Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > December 2019

Aspiration with creativity turns dreary into wonderful!

On this day, as I write this, I look out my window and observe snowflakes drifting quietly to the ground. The sky is overcast, and on the earth the grass and the leaves dropped in autumn are now covered in snow.

There are two ways to react to this situation. One is to observe how the sky is dreary and the weather is cold, and to stay inside, wishing that one could hibernate until spring like a bear. The other is to go outside, enjoy the beauty of the snow, and enhance that beauty by placing coloured lights and glowing decorations that reflect off the snow at night.

The latter approach has become very popular at this time of year, ever since Christians chose long ago to celebrate the birthday of their religion's founder just three days after the shortest, darkest day in the northern hemisphere. They had no idea what the real birthday was, so they chose to turn this season into one of delightful anticipation, enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike. Now at this time of year, people decorate and prepare for their extended families to get together, while children look forward to receiving new toys.

So, today as I went to the mall to drop off some books at the library branch there, I observed many families with cute and cheerful children, reminiscent of the scene painted by the song Silver Bells:

"City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas
Children laughing, people passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you hear"

"Silver bells, (silver bells) silver bells (silver bells)
It's Christmas time in the city..."

In the mall other decorations stand in place of bells, but in other respects the scene is similar. The stores and mall have applied their creativity to decorate, and the halls are filled with people.

This reminded me of one of the main advantages people have over more primitive animals, which is the ability to anticipate and create a better future. Happiness is achieved by the satisfaction of desires, and like other animals we seek happiness. But the desires of humans go beyond what it takes for simpler animals to be happy.

For many animals, it is sufficient to be healthy, well fed, and adequately warm. For predators, they may also derive satisfaction from hunting in packs, and get some thrill from chasing their prey. In the past, humans have been like that too, though with larger "packs." There has been a tribal mentality among people, giving solidarity among the tribe, but without a sufficient conscience to prevent preying on weaker external groups. We have seen this kind of thinking among many people right up to and including the Second World War, which produced the greatest misery of any conflict in all of history. That's less than a century ago, and human biology hasn't changed much since then.

What has changed, however, is the knowledge arising from human learning. For any given desire, there are often multiple ways to satisfy it. So humans seeking the thrill of "chasing a prey" can play sports instead of war. Natural instincts of caring for those in one's "tribe" can be extended to people anywhere, with understanding that we are all alike. Our time horizon for caring about the future can also be extended, so that we won't destroy our planet from pollution and resource depletion.

What these things require is that we aspire to be better than our ancestors were. To make that happen, each person needs to take a look at himself (or herself), to make himself better.

There are many kinds of joys that a person can have, and one of those is to know that he is doing something that will make things better for himself or those he cares about, and to anticipate the results of that. Happiness is not complete without also having aspiration and anticipation.

Now in my thoughts I return to the snowy overcast day, looking outside my window as I sit writing this. Changing the day to a sunny, warm day outside, is beyond my capacity. But I can enjoy my warm home, and I can dress in warm clothing when I go out, and I can appreciate the beauty of the clean white snow adorning tree branches in my yard and on the streets. And I, though my attitude, and the actions I undertake, can choose to make the day better for myself and others around me.

I am reminded of a character I saw in a comic book long ago, who had a cloud floating above his head that rained on him wherever he went. That rain wasn't real; it was an attitude. By contrast, some people carry their sunshine with them.

As with the holiday celebration that turns dreary into wonderful, people can transform their reality.

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