Life is a “bittersweet symphony” according to The Verve’s eponymous 1997 single. When he is not bemoaning “making ends meet” and being “a slave to money”, frontman Richard Ashcroft croons:
No change, I can’t change, I can’t change, I can’t change,
But I’m here in my mould, I am here in my mould.
And I’m a million different people from one day to the next
I can’t change my mould, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
It is not clear why he cannot change himself. Circumstances may have propagated a learned helplessness that makes him believe that becoming someone different, or “changing his mould”, is impossible. Maybe apathy just goes well with rock ‘n’ roll. It is also unclear why he has to change. He realises that he needs to do so, but all the lyrics suggest is that he is caught in an existential rut (existentialism plus rock ‘n’ roll is another formidable combination) that he needs to escape. Several of us can, or could at some earlier point in our lives, identify with the sentiments even if they despise the song (guilty).
Life and all it entails, such as work and relationships, has a curious habit of occasionally hurling us into these metaphysical merry-go-rounds. We can either stay on, watching people, buildings, objects and landscapes transform into a dizzying blur as we in turn are turned around and around like used underwear on a rinse cycle, or find a way to get off even if the merry-go-round is still moving. I can argue from personal experience that this doesn’t hurt… much.
You cannot know what you want or where you want to be in the future unless you know what you are now. This also means we have to understand where we came from, or who we were in “the beginning”. The beginning does not literally mean the moment of one’s birth, because none of us are who we were at that point. We have grown, aged, and our physical and mental faculties have developed according to our lifestyle and experiences. The beginning is the time before we recognise a disconnection in our lives. This could be when we feel less happy with our situation or, simply, when the colour drains from our lives. Perhaps it is also what Dante referred to as the midway point, before he did what anyone would do in his situation and willingly walk into a dark and foreboding forest.
All sentient beings pursue happiness. Someone who enjoys their life cannot logically wish for less. If we lose the happiness in our lives, it is incumbent upon us to seek solutions. What of someone who feels content but whose lifestyle is detrimental to their health and wellbeing? Experience with death could be the teachable moment in this scenario. Increasing recklessness or volatility could bring such a person, or others around them, close to death. We need to recognise when to change who we were in the beginning, and understand why it is often so crucial to our happiness and survival. Consider evolution. When the environment changed, our ancestors had to adapt to survive or they died off.
Despite what Richard Ashcroft bleats, it is possible to change. There is a gargantuan literary-industrial complex devoted to the topic of self-help. In 2019, one can go into any bookshop and pick up a book like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne or the timeless classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. Tomes written by therapists, psychologists, teachers, doctors, businesspeople and athletes among others stack book stores on the high street or online. I do agree that some books are hokum, written by con-artists and hucksters. Anything requiring you to expend large amounts of money to obtain happiness is quackery. There are also those that are mere strategies for coping on the merry-go-round, which all amount to: “Just close your eyes and enjoy the ride…”
With the explosion of the internet and social media, we have access to knowledge and experiences worldwide on immense scales never known or imagined in any century prior. If we want to change and require help to do so, the tools and resources are widely available. The wisdom and practical applications have existed for millennia but are only just being popularised to wider audiences. Some schools are even placing unruly children and teenagers in mindfulness and meditation sessions instead of detention.
Our lives are not laid out like dominoes before us, unless one subscribes to a pre-deterministic view of human existence. The choice to change is ours alone. Not every child who comes from poverty will necessarily end up in poverty, though we can and should rightfully argue about the ratio between those who do and those who do not. The scale of change need not be grand. Small, incremental changes have been proven to reap long-term benefits.
If we never changed, or at least possessed a mind-set open to change, we would never gain new experiences or learn new wisdom. We would possess narrow-minded, insular brains. New possibilities beyond the boundaries we set would be closed to us. A not irrelevant scientist did once propose that performing the same experiment and hoping for dissimilar results was an exercise in futility and madness.
The vast canvas of human history illustrates that our societies have advanced ever forwards, with bumps and stumbles on the way. Once humans had to adapt to changing environments, but now we adapt our environment to suit our needs. Societies are not static and an ever-developing world necessitates an attitude receptive to change.
Change is not only inevitable but also moral. Scientists have proven that the concerns raised over thirty years ago about the Earth’s climate are becoming a reality. Heatwaves and extreme weather events are now more frequent. Britain experienced a high temperature of 38°C in the summer. The documentary series Blue Planet II, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, showed viewers the truth of plastic in the ocean and its detrimental effects on the environment. If we are not open to change, and unwilling to adapt and modify our behaviours, we will surely witness the end of all life on Earth.
Become someone different to save yourself and the planet.