I have seen a few social media posts recently that say, “No resolutions for me this year; it is the circumstances’ turn to change”. People are annoyed and frustrated with the state of the world. Some are downright furious. Still, it surprises me how brazenly people will just come out and say, “I am refusing to make my choices because I don’t like what is going on around me”.
One side-effect of our increasingly global and technological world is that we see life as a spectator sport. Have you ever watched a TV show where a character does something that makes you feel angry for days? Or sad. Or elated. You talk about it with your friends. You go on long rants over and over again, trying to justify your position.
Too many of us are watching life pass us by. We think the real business of doing things belongs to governments, churches, and companies. We are consumers. We receive the world others are building. It is the product and we are recipients, whose biggest contribution boils down to an issue of demand.
This is an appealing way to live for one very direct reason. It takes the pressure off. We are not responsible as consumers. We are the jury. If things go awry, it is “their” fault. “They”, of course, is basically anyone but me. The government, the church, the other members of my family.
We are watching life pass us by. We’ve become intoxicated with ad campaigns that promise ‘no risk’. We watch and assess. When things are bad, we tell the people responsible about how they need to change. We rant when they don’t.
All the while, we are avoiding the inevitability of our own choices. Refusing to make a resolution only hurts you. I don’t mean the cultural practice of New Years resolutions, I just mean a general unwillingness to take responsibility for being an agent of change in your own life.
Because all of this entitlement, consumerism, and blame is a clever way to avoid making choices and being held responsible for them. We want to hold others responsible.
Our lives will never truly improve by continuing to avoid our choices. The key to a better life is taking ownership of your choices and stewarding your own character as best you can. Until that happens, improved circumstances will be disappointing because the external change you demand does not create the internal peace you long for.
Circumstances are a very real force in our experience, but they are not the defining one. What is defining is how we react and respond to the circumstances we face.
We ought to help hold others accountable; we ought to demand better of our institutions. But we cannot hold others to a standard we are not willing to meet ourselves. If we take the rigid position that the problem is elsewhere, we should not be surprised when elsewhere does the same.
Our circumstances need to change. But circumstances do not happen in a vacuum. And they do not change in one either. It is people, making choices. Not just “them”, but you as well.
Beyond that, there is a discomforting truth we all have to face. Life is never going to be circumstantially perfect. It is always going to be a complicated mess. We get to choose how we think and feel about life. We get to decide what to do in the circumstantial context. Those decisions, not the circumstances themselves, are the key to peace and happiness. And meaning.