In 1759, the French philosopher, Voltaire, wrote a satirical story about a simple man named Candide. In it, he poked fun of Leibniz’ philosophy of optimism, through his character, Dr. Pangloss who taught Candide that this is the best of all possible worlds and everything that happens, always happens for the best.
It’s an appealing theory, right? Stay positive no matter what, even when bad things happen. For example, a person gets cancer and after the initial thought of “why me,” the positive person says, “God has chosen me for this experience, there must be a reason, hard as it may be.” Leibniz would say, “it is for the best, in the broad scheme of things.”
Voltaire mocks this theory in Candide. He says, if everything always happens for the best then we would never try to change anything.
He does this by putting the poor and simple Candide through a series of horrendous events. Candide is flogged, witnesses brutal battles, watches as his dear Dr. Pangloss is hanged, loses his love whose family is brutally murdered, acquires insurmountable wealth, and subsequently, loses it all.
Then finally, in an absurd turn of events, Dr. Pangloss somehow comes back to life, still able to convince Candide that everything they experienced has been for the best.
The only problem is that since they believe everything is always for the best, they never tried to change any of it.
We all know people who tell us to accept things as they are. “That’s the ways the world is,” they say. “You have to accept it and play the game in order to get ahead.”
Play the game.
Not only should we accept the world as it is, but you must join them – the people who created the game, that is.
But what if we don’t? No, the movers and shakers of the world do not accept the world as it is, do they?
After years of torturous events, Candide finally settles down and starts a small farm with Dr. Pangloss and a few others. Dr. Pangloss remarks that all the disastrous things that happened, occurred for the best, to which Candide simply replies, “I also know, that we must cultivate our gardens.”
Some may argue, that, in that moment, Candide turned away from the world, and refused to see the good or the evil. Instead of contemplating the world around him, he focused on his little plot of land.
He simply, cultivated his gardens.
But, in that moment Candide did something critically important. Candide began to work.
After years of things happening to him, he began to take control of his own life. Candide suddenly had a goal, a mission, a purpose for being. He began to work to improve his life and the lives of the make-shift family he created.
Cultivating your gardens can also be a metaphor for growth. Gardens grow into beautiful plants which sustain life.
As we grow spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually, throughout our lives, we change and impact the lives of others.
It is only when we give up or stop trying, that we fail. If you look up the definition of “cultivate” you will find “to foster the growth of,” and, “to improve by labor, care or study.”
Improve being the operative word.
If you believe that everything that happens in the world is always for the best, then you have no reason to improve it.
But if you see things you do not like, for example, if you see the horrors of war and believe people should not suffer in this way, you will be motivated to prevent war from happening.
You will be motivated to change the world as it currently exists to pursue a better alternative.
Now, not everyone needs be an anti-war activist, but we all want to make a difference in our own way – somehow contribute to improving the world. We know that we do not have to accept the world as it is because we have the power to make the world a better place.
You have the power to change the world.
Maybe you cultivate minds in a classroom, maybe you cultivate healthy bodies in a doctor’s office, maybe you cultivate crops, but you know that whatever you do makes the world that much better.
We do not live in the best of all possible worlds, but, fortunately for us, we have the power to change it. So, go forth and cultivate your gardens.