Friday, June 19, 2015

Part of the solution

There's an old saying that tells us, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." I'm not sure where it originated, but I think it's wrong.  180 degrees backward, in fact.  It strongly implies that if there's a problem, and you're not actively, aggressively, proactively taking steps to affect change in the world beyond yourself, then you're actually perpetuating the problem. 

To be sure, there is a time and a place for activisim, for argument and debate, for vociferous protest.  But sometimes active crusading against a wrong has little or no power to make it right.  Sometimes it even becomes a greater problem than that which it purports to address.  There is a very real chance that whatever action you take to oppose the problem will either make it worse or have other unintended negative consequences.  Sometimes, by trying to force a solution, you become part of the same problem or another one.

It is indeed probable that more harm and misery have been caused by men determined to use coercion to stamp out a moral evil than by men intent on doing evil.” -- Friedrich August von Hayek

On the other hand, by quietly refusing to take part in the problem, you are leading instead of just demanding.  Simply by living a principled life, you set an example for others, and the more successful you are at arranging your own life and attaining your own contentment by those principles, the more they appeal to others.  When they see you prosperous without stealing, ambitious without envy, secure in yourself without disparaging others, in control of yourself without controlling others, courageous without belligerence, proud without boasting, it often sends a message more powerful than the most ardent proselytizing or the most sweeping legislation, and without fear of foisting unintended consequences upon your fellow human beings.

These are the people who have contributed to the solution by solving themselves.  They aren't perpetuating the problem; they are the very model of what the desired end game looks like.  They aren't publicly patting themselves on the back for being enlightened, and they aren't screaming at others to be more like them; they let the way they conduct themselves speak for itself.

“The only thing a psychically-human being can do to improve society is to present society with one improved unit.” -- Albert Jay Nock
In other words, you can rail at your fellow man to improve himself until you're blue in the face, you can pass laws to compel him at gunpoint to act as you wish him to act (and let the root of the problem continue to fester underneath,) or you can improve the only person for whom you are solely responsible and over whom you can fully and rightfully exercise control: Yourself. 

A great many activists are so absorbed in trying to perfect "society" that they have entirely neglected this most essential human endeavor of improving themselves.  Whatever the merits of their arguments, hypocrisy is hardly inspirational, and deriding those who have presented society with that one improved unit as "part of the problem" is both hypocritical and idiotic.

By all means, be outspoken if you have something to say, but don't forget that first and foremost you must be the change you want to see.  If you do no more than that, you've already succeeded beyond what some of the most vocal activists will ever accomplish.  Remember, if you're not part of the problem, you're part of the solution.*


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