“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life”.
This is a quote from Muhammad Ali, and I am a firm believer in it. I think if you go through life without changing then you are nothing but stubborn and ignorant. This change does not happen overnight, all at once, but takes place over many years.
Nobody can be expected to be perfect, but I think everybody should feel obliged to be better. This move towards being better, towards changing, starting to love more than you hate, starting to accept more than you reject, and beginning to open up rather than close off, this is a gradual process.
Even if each year you only change slightly, make a small improvement on how you live your life, by the time you are fifty you have come a long way. The person you were at twenty may not even be recognisable any more. I could use all manner of cliches and motivational speak here to portray the same message, and despite how cringe-worthy the large majority of them are, the message they carry is true.
Each and every person has both vices and virtues, both admirable qualities and negative traits and behaviours. The change needed, and the way to progress as a person is to look at your own life and make minor changes, every so often, eliminating a vice, or working towards its elimination. The people that can do this not only improve themselves, but they are the leaders and inspiration for the rest of us. When we follow their behaviour we as a society, and as a species, improve.
I do not for one second believe that I am “Mr Moral”, or that my name should be Paddy “Ethical” Vipond, but what I do believe is that I can improve as a person, and more importantly perhaps, I want to improve. Every single aspect of my life is under scrutiny and I am constantly asking myself, what damage is this causing to me? To other people? To the environment? If the answer to these questions is “no damage”, I can focus my attention on some other aspect of my life.
I know I am not perfect, I am aware that I have flaws and that all humans do, but as I said, each of us also have virtues. It is the virtues of those people around you that you should concentrate on, those writers whom you admire, those political figures with genuinely good intentions, those activists that are striving to make the world a better place. Even on a more personal scale, your sister who volunteers every Christmas at the soup kitchen, your best friend who buys locally sourced produce, your boyfriend who takes part in protests against corrupt governments. There are sources of inspiration all around you.
This is what I am trying to do. I am looking at those around me, and I am studying those I admire and I am (for want of a better word) stealing their virtues. Bringing together all the best aspects of those I love and look up to and embracing them, installing them in to my own life. Slowly, gradually, virtue by virtue. Some may call it naiive, ridiculous or stupid, but I want to lead a life that causes the minimum amount of suffering and pain, both directly and indirectly. It has taken years of work to get to this point and there is still far, far more I am able to do. There is no finishing line, self-improvement does not have an end point. It should be continuous.
In terms of my own personal growth I have many people to thank. They are the people that provided the inspiration and they are the people I admire.
In the last three months I have eaten meat or fish maybe eight times, in the last month I haven’t eaten them at all. Jetta was the driving force behind that change, and Jeff provided the initial inspiration. For basically my whole adult life I knew that eating animals was harmful and unnecessary, and I knew at some point I would have to give it up. If I truly cared about the welfare of animals and about the impact that I am having on this earth, my eating habits would have to change.
When I graduated from Brighton University I went to live in Turkey for six months, volunteering at a youth centre for under privileged children. This was not my choice, this was a decision made by my friend Conrad and I chose to tag along. As it turns out Conrad could not attend but by that point I had seen the virtue in what Conrad had signed us up for. Without him I am not sure if I ever would have thought about going abroad to volunteer.
It is throughout my time in University that I completely changed my stance on drugs. Whereas before people that took drugs were a bit dirty, and were stupid, now I see that the large majority of them are just regular people looking at different ways to relax or enjoy themselves. There are those that are affected negatively by drug use but these people are victims rather than criminals, and need help rather than imprisonment. The two biggest killers, in terms of drugs, are cigarettes and alcohol, both of these are legal, and are accepted within society.
Whilst living in Turkey I met a number of Syrians, I was also able to get in contact with a Dutch guy called Wijbe. He had set up a project of his own, off his own back and with his own money, to provide aid to Syrian refugees. It was Wijbe who showed me that something was possible, and that no matter who you are, everyone can make a difference. Without seeing his work and talking to him its unlikely I would have set up an aid giving project of my own.
The gradual process of growth and the move towards ethical living will persist. I will continue to borrow and steal from those that inspire me, and I will continue to analyse my own life so that I can find more ways to improve as a person. I am now looking to give 3% of my monthly earnings to charity, I know at some point I should begin to give blood on a regular basis and there are a number of events, demonstrations and protests taking place this year that I am keen on attending.
Surround yourself with positive people, be the change you want to see in the world, and strive to grow as a person. Little changes will all add up when you look at it in the context of the bigger picture. Never be content that who you are currently is the best you will ever be.
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