalent idea, we tend to assume the worst and focus on the negatives. We are not listening to what the other person is saying, but rather filtering it through how we perceive it. When we are met with something or someone we disagree with, we only see the divide. We only register the difference and notice only what we don’t understand — all we see is the wrong instead of the common.
„We only see breadcrumbs when we should be looking for diamonds.”
My partner, who came up with this lovely metaphor, tells me this now and then, and every time she says that, I know she’s right. Hell, she herself sometimes struggles to see past those crumbs to find the diamond and gets stuck in the perpetual crumbliness. But being fickle-minded humans, we are guilty as charged of fixating and struggling with looking past the shit to see the fucking diamonds. And it’s hard to see those diamonds even if you know they’re there because rewiring your brain and changing your habits is a hell of a task. And we don’t like to do hard things. The way humans are made, we want to feel the change instantly, especially in these times — we want it now because our civilization is hellbent on the ”instant.”
All it truly takes is at least trying to see the diamonds instead of the breadcrumbs.
When you’re bending your knees to take a closer look at what’s beneath your feet, try to start with brushing all those breadcrumbs away first, and shift your focus to what’s connecting you to others instead of finding the difference. Just noticing that the common is there is a start to understanding ourselves and others better. When faced with a different opinion, position, or reaction take a look at what’s your relation to that opinion, position, or reaction. Try to find the common ground, a sense of connection instead of disconnect and difference.
Give it your best and try.
It won’t always be there, or you won’t feel like looking for it — and that’s just as well, you can always walk away without hurting each other.
Small, daily changes are more than enough to slowly change the way we react to the world. One of my favorite quotes is the one about the dripping water hollowing out the stone:
it’s not the sheer force of the will, it’s the persistence of the process.
And it just might happen that one time you see the metaphorical diamond, the next time you won’t. Or the next. Or perhaps not even the one after that.
And that’s just as fine, too.
Maybe for you, it’s the fourth time’s a charm. Or fifth.
Life’s hard and tedious as it is, full of useless filler and noise — stop challenging yourself by making it even more difficult. We are supposed to be the peak of evolution. To paraphrase Descartes: We are, therefore, we think. Maybe we’re not used to using our brains the way we now need to? Perhaps our physical progress got so far ahead of our thinking we can’t keep up? But as the most advanced species (like we think we are), we should be able to figure this shit out.
When you see past the rain, past the traffic jam on your commute to work, past someone else’s opinion about you, what you’ll begin to see is the weather you can experience, the fact you have a job to go to, and that opinion is just that — an opinion that doesn’t define who you are. A daily dose of stoicism might be just the thing our world needs right now.
Take a step back, take a deep breath, and notice the fucking diamond.
You can’t control the outside world, how others behave, or what they do or say or think. What you can control are your reactions and your way of thinking.
*It’s a figure of speech, don’t get your panties in a twist.