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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Making the world a better place, one quote at a time - Part 1

Snappa2006, Flickr

With the beginning of the new year, most of us are very motivated to make a difference in our lives.

Most likely, again this year, we will also be busy complaining about the state of the world/country/community we live in. (Or the weather forecast. For the next 24 hours here in Halifax, they are calling for about 30 cm of snow, and with the windchill factor it's around MINUS 30 DEGREES!)

I want to propose that we kill two birds with one stone: instead of just focusing on our own life, why don't we try, along the changes we make in our own lives, to make a difference in the world altogether? After all, this is where we live, so if it gets better, chances are our lives will be better as a consequence!

It's not such a huge endeavor if we take it one baby step at a time. What counts is that if each of us does a little bit, in the end it will add up to a lot. As Gandhi would say, "be the change you want to see in the world"!

... or forever remain silent, for I believe none of us is entitled to complain if s/he's not doing anything to improve a given situation. It's too easy to talk. 2014 is the time to ACT!

And while we're at quotes, why don't we use another prolific "quote producer", Robert Heinlein, famous science-fiction writer of the twentieth century. I was reminded of him by fellow blogger Dr.J, and gladly discovered or rediscovered his work. Heinlein can be controversial at times, and certainly did not strive for political correctness at all costs, but a lot of his quotes are right on, and in my next few posts, I will use some of them as the basis of our yearly "Make my life a better life and make the world a better place" plan.

Here we go:


I have talked about attitude a lot on this blog. I think it comes - partly - from my mother. She's said time and again that no one should behave as a victim, that we should take our destiny in our own hands. I know what it feels like to be irritable and cranky. I know what it's like to be a worry wart. I know about the dungeons of depression. I've been there. Those places aren't pretty. I wish nobody had to visit them. Let's instead follow Heinlein's sage advice:

Don't ever become a pessimist... a pessimist is correct oftener than an optimist, but an optimist has more fun, and neither can stop the march of events.

I feel very tempted to also quote Dr Phil and his "Would you rather be right than happy?" Being right could mean sitting down contemplating the fact that life is absurd and unfair, sometimes painful and scary, and that it invariably ends with death. Well, I don't dwell on such thoughts, because they fail to make me happy.

Of course, there is much more than the knowledge of our own mortality to affect our mood on a daily basis. But whatever comes our way, one thing belongs to us and will never be taken from us: our attitude. We can control, to a certain point at least, our reactions. Our focus, too. It's as if we were all granted a camera: we all get to choose what we will take pictures of. I know I don't want to take pictures of ugly things. I also know that many ordinary things become beautiful when the camera has the right zoom and the right angle.

Sometimes we forget that a bad attitude not only is harmful to ourselves, but also to the people around us. Emotions are contagious, so there's a good chance that a stressed, nervous, negative or angry person will end up giving the unwelcome present of "bad attitude" to family, friends and coworkers. Let's stop it right away! Let's give a smile, a compliment or a pleasant remark instead!

Sunshine Lady, Flickr

Common good

We are so entangled in our day-to-day routine that we forget to strive for common good, don't we? Let's at least admit it!

Most of us are nice and kind and generous to our family members and friends. But do we fight for the rights of others? Even if they are strangers? Do we choose behaviors that will improve everyone else's lives? (Like turning off the friggin' engine! Pet peeve of mine you will have noticed.) 

Do we shop sustainable and fair trade? Do we reduce, reuse and recycle, or do we buy juice boxes? (The word itself makes me cringe.) Do we volunteer some of our time? Are we showing any generosity for people with whom we don't share any DNA, or who won't be able to give anything in return? 

The world won't get better if we all focus on ourselves, and if we let everything pass because we "have other fish to fry". The world is what it is because of the combination of things you and I do and don't do. Let's take part in it. 

What are we doing today to make the world a better place for all to live?

Here are two quotes by Heinlein that got me thinking:

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as "bad luck".

There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to the public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute not common law. Neither individuals not corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.

Creativity and sharing

I am a firm believer that all of us are born with a talent of some sort. By exploiting that talent, not only can we feel better inside, we can also make others benefit from it. What is your talent, and how do you put it to use?

I don't have many talents, but I do love to write, and so it is what I do. Even though Heinlein says:

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands. afterwards.

I still very, very much appreciate the conversations that arise when people read my blog, or when I read other people's blogs. It's a rich, rewarding exchange.

As for visual arts, I'm afraid I'm a lost cause, but that's fine! There's the artists! Here's what artists can do:

Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a great artist - a master - and that is what Auguste Rodin was - can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is... and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be... and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart... no matter what the merciless hours have done to her.

Powerful, hey? (By the way, a writer wrote that description!)

Whether you are aware of it or not, you have a powerful talent too. What are you good at? (If it's not artistic, it could be an organizational or relational quality). Are you putting it to good use?

What role are you playing in the world this year?

Thragor 2, Flickr


  1. As someone who obsesses on the (increasing) complexity of society, I appreciate this a great deal. If one steps back and takes a big picture look at how society continues to unfold, one thing becomes most clear; that's as complexity increases, our interdependency also increases. We increasingly need each other, and not just ourselves.

    Of course we all know the universe began in late May of 1961, but as I have gotten older, I have learned that there are 7 billion other universes out there not named, Jhciacb. So as I have focused on myself to make the world a better place, I focus much more today on the world itself, in hopes that those actions will make me more complete.

    Love the camera analogy also :-)

    1. That is so true, Roy. Even if we should - hopefully - do good just for the sake of doing good, we also reap what we sow, more often than we think.

      That's funny, I was on the impression that nothing had existed prior to 1976... ;-)

  2. I was going to say- we have the same amount of snow, but then I saw that you're in Halifax too! :) Small world!

  3. Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my post over at TOTS Business! I enjoying reading your post and here's to an optimistic 2014!

  4. Bonne année! Love the approach to explore ways we can improve our lives and the lives of others, one quote at a time. Words hold so much power, don't they? I love this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Instead of focusing on a single day or holiday, it perfectly encompasses how we should approach each and every day: Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.

    1. I love the quote! I think I'm gonna write it on my heart! :-)

      Thanks for coming by Nicole.

  5. Thank you for the mention, Julie!

    This is a very nice article!!

    I don't know if measuring snow in cm is so good. It makes it seem like so much more than inches, lol!

    I never can get the hang of temperature in metric. When a patient of mine has a fever, I need to hear 100 something to worry. Forty something just doesn't seem serious enough. :-)

    For the vast majority of us, making the world a better place with our daily interactions with others is the best thing that we can ever do!

    1. I feel the same way when I hear body temperatures in Fahrenheit! I have no idea what they mean.

      The funniest thing, though, is that most people here use metric to talk about air temperature, but imperial to talk about water temperature.

      Imperial is also very common when talking about one's measurements, and measures in construction.

      So basically it's just a complete mess. LOL

      In any case, 30 cm = 1 foot, and minus 30 = minus 22 :-D

  6. I love this and might link it soon (if you don't mind) if I do the post that I have been thinking about (still not 100% sure yet).
    You are right - we can do things to make a difference and even though they might be little things they are the things that really do add up to change!!

    1. Of course you can link Kim. :-)

      I'm curious about the post you have in mind! Please do write it!

  7. I don't have many talents either...mostly I do really great Excel spreadsheets. But aside from that my creativity is severely lacking. :)

    On a more serious note, this is a really great post. Very inspiring...and yes, you are a great writer!!

    Happy New Year!

    1. Being able to make great Excel spreadsheets is an admirable talent... that I don't have! Maybe I should hire you! LOL

      Happy New Year. :-)

  8. Have you ever visited The Hunger Site? https://thehungersite.greatergood.com/

    I love buying clothes, jewelry and kitchen utensils there because every purchase provides funding to feed the hungry. I even bought tree ornaments there this Christmas. I love the artisans, their colorful and unusual work, and love knowing that my spending is going to help far beyond the purchase of a 'thing.' A spiritual step up from buying plastic from China.

    Here's a quote for you: 'Your success and happiness lies in you.  Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.' -- Helen Keller She is not denying difficulties, for without them, why would we need to practice happiness and make an effort to find it.

    1. Hi Tara! I don't know that one site in particular, but I have shopped on similar websites.

      Shopping local is good too. :-)

      I admire Helen Keller!

  9. Julie I agree with you, we can do things to make a difference and even though they may be small things, if we all did small things what a bigger difference we'd all make.
    A thoughtful post.......

    All the best Jan

    1. All big things are made up of small things, aren't they? :-)

  10. As usual your posts make me think...wonderful post :) I am going to think about what I am good at and how I can use that to make a difference