Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thoughts for starting the New Year: Positive change is best made a little each day, rather than by trying to live from big milestone to big milestone

Happy 2018!

I know, I know... You may already be annoyed just reading that statement. You may be thinking, “What’s so happy about it?” or, “How is it going to be any different from last year, when 2017 was so bad because of [insert reasons here]?”

These are legitimate concerns, and I see no value in arguing with people who assert that there’s no reason to think anything will change just because it’s a new year. I also see no value in advising people to rationalize away their negative feelings with counter-arguments about “looking on the bright side.” All that we really accomplish if we do that, after all, is demonstrate to them that we don’t think their feelings are valid, and prompt them to stifle (instead of work through) those feelings and cross us off their list of people they can get empathy or any constructive feedback from.

At the same time, we tend to get more of what we focus on. Choosing to focus our attention and efforts on the positive does not have to mean we ignore the negative by viewing the world through the filter of denial, or that we are being childishly naïve. At the very least, we can start giving more respect and credit to people who have more positive outlooks, rather than being quick to dismiss or argue with them that the world around us is too far gone for any of their rainbows-and-unicorns idealism to make any real difference.

While I also felt plenty of disgust and frustration because of specific instances, people, and policies that created so many unnecessary challenges and setbacks for our world last year, I was pleased to conclude December by feeling hopeful. I focused my New Year’s Eve daimoku on kicking off another year of social-justice dialogues, sharing what I learn on my blog so that other people can benefit from my and my friends’ efforts, and seeking out more opportunities to practice taking better care of myself and improving my relationships with other people.

I know that all the bad stuff that’s going on in the world right now can make all of the above that much more difficult, so I also chanted to continue overcoming my tendency to get discouraged, and to instead be a person who treats these challenges as motivation to do more, and do better, in truly walking my talk.

Speaking of my visions for the New Year, I pointed out in my last post of 2016 that I don’t achieve breakthroughs or quantum leaps in my personal-improvement goals by making a once-a-year resolution that I’m at least 50% likely to taper off on, if not stop, within the first month or two of the year. “I’ve always viewed theming my year with a hyper-focus on weight loss, a fitness milestone, a particular financial outcome, or other surface-level personal change as diversionary,” I said. “The marketing and products created to cater to these resolutions seems designed to encourage people to use them as a defense mechanism against doing the hard, often heartbreaking work of developing the courage and skill-sets to confront and resolve the deeper, darker aspects in their lives that need changing,” which is best done a little each day, rather than by trying to live from big milestone to big milestone. 

Believing that nothing can or will ever change is only a lazy excuse for inaction, and implies we expect other people to “fix” the world around us for us. It’s a defense mechanism against making any extra effort to be part of the solution, even in any small, subtle ways that can add up over time.

Mahatma Gandhi instructed us to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Daisaku Ikeda tells us that “True happiness can only be attained by praying for a peaceful and prosperous society for all and then working to make it a reality.”1 Leo Tolstoy admonished us that “there is only one way for society to improve. Everyone must improve. To improve everyone, you have only one method under your control—you must become a better person yourself.”2

1  Living Buddhism (SGI Buddhist study magazine),
    September 2016, page 54.

2  World Tribune (SGI Buddhist weekly newspaper),
    November 5, 2010, page 10.

Image: Detail from “Re-Enchantment #1” by Karla Joy Huber, 2017; Sharpie marker, Prismacolor marker, Prismacolor marker-blender

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