You’re Already in the Best of All Possible Situations

Last month I finished reading Bonds That Make Us Free by Terry Warner. Though I found it repetitive in some spots, overall I liked it. My favorite concept from the book was that you are currently in the “Best of All Possible Situations.”

This idea might be traced to Søren Kierkegaard’s parable of The Two Artists:

Suppose there were two artists, and the one said, “I have travelled much and seen much in the world, but I have sought in vain to find a man worth painting. I have found no face with such perfection of beauty that I could make up my mind to paint it. In every face I have seen one or another little fault. Therefore I seek in vain.”

On the other hand, the second one said, “Well, I do not pretend to be a real artist; neither have I travelled in foreign lands. But remaining in the little circle of men who are closest to me, I have not found a face so insignificant or so full of faults that I still could not discern in it a more beautiful side and discover something glorious. Therefore I am happy in the art I practice. It satisfies me without my making any claim to being an artist.”

…the second of the two was the artist.

Referring to our forgiving the offenses we sometimes take from friends, family, and coworkers, Mr. Warner puts it this way:

Unless we change in our hearts toward the people we struggle with here and now, we are condemned to struggle with whomever we may find ourselves associating with.

It doesn’t say that our situation could not be better. Many of us have serious needs, like too little to eat or broken health; even those of us who are fairly comfortable could benefit from positive changes in our circumstances. What the principle says is, in matters that affect our happiness, we are in the best of all possible situations.

We cannot be liberated from our burdensome feelings toward certain people unless we forgive these very people; without this, we leave unfinished the task by which we ourselves can be transformed. For wherever we go, we will remain accusing, self-excusing individuals who, fantasizing, think a change of circumstance will make a fundamental difference. Instead of leaving our problems behind, we will take them with us.

When happiness is the issue, the best possible situation for us is the one we’re in now, and the people around us are the best we could be with. (pp. 307-9)

You’re an artist if you realize that you’re already in the best of all possible situations.

8 replies on “You’re Already in the Best of All Possible Situations”

  1. J. Hill: Who decides what things “really are”? Without the help of an authority beyond ourselves, our sense of how things are is subjective. An optimistic point of view is no less “real” than a pessimistic view. In fact, I would consider pessimism more blinding than liberating.
  2. Very nice–we can all smile down the road to the poor farm. It’s great to see people smiling, then you don’t feel guilty when you ignore them.

    One of life’s challenges is to see things as they really are. Somehow, that doesn’t square very well with hanging a happy face on one’s personal situation.

  3. Doesn’t look like I’ll be able to make it. I am interning this summer and I’ve already arranged a week vacation time to make a presentation in Oxford, England at a scientific conference. However, I told Brian, I am willing to help out with anything that can be done from Texas.
  4. Good post! I need reminders that let me know how good my life is. I’ve often noticed that at work, school, etc people tend to get in competitions with each other for who has the hardest life (sometimes unknowingly). For example, many complain about how busy they are or how late they stayed up the night before working. These comments can lead to competitiveness and we counter with our own seemingly terrible events. From my point of view, I’d rather be busy than bored or worse – unemployed. For the most part, I would say that we (especially as Americans) really are in best situation possible.
  5. I find it difficult to believe you’re familiar with Kierkegaard but not Voltaire, so your choice of analogies boggles my mind. Very Panglossian! I don’t think it conveys the message you intended.

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