Monday, December 3, 2018

Lighting the World from the Inside Out

This year’s Light the World campaign is underway, started by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but intended for everyone during this Christmas season. It’s about service—or whatever else brings light and goodness, in mostly small ways, to those around us. Last year there were daily ideas, something like doing a good deed each day. It’s a different way of giving than the hectic Christmas shopping way.

This year the calendar for Light the World has a weekly focus. Week one, going on right now, is about the world, globally. Week two is about your community. Week three is about your family. Then week four is about your personal faith.

calendar available here

I like how the direction draws closer and closer to home as we celebrate Christmas. I think this will help me feel the meaning of Christmas—and the way Jesus gave, personally, with loving kindness.

Looking at the order, from global to local to personal, I’m reminded that one of the 12 Rules for Life that Jordan Peterson talks about goes the other direction. It’s “Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.” While the direction is opposite, I don’t think we’re really in disagreement. Both of these are about making little improvements where we see a need around us.

The Light the World campaign is about service, about doing good. Dr. Peterson’s approach is actually about where to start your criticism, and advises starting with yourself and cleaning up what you can close by first. He begins this chapter with some of life’s awful things, pointing out that there are two ways to respond: vengeance or transformation. He covers Tolstoy, Nietzsche, and Solzhenitsyn, before getting to this advice:

Clean Up Your Life                                                                               
Consider your circumstances. Start small. Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you? Are you working hard on your career, or even your job, or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down? Have you made peace with your brother? Are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity and respect? Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being? Are you truly shouldering your responsibilities? Have you said what you need to say to your friends and family members? Are there things that you could do, that you know you could do, that would make things around you better?
Have you cleaned up your life?
If the answer is no, here’s something to try: Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today….
Stop acting in that particular, despicable manner. Stop saying those things that make you weak and ashamed. Say only those things that make you strong. Do only those things that you could speak of with honour….
Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your house, how dare you try to rule a city? Let your own soul guide you. Watch what happens over the days and weeks. When you are at work you will begin to say what you really think. You will start to tell your wife, or your husband, or your children, or your parents, what you really want and need. When you know that you have left something undone, you will act to correct the omission. Your head will start to clear up, as you stop filling it with lies. Your experience will improve, as you stop distorting it with inauthentic actions. You will then begin to discover new, more subtle things that you are doing wrong. Stop doing those, too. After some months and years of diligent effort, your life will become simpler and less complicated. Your judgment will improve….
Perhaps you will become an ever-more-powerful force for peace and whatever is good.
Perhaps you will then see that if all people did this, in their own lives, the world might stop being an evil place. After that, with continued effort, perhaps it could even stop being a tragic place. Who knows what existence might be like if we all decided to strive for the best? Who knows what eternal heavens might be established by our spirits, purified by truth, aiming skyward, right here on the fallen Earth?
Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
It’s another way of going about it, but I think the message is pretty similar: look around you—and within you—and find some small thing to improve. That’s how you make things actually better.

There’s an old phrase: “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand.”[i] Those are the words of a wannabe world changer who can’t even handle close interpersonal relationships. Changing the world doesn’t work on a wholesale level. It’s not even done readymade. It has to be individually tailored. One person at a time, starting with self.

In the Light the World campaign, even the suggested global ideas are personal small acts you can do, like learning something or listening to someone. I think that’s the right way.

As with lighting one candle from another, once you have yours burning brightly, then you can help light others—and magically there’s no loss in your light. There’s just more total light.

If we can think about that and try it out for this month, while we’re celebrating the birth of the actual Light of the World, maybe it will become a habit. And then we can become “an ever-more powerful force for peace and whatever is good.”

There’s a short video for each week this month. Below is the one for this first week. I love the juxtaposition of the small acts of service we do, and the acts of service our Savior did as our example.

[i] I saw this attributed to Albert Einstein, but I’m uncertain about the accuracy. A variation, using “mankind” in place of “humanity,” is said by Linus in a Peanuts cartoon by Charles Schulz.

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