How to Change the World


Recently, a friend of mine was sauntering casually through Safeway (I’m pretty sure she goes there just to show off her casual saunter), when she encountered a scene which she described thusly:

“I overheard a woman at the grocery store become a TREMENDOUS bitch over the lack of selection in organic salad dressings. It was a beef she’d had with Safeway for a long time, and it was time for “us” to stop letting the corporation dictate our unhealthy lifestyle choices. And I realized that while many of us have resolved to be kinder, gentler people, an equal number of us may have resolved to stand more firmly and aggressively on our principles.” 

This whole thing got me thinking about life strategies; about changing the world, and about happiness in general.

There are several aspects of this incident we could focus on. For one thing, there’s the disruption to the force when a person makes a stink in what would otherwise be a very pleasant and orderly environment. Grocery stores are about the closest thing to home in the hierarchy of public places—you can go there in your pajamas, and that says a lot. I could never walk into the peaceful community pantry and throw down a soapbox, no matter how much I think every store should carry this one brand of frozen eclairs my mom used to buy when I was kid. Write a letter or something, Crazypants—people are stoned and they’re trying to remember what they came in here for.

For that matter, there’s the culture that made her feel entitled to that kind of behavior. I have no idea why, but a lot of people who are obsessed with organic foods seem to also think every situation is an opportunity for activism. Can’t you just believe in health and sustainable farming without being at war with everyone who doesn’t seem to care as much as you do? That just sounds like a wad of stress that’s probably going to counteract any of the dubious health benefits of that salad dressing, and it’s making the world a darker and angrier place. You may think you’re advancing your cause, but you’re actually giving the organic food movement a bad name.

There’s also the fact that she could’ve just skipped the dilemma and gone to a place that specializes in organic foods, like Chico Nat or S&S, but instead chose to go to a regular grocery store (over and over, knowing the selection they had). Which is on top of the fact that salad dressing is literally the easiest thing you could possibly make; it takes less time to whip up than it does to choose and purchase.

For people like this unfortunate woman, life is way harder than it should be. They set themselves up in scenarios where they will be dissatisfied by the environment, blame others for not meeting their expectations, take a symbolic stand over whatever issue (something that by definition means you’re blowing it way out of proportion), and try to control the people around them through negativity. Plus she’s eating way too many salads, and it’s probably making her extra cranky because she’s never full.

On the flip side of all this, there are the people who are shining beacons of joy.

Over the holidays I had the pleasure of meeting the perfect person to use as an example of this; it’s like her whole life was fated to be just as it was so I could have a good contrast for this article.

When Doris was 23 years old, she had pretty much accepted that she would never get married, and she was cool with it. One day her sister tried to talk her into a double date; her husband had a friend who was about to ship off for the Navy the next day, and they wanted to take him out dancing.

Doris wasn’t really into the idea, but she hadn’t eaten, so she went with it. As it turned out, those jerks went out to dinner before they picked her up, but the dude (Benjamin) was pretty cool; when she told him how hungry she was, he took her out to a restaurant anyway where she housed a giant steak dinner while they all watched.

The date was good, and they started writing letters back and forth. The next time she saw him they got married. He had planned the whole thing with the help of his Navy buddies, and even though she had bought a wedding dress and didn’t have it with her, she went with it.

About a year into their marriage, Doris underwent surgery that left her unable to have children. She knew that this wasn’t what either of them had expected for their lives, and she told Benjamin that if he didn’t want to stay married she would totally understand, and offered to let him go so he could have a family with someone else. He was like, “No way! I want to spend my life with YOU.”

Which he did. They went with it, and were married for over 60 amazing years before he passed away. They lived all over the world, went to fancy balls and cocktail parties, and made lifelong friends (who had kids and grandkids they could play with before going back to their immaculate home together). When Doris looks back at her collection of memories, she glows.

It’s that casual embrace of life that ties everything together. This is not a person who never faced any difficulties; this is a person who was, herself, never difficult. The secret to a beautiful attitude like that might be a little deeper than choice, it might be something in the sugar and spice she’s made of, but I definitely walked away from my interaction with her brimming with love and inspiration, transformed by her happiness.

That’s the world I want to live in. That’s the way I want to navigate the twists and turns. I want to be 93 years old with a bright, crinkly eyed smile, sit in my lovely pink and white living room, look back on the many happy years I shared with wonderful people, and say, “We had a GREAT time.”

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Managing Editor for Synthesis Weekly. Amy likes to make clothes, plant flowers, and chase butterflies.