Microcosmographia by William Van Hecke

Incantation 2 — So what are you going to do about it?

Microcosmographia lxiii: Incantation 2 — So what are you going to do about it?

Microcosmographia is a newsletter thing about honestly trying to understand design and humanity.

This incantation works to transmute outrage, melancholy, and general complainy crabbiness; into resoluteness, tranquility, and general reasonableness. It’s a bit of serenity prayer, a bit of five whys, a bit of zen, a bit of Jobs “saying no to 1,000 things”.

This one has been hard to write about. The inner critic is a snarky Twitter account, always hunting for the most uncharitable possible interpretation of everything you say or do; and mine was mashing out critical brane-tweets all along as I tried to express this idea gracefully. I’ve excised about 1,000 words in this letter over the past several weeks. But here’s a short version I think gets the idea across all right.

When I catch myself spending more than a moment on reacting negatively to anything, I’ve been asking, Okay, so, what are you going to do about it?

This is meant in a compassionate way! I genuinely want to know. What am I particularly equipped to offer to ameliorate the situation? Is there really anything substantive I can do? If not, can I let go of it?

Rarely, it leads to an idea of something you’re actually particularly equipped to do

Congratulations! In complaining you have discovered a way to exert special influence on the world, shaping it to be slightly — or significantly! — more in line with what you wish it to be.

What am I particularly equipped to do? Well, I work at an absurdly influential company; any effort I can put in there to steer even a tiny fraction of a percent toward better is effort well spent.

Sometimes, it leads to an idea of something you’re equipped to do elsewhere

I’m parent to two human beings, each with an entire subjective universe unfolding in their consciousnesses; the accumulated influence of our everyday attachment will shape that universe profoundly. There are plenty of problems I can’t solve today, but I may be able to make a difference on in a generation.

Usually it leads to respect for the complexity of a system

Most problems bigger than our immediate influence are not as easily solvable as we think. My first idea of what to do is usually answerable with “so why hasn’t anyone done that already?” I can try to imagine why, and encounter another problem. “So, why hasn’t anyone done something about that already?” And on down the chain of reasoning, often to a sheer cliff I can’t scale myself.

It turns out that almost everything one can know about in our modern world is as out of one’s control as a star going supernova in a distant galaxy. That should feel liberating! We’re being exponentially more exposed to information about what’s going on in the world, but as individuals we’ve gotten no better equipped to do anything about most of it.

What if I allocate the influence I do have as effectively as possible, and then stop fretting? Not because I don’t care, but because I need to focus on areas where there’s a reasonable exchange rate between the impact I can have and the anxiety I take on.

Thank You and Be Well

I haven’t said that in a while.

Recently, when I wasn’t looking, my dear friend Jon Bell who has been mentioned time and again in these letters, created an ebook and audiobook of the Microcosmographia volumes to date, as an issue of his long-running publication Plebe, via his publishing concern He Wrote Go. The narration adds a layer of warmth and charm to the material.