It’s New Year’s Eve; the TV is on, waiting for the ball to eventually drop. Why, I am not certain. In the morning, it will be January 1, whether or not a ball has dropped. The ball, though, seems to be a tradition. It takes only a quick scan of the news this evening to realize that our world has indeed many serious issues to address. Ignoring them is, I suppose, an option, if one is willing to release any interest in the outcome. Conversely, too much focus on problems leads to depression. The new year won’t solve them, but it might give them a chance to be solved, if we have the will and the wisdom to do so.
At a recent family gathering, I had the privilege of hearing the wisdom of the young. Elders should listen to the young; it is a function of youth to point out discrepancies which those who are more set in their focus may be overlooking. (Youth should also listen to elders, who have a depth of understanding and possibly skill in strategy, both of which are formed over time.) This particular young woman pointed out what is certainly not a new discovery, but which so many of us tend to overlook, for one reason or another. “People shouldn’t complain,” she pointed out, “unless they are willing to do something about it.” She is correct, the sticking point being that complaining is easier than doing something about it. Complaining, though, serves only to reinforce the situation being complained about. In a complaint, the energy is given to the problem rather than the solution.
Collectively, people have the power to influence the direction events take as they unfold. Disaster can turn into opportunity and positive creativity. Conversely, destructive situations can thrive and expand. It depends on how the most of us focus our attention and act. For example, if most of us bewail the large problem of climate change and focus on the damage we will experience and on what others should be doing, little will be accomplished to alter the situation. If , however, the vast majority of us decide this is remediable and perform such actions as planting trees, painting our roofs white, growing much of our own food instead of buying non-organically grown food, power our homes with other than fossil fuels and generally act in a collectively sustainable manner, much of the damage of climate change can be remediated and the threat of imminent disaster from climate can be avoided. On a smaller scale, moaning about how hard math is to understand and how unfair it is to be judged in school and employment for our lack of understanding is not going to remedy the situation; it will perpetuate it. A willingness to work at understanding, even if one is not at the top of one’s class, can work miracles in lifting one above the label of “dummy” in math.
It is not possible to turn back the clock to a time at which we believe our problems did not exist (although the roots of them may have existed then). We can move only forward in time. However, exactly where we go is not set in stone. The New Year symbolizes a new beginning, a chance to push the reset button. If we wish to choose a new direction, we must first ponder which direction we wish to follow, what are the qualities of that direction, what are the long-term effects of that direction, and what strategies will best lead us in that direction. Which actions are consistent with it? That done, we need to act, both individually, and whenever possible, in concert with others. For myself, I would like a world in which our planet flourishes in its natural beauty, in which the material means of survival are justly divided, in which the forgotten and suffering are remembered and comforted, and in which people can grow in understanding and compassion. Rather than large world governments or nations competing with nations, I see many small, diverse, self-governing units cooperating and trading with each other. I must, then, attune my actions to be consistent with these large overall goals. My actions will be my contribution to our evolving world.
What are some ways, large and small, in which people can act to contribute? One might volunteer to teach a course at a local community college, or an online course. One might write a book. One might run for public office as a non-party controlled candidate. One might join an activist group, larger or smaller. One might raise funds for such a group or host an activist on travel. One might simply speak up, wherever one is. One might spend time playing cards with elders, who are often forgotten. One might volunteer to help the homeless at a shelter. One might tutor a child for free, at a local school or in his home. One might start a neighborhood garden, teach others how to garden organically and distribute produce to food deserts. One might organize a cooperative or a community. One might plant trees. One might spend time cleaning up the streets or a local park or waterway. One might pay a little extra to buy electricity generated by non-fossil fuel means. One might learn and teach neighbors how to clean their houses by sustainable and non-toxic means. One might advocate for a more inclusive model of health care. These are only a few of the possibilities. Each if us must find his or her own way; the important step is to think and to begin. Each of us has a contribution to make.
I wish for us all this 2019 to awaken from the illusion that the status quo is stable, and will not change, even if it shakes a little. The status quo is changing; we can influence what it morphs into. To neglect this opportunity and to remain asleep is to passively but effectively give permission for it to change in ways which we will find distasteful, and which will take even more energy to correct than if the effort had been made initially to influence the direction. The choice is not one for surface consideration. The flow of energy and direction over time – the long-term results – are a matter for careful consideration, and perhaps deeper thought than most of us are used to, or even encouraged to engage in. Established systems are resistant to being influenced, but they, too, change, either with conscious assistance or randomly. We need the courage to apply ourselves, and the willingness to expend energy to understand and create. I wish for us all to awaken to our power and our possibilities.
May we all have the courage to engage, the willingness to expend energy, the vision to set sustainable long-range goals, and the discipline to persevere. Happy New Year!