Monday, 28 January 2013

Changing the world without changing my lifestyle

How the right kind of selfishness can improve your life and the lives of others.

Hello reader, did you know that you can change the world? Ok, you won't be able to impose a new world order or make everyone believe in your brand of religion but with a few (mostly) mental adjustments you and I can make a practical impact on the world. (I'm an idealist, please don't judge me.)

Below is a list of things absolutely everyone can incorporate into their lives and change the world a little bit at a time.

I should point out that while I think I SHOULD be doing all those things, I am very far from implementing them all. This article is my way of challenging myself and anyone who would like to join me to become a better person.

I will (try to)...

1) aware of others around me
Is there anything more annoying than people who use public spaces with enthusiastic disregard for the rest of the world. This includes people shouting into their mobiles or carrying large, bulky objects during rush hour (including push chairs) on public transport, groups of people taking up complete pavements or supermarket aisles and people talking through films.
I have come to the conclusion that these people don't do it on purpose to drive the rest of humanity insane; they seem to have simply forgotten that they are sharing the public space with, well, the public and that in the grand scheme of things their errant is no more importsant than mine or yours.
It is very easy by the way to become the object of people's annoyance and chances are that on many occasions you have held people up with your petty little errands. I know I have.
Why should I care?
Whenever you irritate someone, you make their day a little bit worse. Yes, I know chances are that you may be having a crap day, too, but passing on your irritation with humanity on to others makes things worse. If you share your relationship problems or sing Happy Birthday to your auntie on a crowded train carriage via the medium of mobile phone, you potentially sour 20 to 50 people's day. Maybe they are all sensible individuals who will deal with the anger in a grown up way, chances are they'll let it out on their colleagues, families or just people who have the misfortune to be close by (who will then also be sharing their irritation with the world).
I am convinced that happy people are better people, especially when put in a position of power. And don't you sometimes need a happy police man, bouncer or boss?

2)... not use other people's behaviour as an excuse for my own behaviour
Can 1 million idiots be wrong?
A home truth staple of my mum's was and is: "...and if your friends jumps into a well, would you jump after them." So far, so familiar. This little gem of mother's wisdom, however, uncovers what I think is probably the lamest excuse in general life: "But EVERYONE blocks the fire escape with their luggage", they moan until there is a fire.
Why should I care?
Behaving with courtesy and forethought could, like in the example of the fire escape, potentially save your life. It also has the magic power of making everyday life more efficient and less frustrating.

3)...demand perspective of myself and others.
This point is inspired by the media. It seems to me that news tend to differentiate sharply between villains and victims. This makes great narratives and may even sell more papers but it makes humanity uglier. Criminals vs people, politicians vs, public, Tory vs. Labour, benefit cheats vs the public purse UK vs. EU... (sorry I had to make that point ;) ). It seems to be all about differences and who is winning, rather than middle ground and how to solve a problem. Personally, I don't care who wins the financial crisis but feel we as humanity would achieve a lot more if left and right pooled their resources and, you know, worked towards the common goal of solving the "mess".
Why should I care?
As much as I like being entertained by conflict humanity would probably be served a lot better by compromises that make everyone sorta happy instead of victories that makes the biggest minority happy and everybody else angry. This can be achieved by applying perspective to things you  create and things you consume. Journalists should realise that good and evil are extremes and usually EVERYONE is a mixture of both. Readers/ viewers/ listeners should also realise this and boycott news outlets that pretend otherwise for commercial effect.

4)...realise that I could be wrong
Not only could I be wrong but my opponent could be right. The most likely scenario is that my opponent and I are probably a little bit wrong and a little bit right and the best possible outcome would be for both of us to realise this amazing truth and work out a solution that pleases us both. And skip along a peaceful meadow with chirpy birds and pretty flowers.
Why should I care?
I prefer a 100% chance to get a little bit of what I want to a 50% or lower chance of getting nothing. What about you?

)... think about the wider consequences of my actions.
I'm one of these crazy people who thinks that the stuff I'm using should throughout its production have damaged the planet as little as possible and been kind to any person or animal who was involved in the making of this product while also wanting the food I'm eating to be as tasty and nutritious as possible and non-food items I'm buying to last as long as possible. I therefore find myself buying stuff with colourful labels entitled 'organic', 'fairtrade' or 'free range' and paying a premium price. I do this not only to have material for arguments with cynics and because I'm mindblowingly rich; I find they taste better, come without that ugly label 'I condone modern slavery' and I genuinely think that if there is a market for ethically products, producers will provide ( Alternative names for this sections were 'I will vote with my wallet' and I will value value over price').
Then again, it's not only about buying stuff with a clear...ish conscience. I realise it is a bit of a life style change and would either make your shopping more expensive or require a lot of shopping around. But what about completely free and easy stuff like turning off the light when you don't need it, not waste things or simply trying to be a pleasant human being?
Why should I care?
I feel this point is actually a bit of a summary. Actions usually have reactions and they can always come back to haunt us.Some people call it Karma, I call it the bigger picture.

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