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Daniel Will-Harris Headshot

Making Your Own Magic Kingdom

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I just got back to the real world -- from Disneyland. It was fascinating to watch people from all over the world as they were brilliantly funneled through cleverly planned entertainment. (Disclaimer: Call me "old school" but I only like the pre-Fantasia Mickey Mouse with no eye-balls and have never liked Goofy.)

But it was also weird -- because nothing is real. And I'm feeling that more and more this is our goal, to live in unreal worlds -- to escape reality.

When I was a kid, Disneyland was the "best place on the planet." It was beautifully designed, efficiently run, safe (I could go there alone even as a child). And dedicated to fun. My real childhood was, as many people's are, often unhappy for any number of reasons. But Disneyland was always perfect.

As a kid, one of the very best things about Disneyland is that all the adults were nice to me. Not only that, they treated me like a human being, not like some little dumb kid who didn't know anything (I was smart, and I knew a lot, but lots of adults treat kids as if they know nothing).

So I'd go to Disneyland as often as I could, by myself (taking a 2 hour bus ride from San Diego alone from the age of 8).

But as I've grown up, Disneyland has gotten less magical. I remember one time finding it outright fascist -- which of course, it is -- the trains run on time. I started to know people who worked there and see behind the cartoon curtain to the money machine.

Like Apple, Disneyland does its job so well that millions of people are actually happy to hand over large wads of cash. If the rest of the world were smart, it would learn from these companies about customer service.

Now when I go, I no longer suspend my disbelief. I marvel at how well crowds and lines are managed. I am in awe of the artistry and technology that makes it all work. And occasionally, like in Star Tours, or Space Mountain or the Matterhorn, I forget I'm in a machine and still get caught up in the experience.

But I'm not one of those adults who loves Disneyland or Disneyworld so much I have an annual pass and go as often as possible. I hope those people get the feeling I got from it when I was a kid, because that's beautiful.

I suspect, though, that a lot of people go simply because it's beautifully designed, run, and people are nice to them.

And, come on, isn't that how the whole world should be: well-designed, well-run, with people nice to each other?

It's clearly possible -- and profitable!

Yet most of the world is ugly, inefficiently-run, with people who are careless, rude or outright mean. And I'm talking about commercial businesses here.

Our personal and family lives can be even less hospitable. So we look for escape -- that's nothing new. People have told stories since the start of time, gone to theater or religious rituals, read books, and more watched movies and TV or spent most waking hours on the web to escape.

Now we carry escape in our pockets in the form of smartphones that can take us anywhere we want to go -- from a beach in Tahiti, to virtual worlds where we all look like models and are part of the wealthy 1%.

Yet I'm finding these escapes are making reality more difficult to face.

Pema Chodron's great book, The Wisdom of No Escape has one of my favorite quotes of all time,

There's a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You can see this even in insects and animals and birds. All of us are the same.

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is.

Life is hard -- we all need to escape from time to time.

But perhaps it's time to make ourselves beautifully-designed, well-run, and nice to each other. Right where we really are.