Reconciling the positive aspects of life with the terrible is challenging.
In an era of incivility and aggression—an era of selfishness, greed and exploitation; with a wealth-poverty gap, political polarization, fundamentalist extremism, terrorism, fascist rhetoric, misogyny, gun violence, racism and anti-Semitism, war, and so much more—how can we possibly tolerate such terrible circumstances?
On the other hand, in an era of exciting progress—scientific discoveries; magnificent art, writing and music; relative peace; international cooperation; feminist progress; philanthropy; exploration of the cosmos; mindfulness and spirituality; and so much more—how is that we’re so fortunate to live in such an idyllic world?
How do we possibly manage to put the disturbing negatives of our lives into some perspective which enables us also to recognize love, laughter, tears, play, creativity, productivity, pleasure and resilience?
How are we able to recognize that life is both wonderful and woeful?
- We compartmentalize. We put depressing events and temporary ecstasies in mind compartments, where these ephemera belong, and, facing “Triumph and Disaster,” we “treat these two impostors just the same” (as in Kipling’s poem “If”).
- We are mindful of and grateful for those we love, for our health, our sustenance and supports, and for our work and interests.
- We work and struggle to make a better world; we become contributing human beings, acting against unfairness and cruelty, and create a positive emotional footprint, treating others with kindness and respect, volunteering and helping those in less fortunate material, physical, or psychological straits.
- We philosophize. While we detest unfairness and cruelty in the world, we recognize that plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose—that history has endured many troublesome eras, and that basic human needs and propensities haven’t changed over the millennia.
- We note and savor the positive changes in the world, like the spread of democracies; peace agreements; inspirational figures like Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama; the successful Paris talks on climate change; the apology and reparations from Japan to South Korea regarding “comfort women”; ISIS setbacks; the eradication of polio and progress against other diseases; the public contributions of major foundations; Habitat for Humanity; the Peace Corps; random acts of kindness; and much more.
- We engage in local and national democratic and political processes, to ensure as best we can that responsible, knowledgeable, mature, dedicated individuals are elected to public office.
- We overcome. We demonstrate, even in the face of challenges and adverse circumstances, our spirit, stamina, intelligence, initiative, and energy—and with the help of others, we withstand and display resilience and benevolence.
- We smell the flowers, and we plant the flowers…