Without discontent there can be no progress, which is probably how I have ended up here, doing this, writing blogs about writing and fiction. Not that life’s been an endless series of gloomy torments, because it hasn’t. But discontent is a powerful driver borne of dissatisfaction and suffering. I did all my suffering a very, very long time ago. Ever since, I’ve struggled to keep it in a strongbox, chained, padlocked, buried in some dark and chilly recess. Mostly that is where it stays, ice cold, frigid. Occasionally I unlock the padlock, loosen the chains, lift the lid and stare into blackness that only gets lighter, if I have the courage to keep staring for long enough. This was never often, but it’s getting more frequent and slowly the blackness recedes.
So it is with all of us, although too soon we slam down the lid, grab at the chains with wet, tearstained hands, and clasp tight to shut the padlock once again. This is a bad idea, because the next time you open the box the blackness is deeper and denser. Next time, if you let it the blackness starts creeping out of the box, stealing its evil way into your head and heart. When this happens, brutal exercise can help but only if followed by a long and lazy bath, preferably with someone you love. And if this doesn’t work, the box must once again be opened. This time make a diamond of your head and heart, take hold and scream as loudly as possible the names of all those terrible demons who want to own you. The diamond head will add the necessary light and the diamond heart won’t be broken again. Where were we?
Ah yes, discontent and progress. Discontent that leads to progress is something other than the agonies of our personal black worlds. This wider discontent is borne of anger and frustration, of an awareness of universal frailty and vulnerability, frustration with the lazy belief that individuals can make no difference, that we are all sad and passive players in some abstract horror story. The list of reasons to be discontented is long, from climate change and the environment, to the suffering of so many displaced and untethered people in so many contexts.
So what’s to be done? Nothing much in truth. It’s as it ever was. But each of us can still take tiny steps, no matter how miniscule they are towards a more positive world. Far better than bleating about whatever and moaning and looking for scapegoats, people or histories to blame. Far better than wallowing in our own wonderfulness or victimhood. Put it behind you and accept that the why of the what isn’t always the point: mostly the why is beyond us or our capacity for understanding the what.
Yes something can be done to make a difference. Engage, recognise and own your own truths with harsh honesty. Have compassion for those willing to listen to you and do not judge. Be more than your audience. Embrace as wide a view of the world as you can manage, and do it with patience and kindness, with sympathy and empathy in every part of your day. Without complaint, without blame, without recriminations, harness discontent so that it really does lead to progress no matter how small the step.
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