Around a decade ago, when I first started posting at Huffington Post, one entry considered the world’s four greatest problems. They were over-population, climate change, pandemic disease, and refugeeism. Despite the suffering and fear it creates, terrorism affects far fewer people than these four issues, but if anyone wants to add it to the list, there can be no objection. Compared to a decade ago, all of these problems have worsened. Many observers, along with people in their everyday lives, feel that the world is in total chaos.
The greatest factor that fuels chaos is an inability to see a solution. Solutions, if they sound reasonable and have a chance of working, give rise to optimism and a willingness to return to orderly existence. In the absence of a solution, or the prospect of one, irrationality takes over and chaos deepens. Ultimately, chaos fights order not in the world “out there” but in ourselves.
In my mind I decided to set aside personal distress over the state of the world to see what part of the current chaos I am playing. Self-reflection is one way to hold off inertia and lack of responsibility. When I looked inside, I found that indeed there is a single factor that makes me–and perhaps most people–part of the problem rather than part of the solution. It’s the tendency to act against my own happiness.
When anyone acts against their own happiness, some or all of the following is occurring:
— They do things that create misery and unhappiness.
— They mistake what happiness is, pursuing an illusion of happiness instead.
— They find outside causes (usually “them,” the ones who are different from “us”) for their suffering.
— They cling to divisive habits of nationalism, tribalism, and religious affiliation.
— They ignore the long-term consequences of their actions.
— They leave solutions to others.
If you take any problem that seems completely disheartening, not just the four or five big ones but any cause of unhappiness in your own life, the items on this list will keep you–or the world at large–from finding a solution. Climate change? Looking at myself, I am keeping the solution at bay if I leave it to others, ignore what my use of fossil fuels means for the future, blame energy companies and other bad actors for causing the problem, and mistake my short-term pleasure for true happiness, since beneath that pleasure we are all terribly anxious about climate change.
By acting in a different way, pursuing real happiness and ending my allegiance to its opposite, I become part of the solution. The changes that are required can be big or small. Supporting an action group and backing politicians who rationally try to solve problems is a small change. Re-examining the whole system of endless consumerism and giving up narrow-minded nationalism would be big changes.
As harmful as inertia is, my purpose isn’t a call to action. At a deeper level, people need to realize something important that can do much to fight despair. This is the realization that human awareness can evolve and in fact is evolving all the time. Terrorism is frightening and costs thousands of lives, but the two world wars cost tens of millions of lives. AIDS and Ebola are deeply distressing, but rational solutions exist for both, and the pursuit of vaccines and treatments never stops. By seeing that human awareness contains unlimited potential, fear can be staved off.
It’s also crucial to accept the fact that the future is a common fate, more so than ever. You can pick any face in the crowd on the evening news and say, “that’s not me, thank God” or “I hate and fear what that person is doing.” Such feelings seem justified, but they lead nowhere, certainly not to a solution. Divisive thinking doesn’t settle anger or fear but fuels both. In our common future, the problem is always the same everywhere–acting against our own happiness. The solution is to stop doing this and to find a new way to be happy.
Is this a reasonable and workable way to confront the world’s big problems? I think so, and after a decade of watching the harm that chaos creates, I’m convinced that only an inward solution is workable. In the next post I’ll address in more detail how a consciousness-based solution could work.
(To be cont.)
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. His latest book is The Future of God