“This is the world.”
The teacher held up the globe in her hand. We stared at this mid-sized ball that was a lot of blue amidst other colors and markings. It now rotated about two points, making it look like one giant mid-sized, disturbed blue ball. Then, we were each given a world: smaller, bluer, and barely readable. Our fingertips were at the world. We wanted to set it in giddy motion just like the way our teacher had. But, it wouldn’t move. We slapped it, pulled at it, choked it, even screamed but it wouldn’t budge. Not a single one of them. We looked at each other in teenage indignance – the same question in our heads.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD?
Is it just me? Are you hearing that question a lot too? One reason I hear the question so much is that I keep shouting it out like an indignant teenager every time I watch the news or when people cross the road staring into their phones or when someone tells me they hate cheese popcorn. Increasingly, I am hearing that question from a lot of others too. And we are all sitting up straight wondering where it’s coming from. In fact, there’s a pattern that has become a sine qua non to get our attention.
The pattern is somewhat like this: Here’s what’s wrong with the world – we are all screwed – what’s wrong with the world? It’s a completely illogical pattern where the answer comes before the question with the conclusion somewhere in the middle. This is doing three things: 1. Confusing us, 2. Scaring us, 3. Making us stupid. What do we address first?
If you woke up one morning and found yourself lying naked in the middle of a forest and found a compass, a spear, and a bathrobe near you, what would you reach for first?
So, one way to lessen the fear and confusion is to become less stupid and put on some clothes. You picked the bathrobe, right?
We must start by understanding the sheer pointlessness, irrationality and complete lack of thought in our question. The abstractness in the use of the word ‘world’ masquerades the very fact that we are a part of the world; the proverbial “I don’t care what the world thinks of me.” The people who truly live up to that credo are psychopaths and kids in diapers. Because they don’t care what they think of themselves either. So, in its pissed-off essence, the question we are really asking is “what is wrong with me?”
That’s the question the world of “ATTEND OUR WEEKEND SEMINAR TO LIVE AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE AND REDEFINE YOURSELF AND CLIMB MT EVEREST IN YOUR UNDERWEAR” is constantly trying to answer for you. The pattern there is straightforward. There’s a well-orchestrated pitch on why you should attend the weekend seminar which goes somewhat like this. The instructor throws out a general question: what’s wrong with your life? You raise your hand – tell everyone what’s wrong with your life – everyone becomes sad – the instructor gives you this crumby anecdote about how someone with the same problems attended the seminar a month ago and guess what? This person who was scared of Mountains, Maggi noodles, and Monkey caps before is now eating Maggi on Mt Everest wearing only a Monkey cap. Also, did you know he just bought his dream underwear last week? Everyone goes completely batty. Another hand goes up.
I don’t want to pontificate on why you should be grateful or tell you the world is just alright. I don’t even want to tell you that you are perfect in all your imperfections. Yuck. No. Here’s what I want to tell you: the world has been around for a very long time. And in that time it has put up with a whole lot of crap. Even the world outside threw rocks at it. The world kept going, getting better each step of the way. 4.5 billion years of getting better must have taken a lot of willpower and effort, given how you want to eat cheese popcorn today just because you ate salad yesterday. So, when you show up at a time when the world has never looked better – stuff cheese popcorn in your mouth and ask– hey, what’s wrong with you, world, I think the most appropriate response is for you to be doused in New World Monkey piss. But, the world knows better. It ignores you and keeps going – getting better along the way as it always has. You won’t even get to see most of it.
Here’s what we all want. We want the world to go attend a weekend seminar and come back redefined and transformed. But, like you, the world walks out of the seminar and is greeted by the tight embrace of reality. For the world, the reality is an unchanged you, and for you, the reality is an unchanged rest of the world. There’s no quote more apropos to reality than this one: “Remember that every corpse on Everest was once a highly motivated person.” And an extension of the quote could well be, “that corpse in the underwear was at a motivational seminar last weekend.”
I don’t want to discount all the disbelievingly clownish crap happening in the world. Sometimes I wish I could escape reality and go attend a weekend seminar. But getting enraged at the world is exactly like going to the seminar. It’s a temporary reprieve to feel important and escape your own reality and play God, succumbing to the false belief that your problems are magically solving themselves. The reality hits you like my geography teacher does (“Slap yourself” was her way of hitting you) only the next weekend when you see Mt. Everest staring back at you, asking, “Want to try?” You should’ve bought some diaper along.
Remember how Grandma used to tell you that you are her favorite? And then you grow up and find out she said that to everyone. Grandma, you cheater you! But that’s the story of our lives. The abstract world tells us all how we are the favorite and then we grow up and realize everyone has been told that and that some of them went on to become psychopaths.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU, WORLD?
Dismissing that question with ‘nothing is wrong with the world’ would be too simplistic. Wrong even. That’s why we need to go back to where this all started: every time the man is wondering what’s wrong with the world, what he’s really asking is why he’s so screwed up? So, I will play Grandma and answer that question.
Remember, it’s Grandma talking.
Child, before I answer that question, I must tell you a secret: you are not my favorite of them all. In fact, here’s the truth: I don’t like any of you so much. Because sometimes you just turn into a total, how do I say this, pain in the world’s ass. You whine so much that it makes me forget my back pain. You are constantly angry. Just yesterday, I saw you throwing popcorn at the TV and screaming “When you play a game of thrones you win or you die.” What’s with that? The next moment you are crying to Grandma about how all your friends went on a vacation without you. When something like this happened to Grandpa, he would scratch his head and say they must’ve forgotten and go back to digging the garden. But, you want to pamper yourself. Grandpa would’ve spanked you with a shovel had to told him that. I don’t even ask you to take a bath anymore, but every time you come and ask me why everything stinks, I want to scream “When you don’t take a bath you stink or you just shut up and learn to live with the smell.” Look, child, I know it’s hard on you with everyone asking you what you want to do with your life. I know it’s hard watching all your friends do incredible things with their status updates. (Yeah, Grandma has a Facebook account.) I don’t want to bore you with the ‘back in our days’ talk because I know you don’t have the time. But, spare me this one. Back in our days, someone was always, well, dying. Some of my friend’s children never even got to open their eyes to the world – never even got to ask what’s wrong with the world. We cried together. We showed strength together. We hoped together. Many times, there was another child to bring to the world. No one asked us if we wanted to pamper ourselves after nine months of nausea-induced pain and suffering. Grandpa would head back to work the next morning. We never cared so much about what each other did with their lives. We only cared about being there for each other when life did something unexpected to us. And in spite of everything that was happening, we smiled a lot, even after we started losing all our teeth. You call it cute. We call it survival. Occasionally, I catch you smiling. It makes me forget my back pain. You asked me some silly questions growing up. I made up silly answers. You laughed and seemed satisfied. Now, you are grown up and you ask me the silliest question of them all. Anything I tell you now will not satisfy you. Your curiosity has turned into a quest. Your quest has turned you into a maniac. When you get angry with your mother for asking you the same question twice, I admonish my daughter, not you. Because when you came into our lives, it gave us immense joy. And we still breathe in that air of joy. But to watch you like this scares us. We aren’t scared the joy is going out of our lives, but that it’s going out of your own. You now need a reason – a purpose – to do everything. You didn’t even leave your smile out of this. What happens once you have that purpose? Will you smile then? Will you stop wondering what’s wrong with you then? Will you stop asking what’s wrong with the world then? I doubt it. Because you are not just asking what’s wrong with the world. You secretly ask what’s wrong with you. You are searching for an answer yourself. You need to stop fighting for a transformation – take a leaf out of the world’s experience – and quietly keep getting better. You’ll still have people reminding you of everything wrong with you. You will remind yourself more than anyone else. Sleazy old men will call them barriers and limitations and try to convince you that you are a big blue ball of mess that needs some redefinition. Throw popcorn at them. Child, you will never notice how far you’ve come because there’s always farther to go. I don’t know about this whole finding your purpose thing. Here’s what I know though: being purposeful. Answering this question serves me no purpose, but I had to go on this lengthy grandma-rant because there’s no end to being purposeful. And I am guessing that’s how it is with finding your purpose too – there is no end to it. The world won’t sit around, full of defects, waiting for you to find your purpose as you continue screaming at it. And it won’t magically start rotating once you find the purpose and finally stop screaming at it. What you boys didn’t figure out in class that day was that your worlds needed a gentle nudge to move an unnoticeable degree. And it would have taken you many gentle nudges every day to notice it has moved. You came back to me that day and asked me to make your world work. I have been at it ever since. It has moved so much. You never noticed. Here, give it another try. Let’s begin again:
This is the world.