Philosophy

About That Greener Grass on the Other Side…

“The grass is always greener on the other side.”

We use this phrase like a knee-jerk reaction.  I think this casual overuse says something about how we approach our challenges – or rather, how we don’t approach them.

We start by finding ourselves looking over the fence, and noticing how much nicer things seem to be over there. There’s no shame in that itself; but once we find our own situation to be more lacking, what do we think next? We long to be in the yard on the other side of that fence – even though that grass would soon die if left under our own care.

But that lawn isn’t lush and green because it’s made of better stuff; It’s greener because of the way it’s being grown and cared for. So why do we resign ourselves to this fatalistic world where we’re always wanting what we don’t have, and therefore unhappy with the relative inferiority of what we have now?

The proper answer to “the grass is greener on the other side” isn’t always to cut your losses and buy the house with the greener grass. Most of the time, it should be to step your game up and start giving a damn about the lawn you’ve got. It might not become superior overnight, but that effort and pride of ownership is how truly bright things grow and stay beautiful for a long time.

It’s true that this isn’t always the case – sometimes, you have a house in the Arizona desert, and no matter what, the sun’s gonna burn your sod to a sodding crisp. The environment you’re growing in has a role to play, but it is not the decisive factor. Your resolve is.

This issue seems obvious today, as we find ourselves at the climax of an election cycle. Once again, the mainstream dialogue is dominated by fleeting appeals of, “are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Both major campaigns are basically running on their different answers to that question. This tendency was even more obvious for me to watch in 2009-10, when I lived in both Europe and the United States, and saw both throw out their incumbent majorities – one of them liberal, the other conservative – because they happened to be in charge during the onset of the financial crisis. Our whole decision making process is driven by reactions to events of immediate concern, and we care little about stepping outside the here-and-now to evaluate our own success or failure in how we’ve dealt with challenges in the past.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
– George Santayana

I wish that uncomfortable “this status quo sucks” feeling had a big, obvious indicator about the right course of action. Do I dislike the yard itself, or just its current state? To shed the yard analogy: am I feeling the desire to be better at what I’m doing, or will I be happier just doing something else? Maybe we’re doomed to deal with that conundrum at an instinctual level, like some kind of existential manifestation of a fight-or-flight response. But once we’re in that situation, we sure do tend to opt for flight – and beautiful lawns aren’t grown by jumping fences, but by fertilizing seeds.