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I’m usually a pretty people-oriented guy, but I have to admit that there are times when I wonder to myself “Why are so many people assholes?” I think most of us can agree that there are a lot of them out there, from the jerk that cuts you off in traffic and gives you the finger as they go by to the disruptive teenager in the chatroom who demands attention and thinks that by flooding the room with insults and complaints that people are going to respond to them. Worst of all are the very wealthy who have grown more and more arrogant and have taken more and more from the rest of us, having engineered the political and economic system to do just that.

I like to think of myself as easy-going but lately there has been so much less courtesy in the world. We have become a me-centric society, all about what’s in it for us. We have become more and more geared towards our own self-interest that lately that seems to be the driving force in all of our motivations. I’ve caught myself thinking that way from time to time and have begun to wonder if maybe there are other people out there thinking that I’m the asshole.

I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m just as human as the next person, and I’m subject to the same frailties. I try to make decisions based on what is best for my family and me, and I don’t really stop to think of how that affects others not in that circle. Perhaps by making choices that fit those criteria I’m actually harming other people. For example, by buying things that are less expensive at a big chain store, I’m not supporting a smaller, locally-owned store that has to charge more for their wares because they can’t afford to buy them in bulk the way a chain can.

I try not to patronize Wal-Mart for that reason – hey, they get plenty of business without my help. Still, I know that I still wind up shopping at places like Publix, Macy’s and Best Buy while ignoring the mom and pop stores that are getting to be an endangered species. Sadly, it won’t be too long before we are buying our things exclusively at chains because there won’t be any independent retailers left if things don’t change soon.

If I’m in a hurry, I’ve been known to cut other people off in traffic. I’ve also been known to slow down when someone is riding my tail. I have also gotten angry at someone else’s transgression and flashed a rude gesture or shouted some expletive at the offender. Still, maybe that person has a good reason for doing what they’re doing. Maybe they have a loved one who is sick or dying and they are trying to get to their side, or maybe the daycare facility called and said their child has a fever and has been throwing up. Chances are they’re just being jerks, especially if they’re driving a pickup truck or an SUV – jerks tend to overcompensate for their perceived shortcomings, but you never know what’s going on in the other vehicle.

The point is we are all motivated by our own self-interest. It’s easy to point the finger and blame other people for the things that bother us but the fact of the matter is we’re all guilty of the same things, without exception. Some of these aggressive drivers and rude theatergoers are actually nice people, generous and giving to their friends and family. I refuse to believe that most of the human race is rotten and selfish to the core. I do think that we have been trained, brainwashed in many ways, to be self-centered. While we profess to admiring those who are selfless and generous, to a certain extent we ridicule people like that and tend to place our greater admiration in people who have the things we want – wealth, power and privilege. At least, deep down we do – most of us probably would never admit that publically.

The truth is that the world has become a harder, colder place and our values are topsy turvy to a very real degree. It has become so difficult just to survive in the world that we’ve almost had to become that way. We used to have a very strong, very stable middle class – I know, I used to belong to it. That class is shrinking and we’re rapidly becoming a nation of the very rich and the very poor. Historically, no culture has been able to maintain itself economically without a strong middle class and most civilizations that have gone down the path that we’re going down have ended in collapse and ruin.

Not to scare you or anything. It’s easy to get riled up at the bankers, the politicians, the CEOs and the corporate entities who are doing their best to make more money by any means necessary. I get angry at the naked greed displayed by these people and wonder how long it is going to take before people rise up and demand better; I wonder if the uprising will be violent.

I hope not. I prefer to make changes with love rather than guns. I think we can change the world we live in, but how do you do it? With the problems so overwhelming, the issues that confront us from global warming to economic meltdown, from the threat of terrorism to the lack of decent healthcare, how do we make a difference? What can we possibly do to make things better?

The answer is deceptively simple. We change the world by changing ourselves. Someone much wiser than I (and there are many who are) once wrote that when you change yourself, you change the universe. It’s a very Zen attitude, I admit but there is truth in it. All of us affect at least one other person, and we are all changed by people we meet. Think about people in your own life who have affected you in a powerful way and have actually changed the way you think or act about things. Chances are you’ve affected someone the same way too.

So how do we make things better? We stop thinking about what’s best for us and even what’s best for our families and start thinking about what’s better for all of us. This is a lot harder than it sounds. Maybe doing things that are better for the planet means living a lot less comfortably than we do. Maybe doing things that are better for the community means you have less time to do things that you want to do and means taking time to do volunteer work. Maybe it means spending a weekend a month working at a local soup kitchen, helping habitat for humanity build a house or working at a charity event. Perhaps it means giving some of our hard-earned money to organizations that do things that actually do make this a better world. All of these things are excellent starts.

It is time to stop complaining about the way things are and taking a step towards the way things could be. We are all of us able to make a difference in the lives around us, not the least of which is our own life. It doesn’t mean giving away all our possessions and living like a monk, or devoting our entire lives to a cause. It just means making a change in attitude, looking more towards the world around us than at the world we live in. After all, we’re all part of something greater – and we deserve to make it great. We all feel good when we do something for others before ourselves. It gives us the kind of value we don’t have working in a cubicle from 9 to 5.

 Love yourself and the world around you is filled with love. Change yourself, and you change the world. Save yourself and you save the world too. This all may sound radical but it really isn’t. This idea has been around for centuries, going back to the ministry of Jesus Christ and well before it. Even if we make small changes they can have enormous impact. With a new decade looming on the horizon, now is a perfect opportunity to make a commitment to change. Why not? What do we really have to lose but things we don’t really need and never really wanted?


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