The Truth Board

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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Revolution of Smiles

There’s something wrong with the world. There always has been, probably always will be. Not the natural world, of course. There’s nothing wrong with the planet itself or any other part of creation. The world that’s wrong is the human world. The world of our perceptions, our judgments, our desires and our fears. There’ something wrong with the world, and what’s wrong is that people don’t care.

To be more precise, the problem is that people have stopped wanting to care. And as a result, people have stopped taking action when challenges are presented. A lot of people are simply angry. Whether it’s the tea party right-wingers who are pissed off at the liberal infringements on their values, or the “progressive” left-wingers who are angry at the barriers that conservative values create. The problem is that people on all sides are not happy, and when nobody is happy, nobody puts forth the effort to care.

This isn’t a new problem. It’s a very old problem. History shows us that there are always groups that are dissatisfied, and if the levels of their dissatisfaction raise high enough, they generally tend to do something about it, like leading rebellions or uprisings. Throwing a good-old-fashioned revolution. This generally just causes a different group to become dissatisfied, starting the cylce all over again, but that’s a different story. I don’t really see that happening anyway, even with how upset many right–wingers are at the moment. The fact is that Americans, even the unhappy ones, are still pretty comfortable. And no one leads a revolution if they could sit comfortably at home instead. Take away something comforting like food and the capital building would be burning within the week. Instead, we are left with something worse. A society where everyone is dissatisfied, but no one is dissatisfied enough to do something about. We are in an equilibrium of apathy.

As the famous Beatles song Revolution once said, “well, you know, we all want to change the world.” And as the Michael Jackson song Man in the Mirror once said, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look in the mirror and make a change.” Well, I agree with both these sentiments, but I think making a difference in the world requires us to go farther than merely making a change in our own lives (even though that is important too). If we want the world to be different, we need to make a difference in the lives of others.

The problems of the world are big, but not if everyone works together on them. A professor once told me an anecdote about going to a football game one night at the LA Coliseum, back in the 1970’s. He said that at half time, all the lights in the entire stadium were turned off, and he said that it was the most enveloping darkness he had ever experienced before. Then, on cue from the loudspeakers, everyone in the stadium took out cigarette lighters and flicked them on. All of a sudden, all those tiny flames lighting up together made it bright enough that my professor said he could have read a book. That, he said, revealed to him what the power of an entire people taking action could really be, even if each individual action seemed small.

So how do we cure this disease of apathy? My answer is simple: vaccinate. Build up our collective immunity against it. And the only immunity against apathy is happiness. True happiness, not mere menial pleasures. The kind of happiness that comes from following a passion, or realizing the blessings in one’s life. What can we do to spread this vaccine? Simple. Make one person happy today. And do it again tomorrow. And then again and again, each and every day. Make just one person happy, and if you make them happy enough that you see that sparkle of caring in their eyes, then you can challenge them to make one person happy too. So go ahead, take a look in the mirror and make a change. But if you really want to make the world a better place, take a look at your neighbor, and make them smile.

--Paul Beckwith


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