Mindful (R)evolution: The Duty of the Privileged to Overcome Injustice

photo credit: Andrea Rae @ languageisalie.com

After my recent article (The Science of Happiness: Why complaining is literally killing you) went viral, I received feedback from a small percentage who felt my take on happiness was too fluffy and idealistic, who felt that the lack of complaining meant either the acceptance of a stagnant and complacent life, or a dangerous repression that could ultimately lead to a mental ailment or further misery.

Worse yet, some even found a way to turn my optimism into an acceptance of injustice, a privileged refusal to help those who are suffering from a broken system. 

But let me impose a distinction I failed to make previously:

I am not saying wear rose-colored glasses; the last thing I want to promote is the exacerbation of a problem we already have in our society, where it’s taboo to ever dig below the surface of our small-talk interactions and actually be honest about the hardships we’re going through, where it’s taboo to call out our own failings as individuals and as a society. 

I do not want to live in a world where we make pariahs out of people who aren’t always sowing happiness, where we avoid those who are most in need of our strength; au contraire: I believe it is the duty of those who are fortunate enough to have strengthened their synapses of love to give aid to their fellow struggling humans, to help lift up those who are stumbling. 

So let me make it clear now…

TL;DR:

Complaining, in my mind, is not the same as talking vulnerably and honestly about hard truths. Nor is it the same as calling out injustice and fighting against it.

Being critical, having difficult conversations, discussing painful topics, debating, exploring alternatives, asking for advice, asking for support from your friends—such interactions are all far different than outright negativity-vomit and a constant need to turn reality into an enemy. Learning to focus on the optimistic lesson does not have to mean repressing the dark-side (I actually prefer you to look into it), nor does it have to mean losing out on the evolutionary motivation and immense desire for change that displeasure and unhappiness can bring about.

I appreciate that change is most often prompted by a reaction to the negative; but if you only sit and complain about something you don’t like, you’re never actually doing anything about it. This gets no one anywhere, it simply allows each night to pass without change.

And in my humble opinion, such mindless negativity is as useless as prayer; it’s a spinning of the tires, a removal of ownership over your own sovereign consciousness; it’s a lie you tell yourself that strips you of your power so you don’t have to take responsibility for any consequence that may result from the risk of truly living, from the risk of living truthfully. And if you’re always complaining and belittling your own power in reality, you will not think you have the power to change it. And thus it will never change.

“if you’re always complaining and belittling your own power in reality, you will not think you have the power to change it. And thus it will never change.”

So let me clarify a bit further:

Being optimistic…

…doesn’t mean you can’t make fun of things you’re not into for the sake of a good laugh.

…doesn’t mean ignoring the oppression of woman.

…doesn’t mean ignoring the inherent racism in our police forces and governments.

…It doesn’t mean accepting xenophobia.

…it doesn’t mean ignoring homophobia, body-shaming, or gender-normative brainwashing.

When I’m asking you to choose love over fear…

…I’m not saying just accept the fact that we still have 40+ states in America that will let you go to jail for having a plant in your pocket.

…I’m not saying accept a broken healthcare system, a broken education system, and an outright broken economy.

…I’m not saying accept the horrendous treatment of this planet and the other animals we share it with.

I’m not saying accept the status quo; the whole point of Curious Apes is to encourage free-thinkers, to question the cultural flavor that we all so often swallow unquestionably or take for granted as truth without personal exploration.

Getting Real

Again, talking about these things is not complaining in my belief, but rather it’s explaining and exploring your hard truths. And this is something I will absolutely never try to silence. These vulnerable places are where we find the most growth, where we tap into what’s real; and what I want more than anything is for people to be as real as possible.

Because being real, in my opinion, means killing your ego. And when you kill your ego, you’re also killing those horrendous cultural indoctrinations that allow you to believe in and perpetuate ignorance, hate, xenophobia, etc—those granfalloon concepts like nationalism and religion that only divide us when we cling to them too tightly.

Keeping an Open Mind

Choosing love over fear, choosing discussion over complaining/preaching, means being open to hearing the other side of the argument, to listen wholeheartedly to another’s perspective. To say, “What lesson do you have to teach me?”, rather than “It scares me you view reality differently than me, so I must now attack what you say and complain of your ignorance.”

Overcoming Oppression

So in this way, spending your default moments going about your day in a state of love and appreciation doesn’t mean accepting oppression, it means strengthening your mind enough to face it when the time arises.

If anything, this promotion of love can allow you to look at the negativity of an oppressive regime and escape your subjective emotional bias enough to see the big picture, to make the smart choice that will bring true liberation and equality. It will give you the power to fight injustice with wisdom rather than ego.

And why is this important? Well, because ego is dangerous. It can weaken us immensely; why do you think it’s a constant concern that the police and government plant agitators into protest groups to spark fights? They WANT you to fight, they want you to lose yourself so deeply in your egotistical and emotional rage that you slip up and invalidate your entire struggle by making yourself look unstable, so much so to the point they can justifiably strike back at you with their oppressive fist and say: “I had to. Did you see how violent you were becoming?”

“They WANT you to fight, they want you to lose yourself so deeply in your egotistical and emotional rage that you slip up and invalidate your entire struggle by making yourself look unstable”

We aren’t all dealt the same hand

This world is not fair. Some people are dealt the unlucky lottery of birth to be born into a place where negativity is all encompassing, where opportunities for optimism are few and vicious cycles constantly tear away at one’s strength. And I understand that if you’re being constantly oppressed that the choice of love will be a harder one to make, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still have the choice. There is still the ability for anyone to set a goal and pursue it, to find people who want to grow with them rather than tear down others in an onslaught of frustrated language.

Yes, it will be more difficult if one is surrounded by oppression, but who am I or anyone of us to tell them their situation makes it impossible to find joy. Humanity is all about doing the impossible, about knowing deep down that you can make a difference and stand resolute against the negativity that attempts to stupefy and enslave you. And sometimes, all it takes to realize this is a glimpse of someone choosing love over fear. 

We must promote optimism to turn the tide.

So because of this difficulty for the downtrodden, it becomes even more important that the fortunate radiate love, in order to activate that mirror neuron effect, to show hope and possibility.

So often the emotion of love, that very thing I’m talking about rewiring yourself for more of, is that thing that drives us to actions of love. In this existence that is a feedback loop, we are shaped by the world we build around us and then we use that new self to reshape the world. And so and so on.  And so that seed of love will grow, that ripple will cascade, it will become more and more a part of the external reality that shapes us, and if we are ever going to turn the tide against the injustices in this world, we can’t just sit around and bitch and moan, we need discussion that leads to action, loving action, action with compassion, a kind of attitude that says: “I see negativity, but I am wired for love, and so rather than just complain about women’s rights, I’m going to see what opportunity exist for me to lift away this injustice and systematic burden.”

Fear is the weapon of the oppressors, love is the weapon of justice.

Such rippling love can empower minds to change the zeitgeist. It’s what we’re seeing now with our generation fighting back against racism, sexism, homophobia, demonization of marijuana, etc– our new generation of ideas is replacing the old because (largely thanks to globalization brought on by technology) the new generation has been exposed to ideas of love, choosing to learn rather than complaining, to think freely rather than accept outdated indoctrination. It’s the love of people different than us that has allowed us to fight against the xenophobic disease that has plagued our species for so long. And so while some consider love a privilege in this dark world, it is a privilege that many are using positively, to lift women up (#yesallwomen) and put an end to racism (#BlackLivesMatter). And so why should we cynically attack those who carry love as their weapon? 

“It’s the love of people different than us that has allowed us to fight against the xenophobic disease that has plagued our species for so long.”

So I stand behind my original article: to spread a message of optimism to those fortunate enough to put it more easily into practice does not take away from the struggles of the oppressed; it is an attempt to bring so much momentum to love that the hateful and ignorant practices led by those who forget that we are all the same will be washed away.

So talk vulnerably and critically, debate and criticize injustice and plot your revolution, but do it mindfully and with love; don’t just sit and complain about it, because then you’ll never actually do anything but dig yourself a grave of depression while the world burns with inequality.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Steven!
    This deserves to go even more viral.

    And if it doesn’t, it’s probably because of the very human trait that makes us prefer the simple “100% right or 100% wrong” type of stories or messages.

    Getting real requires thinking. It requires turning off the “auto-sort” and instant classifying/judging system that our brain uses to save us from having to think. (the irony…)

    • Bjorn,
      I couldn’t agree more that as pattern recognition machines we tend to favor very distinct boxes, black or white, good or bad, etc. But as you alluded to, the world is gray and I think a big part of being mindful is realizing that. Not only will it allow us to be more relatable and find more common ground on which to compromise and come together, but it will also allow us to make more empathetic and humanistic choices.

      Thanks for your thoughts and support! Glad to know you’re out there spreading the good word!

  2. I read both articles and all the comments and found all of it worth thinking about and will continue to explore what this means to me personally… to that end, I have no realizations or epiphanies or wisdom to share. I’ve, also, been watching David Eagleman’s series on the brain. Your article reinforces a lot of what he’s discovering/telling us about how our brain functions and consequently, the life we experience. Your comment above in response to Bjorn about us as pattern recognition machines and perhaps, our habituated black and white thinking did make bells go off in my little head.

    I don’t know, yet, how I feel about all of this, not sure what all the related impressions I’m experiencing means to me but, this added piece, this second part, makes the first article more palatable. In fact, it made me realize, I was, with the first article, reacting more to your piece than thinking about it. In my humble opinion, I think it would do your message and us, the readers, a helpful service if you combined them. I notice only one comment to this piece and yet, this second part allowed me to “mindfully” re-read your first article with a different and more open minded attitude, if you will.

    You’ve given me much to think about; thank you.

  3. Thanks for writing a great article Steven, I wish you well in spreading your positive vibes.

    I am in the process of creating a website for R.Evolution (the R is for Responsible). http://www.responsible-evolution.net which is blank just now as I will first have to learn html etc or get help.
    Much of what you have written is very similar to the sentiments in my writings. Our slogan is ‘With love as our guide, our purpose and goal’
    It will initially be an online forum for any subject and the end goal is to have an online senate government for any given country and maybe in 50 years time, actual governments using consensus decision making via modern technology. Quite a goal.
    I am of the opinion that no one person has the maturity or wisdom to run a country. The senate would be made up of the best suited individuals to make decisions in their areas, mostly professors at Universities, voted in by their peers and students.

    I would appreciate it if you could cast your eyes over my material if you had time? I am trying to hone my ideas before opening the website.

    PS If you know anyone that can help me with the website please give them my e-mail to get in touch.

  4. Thoughtfully written article worthy of discussion. Bravo. Advocating and speaking up is always difficult because you’ll never get it 100% “right”, but we have to be brave enough to try and humble enough to accept and correct our missteps.

  5. I would introduce a political case to introduce the practical approach.
    1) Love (vs fear and contempt) is a subjective emotional status, very important, necessary, but not sufficient, to handle and solve REAL issues. 1)Nothing replaces documented competence plus legitimacy via fair inclusive representation.
    2) A democracy is only effective when the social groups in a country are given equal opportunities of access to the ruling institutions.
    3) Critical sense, complains, in any Society, is a proof of political health and is to be promoted beyond love and fear. Monitoring unrest and solving social snags, is otherwise hopeless
    Out of these rules, everything is possible.

  6. I have read both of your articles and feel much of what you have said is food for positive thought. However, your comments about religion and prayer are unnessesary in your attempt to make your points. Like some of your other readers, you had me until you went off on religion. I am a Christian, but not the bible-thumping red-state kind you’re probably envisioning. I’m the kind that believes in prayer and believes that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you. My religion is mostly private and a cornerstone for how I live my life, but I am pro-choice, believe in gay marriage, am a member of a gun control advocacy group, and tend towards left leaning policies and would probably be considered a bleeding heart liberal. I volunteer my time to help those less fortunate and am college educated and have thus far lived a reasonably happy life that I tend to attribute in part to positive thinking. I’ve always told my kids that life is what you make of it and have recently been put to the test with some tough times but thinking optimistically has helped me through it, along with prayer. You might consider losing the chip on your shoulder about religion in such an all encompassing manner. Although I would agree that some who call themselves religious have hijacked the true meaning of being a lover of God, that does not mean that the vast majority of religious people are not real and good and positive thinking and doing.

    • I second what Grandma Melissa says here, as I had the same reaction. I really appreciate your scientific yet accessible explanation, but don’t see the need for negative spill towards religion. It is interesting to me that you seem to have learned some good ways of thinking through Buddhism, and yet you call religion fictitious. I, too, am Christian, and believe in a loving God, and that anyone who mindfully follows their religious doctrines may achieve happiness and enter the kingdom of heaven.
      Think of religions as simply different philosophies of thought. We can learn from each other. I toss this ball to you from 20ft away. Shouldn’t be too hard to catch.

  7. I really enjoyed these two articles and found both to be engaging, informative, and eye opening. I know it’s a minor detail and not the point of the article but was sad to see you lump prayer in with mindless negativity. I believe the true purpose of prayer is to recognize the chaos of the universe and the impact it has on your life and your state of mind. I believe that to pray about something is to recognize and accept your own lack of control and to offer the thing up to the universe to keep it from weighing on your mind and body. Prayer should never be like writing a list to give to Santa but rather a confession of your own inability to release the desire for control.

  8. Steven… wow. Just… thank you for this. I see the truth in your words and couldn’t agree more. We cannot fight oppression with complaining and demonizing the oppressor (as women do men, for example). I believe that is just feeding the ego with rage and hate. Let us be a force of love that is aware of all that needs to change in our world, and let that be a change through loving action.
    Again, thank you. Your articles are so inspiring. Keep it up!
    Lots of love from Brazil.

  9. I enjoyed the information in the first article on Happiness, except for your referrence to religion as fairy tales. I actually took some notes about the synapsis building pathways with our repeated thoughts. I also was surprised that other peoples statements also had such an impact on our brain. I did not enjoy or agree with much of the second article about Mindful (R)evolution. At that point you seemed to jump upon your high horse and get into many social isues and digress into a whole other world. Keeping in this vein it seems that issues such as gay rights, white racism, a plant in your pocket, etc are the legitimate causes to “fight” for. Things that I believe in fighting for are often times viewed as “wrong thinking” and not part of legitimate rebellion in our society. I am a positive person and I will continue to make an effort to meet hate with love as you suggest. However, I do not agree with putting “Black Lives Matter” in the same sentence as “Love” since so much of their promotion is full of anger and hate. I also feel that “abortion” is a bill of goods that have been sold to women as an alternative solution to a problem. If you want to speak about “fairy tales”, this has been the biggest one. Hopefully you will write more in the future about the brain because I enjoyed learning about how happiness grows.

  10. Realistically, when everything in your life is negative you’re going to come across as negative. Call it complaining but it is basic psychology.

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