What kind of world do you want to live in?
And how to make it a reality
To some extent, I think we’re all idealists. We all have visions of the way we think the world should work, and are prone to getting upset or frustrated when we witness what we consider injustices to that vision; alternatively, when the world lives up to our idealistic standards, we can’t help but feel reassured and internalize the sentiment of “faith in humanity restored!”
But what do we actually do to manifest the vision of the world we want to live in? For too many of us, I think we do far too little. Perhaps we don’t believe that we have all that much influence or power to “change the world,” or perhaps we convince ourselves that we’re too busy with other priorities, or that the scale of change needed to bring about Our Ideal World can only be achieved through political action or change — rejoicing when a bill or law passes that’s aligned with our vision, and feeling defeated when something antithetical is passed — vowing that we’ll vote in the next election two years down the line to right this injustice against our vision.
I’m here to tell you that you have more influence in shifting the world to match the vision of Your Idea World than you know — and that by being intentional about it, you’ll actually be able to notice and feel that positive shift. And it doesn’t take dedicated time of hours a week, getting involved in politics, or volunteering with any charitable organization (although that one would probably help…)
I’m not kidding.
I’ve only personally realized this fact this from traveling around the world, noticing how some places I’ve visited feel more like My Ideal World than others, and doing my best to understand what it is about those places that makes the difference: It’s the people. It’s always the people.
As I’ve written about before, the three days I spent in Copenhagen, Denmark, had a noticeable effect on my affect:
After only a day in the city, I found myself noticeably more chipper and friendly. It became clear to me that the attitude of any place is crafted by the attitudes of it’s residents; you have the power to influence how friendly those around you are by how friendly you choose to be to them. — On Copenhagen
What I noticed in addition to the extraordinary friendliness from the strangers of Copenhagen was how contagious it was — and how I found myself being more friendly and outgoing to others after having such a positive reaction.
I had noticed something similar while hiking in Iceland earlier on that trip. When passing a stranger, my default may be to acknowledge them with a small nod of the head, or perhaps just look in the other direction as we passed one another. But sometimes, that stranger would have a big smile and say something to the extent of, “Good morning! What a beautiful day it is!” which I would reciprocate with a similar sentiment and smile, feeling delight from their acknowledgement and positivity. When the next stranger would be visible up ahead, I found myself being the first person to speak and acknowledge the other with a joyful greeting, and feeling the benefits of their inevitable reciprocation.
I think of this effect of something like a Moral Contagion — being the beneficiary of kindness primes us to be more intentional (and brave) to show kindness to others. If this is true (it is), then this moral contagion means you can have an outsized effect on your local community by being kind to one person, who in turn is inspired to be charitable to another person, and so on and so on.
Think of it like the movie Pay it Forward, but hopefully without any kids getting stabbed.
A few weeks ago I was in New Zealand, where I had rented a car to drive around both the North and South Island of the beautiful country for two weeks. Having spent most of my adult life in traffic laden cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, I’m used to… aggressive drivers. The kind that speed up when you attempt to pass, only to slow down once again after you no longer have room to get ahead of them.
During my first hour of driving on a New Zealand highway (and getting used to being on the other side of the road), I attempted my first pass of another vehicle, and was caught off guard when I noticed they applied the breaks and slowed down as I passed. My first thought was, “OH no! They must spot a police officer up ahead, and I’m going to get pulled over for speeding.” Well, there wasn’t a police officer (this time), and this situation turned out to be commonplace. Every time I went to pass a car, the Kiwi in the other vehicle would slow down to make it easier for me to pass. I quickly adopted this same courtesy when others passed me, and felt pride for being a positive member of the community and “fitting in” with the locals.
One of the many benefits of being intentional about your small, daily interactions with others is how it can change not only your mood, but your experience and perspective of the world. It’s the same principle (but opposite effect) of the phase, “If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.” If you’re brave enough to be uncommonly kind to people all day, you’ll feel the reciprocation from others, and view the world as a kind, compassionate place, hopefully more like Your Ideal World.
In my Ideal World, everyone is kind, compassionate, and thoughtful of one another. Strangers smile and acknowledge one another, and don’t think twice about committing small acts of kindness. As a society, we take care of each other, and do our best to avoid upsetting or inconveniencing others. When merging traffic lanes, everyone executes a perfect and fair zipper-merge, without anyone trying to zip around the line, drive on the shoulder, or cutting someone off (I know this feels like crazy-talk, but I did label it Idealist…)
In support of this vision, here are a few small, daily things I’ve committed to in order to make My World closer to my Ideal:
- When traversing a cross-walk in front of a car, waving at them to acknowledge their patience and generosity in waiting for me to cross.
- Treating everyone, but in particular service and customer service professionals extraordinarily kind — making it a challenge to myself to be the best encounter they have during their shift.
- Being a patient and friendly driver — slowing down when others are passing me, waving pedestrians through to cross the street, and checking my frustration when dealing with erratic or aggressive drivers.
- Using (appropriate) humor whenever possible to inject levity and joy into any situation.
I’ve noticed that when I’m intentional about these small acts, my own mood is improved, which causes a recursive desire to be even more kind to reap even more benefits. At the end of the day, I’m grateful for how courteous and positive most of the people I encountered were, which was actually at least partially my own engineering.
My challenge to you is to find the little things you can do on a daily basis to make your corner of the world more aligned with Your Ideal World. Instead of waiting for politicians or organizations to make drastic, societal-level changes, find the tiny habits that you can employ during your day-to-day routine. You may be surprised how attainable Your Ideal World can be with just a little bit of intentionality.