The Hidden Cost of Mud Improvement

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September 4, 2011 by rebelwithalabelmaker

We live in a society that improves everything.  It's an advantage, to be sure.  Gary tells me about being a missionary in Africa and how the people would fail to see even the most obvious changes that might improve their lives.  Planting a grove of pineapples.  Putting stones into the mud they have to wade through each day, to make it easier to move across.  As a North American, Gary looked at everything–mud included–and thought about ways to make it better.

Many North American non-profits strive to bring this kind of long term, "improvement-based" thinking to cultures that are struggling to meet basic needs–and I support that.  But I can't help but wonder:  If "accepting the moment" thinking has persisted over "improve the moment" thinking for so many generations, could there be a hidden cost to a mentality of improvement?

I live in a culture that improves everything.  The kids are delighted with an afternoon at the local lake playing with sticks and mud, so lets take them to a tropical paradise–think how happy they'll be then!  Except, I thought as I watched the kids throw rocks in the water for two hours yesterday, it would be impossible for them to get any happier than they are in this moment.  The mud cannot be improved.

And what happens then?  What about when an natural improv-er meets something perfect?  Do we lie back and drink it in fully, savouring each moment?  Nope, we keep improving it.  Know what would be better than sticks and mud?  Disneyland.  Better than the delight on the kids' face while they a pickup game of soccer? Soccer league.  Better than a set of lego?  A room of lego.  Often we unwittingly wreck something beautiful–or at the very least, pull ourselves partially out of the experience as we analyze it.  Not just for our kids, but for ourselves.

It's an interesting exercise, to watch for the perfect moments.  Or even to watch carefully for where the happiness really is.  Sometimes, it's suprising.  The feeling of warm clothes fresh from the dryer beneath your fingers as you are folding laundry.  The rustle of the leaf piles as you tidy up the yard for fall.  A particularly satisfying conversation with your partner over the course of a walk to the park with the kids.

These very same moments are not always like this.  The laundry was a chore last week, and next week the very same partner for whom you felt a rush of affection may suddenly annoy you at every turn.  It's disturbingly random.  Not only are there perfect moments, but we can't predict them, improve on them, or even control them.  Unnerving, isn't it?

Maybe.  Maybe it's relaxing.  In a world where you can improve on mud, there is much work to be done.

 In a world where you can't… well, then there's nothing to do but pick up a stick.  Maybe that's better in some ways.

 

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4 thoughts on “The Hidden Cost of Mud Improvement

  1. Taran says:

    I think thinking about improvement requires energy. Like, there’s probably a better way for me to organize my kitchen (I know you would probably have thirteen better ways thought up in thirteen minutes if you looked at it) but it works okay and I don’t have to think about it so I plug along with other things.
    So I imagine that when you’re living day to day just scraping by, thinking about how to improve even the mud may require more energy/creativity than you have to spare. Kinda like trying to find creative parenting solutions for your newborn who never sleeps when you’ve only had three hours of sleep in the last 72 yourself…
    But then, I’ve never felt the need to take my children to Disneyland… 😉

  2. Liz says:

    I agree. I also think that thinking about improving something takes away from being able to enjoy it.

  3. Kathryn says:

    I think this was written for me! I seem to have an inborn tendency to look for what’s wrong with things, and then feel it’s up to me to make them better. I knew it was exhausting and not helpful for relationships, but I hadn’t seen this other problem until you described it–of not being able to really enjoy things just as they are.

  4. Liz says:

    Thanks, Kathryn! Believe it or not, I too struggle with the desire to improve things and have trouble letting them be. I’m not as good at the actual improving them part, but the mental noise is there.

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