The impact we have on the world correlates directly to the quality of our own experience.
I wrote an article recently that garnered a bit of controversy. The basic idea was that in order to change the world, we must first change ourselves—and that young people specifically would go much further by embodying this notion, rather than going out and protesting issues that are likely detached from their own lived experience.
It is obviously not “one or the other.” I have no issue with protesting, as I plainly stated in the article. I think a lot of societal issues are brought to the surface through protesting, and that it is a necessary enterprise to have in a free and balanced society.
That being said, it seems self-evident that we must first shed light on the state of our own perceptions—how we operate ourselves and move through the world as individuals—before we can have a profound and abiding impact collectively.
I would love to hear any argument that points to the contrary.
This is an idea I have played with for a long time, but it has become more solidified lately, through my listening to the Psychologist, Jordan B. Peterson.
“My sense is that if you want to change the world, you start from yourself and work outward, because you build your competence that way. I don’t know how you can go out and protest the structure of the entire economic system if you can’t keep your room organized. There’s a quote in the new testament about that—something like not worrying about the speck in your neighbor’s eye when you have a log in your eye.
What we need to do is speak and act out the truth locally, within the domain of our actual competence. The world presents itself as a series of puzzles, some of which we are capable of solving and some of which we are not. We have many puzzles that we could solve, but we choose not to. Those are the things that weigh on our conscience.
What would the world be like if people stopped avoiding the things that they know they should do?
How much are we contributing to the fact that life is an existential catastrophe and a tragedy?
It is humble, because we are not exceeding the domain of our own competence. Eighteen year olds should not try to fix up the economy. If we can’t clean up our own rooms, who are we to try and give advice to the world?”
It starts with the quality of the relationship we form with ourselves—how our conscious attention is related to the deeper dimensions of our own psyche. From there, it moves outwardly. If we are conflicted inwardly, psychologically distraught, or spiritually disconnected, our impact on the world will only further reflect that chaos.
It’s interesting how resistant people are to this idea. That was the most confusing aspect of the negative response to my article. Expressing that we need to address our own inner chaos before we rightly impact the world is so disturbing to people, because it elicits a much deeper sense of responsibility.
Before we can change the world, we must take responsibility for the quality of our own consciousness. We must address the conversation going on in our heads, bring attention to the pent-up emotional baggage within our minds, and even contend with our physical health.
I would be much more confident in the future of human civilization if I knew that more people of my generation were cultivating themselves as individuals—rather than pointing out at the world as the problem.
There will always be things to fix as a society, but those problems can only be rightly addressed when the people dealing with those problems are strong and competent.
We cultivate ourselves as human beings by implementing modalities that bring us most closely to the present moment. It is only when we are entirely present with ourselves that we begin to heal our own personal damage.
The soul must be restored before the world can be mended, for the world is no more and no less than a reflection of the soul.
An example of this would be any form of meditation, sitting quietly with the breath and passively observing the movements of the mind. It’s like peeling an orange, but in a psychological sense. The more aligned we are with the immediacy of our felt experience, the more self-awareness comes about.
We are learning about ourselves—unveiling the deeper aspects of our psyche—and this is a healing experience.
If every human being was capable of contending with their own inner conflict, the world would surely look different. This is the world I envision—and this world, we must do our part to bring about change if we at all care for the future of our children and our children’s children.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Simon Greening/Flickr
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social editor: Sara Karpanan / Cat Monkman