Improving Our Non-Utopia

The United States is not utopia. Some Walgreens ads have gently reminded us of this fact. The platform of every major and minor political party in the United States has a different vision of what utopia would be and how to achieve it. My husband and I recently took a trip to New York, where we chanted “we promise to let love rule our world” with cello-rock artist Noah Hoffeld, supported water conservation through purchasing from the warehouse sale at United by Blue, and received the kindness of strangers in the overcrowded cafe at McNally Jackson Bookstore. After having our pot of tea, we browsed some books, and I noticed that several authors offered ways of thriving in and improving our non-utopia.

Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday reads and is typeset like a classic philosophy text. With well-crafted macrostructure, the writer elaborates on how to oppose ego when aspiring, succeeding, and failing. Although the chapter “To Be or To Do?” addresses a question I have pondered before, I was drawn to his discussions on “Entitlement, Control, and Paranoia” and “Fight Club Moments.”

The cover design of Angela Duckworth’s Grit reminded me of the art for the album Opposite Way by Leeland. While the title song is about making the decision to leave one’s comfort zone, the book explains why and how to develop the strength to be able to do so. The variety of case studies from military training to algebra classroom intrigued me.

On the same shelf, The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein details spiritual practices that led the author to better emotional health and freedom. Her approach to discovering and releasing the power inside oneself is to patiently grow habits of thoughts and action that acknowledge personal fears and the presence of love. While my personal beliefs are in a being more specific than “the Universe,” I appreciated her call to worry less and trust more.

In The Internet Is Not the Answer, author Andrew Keen compares the internet revolution with the industrial revolution. His historical analysis observes how both advances in technology have functioned and been portrayed as sinners and saviors in society. After skimming the dense history lesson, I found him argue that the internet itself cannot take either role but that people and powers with moral intelligence can redeem what has gone wrong with it. 

I noticed that each of these books admits that the world has problems, some that impact society as a whole and some that incite individual hopelessness. Yet, their solutions are not to fight to change systems or policies, although Duckworth and Holiday quote and tell the stories of people who did. Their survival tactics are to encourage people to reckon with their own hearts, souls, and minds. I am reminded of the mystical concept that there might be a spark of the divine within every human being that is waiting to be activated.

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