Saturday, January 14, 2017

Points Of Transition

It's 2017 now. You can tell because everybody on Twitter has stopped complaining about how crap 2016 was and started complaining about how 2017 has already failed to be any better. I've tried to keep my head down lately, and refrained from discussing politics online, precisely so I can't get drawn into the lurid violence of the worldwide game of Cowboys And Indians that seems to have possessed the world of late.

(That said, I do take umbrage with the use of the word populist to describe the sudden upsurge of selfishness, affected disgust at and disregard of fellow humans. That's not populist. That's the raging, screeching, unfiltered id, the antisocial reptile brain, the arrogant and venal animal self that any decent human being outgrew when their first teeth came through, or when their parents explained the difference between right and wrong. Casual evil isn't pragmatic or commonsense or 'how things are in the real world', it's just evil. I'm taking no sides politically here - all facets are just as guilty of this, and all blame each other for starting it - but I reserve a particular aversion for those who append their shitposts with #popcorntime and the like, as if they can sit back and watch the world burn and people suffer with amused detachment, as if it's nothing to do with them, as if it's not their own home that is on fire)

It's depressing, of course, but it always is when people you care about fail you, or turn out to be so much less than you had trusted them to be. I do in fact care about other people in the world, although some sneer at this, as if I have no right to feel a friendliness toward humanity, what with not being God and all, as if it's not my place. Such people are in the ascendancy, and the rest of us can only find ways to cope until the pendulum swings back... as it must, since the trouble with selfishness is that it never actually gets you what you want.

So, what do we do? Our fates are in the hands of others, whose motives are not our own: we can have no effect on their decisions until another election comes along (and not even then, in most of the important ways), so what do we do in the meantime? Petitions and protests don't work any more, and politics is closed to the unaligned. There is nothing significant in the world to which we have sufficient access or authority to change.

Except oneself. It's that time of year when we make resolutions, when we take a few things we hate about ourselves and promise ourselves we'll change them, only to let ourselves off when it turns out we have to work for it. On the whole people are better at Lent resolutions than New Year's, partly because you're promising God instead of yourself but mostly because it's only forty days, rather than just 'from now on'. SMART objectives and all that.

Between July and December last year I lost a stone, dropped from 21% bodyfat to 8% and became significantly faster and stronger. Six months seems a long time - too long for most people, who insist on trying to lose three stone in a month and give up all attempts at self-betterment when it proves impossible - but it isn't, while it's happening. I recall running up to the local parkour park last month, a good eight or nine weeks since my previous visit due to soggy weather (something about concrete makes it hurt more when it's wet, not sure why), and being quite stunned to discover that not only could I now knock out ten pullups per set - double my previous record - but could now perform easily the climb-up that I had spent many hours previously failing utterly to do.

There's a moment in every superhero's origin story when he discovers the extent of his new powers: that was mine. Physical feats unimaginable weeks before were suddenly not only doable, but with ease, enjoyably. I'd adjusted my workouts to target the movements and muscles that needed improving precisely to address these feats: like prayer and magic, it's always a shock when science actually works.

Can one man make a difference, per the comicbooks? Depends on the scale. Being who and what you are makes some difference to everyone who encounters you: I never considered giving up drinking until I met a friend who was a teetotaller but, crucially, wasn't a dick about it - he never brought it up or suggested it, but by example showed what was possible, and planted the seed of it. My life is better for that. I posted a photo of my six-pack abs (yes really: I carved them out as a challenge to myself before I turned forty-three) on Facebook to show that what everyone likes to believe is beyond the abilities of mortal men really, really isn't. Maybe it'll make no difference, maybe it'll just be the tiny bit of encouragement someone needs to keep going on their own path. Worth a try.

There are two old sayings. One is 'people never change'. The other is 'people change.' Both are true, but they're not using the word people in the same way. You can't change society, because society is only a reflection of a large number of individuals. Those individuals can't be made to change, because it's in our nature to resist external control. But you can change yourself. When a number of individuals do the same, the reflection starts to shift.

I've never liked the phrase 'be the change you want to see in the world', because it's a bit cloying and it doesn't really make sense anyway - if you want the world to change it's usually because you want it to be more like you, not the other way round - but perhaps the change you should make is simply to show the values you hold, to demonstrate them, to be who you are without imposing it on anyone else. Just prove that it's possible to hold your values, whatever they are, without having to hurt or denigrate or destroy anybody else, and someone somewhere might just draw courage from that.

A lot of hatred comes from the belief that a measure of hate is a necessity for living, that kindness is a luxury we can't afford. If you don't believe that, show it. Not by making arch comments on Twitter, but by living your life with kindness. Kindness is playing on Hard Mode when there are so many people waiting to kick your teeth in, true, but if those people truly respect strength above all then they'll see yours soon enough. CS Lewis called it guts, the ability to 'stick it' when times are hard: Rocky Balboa said something similar, that it isn't about how hard you hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.

In a world of swords, be a shield. The sword always breaks first.

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