I think one of the things that gets in the way of a truly progressive movement is that we keep thinking we have to change everything that's wrong with the world. That usually means we get stuck with having to change what others are doing. Sometimes we can have an impact on that, but its an uphill battle for sure. And when others aren't interested in changing, we feel frustrated. Mohatma Gandhi, on the other hand, challenged us to "be the change we want to see in the world." I believe that's where our power lies...in ourselves.
Another thing that I think gets in our way is that we can feel small and powerless to actually have any impact. We get trapped into feeling like we can’t alter the course of history with our small efforts and then get immobilized to do anything at all. That's why I added another of Gandhi's quotes as my sig line. I need a constant reminder that:
Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is important that you do it.
Finally, I think that we often get impatient. And its understandable why. There are lives in the balance. But if we look at history, we learn that the kind of change that we need now takes time. That’s not a call to complacency, but to sustained efforts with patience. I think that’s what Ruben Alvez was trying to say in this quote about hope:
So, let us plant dates, even though we who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret of discipline. Such disciplined love is what has given saints, revolutionaries, and martyrs the courage to die for the future they envision; they make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.
One of the places on the net that I have enjoyed the most is a site called No Impact Man. Colin Beavan and his family took on the challenge of living for one year having no impact on the environment. Through all this, Colin wrote a daily blog about their experience.
A few months ago he wrote an essay about optimism vs realism that was one of my favorites. Here's a bit of it:
When I was child, and I first heard of war, I was appalled. My mother had taught me hitting was wrong. I categorically understood that people should not hurt each other. Then I grew up and I became realistic. Peace, feeding the hungry, a healthy planet, an end to war, these things just aren’t realistically possible, a mature mind understands. Well, when it comes to these things, I’ve been both an idealistic child and a realistic grownup, and I think I was a better person when I was an idealistic child.
I believe too that every action each of us takes makes a difference. Every time each of us rejects a disposable bag brings the world one step closer to being the kind of place where sea turtles don’t die from eating plastic. Every time each of us sacrifices a car ride brings us the world one step closer to being the kind of place where there is no global warming. Every time one of us tithes our income brings us one step closer to ending world poverty. Every time one of us calls a member of congress brings our representatives one step closer to caring more about voters than campaign contributors.
Perhaps people will think I’m too optimistic. But this is for certain: these things can’t be true if no one takes the chance of believing they’re true. Because if we don’t believe they are true, we won’t act as though they’re true. And if we don’t act as though they’re true, they can’t come true. That’s why realism does little but protect the status quo.
Being optimistic, on the other hand, is the most radical political act there is.
In summary, for all of you who have been waiting with baited breath for NL's prescription on how to make the world a better place, here it is :-)
1. Be the change you want to see
2. Embrace the small things you can do
3. Continue sustained efforts with patience
But most of all, adopt the most radical political attitude there is...optimism.