Twelve days before Christmas I sat with a friend looking out into the bustling throng in a big department store. Some were cheerful; others were sombre as they went about their shopping. My friend remarked on the self-centeredness of the ‘me-me’ generation. Without thought I responded with “They’re doing the best they can.” As my remark sank into my own consciousness, a strange thing happened. I could feel the tension leaving my face and shoulders. Fears about deadlines fell away. I felt at peace, even though I was quite aware that most of my plans for that day would go unfulfilled.
Can the human race be better? Of course. In that citadel of consumerism where I sat, it would be hard not to recognize that we consume too much. And if I picked any one person out of the crowd and asked if they could do better, the answer would be yes. Yet at that moment, given the external pressures of family, holiday traditions, money and credit, groupthink, and advertising, and given the internal forces of love, wanting to be loved and fear of not living up, that single person in the crowd would be doing the best they could.
Can I do better? Yes. I look around my desk at tasks labeled procrastination. In the summer I set an intention that I would have a book finished by year end… but, alas, I haven’t started it yet. I think of family members I haven’t called. For anyone like me with a strong work ethic, any one of these things could lead to my beating myself up. I’ve done it before many times, as have I held judgments of others many times.
But I know that self-criticism and guilt do not help me get things done. Rather, they tend to keep things the same, to maintain the status quo. In the bigger picture, heavy criticism of a politician does not make him do things better. Rather, he gets defensive, justifies or blames others.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but criticism and blame, including self-criticism and self-blame seldom have a positive effect. Instead, we need inspiration if we are to improve our lives. When I feel inspired I get a lot done and I come up with good ideas. In my therapeutic work, people heal. When good things happen, I feel more inspired and want to do and be more.
Our political leaders, our business leaders, our teachers, our farmers and our bosses need inspiration to do a better job. Most of them are already doing the best they can in the context of what they do and where they are in their own development. But they, like us, can do better with new ideas, encouragement and inspiration.
Change starts with us as individuals. If we can get individually to a place of self-acceptance, of acknowledgment to ourselves that we’re doing the best we can, in short, if we can be at peace with ourselves, then we can be open to inspiration to grow, to create, to love and to inspire others.
I invite you to play with the magic trio of self-acceptance, peace, and inspiration in your own life. Then expand your play to include others.
Dr. Neill Neill is a registered psychologist in Qualicum Beach. He helps capable people who feel stuck… trauma, relationships, addictions.