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The human condition and the future-present principle

Two thoughts that bounce around in my head constantly.

1. I can’t accept that things won’t change.

One of the most fundamental laws of the universe is that things never remain the same.

Because of this, and because humans — you and me and everyone we know — are the result of millions of years of constant evolution, I know that change is inevitable.

But still we can find ourselves on a wet Tuesday morning getting tough on ourselves for our inability to make change happen.

We need to change things. We need to not accept things or situations that we find dangerous or dull or unsatisfying.

I strive to change those things.

I strive to change my circumstances, to change how I am in the world, to change myself.

I can’t accept that things won’t change.

2. I must remember that there are things in my life right now that, if they were to change, would cause me great grief.

Because of our evolution, we see everything that’s dangerous or threatening or just not the way we want them to be.

Our reaction to the danger or peril or dissatisfaction is to want to change them, to make it better. The instinct is a natural one, baked into all life, as old as the oldest amoebas — to want to preserve and continue life.

But we often do not see, or we find it more difficult to appreciate, all the things in life that are glorious and beautiful.

We get complacent. We take things as they are and part of us expects them never to change, and we chastise ourselves for being shocked when they do.

I must remember that there are things in my life right now that, if they were to change, would cause me great grief.


I’ve taken to thinking of this as the future-present principle.

We can’t accept that things will always be like this, so we must remember to look to the future.

We can’t neglect that some things right now are the best they will ever be, so we must remember to see the present.

It’s a bit absurd to try to think of both things, but both things are necessary.

Welcome to the human condition.

The spectrum of the human condition includes everyone

The human condition is everything, and by the very definition — we are human — it affects all of us. Let me go further: The human condition is all of us.

But first, a definition (as offered by Wiktionary). The human condition is

the characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence, such as birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict, and mortality.

Wise old Shakespeare gave his take on the human condition memorably as the seven acts of being in his “All the world’s a stage” monologue from As You Like It.

The human condition — this state of being human — contains everything: joy and sadness, love and grief, certainty and doubt, clarity and overwhelming ambiguity.

In this era of extraordinary and unprecedented technological change (I hesitate to say “progress”), it contains all the collective state of figuring-things-out that all of us now experience simultaneously.

This can become manifest in anyone as fear or anxiety or violence or addiction or depression or self-sabotage.

The difference, at an individual level, is not between those who experience suffering and doubt, and those who do not.

The difference, knowing that suffering and doubt affects everyone, is in how we respond to it.

To learn from the past but not wallow there. To plan for the future but not become slave to its multitude of possibilities.

To choose to stay present as much as we can, to decide what is the next right thing to do, and to do it as best we can.