Tag Archives: activism

Preserving and nurturing the idealism of youth, and not just for the future

What would you say if your daughter told you about a conversation with three friends about where they would eat out, where she was explaining why she wasn’t getting a burger because of how much water got wasted in the production of beef, and they all turned to her and took turns saying that she was taking things too seriously because no one person could have any effect on big problems like that?

Would you just shake your head and be sympathetic, be a listening ear, make some sort of cooing sound, or extremely thoughtful spiritual direction type questions designed to facilitate your daughter’s values clarification process?

Maybe you would act appalled and reactive, tell your daughter how wrong, how destructive, how ideals-crushing her friends were, encourage her to say such and such next time, although you would not have been able to do so at the tender age of seventeen, but now, by golly!

Would you be ashamed of your daughter’s friends, nice Christian girls who ought to know better, who must have heard the starfish story, more than once, probably—the one that ends with the boy throwing one more starfish back into the ocean with, “It may not make much a difference, but to this starfish, it makes all the difference”?

Maybe you would say they’re probably right. Maybe you’d share how frustrated you were by how long it takes to change anyone’s views enough so they change their habits accordingly, how long it took your dad to get you into the habit of turning off the lights behind you, closing the doors when the furnace was running, putting on a coat instead of turning up the heat, and now how hard it was to get your own kids to make similar efforts, to recycle, to stop buying useless things loaded with packaging? How frustrating to have to deal with the wasteful average American habits the spouse inherited from the in-laws, so that you felt like your efforts were cancelled out? How you sometimes despaired of being able to see the tide turn in time to save lives, prevent droughts and wars and catastrophe?

But I know you. You are an idealist, deep down. Never violate your conscience, you’d say, if you can see a clear path. Right actions have a power that surpasses statistics, odds, and the group think of prevailing stupidity and denial. That stance has only the appearance of benign neutrality, and history always bears that out. Not that you like to use the expression, but it’s a binary decision, and a no brainer on which side of the fence to come down. I’m proud of you, you’d say–you will make the difference.



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An experiment in writing with the earbuds in, listening to my “Soul Music” playlist

“Stuck.” One of the first words my first little one used, not including “Mama,” “Dada,” and maybe “Up.” A crucial word to know, really. An acknowledgement, a confession, a plea. A physical reality, an emotional or spiritual one–it works for all of these.

Ever tried to find out more about an issue, and found out so much, uncovered the entrails of a nasty network of self interest, corruption, entrenched power, and the presence of a fog of denial penetrating the minds of just about everyone you know about said topic? Like the problem was huger, huger than you ever thought, and where do you start? You admire the ones who hack away at the edifice of injustice, try their crow bars on those concrete tracks taking us all down that self-destructive slope (watching the opportunists at the exits so they can jump off with all the loot they can grab). See some of them make a difference, others be vilified and discredited, or ignored. You sense it might all be futile after all, despite the one starfish at a time philosophy that you heard from the pulpit, from the valedictorian, and read on the Do good, Feel Good button pins given away by your local credit union.

I care about something. I see there are problems. I say to myself, I’ll just get to the bottom of this, become an expert, and use my voice; I read, read, listen, read, take notes, tie it all together in one hour a day,in my spare time. Meanwhile I go live in that world, get my kicks from the machine, give my hours, my resources to feed the status quo, feeling all the time the possible threat that would arise if I were to take a stand. Not ready to take a well-informed, articulate stand, realizing with every step ahead into the maze of information, implication, accusation that the ones that really understand this stuff are so much smarter and articulate; they speak almost another language, which you’ve only just begun to be able to understand. And they are cynical, and write and speak a kind of lingo that seems intended for the camp, so everyone can shake their heads and live the perpetual alarm and teeth-gritted martyrdom.

Do you go back and at least do something small, in the moment, at the level of the here and now, and let your interest in and vigilance about the underbelly of the beast, the inner workings of the machine, slide, go dormant? After all, there’s the job to do, the mortgage to pay, the kids to shop for, and tax season is coming up.

Do you start engaging more broadly with the community, with the power structure by personal activism, start writing letters, requesting meetings, recruiting assistance, hoping that your work, your personal life, and your health will hold up, knowing you don’t know it all, can’t understand everything, see all the angles, but you have to start somewhere…

Or do you say, I quit! and start something fresh and new, something separate and unencumbered by tradition, protocol, due process, in the power of the Spirit, or at least the power of novelty and adrenaline?

Thinking of those who cut their ties, go to live off the land on some berry-rich island surrounded by enough fish from the wild sea, pasture their chickens and plant kiwi vines and mint for tea. I dream of doing that kind of thing, though my dream is slightly different and involves the nearness of a few neighbors and a high, cozy writing room with a view.


Posted by on January 24, 2015 in Culture & Society, Ideas


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