I'm here to tell you the truth. Nothing is going to get better, and that's fine. I get it--the world is going to shit. But you're smart. You're well-read. You have encountered challenges in life that have given you a unique perspective on the world. So my question to you is this:
When has the world ever not been going to shit?
It's always going to shit. It's always dying.
The entire history of the world is literally about not drowning.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the world was destroyed and then recreated once a year based on the annual Nile flood.
And these days most of us are painfully aware of how quickly the world can be devoured by rising sea levels.
But guess what.
The world is still here.
You're still here.
I'm still here.
I guarantee you if you're reading this that you're smart enough to look deep into the grossly depraved carnival of systemic injustices of the globe and lose sleep over it.
And more importantly,
you're a good person.
I don't need to tell you what's wrong with the world.
I also guarantee you that you're smart enough to know that despite these injustices, an American living below the poverty line even in these circumstances is living better than many a king or queen of old.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you should be grateful or hopeful.
Gratitude is an over used term and a mere attempt to prescribe individuals an attitude meant to blind them from the apparent reality of living.
And that is that most living is tough shit.
Gratitude is like many other pretentious buzz words... love, hope.
These are just words.
What matters is what these words imply.
What does hope imply?
Hope implies that human progress is real.
Human progress, however, is a lie
Our mentalities have not progressed,
in fact our mentalities have emphatically regressed.
Our sophisticated technology is being employed for weaponry designed to keep most of the world in line.
And if you're an American I don't feel sorry for you--because we are the headquarters of that kind of global policing.
The good thing is that the pinnacle of human mentality already exists.
Think of your favorite spiritual tradition.
Perhaps it is one of the branches of the powerful monotheistic traditions that were incubated in Africa and the Arabian peninsula. Our perhaps it is the spiritual traditions of South Asia that got you through a tough time by teaching you how to embrace pain and suffering. Or go west of there and you'll find the traditions that inspire the value of cosmic knowledge. Or go to the east and you'll find the traditions of those who could speak the language of nature and ascetic discipline.
Or maybe you're piecing together your own tradition based on your experience, the books you've read, and the knowledge of your ancestors.
These traditions are perfect. Their principles are sound. The humans they were developed for are weak, except for a few.
Judge a tradition by its principles, not by its adherents. Remember this.
Hold on to the knowledge of them that you have, and seek that which you do not know.
Humans have not and may never reach the true ideals expounded by these traditions. But the effort is everything.
Our European washed timeline has taught us that progress happens linearly and that we are better off abandoning those traditions that were seen as "old" and "other."
There are plenty of examples of ancient communities that embraced matriarchy over aggressive patriarchy; that embraced the power of language as opposed to the power of violence; that embraced equitable distribution of resources; that embraced inter development as opposed to dominance; that embraced respect and reverence for the earth.
Stop trying to understand the world as a general narrative in order to embellish your own suffering or comfort the shame of your own privilege via mental self-flagellation. This is a sad attempt to make order out of inherent chaos. That is not your job. That is the job of dramatists. And they do it much better than you.
The current, secular, patriarchal, nation-state oriented timeline is not the collective timeline of the world. Its principles are horrid, and they have caused more suffering in the past five hundred years than the five thousand years of human civilization that have come prior.
But there is no space or time to get in to why. You're already smart enough to know this history. And if you don't know it--you are smart enough to know how to look it up for yourself.
Free yourself from its prescriptions on your own attitudes.
What matters is not where the world is, but where you are in relation to the world.
We can't help but think we are at the center of the universe, so embrace it for what it's worth. Being humble is not about being small.
Go back to first principles.
Tell the truth.
Banish preoccupation with what you cannot control.
If you can master those three things you will be in the top one percent of all humanity.
The final hour will come.
And death will sort out all that we were too weak to address with sound judgment in this world.
Until then, live as truthfully and as lovingly and as patiently as possible. You already know how to do this.
It is written in the Qur'an:
By time. Indeed, humanity is in great loss.
Except for those who believe and do good works,
and advise each other to truth
and advise each other to patience.
You believe in a just world. I know you do.
You do good. Small or large.
Again, you're a good person.
Here's the truth:
The world is going to shit and that's not going to change.
Don't get me wrong. Efforts to change the world--and there are many--make a difference. They matter. But they matter most for your own sake.
The arc of the moral universe is leading into a much larger circle. The direction you choose to move in that circle will determine how our Mother Earth embraces you when you're back in the ground.
That's what matters. Not how much a "difference" you actually make.
Let that mystery inspire you.
And act on it.
You won't know what to do when you act. And you're going to make mistakes. And you're going to hurt people. You're going to do bad things. And you're going to keep doing them.
In his debut novel, Go Tell It On The Mountain, James Baldwin wrote,
"I don't care how many times you change your ways, what's in you is in you and it's got to come out."
You can't control what's in you and it's going to come out in spite of your highest ideals.
But your knowledge and effort towards those ideals are what matter.
Act on those ideals.
But don't expect results.
No one owes you results.
And knowing that may actually give you the foresight to carry on. And make that real difference anyway.
You're not in control of making any real difference.
The effort is all you have.
This life is not about satisfaction.
It's about enjoying the work.
So carry on.
And stay patient.
Embrace what a concept or an ideal implies for you and not a prescription from anyone else.
You will find your own way.
I hope to find you there.
Photo: Edmund in Lear, by Young Jean Lee at UC San Diego. Photo Credit: Jim Carmody.