Today I choose joy.
It makes sense how our ancestors survived: they only worried about themselves — whether searching for food, asserting their roles in their social circles, or defending themselves from the elements and each other. Ironically, though we consider ourselves much more “advanced” and “cultured” than them, our self-concern still leads us down a similar path: we complain about traffic, and yet we fail to realize that we are the traffic to the every other person. It’s fascinating how central this disposition is to our daily struggles. Often we lack the self-awareness to reconsider a snide remark, or, returning to the driving comparison, to refrain from cutting off another driver. Though we manage to justify ourselves when we are the aggressive driver, rarely do we consider the other person’s situation when the tables are turned.
Sonder – noun: The realization that each random passerby is living a life just as vivid and complex as your own.
This word always leads me to that transcendental, I’m-just-a-cluster-of-atoms-in-this-impossibly-massive-universe-and-my-every-action-and-acheievement-has comparatively-no-significance type of meditation. It’s terrifying knowing that everything that scares you most is infinitesimally unimportant. It is also beautiful.
With this in mind, in order to be better citizens and more compassionate human beings we must first remove ourselves from our interpretation of the world. A pillar of the Liberal Arts education experience, learning how to “think for oneself” plays a key role in personal development. Our instinct is to treat frustrating situations as if they are all about us. This is natural; we are most easily able to factor in our own sensations into our overall outlooks. However, taking a step back and considering how the individuals around us are taking in the current situation differently (based on their personal dispositions and beliefs) will, more often than not, make us more humane and enable us to see the nuances of the situation. There is freedom in being able to choose your outlook on a situation. In this regard, keeping an open mind separates us from the “rat race” that so many of us live daily. If you buckle down and don’t look up, you’ll miss the whole ride.
Like I said, our natural response to the mundane frustration of everyday life is understandable. The Theory of Evolution states that the strongest species survive, and the ancient humans were so good at looking after themselves that they spawned the world we have today. We are descendants of the most self-concerned organisms on the planet; perhaps this is why so few of us manage to liberate ourselves from this narrow worldview.
In order to live without regrets we must live consciously, recognizing that, in the end, our complaints and frustrations are just a drop in the bucket of tears to be shed over minor debacles and distresses. Distancing ourselves from the selfishness that comes naturally and treating others excellently is the best we can do for each other.
So do it.