September 15, 2019
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”—Margaret Mead
I grew up surrounded by a little bit of crazy. It prepared me to deal with a world that is imperfect but in some respects, mostly well-meaning.
We’ve faced a lot over the last few years. Global warming, a politically divided country, and a pandemic that threatened our sense of security and safety.
There have been challenges since the beginning of time. What we’re seeing today isn’t a new phenomenon. I suspect it seems new, or maybe worse is a better word because for the first time in our global history we are immediately, and graphically, presented with every act of violence or ignorance being perpetrated around the world, within minutes of its occurrence via the internet, social media, and news stations.
How do we not lose our minds in the face of all of this cruelty? How do we not respond to violence with complete despair, rage, or resorting to the same brutality we abhor?
Is the answer to shut ourselves off from the news? Stop talking to anyone and everyone who fears we have entered the beginning of the end? Do we become proselytizers? Do we argue with reality, despite knowing that when we do we exhaust ourselves, and reality wins every time?
How do we cope with what we often can’t understand, much less fix? How do we somehow thrive in the paradoxical reality that where there is light, there will always be dark?
I think the only thing we can do, the only thing that will keep us from losing our minds and turning on each other, is to decide to choose where we put our attention and our energy.
I’m with Margaret Mead. I want to put my attention on what I want to grow in my little corner of the world, in this country, and around the globe.
Yes, we are puny when we compare ourselves to those in power. But in our little corners of the world – with our family, friends, co-workers, and those we touch in one way or another every day – we have the ability to be powerful. We have the ability to assertively seek out, and shine a spotlight on, those who are adding to the world with their wisdom, their generosity, and their great kindness and compassion.
I don’t think the goal is to live with constant equanimity. We are human. We relapse, and we sometimes fall back into old habits. We will at times find ourselves arguing with the reality of the world around us, the seeming insanity. But if we set an intention, if we commit to catching ourselves before we go down the futile rabbit-hole of raging against the reality we are facing, research outcomes are showing that we will perhaps have more energy to make meaningful contributions to the world we want, not the one we don’t.
We don’t need to retire from the world. I’m not going to stop reading the news, or divorce myself from people who have a different opinion. But I am going to be more selective about where I put my attention and how I spend the precious time that each day offers.
Here’s the trick. Whatever we put our attention on will grow – whether that is hatred and divisiveness, or loving-kindness and the interconnectedness of us all. Seedlings are about living a (mostly) sane life. The intention to focus on what is right in this world seems like a sane way to move forward.
Here’s what works for me. I take classes, read books, listen to Ted Talks and podcasts that inspire me, challenge me, and give me ideas about what I can offer, given my strengths and limitations. Some of these ideas might be helpful to you, or you may have other ways of educating and inspiring yourself. I’d love to hear about them.
We will never totally understand the true intentions of the people around us, but we can continue to explore the resources that will help us make more informed decisions. When we vote, we can do so from a place of intelligent awareness rather than simply from our guts, although the latter is tempting.
At the same time, I never cease to be amazed and delighted by the kindness that is all around us, just waiting for us to notice, bringing us back from dark to light, away from what we can’t do, to what we can.
Where do you want to put your attention? What inspires, moves, and touches you;? What will you offer to the world?. All our contributions will look different, but I know deep in my bones that every single one of us has something of immense value to offer.
Many of our most meaningful contributions will be done behind the scenes, with very little hoopla or glory. But we will know. I think Margaret Mead had it right. We may be a small group of citizens in our little corner of the world, but we can be mighty. Together.