It’s a strange and beautiful world–and dangerous.
I am thinking of all the tragic world news lately. Actually I am inundated with all the bad news and need to turn off the television and just sit quietly. The words of the poet Wordsworth come through the silence: “The world is too much with us….We lay waste our powers….For this, for everything we are out of tune.”
When I was young I thought I could write the next great novel as well as save the world. I’ve done neither. And now that I am older, I know the youthful goals were good but very unrealistic, even self-defeating. I would have done better to remember the wisdom of Mother Teresa: “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” I would only add that there are no small things if done in a great way. Every act of compassion means something to the one for whom compassion is shown, whether toward one’s self or others.
There are days I wonder if the human race will survive. Denying climate change we continue to destroy the planet on which we depend. Waging war to make peace we think, the landscape is full of the losses. Making money rather than sharing with others, we drain the earth of resources and fill the world with more hungry children.
When I was a journalist I used to go home at night and feel the need for a shower to rinse all the bad news off. Maybe that’s why I kept a slogan above my desk: “Today’s news is tomorrow’s kitty litter.”
You can become that to which you give your attention, whether its bad news, money, sex, or power. But here’s the good news: you can change that to which you pay attention, and you can do small acts to make things better in your corner of the world. Ethics, as Aristotle noted long ago, is what you do with your life, not what you say you will do. Excellence is a matter of habit, which you can practice day after day until your life is in tune with what you say you value. This is called integrity, and it seems in short supply these days.
It’s easy to lose hope these days, but that’s no way to live well (to live well, wrote Aristotle, is the purpose for living, and the title of this blog, Arete, which means roughly translated to flourish). Maybe this why I say to myself and students: “Live well and flourish.” That’s why I am here and what I hope for every person.