When I think about the future, it’s tempting to think we’re going to hell in a handbasket. But I’d be wrong. There are innumerable ways to make the world better. One is to start the day with a morning routine that asks a powerful question.
Humans have always felt that the good days are behind them and the times they are living in must be the worst. Ask the mothers of the middle ages when the plague killed twenty-five million people. Ask the generation of the late 1960s when they lived through the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., both Kennedy brothers, and an endless war in Vietnam. Is it really true that this is the worst time?
Maybe believing that we are living in terrible times makes us feel important. Or maybe we think it is motivating to believe things are bad and getting worse. I used to think that if I stopped feeling angry about the state of the world, I would stop caring. I pictured myself on the couch, feet up, eating bonbons. But not anymore. I know that anger works like sugar to give me a short burst of adrenaline, but I end up feeling depressed and helpless. Now I know that there is a motivator that is stronger and more lasting than anger. How can I believe that things will improve?
Let me tell you about a conversation I just had with friends in California. We were visiting them in Santa Barbara, over New Year’s, in the wake of the largest wildfire in the state’s history and right before the devastating mudslides. These dear friends, Linda and Tom Cole, have dedicated their lives as Humanitarian Aid workers in post-war regions of Africa. When things can’t possibly get worse in South Sudan or Uganda, they call Tom and Linda. The two of them match local knowledge with education to grow food and wealth in and out of refugee camps.
We ate dinner together. I was feeling pessimistic, a little depressed by the sight of black, lifeless hillsides after the fires. Then another friend at the table asked Tom and Linda about their vision of the future,
“Where do you stand on the spectrum of things are going to be great to things are going to be terrible?”
“I don’t ever really think about that,” said Tom without hesitating.
“C’mon–how can you not feel that things are getting worse and worse?”
“I see people, with 1-5% of the resources we have, waking up every morning, brushing themselves off, and walking forwards, prepared to do whatever it takes to make life a little better. If they can do it, we can too,” said Tom.
That conversation has me thinking. When we get up in the morning, we do what we can to make the future better for us and for our children. When things change, when we have fewer resources and comforts, will we just give up? Stop working to make the world better? I don’t think so. Yet most people, when pressed, are pessimistic about the future.
What works for me to take positive action is to ask this one question every morning: “What good shall I do this day?” And then I identify something small and doable to say out loud: “Write a letter to Moustapha.” (He is a friend who lost his house in the fire in Ventura, CA.) But my answer could be, “Be kind,” or “Call a friend in need.”
I stole the question from Benjamin Franklin. He kept the same daily schedule for years and documented it. This is what he writes about his morning routine, “Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness. Take the resolution of the day…and breakfast.” In bed by 10, he asked every night, “What good have I done this day?” Here’s the catch: it doesn’t work if you beat yourself up for not doing enough good. Because, as Jack Kornfield said, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” (If you find you keep falling short of “doing good,” your daily goal might be too big. Be kind to yourself and make it smaller. For ex) “I will write the first sentence of that letter to my friend in need.”)
I love the questions, but I love the phrase Powerful Goodness even more. It names the feeling I have when I think of Tom and Linda. It names the motivating force I feel when I think of our kids. The future is made from millions of immeasurable moments of Powerful Goodness. So forgive me, I have to go now. I have a letter to write and breakfast to take.
(photo credits: featured photo: Kevin Thomas, Flickr. Schedule: Lifehack.org)
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