While waiting in line at the local convenience store to pay for my gasoline I heard the old Tears For Fears song “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”. It’s one of those tunes I rather enjoy hearing now and then. The song has a rather catchy melody and the words carry a subtle, and somewhat profound message.
One verse stands out:
“It’s my own desire
It’s my own remorse
Help me to decide
Help me make the most Of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world”
This got me to thinking about the epidemic of extreme unhappiness going on in the world these days. Political factions, religious groups, and unbalanced “lone wolf” types want to bring the rest of us around to their ways of thinking and believing. Sometimes, even the best of us imagines a world that conforms to our own, particular utopian vision. If that should come to be, then we will finally be happy.
History teaches us that the people who actually attempted to rule the world and bring it around to their way of thinking and behaving were very unhappy, detestable individuals. In trying to make others conform to their ideals, they only succeeded in making other people suffer greatly. This is one reason I am highly suspicious of religious and political leaders who proclaim that they have plans for a better world.
At those times when tyrants have actually ruled parts of their world, they remained unhappy. There has always been the unhappy prospect of enforcing their will upon the teaming masses. Ambitious religionists and politicians have a long, dreary history of bringing misery to the world they longed to rule. They have historically been the people who have the weakest ability to accept aspects of life that simply cannot be changed. One person’s utopia becomes other people’s dystopia.
If I could be an advisor to the next potential tyrant I’d steer him or her to consider a few time-worn strategies that could help in his or her pursuit of happiness. “Physician, heal thyself. This biblical, Christian idiom alludes to the temptation and desire of physicians to cure illnesses of others but being unwilling to undergo healing themselves. This statement implies that such doctors and nurses who are sick themselves are no better placed than anybody else to cure others.
Anyone who wants to rule the world, first must learn how to rule their own unruly mind. The potential tyrant will need to practice an important internal skill, such as meditation or quiet, honest contemplation. Through regular, authentic practice of introspection and empathy, the hopeful world ruler can begin to overcome negative thoughts and reflexive emotional reactions. The proto-tyrant can then begin to experience life from a more centered, calm space.
The most important piece of advice that I would pass along to the proto-dictator is the importance of practicing compassion at every moment. Buddhist teachings have a practice called “metta bhavana” which is a “loving-kindness” meditation. The practitioner calmly sits and mentally visualizes “sending” kindness first to oneself, to loved ones, to members of ones community, then to people the sitter hates, then to all living beings. The practitioner practices breathing in the suffering of oneself and others and breathing out happiness and good will to every living being.
The future potential despot will need to blend this new-found practice of loving-kindness with a more wholesome perspective about death. The default human attitude towards death is characterized by fear and denial. When the proto-tyrant finally learns to blend meditation or contemplation with accepting the inevitable certainty of death, then one can fully embrace the precious nature of life.
Whether the tyrant believes or does not believe in some sort of afterlife, he or she will experience the wisdom that this particular span of time one has in this life on this planet is fleeting and precious. When the prospective world ruler comes to terms with the precious nature of everybody’s life and death, the key to authentic happiness is in hand. Deep inside, when the tyrant allows for other people’s happiness, the tyrant has learned to let go of the hunger to lord over others and is no longer a tyrant.
Accepting that one cannot really rule the world will help the wannabe despot in his or her efforts to govern their own personal lives. If that person learns and daily remembers to practice this skill, he or she will have attained the crowning achievement of a life well lived.