What’s Alive in Front of Us

My post yesterday related to the thousands of Central American children who have been crossing the border into the United States lately. Ain’t For City Gals’ comment was appropriate and profound:   “It all feels so overwhelming at times to me…”

Even though the world is, for the most part, filled with beauty and happiness, and getting better all the time, it is natural for our attention to be drawn to those situations of violence and injustice which continue to exist. And unfortunately there are so lots of those.

Because we are naturally compassionate, and because we are wired to desire an end to injustice, a normal reaction to becoming exposed to such situations is to want to do something to help solve them. But there are so many problems in the world and it seems that there is very little we can do about them individually. As a result, it seems to be overwhelming.

When I read about the refugee children at our border, the violence in Gaza, the persecutions in Iraq, and all the other world problems that have the media’s attention, my passions are stirred too. I have strongly-held opinions and a deep desire to be a part of fixing the problems. I suspect most of us feel that way.

Recently a friend on Facebook was trying to draw attention to one of these situations. He changed his profile picture to something representing the cause and was urging his friends to join him in signing a petition protesting it.  This was one of the comments in response: “Wow. You changed your facebook profile picture AND signed a petition. You are world-changer.”

It was a snarky response, but it cut to the quick. These days it seems we can satisfy our desire to do something about a problem by liking a post on facebook. Or posting about it on our blogs. But beyond making ourselves feel better, have we really accomplished anything when we do that?

Being an idealist, I believe “slactivism” actually does some good, and I make no apologies for my part in it. But I also know that slactivism is just a shade better than apathy. It’s a far cry from the kind of work that really matters the most.

But it is important, I think, that we remember that everything we do matters. We may not be discovering the cure to ebola, reversing climate change single-handedly, bringing peace to the Middle East, ending religious persecution, or rescuing those children on the border. But as long as we are tending to the world around us, and doing our best to be good neighbors, we are part of the solution and not part of the problem.

The poet Gary Snyder says: “Find your place on the planet. Dig in and take responsibility from there.”

The philosopher Jacques Ellul wrote:  “Think globally. Act locally.”

In his book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible Charles Eisenstein puts it this way:

If you’ve ever been a crusader to save the world, you may have noticed how the little things that make life rich get deprioritized and squeezed out. You may wonder, “What kind of revolution am I my fomenting here? What experience of life am I upholding as an example?” These are important questions! They cannot be ignored if it is true, as our intuitions tell us, that the crisis we face today goes all the way to the bottom.

There is a danger that the climate change issue occludes other important environmental issues… If the well-being of say, a coral reef, or even of just one pond, doesn’t implicate the future of civilization via climate change should we not care about it? Focusing on greenhouse gas emissions emphasizes the quantifiable while making the qualitative – might I even say the sacred? – invisible. Environmentalism is reduced to a numbers game. We as a society are comfortable with that, but I think the shift we must make is deeper. We need to come into a direct, caring, sensuous relationship with this forest, this mountain, this river, this tiny plot of land, and protect them for their own sake rather than for ulterior end. That is not to deny the dangers of greenhouse gases, but ultimately our salvation must come from recovering a direct relationship to what’s alive in front of us.

That last bit is worth repeating:  “Ultimately our salvation must come from recovering a direct relationship to what’s alive in front of us.”

I believe that by being good stewards of the world around us, by being kind to the people in our lives, by choosing to accent the good qualities of our neighbors rather than their flaws, and by the countless acts of goodness that ordinary human beings do every single day, we are in some way being a part of making a world that is helping those kids in detention in Texas, and stopping the shelling in Gaza, and protecting the people being persecuted in Iraq, and helping nature heal the wounds caused by our overconsumption.

And I even choose to believe that something as seemingly insignificant as clicking “like” can in some small way make the world a better place.

But let’s not forget that everything we do–every little decision we make–is in some sense a vote on what kind of world we want to live in.

Finally, for any who have made it to the end of this meandering and probably overly-preachy post, please take a minute to read this great post from Laura at Applewood Farm.  It’s a fine reminder of the profound importance of something as simple as pulling weeds in the broccoli garden.

Every day we accomplish things.  We make a difference.

Imagine billions of people weeding their gardens.

May it be so.