This post is part of a series about creating and testing rules to live by. Click here to head to the first post and see the list of “rules.”
Always reach for the mirror before the binoculars. (Unless on a safari.)
What’s wrong with the world?
I have some theories.
First, why do I have to hit so many buttons to fill my car with gas: Do you want a car wash? Do you have a rewards card? Do you want a receipt? What is your blood type? Is this a credit card? Did you change your mind and want a car wash yet? No, I want gas. I want gas.
Second, why is everyone recording everything on their phones? Go to a concert or game and you see people not watching the act or action, but gazing at their tiny screen in order to “capture” it. For what and for when? You telling me that you are going to watch that bouncily recorded four-minute song again? And don’t tell me you want to show it to your friends. They don’t want to see it. Plus they are too busy recording their own life away to bother with footage from yours.
Third, politicians. And the media. And other countries. And my country. And my neighbor who is always telling me how to handle the weeds in my yard. Or dog people. Not actually half-people/half-dogs but people who treat their dogs with better regard than they do, well, me. And people who watch “The Masked Singer.” And . . .
I could go on. And on.
My answer to the question of what is wrong with the world could succinctly be put this way: They are. Everyone else.
GK Chesterton has been credited with a different response when a London newspaper posed the same question to the public. Here is that reply:
Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am.
In another publication Chesterton explained further: “In one sense, and that the eternal sense, the thing is plain. The answer to the question, ‘What is Wrong?’ is, or should be, I am wrong.’ Until a man can give that answer his idealism is only a hobby.”
I wonder what this world might look like if more of us attacked our own peccadillos as vehemently as we do those of others?
But even this thought betrays me. I turn my attention to this notion of a better world, one brought on if “we” (meaning: you) were to be more self-aware and more serious about your flaws. I’ll take the better world, thank you, just leave me out of all the rest, okay?
It is hard to look within. I know this. And it is this knowledge that prevents my doing it more often. By clamoring about the “sins” all around me, I can conveniently cling to my own, smuggling my wrongdoings along like precious contraband. The more righteous my outrage at all the things, the more unrighteousness I can allow myself.
This is timeless. It dates back to that first scathing story—which scathes for its truth. Adam and Eve trespass the clearly stated boundaries of their paradise abode. First they hide; then they blame. Responsibility is offered to them—just take it! But of course it is always easy to root others on into the cold lake of virtue from the removed comforts of my own balmy cesspool.
Adam blames Eve—“It is the woman!” he says. And don’t we do the same? I blame my mate for my own lapses in patience. I blame my kids when they interfere with what should be my uninterrupted happiness. I blame my employer for not giving me my way in every single thing. It has nothing to do with my selfishness, thank you very much. It is them, them, them!
Adam wasn’t finished in his scapegoating: “It is the woman you gave me.” Daily I blame God when I’m ensnared by temptation. Well, you gave me this or that impulse! You made the world this way! I, wretched as I am, can even convince myself that the wrongdoing is a well-earned reward: I”ve done pretty well despite the way God has set me up to fail—I deserve this. I’m sure God understands this quite well. He’s probably proud of me. Just think what my deadbeat neighbor would do with the same stacked circumstances!? I’m actually pretty great; even at my worst, I rise above the problem, flawless.
Post-rebellion Adam does what I do—blames every other person on earth and the creator of the systems in place. He doesn’t go down kicking and screaming, for, unknowingly, he is already down. Yet even in that lowly position, he deceives himself into believing he is actually in flight: the kicking a mere flapping of his forever mighty wings.
Eve does no better. She goes straight to the original question–What is wrong with the world?–by pointing out all the evil around her, it frees her from the burden of responsibility.
Everyone on Twitter is toxic—so what’s a little meanness?
The neighbor mistreats his spouse and the divorce rate is high—so what if I dishonor my mate?
Some people really steal—so what if I cut a corner here and there.
I just need to find one person on earth more evil than I am, for that person gives me license to stomp violently to that line of malfeasance with a certain cold numbness. As long as I go no further than that cur, I’m fine.
But what of the harder road—the one leading inwards? What if my actions weren’t viewed in comparison, but rather as self-evident representations of my own beliefs, opinions, and depravities? Not in a way to belittle or wage a war against myself—or at least not my entire self. No, just taking the battle strategically to the parts already mobilized against me and my fellow human. My wrath, my selfishness, my pride—what if I took up arms against such dastardly foes, without appeasement nor surrender?
Well, for starters, I’d certainly become more empathetic. The sins of others would no longer plant seeds of resentment for them in me. No, rather these misdeeds and character blemishes would set me upon a pursuit—like the antithesis of a treasure hunt—for similar mistruths and failings in my own heart. I would no longer be severed from the angry person, but in community with him. I had a professor once who coughed, leaving some unflattering remains on his goatee. Instead of being the cackling pupil who mocks from the back of the class, I would become the friend who helps the man in front of him and checks into the condition of his own face as well.
Other changes would occur too. Like the ability to more freely give the benefit of the doubt to others. Loudmouths on social media, in my own view, would go from reprobates to passionate, from moronic to misguided. Because I know that I too have wrongness and fanaticism in my own heart, I don’t hate others who suffer the same contagion. Instead, I love them even though: even though they can be strident, even though they are angry, even though they disagree with me. I can give even though love because I am one in desperate need of an even though kind of love. By understanding myself, I come nearer to understanding my fellow human—even at their worst; my worst.
Gossip, too, would begin to be eradicated from my life. I could never again begin a sentence with, “Can you believe that he . . .” Because I can believe all potentiality of evil. For it lives in my heart. From a lofty seat of self-made perfection, it becomes easy to demean the minions below. Aptly lowered into the flinging muck and mire, I am wise to keep my mouth safely shut.
We could go on listing the resulting goodness that comes from reaching for the mirror, but first a word on binoculars. One is not to live like some vengeful sniper, no. But neither are we made to be Narcissus, who stared deeply, darkly at his own reflection. One can masquerade as the “greatest sinner” and it is just another form of vanity. We fall in love with our afflictions, and become ensnared by them, proud even of our own folly. On safari, I should not be so consumed with the spots on my own heart that I miss the spots on the cheetah in the distance. In more applicable words, the person who is daily resolving for a life of reflection and self-scrutiny, should naturally grow a type of humility that is strong—that is capable of taking eyes off oneself altogether when appropriate. One who can see dangers ahead and beauties too. Just as we give the mirror passing daily glances for upkeep and assessment, mirrors are not made to captivate and make captive. A growing inward awareness leads to a gentle external wisdom, one that is not seeking out judgment but searching for truth, both within and beyond. The picture becomes that of driving a car—a steady look at the road with intermittent, frequent glances at the speedometer, with one clear intention in mind: to arrive safely where one is meant to be.
What is wrong with the world?
I am. God help me.
Always reach for the mirror before the binoculars. (Unless on a safari.)
(Quick Virus Application (QVA-19) – Change causes emotion. Emotion threatens wisdom. In this season our lives have momentarily been altered. And when this happens we all look for someone or something to blame. Humans forever have been seeking out monsters to scapegoat for their own misdeeds–or literally just goats when no monsters could be wrangled. So with all these changes and no real place to lay the blame–though plenty of people are trying to erect villains to then topple–we end up going after our fellow human. We blast people who aren’t taking this seriously enough or those taking it too seriously. We scoff at the opinions of others, pointing out logical deficiencies with a untoward giddiness. We turn to those around us, tearing them down, in order to feel right and whole and safe and in some sort of control. Instead of going down this painful road, I want to use this time to reach for the mirror and find the things I can control. My temper, for example. By God’s grace and help, I can war against that. Or my patience. Or my work ethic and habits. There are a lot of areas within that could use sprucing up, and the prospect, daunting at first, becomes exciting. It is an opportunity to use this time to retreat, returning at some point to the more familiar world I know as a better citizen of earth and ambassador of Heaven. Each day, in laying down the binoculars, I can glance in the mirror, pray for help, and let the process of change begin.)