Free speech and free thought are definitely valuable things. But some kinds of speech and thoughts are more valuable than other kinds. I refuse to take a standoffish, “unbiased” approach to these things when we have so much injustice and wrong around us today and so little understanding of how to deal with it, both around us and within ourselves.
These days, with the Internet and all … there is so much out there that we must prioritize meaningful things over the rest.
It’s not that there is no place for fun or lighthearted stuff. Of course there is. But how can such fun / lighthearted stuff mean anything when it so often seems like we must choose between it and stupid, base drama? You know, either “get serious” or “let go and have fun.” Either think in terms of problems, or don’t worry about problems at all! This dichotomy neglects more sophisticated approaches, and it creates ways for us not to be present; to live in a world of constant aimlessness and drama. This isn’t a healthy way of life.
Many people I know say that life is just too hard to be so tuned in and present all the time. Some people see the injustice out there and become overwhelmed by it. They tune out. Drop out. Go into their own world, or create a fantasy world with others. Play video games. Get your stir-crazy rage out. You only get one life, and if there is so much about life that you cannot change, you might as well spend as much time as possible in more comfortable environments, even if they are imagined. And I understand this motivation. But if you’re a positive thinker, you will crave to be at peace with the real world; to find joy and love and learning in being present, in the real world, rather than only wallowing in a distortion of it.
This is not done by putting on a smile and pretending everything is all right. Truly positive thinking involves distinguishing between what feels good and what does good, and then matching these two separate things together as much as possible. It doesn’t mean that you try to solve the whole world’s problems, but it does mean that you take a constructive approach with respect to the problems that affect you.
A person can feel good doing anything: eating, watching a movie, smoking a cigarette, even harming other people. What actually does good in general can be much harder to figure out. It doesn’t always feel good in the moment. It’s a lot more contextual and a lot harder to get in touch with, and what’s good at one moment may not be good the next time. But knowing how to figure out which things most matter in any given situation fosters a healthy stability and peace of mind within the chaos of a very overly-stimulating world. If you have a good sense of what will bring balance and fulfillment into your life, it becomes much easier to prioritize important people and things, rather than all the other junk that clamors for your attention.
Things like exercise, sleeping well, and healthy eating, for example, too often these days seem like they are these exceptions to the everyday norm. Sure, we mention in passing that we should be eating right, sleeping well, and exercising – but only in passing. It’s so much easier to “be entertained,” to stay up late on Facebook (yup, I’m real guilty of that one!), to put on a dramatic TV show or movie, or porn, or to engage in aimless activity that has no meaning or destination to it, like gossiping or getting drunk or high. Eating well, good sleep, and exercising healthily are increasingly not a routine, integrated part of people’s lives in modern society – to the point that it takes this herculean effort to find and prepare healthy food, or “wind down” enough to go to sleep, or “make time to go to the gym.”
I have a huge beef with the glut of fluff out there that passes for normalcy: all that time we are spending tuned out is robbing many of us of the life we could live if we were tuned in. The things we decide to give importance in our minds directly influence the quality of our lives. Many people, as a result, are misguidedly striving to feel good at the expense of what is best for them and those around them – and social acceptance of this way of life creates a lot of problems and unhappy people.
Positive thinking is different. It’s not about staying cheery all the time. Positive thinking moves you forward, but not always in ways you can figure out beforehand, because it’s a learning process. Positive thinking is also kind of like vegetables – it’s good for you, even though sometimes other less healthy things are tastier. But part of positive thinking is also about finding ways to make those vegetables taste better and better, so that we can match what feels good in our lives with what actually is good in our lives.
Such thinking often deserves higher priority, I think, than other kinds of thinking. Of course, it’s no good to always be in a state of analysis about what’s good in life, either; you have to be able to relax and take it easy also, and nothing that is dogmatized as “the” way will always work. But society as a whole does not think positively; social customs too often direct people to think in negative, destructive, competitive, fear-driven, winner-loser, either-or ways. Social customs very rarely encourage people to think truly positively. That’s why we need to learn how to do this ourselves and encourage it in those around us. This is part of the path to becoming a better person, both for yourself and for others you interact with – together with those you interact with. I think that’s a big deal!