Sunday, 4 March 2012

Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side?

You may have often heard this curious English idiom uttered in a derisive way about someone who is not content with their circumstances.  It may have even been said in an accusatory way: "What, you think the grass is greener on the other side?" implying that, by wanting something other than what is, the person has somehow sinned against the greater common and put under question the values that bind us into a well-functioning society.  Yes, I think the judgment even goes that far.

But I'd like to argue that this yearning for something else is not only normal, it is what defines us as a species in the most peculiar way, beyond mere anatomy and measurable differentiations.  Derision and accusations aside, we should probably celebrate the uneven hues of green on the lawns of our Universe.

In my understanding, "reality" does not "really" exist.  Or, if it does, it isn't all that important.  Shocked?  Don't be!  Remember that all we "really" know about "reality" is our perception of it.  We don't really know for sure that what we think is solid matter or a red colour or a warm breeze is really there.  There is the perception consensus that tells us that "everybody knows" that a rock is heavy, hard and lifeless and that the rainbow has all colours but, in the end, each person perceives those things in their own way and there is no way to be certain that they see, hear, feel and experience the things we talk about in exactly the same way as us.  Sure, there must be some commonalities or some of us would be able to walk through walls and others wouldn't, but no one can really know what an individual's experience of "reality" is unless they somehow stepped inside their skin, saw through their eyes, felt with their touch.

So, when we chastise someone that they think "the grass is greener on the other side", we are really only passing judgment on their perception.  We really cannot know whether, from their point of view, the grass really IS greener out there.  We just assume it isn't; based on our equally subjective, perception.  For all we know, they could be closer to the truth than we are.

Going back to the perception consensus, judging others' views is really about conformity, about making sure that we all march to the same tune and we don't have the odd black sheep disturbing the flock.  If we weren't concerned with that, why would we care whether a person wants to change their status quo, whether they are dissatisfied with what is or see an alternate state as better?  Yeah, enforcement of the common view!  And, to those of you who claim that they really care and that your advice for the curious cats to reign in their yearnings is only to protect them from harming themselves, the fact is that you may only deem they are at risk because the multitude would judge and punish their deviation from the perception consensus.

Let's take this a step further, however.  As dubious as the benefits of progress may be (more on that some other time), none of the things we take for granted today: electricity, the modern car, indoor plumbing, modern medicine, would be possible until someone, sitting in the dark, anticipating a long walk to a germ-infested outhouse to answer Nature's call, thought to themselves "There's got to be a better way!"  You got it, they were yearning for greener pastures.

It can be argued that discontent is embedded in the human condition.  From the time humans gained self-awareness, the time it occurred to us that each of us is a separate entity from the rest of the Universe and from other human beings, the concepts of the ego, the "I" and the "other" were born.  The fence separating us from that greener patch of grass on the other side came into being.  And, since then, we have wanted nothing more than to get rid of it.  It is a defining moment for humanity.

So, now that we have theorized all this, what happens when someone wants to get to the other side?  Do we still try to talk sense into them?  Do we help them?  Do we smugly watch as they rip the bottom of their pants over the barbed wire?  And, isn't our judgement over these nosy oddballs really a different way of yearning for the greener grass?  For a world where we wouldn't have to be challenged by those nuisances?  Where we can lay back and enjoy our misery because we simply wouldn't know better?  Is it fear or just mere laziness that stops us from being a nuisance ourselves?

The bigger question really is: "Is the grass really greener over there?"

In reality, it probably isn't.  Or better yet, no one knows and no one could know.  And better yet, it doesn't matter.  But, until we get over the fence or figure out how to dismantle it, anyone peeking over with yearning should be celebrated for being an active agent of who we are as a species, at least at the present time.

Nothing wrong with understanding and accepting yourself as you are.  It is the only path to figuring out who you want to be and how to get there, on that greener patch.  On the other side.


  1. Most people yagging about wanting something better do not realize there are often people living in far worse circumstanes.

    1. That is hardly a reason to confine one's yearning for better. In fact, it is probably all the more reason to want better circumstances for all, including the people who have it worse than you. I believe you are referring more to limited perspectives rather than the almost instinctive drive to seek more and better.