by Richard Martin Oxman
“Act as if it makes a difference. It does.”
— William James
Everyone knows the mantra respecting the importance of being the change you want to see in the world. Gandhi is, most often, given credit for that sentiment. Let’s go with that, but let’s elaborate a bit on the supplement it begs for today, for activists to deal with the unprecedented momentum we’re facing collectively. Our impetus that’ll take us over the precipice if we don’t — in solidarity — do something fresh while we work on our individual selves.
Hermann Hesse said that what we can and should change is ourselves, our impatience, our egoism (including intellectual egoism), our sense of injury, our lack of love and forbearance. All true, but just like a field of organic carrots can’t come up cool if a neighboring farmer is making his adjacent property toxic, the person who reaches personal bliss has to kiss the world goodbye if coming up on the horizon is the nuclear abomination being advocated by psychopaths in decision-making capacities. Pointing out that your product has secured an official seal of approval is neither here nor there, if this season’s orange veggie is really the new black poison.
As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence in the midst of others automatically liberates them. To some degree, unquestionably. But what if all the personal lights are blighted by the sky going dark, as is the case right now in 86 Asian cities, air so polluted that one has great difficulty to do yoga exercises? Or impossible to do so.
You can’t change another person, but you can be the reason someone changes. And not just on the vertical plane. On the horizontal dimension — where we have the potential to act in meaningful solidarity — there is now a need to rearrange the change Gandhi and other have advocated on the personal level. Thing is, there’s no reason why the example you set can be modeled while you simultaneously go out of your comfort zone and interact with others, attempting to recruit them for some new movement in solidarity.
The fresh paradigm you choose to embrace with others must not focus all collective energy on fighting the old or the distasteful, but on building something that inspires one and all, and is healthy in heart, head and soul for each and every individual. As they see fit.
Action without vision, however, is merely a dream. Or I should say, with the present day situation ‘cross the board… a nightmare. Action without vision just passes the time. Socializing at socially-conscious protest cannot be our individual focus. Nor can piling up personal points that enable us to look into the mirror more easily when we’re alone. Vision with action which is not self-centered, and which is ongoing (not coming and going as is convenient) can change the world. Give us a shot at that.
Where to start? The means for recruiting anew seem to be quite limited. And the protest we’re experiencing — its recent greater numbers notwithstanding — appears uninspired, like something out of an activist’s Central Casting handbook. I’ve got quite the unorthodox answer to the question I’ve posed.
The other night I finally saw the final episode of Ray McKinnon’s Rectify, a 2013 series currently carried by Netflix. It is, arguably, the finest dramatic series I’ve ever experienced — in over half-a-century’s viewing as a professor of Dramatic Art — and provides wonderful direction for all activists, no matter what issue is dear to one’s heart. It’s not at all socially-conscious in the sense that Brecht went about it, or instructive for concerned citizens along the lines of Ken Loach.
And yet, I submit that if you leisurely engage with it, your life will change; you’ll have a shot at that transformation. And in the process you will understand Gandhi better, and be better able to rearrange the recommended change which the iconic Indian advocated.