While you’re establishing* your habit of thought-and-action, look again at the question. It contains at least three assumptions, each raising another set of questions.
1. We assume that “better” exists (“What does better look like?”)
This raises questions about ends (the understanding of “the good” that we’re aiming for, often unspoken but revealed in our values) and vision. For the purposes of this series, vision refers to a more specific outworking of our ends (e.g. “People who freely do X, Y and Z with result Y,” rather than “Freedom for all.”) What direction should we be heading in? How do you know it’s better than what we have now? Without an answer to this question – call it a moral vision, however tentative – we’re lost.
2. Given (1), we assume that there are things that could be done to make things better (“How do things get better?)
This raises questions about means (how things get done). You can think about means in general (“How do things get better, generally speaking?”), at this stage of history (“What are the most promising mechanisms for making things better today?), and in your specific context (“What is already working to make things better in my community / sphere of interest or influence? What else has potential?”). The answers to these questions help us to see what’s possible.
3. Given (2), we assume that you can play a role in moving things in the right direction (“What can and should I do to make things better?”)
This is where it gets personal. Given your specific personality, talents and limitations, your life circumstances and the resources available to you – and considering the almost endless possibilities – what can you do? Should you work or study? Should you become a specialist or gather a broad set of skills? In either case, which skills will be most useful? Should you join someone else’s project or institution, or try to build your own? Should you seek wealth and influence first in order to maximise your impact later, or live on beans and rice in order begin contributing directly now?
More on these questions in subsequent posts.
*Establishing, not perfecting – you can’t wait for perfect.