“Everything can be improved” (C. W. Barron).
WE LIVE IN A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES. Indeed, there are few things we deal with that can’t be taken and improved in some way. Physical things are often raw materials that can be turned into finished products. But other less-tangible things can also be improved: problems can be solved, challenges can be met, potentials can be fulfilled, and goals can be striven for. Nearly every situation we meet presents us with an opportunity to improve something or other.
But what if it were otherwise? Have you considered what your life would be like if nothing could be improved at all? Johann Fichte said it well: “Humanity may endure the loss of everything; all its possessions may be turned away without infringing its true dignity — all but the possibility of improvement.” It’s true, there can hardly be a worse experience for any of us than the experience of despair. To lose the hope that there is anything we can do that will make anything any better, is to be about as close to death as we can be without dying.
I believe that our desire for improvement, and even our inclination to improvement, is not a coincidence. I agree with Andrew Carnegie, who said, “We know that man was created, not with an instinct for his own degradation, but imbued with the desire and the power for improvement.” We are “hard-wired” to want to be better ourselves — and to want to make the things around us better too.
But if our desire for improvement is instinctive, acting on that desire is not automatic. It takes tremendous energy to overcome inertia and act in the direction of improvement, and this energy must be exerted by our will. If we simply live by default, doing no more than what is easy, then dilapidation and chaos are bound to be the results.
So from one standpoint, improvement is optional — a choice must be made. But from another standpoint, improvement is not optional at all. Whatever alternative to improvement there may be, it is not a safe alternative. Our only option is the option between life and death. In our lazier moments, we might wish there were some third way, but really, there is no safe middle ground. Failure to improve is a failure to grow — and a failure to grow is a dire problem indeed.
“He who stops being better stops being good” (Oliver Cromwell).