Even as we have gained greater freedom, we are feeling increasingly powerless.
No longer does birth absolutely determine the course of one’s life; a farmer’s child isn’t necessarily going to be a farmer, a laborer’s a laborer, and only an academic’s an educated person with a white-collar job. A woman isn’t necessarily going to be pushed into the role of housemaker and mother.
Then again, social and cultural pressures to conform with old roles are still strong, and economic pressures have come to the point where it’s not even clear anymore whether a middle-class family’s children will be middle-class themselves (or indeed, if the parents will remain middle-class).
Caught between empty but alluring consumer freedom and the profit-maximizing cruel calculus of faceless corporations, it seems as if all we can do is pray for a job and be content if only we can still go shopping – or, in some places like New York City, have two jobs and get by, after a fashion. You may feel utterly powerless to control the course of your life, but at least you can still choose between 50 different kinds of breakfast cereal and 500 channels of entertainment.
Looking for advice on how to live better, it is mainly the area of personal development which we find. And there is one essential insight that lies behind all the various lifestyle designs and life hacks, even as many of them are nothing but attempts at being smarter than the next person and, basically, swindling the game for quick personal gain and pleasure: The power to change is a choice.
We do still, and still rather more than ever before, have the power and possibility to shape the course of our lives.
Sure, it is not easy.
Promises that you just have to wish it and the universe will dish it are just utter nonsense (and actively demeaning to those who fall on hard times); poverty going to the point of wondering where the next meal is going to come from can make it nearly impossible to even just have the mental capacity to make good choices anymore… The potential, however, is there.
We are not just the pawns of corporate games for profit, puppets in politicians’ grabs for power, tossed about with no say in our lives.
Rather, we choose every day.
“Should I kill myself,
or have a cup of coffee?”
So much of personal development just(?) wants us to choose entrepreneurial ventures that supposedly make a quick and/or easy buck so that we, too, could live like “they” who have made it (but on a four-hour workweek, perhaps).
Life hacking tends to get hung up on quick fixes with which to cope with the stress of modern lives overburdened with busy-ness, from the proper planning and prioritization of work to the perfect power nap with which to be head of one’s game (even if it’s basically the same-old rat race).
And yet, already in those approaches, the choices we are asked to consider, for our own sake and satisfaction, are ones that go deeper than those we commonly focus on.
It’s not merely a matter of choosing one product/brand over another, as only too many a call to “vote with your dollars” has it. It’s a matter of choosing the ways we live and make a living.
Money, then, is a limiting factor – but it’s not so much about dreams of all that could be done with more, it’s about working on a budget appropriate for one’s circumstances and to move towards the life one desires. As well, it’s about changing those circumstances in order to make better living possible, by simplifying, by making do or getting creative, by moving somewhere cheaper, or by finding ways to have an income, add another income, or make more.
Time is a limiting factor, but we’re reminded of the need to decide what is important to us, and then make time for it. After all, we do find the time for TV, Facebook, and so many other things that aren’t bringing us anywhere but only keep us entertained and distracted.
Circumstances are limiting factors, but that doesn’t mean that we are utterly powerless to learn more, to find the cracks where we can climb up or break through to other situations, or to stay and learn to work with what we have in a different, better, way.
This is the realization:
Of course, we can’t change everything, let alone everything at once. We are just bit players, and many things, we can only really change, not as isolated individuals, but by working together (if that).
Choose, however, we always do, whether it is by acquiescing and just doing things “as they are done,” no matter the impact on the world and ourselves, or by giving it our darndest and deciding to quit giving the power we have to others, squandering it out of sheer indecisiveness, laziness, convenience or habit.
It takes an effort, and not the change in attitude and awareness that so much of (environmental and other) activism is focused on, but changes in practical life arrangements, ways we live and make a living. These are also what may help us out of the various emergencies we may be facing already and in future, and they are part and parcel of the active living that we need when we seek really better lives.
We owe it to ourselves to choose and use better, learning by doing, moving forward. Perhaps, as intentional living, this is all the more important for the majority who doesn’t want to live extraordinarily and giving it their all, but just simply (and) a little better.
We’ll return there shortly…