Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

On change and growth

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
-- Leo Tolstoi

It's all a bit like that old Asimov story, Fantastic Voyage. For those more attracted to higher arts such as the Survivor All-Stars or the novels of Louis Auchincloss, I'll summarize the story by saying that a team of folks in a submarine kind of thing get miniaturized and injected into someone's bloodstream. One of the catchy problems is that the effect is temporary.

Sometimes problems seem so intractable out in this big, old world. I remember sitting as a juror once in a criminal trial arising from youth gang violence. Merely the language of "Mouse", Crips, Bloods, gang discipline, and "Lil' Chuck" gave me the first clue that people living not ten miles from me saw the world entirely differently than I did, and lived lives where freedom from violence was the exception rather than the rule.

Last night our local news featured substantial coverage of a mother who, having lost custody of her daughter to the daughter's grandparents, elected to kidnap her daughter from daycare anyway. The whole sad story ended in a hail of gunfire, with the daughter unharmed but the mother killed by police she fired upon with her gun. One hears of these things and wishes immediately to acquire a heart and become what I believe the Wizard of Oz called "good deed do-ers". Meanwhile, the international news' steady stream of needless suicide bombing, social injustice from the left and from the right, and a world of other issues just makes one long to do something, anything.

I find so often, though, that the huge problems of the world at large are not the problems I can solve. It's fun to fantasize that I could save the world, or even a decent-size county. But so often, I can only do such a very little amount. I freely confess that I am not one of life's great saints in action. I'm far too scattered in my thinking, and I lack the ready energy that the inspiring figures I admire seemed to have. I feel good when I get a few small things done, and those small things rarely make that much difference.

It's a challenge to live when change seems so hard to achieve. The things that defeat are not the awe-inspiring problems, but the petty things. Sometimes I think it is easier to sacrifice a much-treasured material possession for a higher good than it is to, say, eat the things that help one lose twenty pounds or refrain from monopolizing a conversation about a topic about which one is excited.

It's a bit like climbing into some internal submarine, seeking to cruise to some genetic or hormonal place, where genuine change can occur. I remember when I visited a hypnotist, seeking help with my penchant for disorganization. I learned, to my chagrin, that I am far less susceptible than I imagined, and that bringing me into and out of trance was just one more fleeting, light experience that did not effect permanent change.

I envy, sometimes, the folks who have religious experiences, or "political awakenings". Often, these things do not "take", but I've known people who made radical shifts in behavior and habit arising from such things. Of course, the fellow on the television commercial changed his life by eating a submarine sandwich for all meals. But I find that no easy solutions make for change in my life. Only conscious effort, and constant self-monitoring, ever effects change in me.

I'm not a person who lives with a lot of daily anguish. I have depressed phases, I have exuberant phases, but mostly, I am happy and content in a light, non-profound way. I find that learning and change feel good in a very muted way, but that they are always accompanied by work and toil and some hassle.

Sometimes I look up and notice the things that I did achieve. When I was a law student, I dreamed of the day when I could own my own law firm, handling cases that appealed to me. I achieved that dream--but no real heroism was involved. My career evolved to the place in which I could make it work, and then, by hard work, I did.

I do find that some pragmatic things weigh into these "growth and change" matters, that are often overlooked. If one wishes to make a change in career or locale, for example, financial flexibility can really help. Boring, mundane things like personal savings and muting one's materialism can be a big help for the ordinary middle class person. A flexibility in outlook about careers seems to me to help one seize opportunities which do not precisely fit in the mold of what one imagined one might be. Although I do not believe that a good attitude opens doors, there's no question that a sort of open-minded approach to issues lets one see opportunities where others only see risks. The story I read over and over in the pages of my own life is how often the boring details are what help define the user's guide to living.

I think, though, that I sell myself short by not asking enough of myself. I don't mean that "I'm such an ineffectual person. That's just the way I am!" self-script, which I find just another leisure class diversion from taking responsibility for myself. It's true that different people are good at different things. But I don't need to tell myself how pathetic I am as one more defense to, say, writing a card to a relative or picking up my art room. I just need to recognize that I'm making choices by what I do, and re-assess the choices I've made. I think sometimes I could choose to do more than I do to help out a bit in this world in need of help.

Maybe I need to shift paradigm. Not "how to fix what's wrong" and more "how shall I live?". I like another bit from Tolstoi: "I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means—except by getting off his back".

I'm intrigued, sometimes, by how resistant to fundamental change I can be.
I'm intrigued, by way of contradiction, by how change can come upon me when I least notice it.

I'd like to journey about inside myself, like some 60s sci fi movie, and
find the cancers and kill them. Maybe it's not as easy as all that. After all, the Andromeda Strain mutated and went out to sea on its own. But I want to focus a bit less on the big issues, and a bit more on how I personally could help. I think that's the miniaturization ahead in my life right now.
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