Part Four in my series of the 12 most powerful ideas in psychology by Michael Miello, Ph.D.
Life requires you to accept that the world is an unfair and unjust place. Despite injustice, a poorly designed society, the existence of ill-informed people, and destructive movements, you can live well in the world.
The secret to doing so is to focus on your own choices and what you can control. You do not need total control of the world around you or the people in it, you just need a small sphere of influence—a zone around you in which you can act. This zone includes everything you can do, every life that you can affect, every resource or institution you can call on, every person you can ask for help, and every movement you can lend your strength to. One human being can do quite a bit of good. I know not everyone feels that way—injustice or unfair treatment may have reduced your sphere of influence from what it might have been, but you have a sphere of control none-the-less—even if that sphere is no bigger than a jail cell. And it’s within that sphere that you have to work to achieve your goals, to make your life better, to accomplish good, or to create what happiness you can.
So continually divide problems into what you can and cannot control. Here is a handy rule of thumb: If you can’t influence it, it’s not your problem to solve. Accept the state of everything that is outside your control and focus on what you can change.
The Fine Print:
Now, I am not saying that we should enable the world to be unjust, or to give up our efforts to make the world a better place. If there is something you can do to make the world a better place, then that is within your sphere of influence. So you don’t have to accept it, you can address it! But what I am saying is that you should not squander your energy on what is outside your influence.
Also, keep in mind that acceptance is not the same the advocating or endorsing. I accept that there is racism in the world and that for the time being, a world beyond racism is likely out of reach. But I don’t endorse it. I don’t support it. And if some little bit of it creeps into my circle of influence then it’s my job to confront it.
What this will help you avoid:
Helplessness and exhaustion. The demand that we must live in a world without injustice and where everything is fair will sap all of your energy. It’s also incredibly unrealistic. All of the 107,602,707,791people who have ever lived have had to endure living in an unfair and mostly unjust world. And for nearly all of those people, the world was savagely more unfair and unjust than our world. Despite the contemporary injustices we face, we live in a veritable golden age of peace, prosperity, and technology that would have made our ancestors weep in awe. And yet all of those humans that came before you found a way to live out their lives—and I’d wager that most of them were able to find some way to create at least a little bit of good within their sphere of influence.
But even if you disagree with my assertion that the world is fairer and just than ever before, that doesn’t change the crux of my argument. Even if it's not—and even it is is considerably more unfair for you than it is for most, you can still live well and use all of your ability to affect change to create good in the world.
What This Idea Will Help You Gain:
Tranquility. You can be at peace even in a world that is not. You do not need to live in existential dread. You can tend to the little patch of earth that is your Sphere of Influence. Care for what you find there. Foster growth. Connect with the people your sphere overlaps with. Make your tiny world a better place, and trust that all over the world, other people are doing the same.
This blog post draws heavily on REBT psychology (and the work of Albert Ellis) as well as ancient Stoic philosophy.
The Twelve Helpful Thinking Styles (So far):
Let me know what you think. Comment Here.