Looking at the world as it is, it is clear that there are many problems. The world is a troubled place. There are many problems of a serious nature. Some people claim that they will soon all be solved, but a clear look at reality casts doubt on this idea. The world has always had many problems. To think that it would be simple to solve all of them seems unrealistic. And yet, it is worth at least making the effort to make the world a better place. Small or limited amounts of progress are better than no progress at all.
As Aldous Huxley noted, the one “corner of the world” that we can have some certainty of improving is ourselves. Serious and significant improvements in the world can only take place because enough people in the world become less selfish and more enlightened in the way that they live and think. No one can force other people to change their values or what they truly believe. But, if we take care of our own process of personal growth and “be the change that we wish to see” in the world, we may even inspire others in some way to do the same.
Some people say that the key to getting beyond fear and illusion is to believe that nothing about us has to change, and that each of us, with all of our imperfections, is already perfect somehow. But that idea does not agree with the timeless and ancient tradition of wisdom. It is certainly true that to have compassion for ourselves is essential. For many people in the world, the biggest issue in life is a sense of not being good enough, and living in a state of constant self-judgment and guilt. For people with this issue, learning how to live in a state of loving self-acceptance is the most important lesson in life. But it is not life’s only lesson. The teachers of ancient wisdom tell us that it is important to admit our faults and imperfections where they exist, because it helps us to remain humble. They do not tell us to think and act as if we are already perfect and have nothing to learn. Pretending that we are already perfect may cause us to avoid addressing our important issues for personal growth and change. Why should we make any effort if we believe that nothing has to change?
Looking at the teachings of the greatest teachers of wisdom in human history, it is clear that there is an underlying message that the key to getting beyond illusion is to go through a process of change that means being a better person. This is the underlying message of all of the teachings and scriptures of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and all of the rest of the world’s great religious traditions. On some level, all of us need to learn how to act with more compassion and consideration for others and live life with a higher moral purpose than gratifying selfish desires. However, we need to learn how to approach this idea in the right way.
Looking at our issues for change in life can be unsettling. If we let the knowledge of our faults cause us to feel a sense of guilt and self-hatred, we do nothing but make ourselves more miserable. We do the worst thing that we could with the knowledge of our imperfections.
On the other hand, if we let the idea of making personal changes for the better inspire us, life becomes more meaningful. In the classic tale A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Scrooge realizes that he has done wrong for many years. He can even see clearly that he has spent most of his life doing wrong and figuring out how to do wrong in a calculated way. But he does not let the realization that he has faults or that world is a difficult place make him miserable or depressed. As the story ends, he is happy to have a chance to change his ways, and he is inspired to make changes and accomplish something positive during the time that he has left on earth. When people allow themselves to be inspired, they see the value of living a life dedicated to learning and serving the greater good. It gives them a real sense of purpose. They seek growth and enlightenment, and they help to make the world a better place. They may struggle at times, but they recognize that life has a purpose, and they are grateful to be able to accomplish something purposeful, even in an imperfect world.
Looking at the world realistically, it is clear that there are many problems. Looking at ourselves objectively, it is clear that we are all imperfect. Things ought to be better, and if they are going to get better, we need to make changes in ourselves so that we do our part to make the world a better place. At the same time, we need to release our need to make everything exactly as we believe that it should be, and our tendency to judge and be angry with everyone and everything that doesn’t measure up to our standard, including and especially ourselves. We need to be patient with the understanding that change is a process. But even though it is a process, and we will never be absolutely perfect as long as we are living on this earth, it is a process that is worth believing in. It gives life a sense of meaning.