Our better world

If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change

Michael Jackson, Man in the mirror

If someone had told me that I would cite Michael Jackson… A few days ago I heard someone asking what would make the world a better place. I thought about a few obvious things, then I wondered what ‘better’ means.

This idea of making the world a better place always seems to come with a flavour of self-sacrifice. Intuitively, I would say none of us think we can make the world ‘better’ by indulging ourselves more. And we seem to think that those sacrifices are either to be made collectively or, ideally, by others who are not us.

What does ‘better’ mean? Fewer wars, less climate change, less selfishness? I see those as desirable aims. However I do wonder whether we humans are capable of not being selfish or not fighting over what our neighbour has and we don’t.

And once we do make the world a better place, how long will it make us happy? How long until we decide the world is still not good enough and we (or others) need to make it better yet? When will the world be good enough?

Never. Our reward system has evolved to be insatiable. The world will never be ‘better’ enough.

We no longer live on what we have, but on promises, no longer in the light of the present day, but in the darkness of the future, which, we expect, will at last bring the proper sunrise.

Carl G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

I have the feeling that the world is exactly as it ought to be, the result of the action of Nature. This includes the evolution of a species that seems to be too intelligent for its own good. I don’t think there is a master plan, a direction, but I do think that we humans are behaving as expected. In fact, I doubt we had any choice in the matter. Evolution, the adaptation of the fittest, is a safeguard mechanism of life itself. By allowing a low degree of mutations every time DNA is copied, it promotes diversity. Those species that can best adapt to the environment survive. In this way, Nature makes sure that if outer circumstances change, life, at least in some of its forms, will survive. And so, I believe we act as we were expected to act, for ‘better’ or worse. We may have some degree of freedom, but the rule of our collective unconscious as a species is too heavy.

In any case, ‘better’ possibly means different things for each of us. In fact, it possibly means different things on different days for each of us. There will be moments when we feel at peace with the world, in the world. A perfect communion. And other moments when we feel like aliens, incapable of fitting. The world can be improved.

When we speak about making the world ‘better’ there is only one certainty. ‘Better’ means different. We may not be sure what the final product may look like, but we do know that it will be different from what it is now. Making the world better means making it different. We may not agree on our ways to improve the world or what it may look like in the end, but we all agree we don’t like it as it is. We don’t accept the reality that surrounds us. We want to make it better, to change it.

But the reality that surrounds us is not good or bad. It just is. The way we see the world is a reflection on the way we see ourselves. Or rather, a projection. Maybe, when we ask the man in the mirror to make a change, it is not so much to change the way he contributes to the surrounding world, but a fundamental change in the way he perceives himself in it.

But what must happen to a man until he realizes that outer visible success, that he can grasp with his hands, leads him astray. […] You ought to be able to live with yourself, but not at your neighbour’s expense. The herd animal is not his brother’s parasite and pest. Man, you have even forgotten that you too are an animal. You actually still seem to believe that life is better elsewhere.

Carl G. Jung, The Red Book

Maybe we should stop thinking about ways to improve the world and we should start thinking about making peace with ourselves. What we need to do is to accept who we are. Or even better, to realise who we are. The whole world would benefit from that.