Not Every Improvement Is A Meaningful One

As I get older, I long for simplicity – less things and less clutter.  The beauty of simplicity on the outside is that it’ll somehow make more room on the inside.  I’d like to share a chapter from Magic Words – 101 Ways to Talk Your Way Through Life’s Challenges:

(Magic Words #92)
NOT EVERY IMPROVEMENT IS A MEANINGFUL ONE

Why do we feel we have to improve things all the time?  Nose too long?  Shorten it.  Hair gray?  Darken it.  Kitchen not as modern as the one next door?  Remodel it.  Breasts not as big as Madonna’s?  Well, you’ve got the idea.

There are some changes that matter and some that use up money and energy better spent on other things.  When Alexandra mentioned that someone we both knew, a woman named Sandra, had just hired yet another artist, this time to paint a new mural on her living-room wall, Howard muttered the Magic Words about improvement.  Just a week before, Sandra had turned down a plea from one of Howard’s colleagues who was raising money to support a theater group that gave free performances in poor neighbourhoods.

“Sandra always has the money to improve her living room,” Howard said, “but I’ve never seen her take the time or spend the dime to improve her mind or soul.”  So although we’re not against improving the way you look or the place you live, we believe that if you use these Magic Words, you may pause long enough to consider whether you’re just giving in to a passing fancy, and whether you might be better off doing some real “interior decorating” – dressing up the mind and soul.

Some things we’ve found that decorate the mind:

1) Reading a book that you’re read before and really liked.  You’ll understand even more clearly why you liked it the first time.
2) Buying a copy of a magazine you’d ordinarily never buy.  Let’s say Scientific American.  Maybe you won’t understand everything you read, but maybe you will – and maybe you’ll find a new interest that will light up your life.
3) Going to a poetry reading.  Boring?  Not anymore they’re not, and, believe us, from the inner city to the hinterlands, you’ll find poetry reading scheduled every week.
4) Starting a journal.  It’s a secular confession and a nice way to spend time with a person you sometimes neglect:  yourself.

It may be tough to locate that little thing we call the soul, but you don’t have to see it to spruce it up.  You can:

1) Call the friend you had a fight with.  Maybe you won’t go back to being best buddies, but it hurts you both to cut off the connection.
2) Read to the blind.  Or spend a few hours helping at a soup kitchen.
3) Tell the friend and family member who owes you money that you’ve torn up the IOU. If you can’t afford to do that, what about asking for only a partial payment?
4)    Give someone who needs it a) A pat on the back, b)  A hug, c)  A kiss, or d) all the above.

Because we believe that the relentless drive to “improve” our outer world can sometimes leave us with a diminished inner world, we find these Magic Words make us pause before we plunge.  Investing more “capital” in improving what’s inside pays its own form of interest, teaching us to savor the constant, small pleasures wherever we find them.

Magic Words – 101 Ways to Talk Your Way Through Life’s Challenges
by Howard Kaminsky & Alexandra Penney (pg. 252-254)

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