A Mildly Principled World, pt 1

I had a confusing conversation with an old, old friend tonight. I can understand his position, it’s obvious. But there are subtleties that I think are overlooked.

To be flippant, our talk was about “rad-ness” and the current trend to be the “best person you were meant to be.” To be true, so much of this train of thought is trending right now. Soccer moms have traded their Adidas shorts for yoga pants. Testosterone-laden corporate elites have morphed into caring Buddhists (money hungry, but caring). All of this stuff is cool right now. You can gain a lot of street cred by telling people you need a day to yourself to get in touch with, or reacquainted with, or to return to. I didn’t identify nouns there because you can simply fill in the blanks and unquestionably take that time for yourself to do whatever you think you need to do. Hell, you could probably even scoff a couple of days off work if your boss is rad too, just to go find yourself.

I give a lot of credence to self-improvement. By most standards, I’m fairly self-loathing. My particular brand of depression isn’t so much an all-is-lost type of thing (although it is more than I like), but it’s more of a constant drain on my self-esteem. It keeps me from feeling worthy, from feeling like the things that I do matter to a greater purpose, even if I understand intellectually that they do. If I don’t have the hope of self-improvement, I don’t have hope at all. So how are my efforts discredited by our beloved soccer/yoga moms? And how are my efforts any more valid than those of better adapted posture? Because they are in a less troubled space do they not deserve an opportunity to be enlightened? Is struggle the only reason for betterment? Of course, the answer is “no” to these questions; I can’t be convinced that any single person couldn’t benefit from some sort of mindfulness practice.

So I wonder if the real question is one of authenticity, or maybe of commitment. Take the stereotype of the yoga mom for example. I’m going to be vicious here, but only to demonstrate a point. If you are a yoga mom, keep it up.

Dorothy. A less explored life, one largely mandated by societal norms and biology. University. Getting married. Kids. A sterling mother of course with the best of intentions for her immediate circle, and even a smattering of sympathy for those less fortunate. But ultimately, feeling a little empty inside. She’ll go to yoga, do daily meditations, go on a retreat or two. And she’ll return to her life feeling like she has really done something for herself, that she’s really a better person and through that she is making the world a better place (Strain Eckhart Tolle, strain!).

But on her way home she’ll think about how she needs a new Audi, or how her kids need new bikes. How SHE needs a new bike, and if they should replace their laminate counters in the kitchen with granite, if they should plant a vegetable garden in the spring or keep their chemically fertilized lawn. Should they live in a van for a year? No, that’s crazy.

She’ll stop by Whole Foods and pick up some things. The marinated beef tenderloin looks fantastic! It’s okay to eat beef on Thursdays, but it’s only free range chicken the rest of the week, and of course Meatless Monday is more or less always practiced, unless she’s simply too tired and picks up McDonald’s as a sinful treat. She’ll put vegetables in her kid’s lunchbags, but slips through the Tim Horton’s drive-through on her way to work and picks up whatever sausage product breakfast sandwich they are offering this week.

Or maybe…

Dorothy is a single mother who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She has found that in spite of the vapid conversation in her yoga class, the slow, meditative movement and controlled breathing of the activity gives her some control over her mental illness. Through the practice she realizes that although she will likely never be free of her illness she can coexist with it, muzzle it a bit to give her some escape and some peace. This keeps her a little bit happier, more productive. She misses less work, she smiles more to customers, she spends more time with her children walking through forests and reading books out loud because she doesn’t have to repeat a word three times, or turn a page forward and back, forward and back, forward and back. That’s a positive effect, because betterment is trendy.

The weakness of our efforts towards betterment isn’t always triumphant. It simply can’t be. If we take that yoga class, all of them trying to be the best kind of person they can be, eventually a social critical mass will be struck. All of that energy will at some point amount into something positive, simply by sheer numbers. Maybe one of them is the matriarch of a carnivorous family, and through constant exposure to topical conversation she comes to accept that eating meat has enormous negative impact on both physical and environmental health. She stops buying factory-farmed meat from the grocery store. That’s a positive effect. Maybe then she slows down her family’s meat consumption entirely. They start actually thinking about the effect of their choices on the rest of the world. They start to realize that they can make decisions that are good for more than just their immediate circle, that they can have an impact, positive or negative, on a global scale. They come to realize that power rests in their decisions. Positive global change is within them, and they are brought to this realization because betterment is trendy.

It’s a scattergun approach to global awakening, and it probably isn’t incredibly efficient. But it isn’t without merit. If there is indeed a movement of increased social conscience that has become trendy, to throw it out because it’s a trend, because the spiritless hordes are flocking to it, isn’t just cynical, it’s shortsighted.

In this mildly principled world, we have to take what good we can get, where we can get it.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: