Imagine for a moment, if you will, a problem in your life. It could be a big problem (you hate your job) or a smaller problem (you hate your dining room curtains), but it should be something about your current situation that you need to change. Have you got a problem? Good. Join the club. So how do you solve your problem? Most likely you look at the resources on hand, assess the current situation, and then start moving the pieces around until you find something you like better. But is better really what you want? Or is better just “better for now,” and you’ll be back in the same place of unhappiness in a few short whiles?
Now imagine a blank slate. Imagine starting over. Completely. What would you do? Pretend that all of your possessions were lost or destroyed. How does that dining room look now? What would you put into it? How would you arrange it, knowing what you know now (and what you didn’t know when you moved in)? This is a much more challenging process, but it can reveal some hard truths about life that will ultimately move you forward in your quest toward perfection.
I first started thinking this way when I took over the role of Music Minister at my church. The pastor asked me how I wanted the choir room to look. I glanced around the room and started moving things in my mind, but I was limiting myself to what I saw in front of me. “No,” he said, “I mean if you had to build a new choir room, your perfect choir room, how would you set it up? What would be in it? Where would things go?” And suddenly the terrifying floodgates of unlimited possibilities spilled open and I was lost, awash in a sea of infinite choice. And yet, this was a much more helpful way to think about things.
There is a popular vein of fiction dealing with the last survivors of some sort of apocalyptic, society-ending event. You can see it on TV in “The Walking Dead,” “The Last Man on Earth,” and many other shows over the years. It’s kind of a fun game. There are only a few people left. What do you do? What rules do you keep, and what do you get rid of? If you had to start over, how much would the new world resemble the old one? And why did you bring two of every animal, including mosquitoes?!
We live in a time of vast inequality. It seems that this has almost always been so. From Kings and Lords to Kochs and Waltons, our resources have historically not been distributed very well among the populace. I wonder when that started. Because if you had a group of, say, 10 people left, would you let one of them take 90% of the resources? Or would you start off even? Sure, there are too many systems in place now to really redistribute most of the wealth, and I’m sure most of you would say that it would be wrong to forcefully take resources from the top of the food chain and spread them out near the bottom. But what if you had to start over? What if we all got onto a spaceship for a new planet, and when we got there the giant trunk of resources was opened up and there were no labels on anything. How would you divide it up?
Would the smartest get more? The strongest? The sneakiest? How would you set up a society from scratch? And how much would it resemble this one? How would tasks be divided up? Which jobs would we look down on people for doing, and which ones would we deem “more important?” Or would our default be set to “equal?” People have used the board game Monopoly to demonstrate the unfairness of the current economic system, but the beautiful thing about games is that every time you play them, you start over. Monopoly would not be much fun at all if, every time you started up a new game, everybody kept their winnings from the last time you played. Where is the fairness in that?
There is an argument that, yes, we can only work with the resources that we have within the system that we are a part of, and this is true. But just because a true restart is impossible doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Simply knowing that, if you had to do it again, you never would have put the buffet so close to the wall because you bang your elbow every time you open the drawer on the left, may lead you to some better choices as you slowly make changes. Does the current system actually make sense? Or was it the best you could do with limited knowledge and resources? Or was it manipulated by your evil ex-husband, who secretly wanted you to have sore elbows? Either way, things can be better than you think they can be, with just a little imagination from you. And sometimes starting over isn’t so bad anyway. In fact, depending on the situation, it might be highly recommended.