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Sunday
Aug012010

In What Kind of World Do You Want to Spend Time?

I am posting this a week early because I will be on vacation next week.

Right after Thanksgiving Washington’s Shakespeare Theater will be presenting a production of “Candide,” inspired by Voltaire’s novel, with music written by Leonard Bernstein.  One of the early musical numbers centers around the lyric”All’s for the Best in this Best of All Possible Worlds,” which summarizes the worldview of Dr. Pangloss, Candide’s tutor.  Voltaire’s masterpiece satirizes this ridiculous philosophy by taking Candide through a seemingly endless series of disasters.

But is the philosophy indeed ridiculous?  After all, Candide manages to retain a sunny outlook and disposition despite a succession of tragedies.  Watching CNN on and off for a few hours this afternoon I was struck by the numerous portrayals of the opposite philosophy, “All’s for the Worst in this Worst of All Possible Worlds:” 1) a story about an Army impostor scamming women; 2) a YouTube video of things being destroyed (after which one commentator said “Makes me want to go out and destroy things;” 3) a teaser for a CNN special entitled “Toxic America,” an overview of some of the major poisons in our environment; and another on Al Queda’s continued threat called “The New Osama) 4) on the day the BP well was finally capped, a lengthy series of interviews and footage with area residents talking about how terrible the environmental damage was; 5) a commercial for Tide which began with the display, in bold letters, of “Katrina,” “CA Fires” and “TN Floods”; 6) deadly floods in Pakistan and wildfires in Russia; 7) an interview with the director of “Countdown to Zero,” a documentary about the menace posed by nuclear weapons; 8) a report on the almost two dozen deaths from lightning that have occurred so far in 2010.

Exactly like CNN chose which subjects to feature on their newscast (overwhelmingly upsetting and fear-inducing), we get to choose the subjects we wish to “feature” in our minds.  What are you going to decide to play in there?  Will the theme be that “All’s for the Best” or will it be “All’s for the Worst?” A 15 minute segment on how alone you feel, or a 15 minute segment envisioning possibilities for connection with others?  A 1 minute short on how awful the weather is, or a 1 minute flashback to how beautiful last Sunday was?  True, there are certain rare situations where choosing how to feel is a virtual impossibility ( deep, deep depression or exceptionally high anxiety / fear).  Think of those as interruptions from your mind’s Emergency Broadcast System.  But those aside, you can make the programming choice.  You don’t have to be at the mercy of negative internal or external narratives.  The fluidity of your mind (meaning its ability to shift focus rapidly) is illustrated by the vast number of things that float into and out of your consciousness every day – some good, some bad, some funny, some tragic.  Practice finding, or staying with, the ones that feel better, unless you can honestly tell yourself that it is more valuable to stay with ones that feel worse (for example, dwelling on the possibility of losing your job could serve the valuable function of getting you to start looking for a new one, but how much additional value is there in continuing to fixate on that negative, unwanted outcome?). 

So, entertain the possibility that you have more control over your experience than you might think.  I think you’ll realize that, to a surprising degree, you have the power to decide the kind of world you want to live in.

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