Really good water

One common thing about near-all Americans is that we’re all upset about something. Like, there’s something about this country and its culture, where it makes its citizens unhappy, and they wish to change or grieve. We each really dislike and want to improve some part of our world, some law that needs to be fixed or ecosystem that needs saving. We all want some fairness brought back to the American Dream. Or, maybe, we just want to recognize some truth of it, to maybe make sense of it for our own sake. Each of us screams about something that is holding us back, breaking down the system, or that’s underneath it all hidden in the shadows. In response to that, we really just want to say that this thing is wrong … it makes our lives here worse. We want to express ourselves. Even the people who believe in the craziest things … If you look past their visions and their flaws, you’ll see that we’re all just screaming about something from our digital rooftops, saying it’s that thing that’s wrong that we care about! We’re all rattled right now, and life in America hasn’t gotten easier. But what is the actual response to outcry? Nothing, really. If anything, arguments and roadblocks, pointless disagreement, and money. Maybe, someday, you’ll see or achieve some small victory, but what if it’s too little, too late? How does history regard that accomplishment? I wish those that were supposed to listen, the people that were put in charge to act, weren’t too busy to bother. Because Americans live with a sense of never being heard. And we’re all so frustrated by this experience. Because even though we all scream — from all these platforms and open stages, blown up on TV in the latest news cycle — nothing changes or is properly grieved. We just move right along, onto the next tragedy. We don’t take a lot of time to actually fix what’s wrong. We all just want a chance at something good, to do something good. But we make it so easy to fail.

I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom. I know that I can be, at times. But I’m not, really. I have some hope, and I honestly still think that America has a lot of promising potential. For instance, what could we be or do if we were all just more understanding with each other, and not as driven by our pain? What if we were nicer to one another and forwent most of our conflicts? I know, I know … I sound corny. This sounds like the promise of a hippie cult, but seriously, what if we were? Isn’t much of human struggle based on our difficulties with one another? For whatever reason, people don’t get along. And that’s fine. That’s our nature. But we’re also smart enough to work through most differences, and we can collaborate in basic ways that improve the quality of life for all. We don’t have to be best friends! I don’t even have to like you. But what about core decency and promise? Why can’t our country have that as a spiritual guide, propelling it forward? Couldn’t we just make it nice here for all? 

I do think it’s possible. We’re probably just going to need some time to do it. It’ll take generations to create a country of bounty and security, where you have a right to live the way you want, so long as you give yourself the chance to do so. You have to make that happen, ultimately. But America could greatly improve its support system and actually enable personal growth and success. It could revisit its priorities. It could do this with the long-term in mind. America could look out and plan for a better future, and through sustained effort, make true improvements to itself and to the world at large. Every human being, all across Earth, has some small ability to change our world. We all can make better choices and realize what matters. We can change our own perceptions and attitudes to feel more connected, and we can get over our own bullshit. We could make true, sustained, actual progress and see a better world as a reality. And if not on a global scale, it’s amazing what you can do for yourself. You can change your own world much, much easier than you can the real one. You can replay your movie-life and light certain scenes differently. You can recast a key character in the middle of the playback. But by changing your own world, is the real world then changed? 

For example, think about David Foster Wallace’s “this is water” graduation day speech that he gave to a college as the special guest star. I’ve never read any of his books, just never rushed to really do it, but I like that talk, a lot. Because he’s right. We determine what we’re experiencing, and we give ourselves a lot of grief. People are hard on other people and themselves, and we can clearly see how corrosive that is. I know David Foster Wallace didn’t invent or discover this conceptualization of life, the thought that “this is water,” but his communication of it isn’t wrong. So, why don’t we just change it? Why not make it say, “this is really good water.”? I can’t answer that question. Anyone that says they can is a fool or a conman. But, gratitude and appreciation, and a mind open to the possibilities, are required, and we struggle with those character qualities at the moment. Collectively, we feel ripped off. We’re not entirely wrong. The rich and the powerful have defrauded us. Have made it harder to establish something that lasts and is ours, is personal. This hurts and angers us in deep and literally brutal ways, emotional and physical. We work pretty hard in this country, yet most of that effort isn’t made for your own cause and direction, and a lot of it just makes certain people rich. Generations and generations have fought through this system. This fraud defines our lives and culture in real ways, and I believe the outcomes — the poverty, drug addictions, crime, lack of education, greed, ego, gluttony, hatred, ignorance, power-hungry, celebrity — stem from our struggle to keep going, to secure what we need to survive and enjoy our time on this Earth. But more than that, we struggle because we’re in unhealthy competition with one another. Our egos have run rampant. We keep searching for meaning or significance, but in that quest, we somehow bury each other. There can’t be a winner without a loser. 

So, to ask again: If we change our own world, do we change the shared one, as a result?  

I honestly think it’s possible. But it will be very, very difficult and take some time. I mean, what do I know? Nothing. I know nothing at all, as I’m a person. But I just believe that progress takes time, and you have to learn lessons from failures along the way. Because progress is a long game. And I’m glad we’re playing it. I just think we need more of a playful spirit, as we engage. Life doesn’t have to be bad or a chore. You can choose to see it through a different filter. Isn’t that how we see hope at all? We place the future through a filter of our own making and see the lives we’d like to lead. We hope, somewhere in us, that we can be that person someday. Just the best versions of ourselves. We hope to see that experience of growth through fully before it’s gone in death. 

I think we really need to be critical of wealthy, powerful people, very critical when necessary, without forgetting that they’re people. We cannot villanize them, not entirely, because to do so will only drive them further into greed. They will break apart from the rest of us, and they could really go sour. It should be expected that if and when criticism is rendered to someone, the one in the spotlight gets a chance to respond. We should give them a place to be open and work through something. Casting someone out doesn’t seem to help. It enables division and conflict. We just need a better way to work through our conflicts. And there is. It’s called being humble. It’s about being honest, understanding that we’re all flawed, and helping others get back up after they’ve fallen. We don’t do this enough. We’re still cavemen, to some extent. But cavemen evolve. We’ve had fire-on-a-stick and the smartphone for a while, now. Both of these developments have brought good and bad. But they’ve brought us forward, as well.   

I know preaching mindfulness and self-reflection, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and David Foster Wallace is not the solution to real problems. Real problems must be dealt with in the real world. But, unfortunately, the actors who could correct these challenges fail to. Instead, they use real struggle to write talking points for media appearances. And they ask us to vote for them. And we do. We give them real power and wealth. What a politician gets from their election compared to what their constituents get, the odds are completely different. Near every politician gets rich and believes their own bullshit, more and more. They get elected and they lose touch with us. So, I know mindfulness and changing your outlook on life seem like consolation prizes, like a way to just manage expectations and accept your lack of control, an excuse to let what happen, happen … But maybe if we all changed our thoughts we could see the error in our approach. We could see how much power we actually have. We’re the first living things (that we know of) with consciousness. Think about that, if that is true! But, maybe more likely, we’re actually far from the first. It is a big universe out there, after all. We don’t know where it goes and what it contains. But with all that said, I feel our story has just begun. I feel like mine has, at least. I mean, I turn 30 years old in less than a month, and though that’s wild to think, that I’ve been here 30 years, I still feel so new to all this, and I want to keep going. I think we all feel that in us, somewhere. This urge to keep going. So, let’s keep going. I hope we keep going. I hope we can look out at the world and America someday and be proud of the way we’ve shaped them to enable true growth of the lives that want to live. And I hope it’s tons of fun. Just simply beautiful. I can see it now.

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