I’m Starting With Myself

This is the third in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, a blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week. (This one was supposed to have been posted yesterday but I was wrestling with what I wanted to say. And so, rather than drop out entirely, I’ve forgiven myself and I’m posting it late.)

Today’s question is, “Tell us about something that you think should be improved.”

Where to start? My (Canadian) government recently made a secret arms sale to Saudi Arabia, a country with a terrible record for human rights violations of its citizens. The Correctional Service of Canada has also made it clear this week that it will impose no limits on how long its own citizens can be held in solitary confinement (often for several months), despite numerous warnings about the psychological impacts of lengthy detentions in solitary, not to mention a number of suicides on the part of solitary detainees. Such appalling inhumanity astonishes me. To say there is room for improvement in my government is an understatement.

What can I do about it? I can write letters to my Member of Parliament. Done that. I can bleat about it with my friends. Do that all the time. I can vote for another party. Done that too.

None of those actions are likely to do much to improve the caliber of the political leaders who represent me. I can’t control how they behave. But the one thing that I do have control over is myself.

Which means that I need to ask myself something like following: In what ways do I exhibit the inhumanity, lack of compassion, dishonesty, lack of creativity, greed, black-and-white thinking, shortsightedness, etc. that I’m seeing in my government?

What? How could such dastardly qualities present themselves in a nice girl like moi?

But the truth is that while I tend to be kind, honest and compassionate toward others most of the time, that amiability can evaporate if I feel hurt or threatened in some way. Plus I’m not as kind, honest and compassionate toward myself as I need to be. If I’m unwilling to tell the truth about that, my efforts to improve circumstances outside myself will be compromised.

Tolstoy has said, “Everyone wants to change the world. No one wants to change themselves.”

It’s not hard to understand why. Looking within can unveil some qualities and habits that are not flattering. And negative ways of perceiving and behaving are profoundly ingrained, which means that the process of self-change is not a quick fix. It can take a lifetime.

And yet, if we’re serious about improving the things we don’t like in our world, telling ourselves the truth about how those things are reflected in us has to be our starting point. Otherwise we trap ourselves in a binary, self-righteous, us against them stance that only perpetuates the status quo.

On the other hand, if we are able to see ourselves in a less self-flattering, more nuanced, and more dimensional manner, and to drop our judgments toward those whom we hold responsible for what isn’t working, then our hearts and minds will be open and we will be better able to conceive of solutions that are creative, original, and have some chance of working.

This attitude applies as much to our own personal, professional and creative lives as much as it does to the world “out there.”



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