Many of us are frustrated by the conditions of the world we live in today. During all recorded human history there have been restless rebellious individuals within our tribes and social groups who felt exploited, disadvantaged, and underprivileged. They wanted desperately to change how “their world was treating them.”
These groups attracted angry agitators who were always pressing for some voice, some power, some spectacular event that would hopefully bring a better life to their lot. No improvement in the average “life-style” in any country was ever sufficient to eliminate all the various insidious undercurrents that rejected the status quo.
Today, there has been an explosion of opportunities for such individuals connected to the “cyber world” to voice their dissatisfaction. Their complaints, their gripes, their grumbling, their constant whining about “how horrible things are” can be broadcast via the Internet without any editing. I call it the “silent electronic din of revolution,” which demands change: something better or, who knows, something likely to be worse.
All this vocal criticism seems to reflect our growing unhappiness with the multitude of problems we encounter in our daily lives, see on TV, read about in the printed media, and hear about from our friends and co-workers. Nowhere, it seems, are the majority of the people happy, satisfied, and contented with their life.
Most of our “news” is about tragic events, shocking behavior, and unheard of consequences to routine daily activities. A six year old shooting another at school; a military withdrawal where soldiers kill unarmed innocents as the revenge of losing political power; hate crimes beyond our wildest nightmares; and enough political corruption throughout the world and at home to sicken even the most healthy cynic. Is it any wonder why serious citizens are eager to fix these disturbing problems?
Of course, griping, complaining, and criticizing have become the most common way we “let off steam,” sublimate our frustrations, and relieve the tension of encountering a “system” out there that is restraining our freedom and interfering with our pursuit of happiness. We rarely blame ourselves for the situation that is frustrating us. Our innocence is obvious, but our ignorance is no excuse, says the law.
Yet, how could we possibly become adequately informed about so many rules, procedures, requirements, regulations, and restrictions? How could we know how every complicated thing, machine, system, or practice was designed to work? How can we participate in these complex social, physical, and political environments with so little education and “hands on” experience? (We are shepherded by biased parents, unscrupulous mentors in the workplace, and teachers who are underpaid and tenured.) How will the children born today ever be able to face the reality of the quirky tomorrow that we are creating and bequeathing them?
Have things deteriorated that much? We can only answer that question like the married man in the old joke who was asked: “How is your wife?” “Compared to what?” was his answer. Another common answer we might use could be borrowed from parents when they are queried: “How do you feel about our overall educational system and your children’s local school?” Their opinion about the overall system is “lousy,” but they think their child’s school is “one of the better ones.” So, we aren’t always using the same measuring stick.
Our perception of the nebulous, general situation is that it definitely requires improvement. However, with better knowledge about a specific problem, we are likely to become less disenchanted and negatively vociferous. Or just plain lazy and inactive about the matter because we have bigger fish to fry!
A vast majority of us don’t ignore horrible atrocities. Our initial rage is always apparent, and the media quickly vilify the alleged culprits. Yet, only when these unfortunate events take place in our neighborhood do we feel strongly motivated to mount an active campaign to attack the suspected causes. At least until something more urgent, or closer to home, distracts us.
Yes, all of us would like to eliminate injustice, inequity, violence, and the non-level playing fields throughout the world. Fairness is a very emotional force: we are admonished when we are being unfair, and we are praised for sharing equally or generously. We loathe being discriminated against, but we welcome being favored or granted privileges. We despise others for abusing the weak, but we rationalize the raises and bonuses we receive as being “deserved.”
We profess the noble desire for equality and helping the downtrodden, especially when we find this attitude is beneficial to us or when we’re spending someone else’s money. We want to be perceived as fair and just in the eyes of the public. In private, however, our behavior is usually something less than exemplary.
Officially, we would like very much to bring about change that would benefit everyone. What we seldom consider thoroughly, though, is how to measure the actual way the benefits of these changes will be distributed, and how the law of unintended consequences will affect every decision. Our politicians are masters of promising reforms that supposedly will benefit us (like Obamacare.) They “feel our pain” and want desperately to rectify the underlying injustice. (As long as the polls tell them we are interested in solving the current problem.)
Nevertheless, before they can do much to improve a situation, our mood swings, another issue grabs our attention with its appalling circumstances, and we’re off on another mission to “save the whales, the trees, the helpless in Gaza, the homeless, etc.” ad infinitum. We have learned that local problems rarely can be fixed by the federal government’s ad hoc legislation.
Likewise, we seriously doubt that the United Nations can fix the internal problems of individual countries. As much as we want to see ethnic clashes, human rights abuses, territorial disputes, and brutal dictators eradicated in specific countries, outsiders in whatever self-appointed “official” guise cannot effect the desired changes. Wars can alter the social and physical environment, change the political leaders, and redistribute limited resources. They can change boundaries and up-root ethnic groups creating problems of relocating refugees, but they cannot eliminate the consequences of centuries of ethnic hatred, change the belief systems held by the vanquished, and alter tribal loyalties.
Yet, in spite of our awareness of the futility of trying to fix some aggravating situation, we puny members of this dominant animal culture have great expectations that we will be capable of doing what our predecessors failed to do. We have seen great technical advances in providing material gadgets and gizmos to make our lives more enjoyable, at least for a growing number of us. This unevenly shared material improvement has brought with it organizational and distributional complications along with a disproportionate population growth in localities of poverty and in the “lesser developed” countries. The result of which is a more stressful life of dealing with new rules and restrictions and of suppressing the underlying fear that our well-being will ultimately come under attack by the vast number of “have-nots,” as history has previously shown.
Peace and tranquility of the “haves” are momentary mental states that are easily disturbed by unexpected events. Civil disobedience and public demonstrations interrupt the normal flow of daily life. The growing litigiousness of our supposedly advanced society in the United States contributes to this uneasiness about maintaining our “place” or our “niche.”
Law-abiding citizens worry about their susceptibility to frivolous, expensive, and time wasting law suits. More security is added every day to our public places. New anti-theft devices are built into new model cars, and new homes have provisions for electronic alarm systems. Acts of terrorism, kidnaping, bombing, and killing in public places frighten us, and motivate us to demand that someone do something to fix whatever is causing these alarming problems.
So, where do we begin? How do we start actually doing something rather than just complaining? Dr. Eric Berne in his book, Games People Play, described one of our favorite national pastimes as a game he called “Ain’t It Awful?” This game seems to be more popular every day. You no doubt have played it in your barbershop or beauty salon.
For more healthy relationships Dr. Berne recommends that we avoid getting involved in playing such counterproductive games. But, refusing to play Ain’t It Awful means that we have to ignore the problem troubling us. Taking action to rectify the situation based on any suggestion we might make is almost certain to conflict with someone else’s rights or some party’s political stance on the issue.
Ay, there’s the rub! We seem to have such a limited capability for taking action today. Still, if we could only find a way to channel the prevalent desire in so many people to fix our world that we hear expressed in all the complaining, some things might get more attention.
This is not a “how to” list giving ten ways to proceed. Some problems fall into the “too hard” category which can only be handled by the boss, the “pros,” the “experts,” or some government agency. Other problems require semi-professional help like repairs to your P.C., your car, or your plumbing. Still others must be handled by professionals licensed to attend your physical and dental ailments, your tax confusion, and your divorce negotiations.
You can, however, analyze the particular issues that are frustrating you in the simpler facets of your unique, personalized environment. Only you have the experience with the facts, the people involved, and the failed solutions. Only you can find the self-motivation to alter your “world.” And only you care deeply about these annoyances that mean less to others.
There is likely to be two paths open by you. You can go forth with vigor and actually do something that your intuition suggests will be beneficial to everyone. Or you can change your mind about how badly the outside world is providing for your sustenance and care. Either can bring more contentment into your lives.
Remember, however, that what might work for your generation may not be apt for the next. Adjusting something now creates a new future continuum of events that follows the law of unintended consequences and may call for some “fine tuning” later.
Whichever path you take, you can find pleasure in trying to improve things, or in ignoring a “too hard” problem and recognizing that our lives today “in the land of the big PX” (as the U.S. used to be called by the military assigned overseas) is not so bad compared with our ancestors’ lives one hundred years ago at the beginning of the twentieth century.