I used to love the show ‘Heroes’ years ago. The first season was probably the best single season of a TV show ever made, everything after that was terrible. If you also watched the show, you might remember the line, “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” I was thinking about how nice it would be if it were that simple. Unfortunately, like the seasons of ‘Heroes’ that came after the first, the world is far too convoluted to be understood by any one person.
Of course, like the writers of the show, many people throughout history have thought that they understood, and with similarly disastrous consequences. Chairman Mao’s ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,’ originally thought to be a way for the Chinese communist party to reshape the country into a modern ideal, actually only managed to destroy countless historical sites, temples, monasteries, libraries, and tens of millions of lives. Adolf Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ led to the horrific deaths of millions of Jews and the torture and imprisonment of many more. Joseph Stalin’s regime was responsible for many millions of deaths as well.
Clearly there seems to be an issue here- why is it that so many grand attempts at changing the world end in failure and death on a massive scale? I don’t honestly believe that anyone sets out in their life thinking, “How can I murder millions of people?” It truly doesn’t make sense. What does seem more likely is that these people end up believing that the ends justify the means. If you ever hear a person say that, you should be very concerned. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, after all.
I am a proponent of a different philosophy: the means are the end. This is in no small part based off Gandhi’s line of thinking:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.”
Newton’s Third Law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Call it what you want- karma, causality, or some other name, but your actions have consequences, good or bad. To quote the marvelous film ‘Cloud Atlas’ (I haven’t read the book yet, forgive me):
“From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
In our lives, there are many more forces that are outside of our control than there are things we can influence. Other people have a remarkable amount of control over our day to day experiences- through government, profession, poor driving skills, and even unwanted opinions. There are even more things that have nothing to to with people that can influence your life- the weather, solar flares, a comet hurtling towards the Earth, or even that damn butterfly flapping its wings in China. To contrast that, on a good day, you can only be truly responsible for a few things- your body, your mind, your choices, your responsibilities, and how you react to that nigh-infinite number of extenuating circumstances. The work is really cut out for you.
Faced with that understanding, I see the reality simply as this:
Save the World, Master your Self.
There’s a fairly great explanation provided in Matthew 7:5, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:
“You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Religious affiliation aside, that’s great advice. Imagine if all those dictators had been able to see the reality of their actions- and, more importantly, the consequences of those actions? Maybe we could have avoided the mindless slaughter?
You and I may not have the power to issue executive orders, ratify laws, or rule in a courtroom. We may not become revolutionary leaders or captains of industry. We might not even be remembered after we die. However, if you could make it to your deathbed with the knowledge that you did everything in your power to be the best version of yourself, wouldn’t that be all that matters? I certainly think so.
With that, I will end this first chapter of what I hope will be a very long series about what you (and I) can do to master ourselves. Who knows? We might even save the world.
Happy New Year! Now get ready for an internal revolution.