Pessimism? Optimism? Apathy? Ignorance? Helpful? Disgruntled? Angry?
How do you approach the reality of the world you find yourself in and the potential conflicts those problems may pose?
When we encounter problems, there tends to be three responses. Which one is your dominant approach?
1 — Pretend
Can’t we just talk about the positive stuff?
Why do people have to be so dark all the time?
The first common approach to the messiness, darkness, problems and their potential conflict within our lives and the world is to ignore them. You walk along, see the mess, & keep on walking; covering up the mess if it is necessary to harboring a calm, peaceful existence — even if that existence is a fiction. Sometimes, we would rather just be able to go about our day with reprieve from the chaos of the world than to have it impede our attempt at comfort.
Sometimes, you could say, it is just easier to be like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Our culture seems preoccupied with creating the guise that we have a sterile, nice, & convenient world. Much of our entertainment, especially mainstream music and television (a slight nod to Lifetime as the ultimate culprit) are based on a sort of escapism — if someone can make quaint sounds and images to tell us that the world is fine, we would rather give our attention to that. For those who can’t quite escape from the acceptable addictions and legal drugs of our cultural industries, they resort to other means and substances to escape. Neither of these are healthy escapes and neither leads to anything productive for us or the world as a whole. Yet that is how our world, especially our entertainment industries, have suggested we deal with our junk. The said approach is, conveniently, much more profitable, as well.
Hence, we pretend.
We prop up a fictional universe, we hide the problems — even willingly covering our eyes when we know a mess is on the horizon — and we overwhelmingly search out what we call “positivity” when we might just mean “ignorance.” Easier is the life where we don’t bring up our junk because then we will never have to deal with it…and the junk shouldn’t be my responsibility anyway, right?
Which means we will also never move forward.
The good of all, the health of all, including you, won’t be possible if we just push unhealth under the rug. Any good news is limited by our ability to ignore.
Like the family with obvious dysfunction who secretly discusses a plan for how, when they go out to public, they will appear as if they have everything together — we walk amidst the rotting ground, reminding ourselves to keep our eyes up, and everything will be just fine.
Or, at least, everything will appear just fine in a myopic, fictionalized sort of way.
2 — Rebellion
We stop along the road and just yell…a lot.
This is the approach where we harness a vast quantity of angry noise like the rebellious teenager slamming the door. Proactive healing of the ground is not the intention — only the satisfaction of hearing ourselves make good points, affirming that we don’t agree with the mess, and feeling justified in our apparent violation of the normal pretending.
The reason this is the second named response is because, unlike pretending, this response does actually acknowledge the mess. The anger and the rebellion is at least honest about the world’s reality as opposed to just covering it up and ignoring it. The problem is that this approach tends towards the culmination of only pointing out what we don’t like, don’t agree with, or don’t feel is okay. Solutions, therefore, may only ensue by accident because the goal we are pursuing is not to clean, but to vent.
The junk is revealed for what it is, but the junk is still not dealt with.
Both of these responses seem to be rooted in a sort of egocentrism — they are about preserving the self. Though their methods are divergent, they still revolve around you.
3 — Wisdom
A third approach would be the equivalent of someone who traverses the ground of our world, acknowledges the mess, and says, “Here is the mess. I see it…so what is the next right step? What is it that will heal this sacred ground under our feet?”
Typically, this approach is one that comes at a great cost — for it is usually the people who have endured tremendous darkness that have the audacity to be honest about it.
It is the person who has been through chaos and junk and problems and messiness and suffering yet has climbed to the other side of the mountain and now has the weathered wisdom to be present in the worst of life because they know that is how they will bring forth the best of life. Those who pretend will choose to just stay where they are at the base of the mountain, those who rebel will climb and yell from the highest heights, but those with wisdom accept the invitation to walk that path faithfully, accepting the inequities, and leaving flowers in their wake.
A theologian, Alexander Shaia, said it this way, “The darkness is where light is, again, made visible to the naked eye. The deepest dark is not where grace goes to die. The deepest dark is where grace goes to be awakened and to be reborn.”
If pretending is a failure to see and rebellion is the ability to see, but the failure to listen — wisdom is that which sees and listens and responds. With wisdom, you don’t have to pretend the world is nice and positive, but you also don’t have to yell — because you are too busy entering the mess and paying attention and mitigating it with your hands in the dirt so that it slowly becomes that beautiful world that all three approaches are yearning for. There is an awareness, an acceptance of the ground we are walking on; seeing that we don’t have it all together, but that we can pursue what is good even in the midst of what isn’t.
A more popular quote might come from the great wisdom of the Lorax in the prophetic writing of UNLESS on that weary stone — “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
Pretending not only refuses to pay attention, it does not have this kind of care. Rebellion might care, but only for the ability to shout.
This kind of caring is not preoccupied with the unnecessary work of painting over all the problems or the ineffective work of using lots of words and arguments — this kind of caring is preoccupied with being so in tune with what is wrong that it might be, one day, taken over by what is right. This is an active caring that is also an honest, compassionate, vulnerable, and authentic caring — one that is content to be discontent in the presence of the mess. One that harnesses the ability, even the responsibility, to do good work with what we have.
Consider the family that addresses their dysfunction and owns it and it allows them to consider the next right step with the reality of how things actually are.
Or the community that holds their problems and pain and suffering and failures in a way that allows everyone to move forward together.
Though it may appear as pessimism, wisdom is actually pragmatic — for the good news becomes the news that, as the artist Noah Martis says, “The way it will ain’t the way it’s been.” The last word hasn’t been spoken. And because we are paying attention to the story as it is, the story can still continue and we can be its authors.
Wisdom is the approach that enters with a posture that actually does something about the mess.
So how will you approach the darkness, the problems, and the mess of the world?
Pretend, rebel, or with wisdom?