Sunday, June 15, 2008

Do something that doesn't work....

I was having a conversation with my mother the other night. My mom is great. She has this amazing ability to draw wisdom out of others. It is really quite magical. Anyway, we were having the often had conversation about how social change really happens, and how, as an individual, we can contribute towards social change. She asked me what she should do. First I told her to join a community or organization that is doing something she believes in. Then I told her to do something that doesn't work. Which isn't really what I meant. I should have said, you have to be willing to do something that doesn't work, or doesn't work at first.

I think when we look back at history we only hear the stories about the parts of things that were successful. When learning about the Civil Rights Movement the success stories get all the air time, the thousands of attempted projects are never spoken of. It creates a false consciousness about social change. It makes it sound like it was clear and easy, that the battles were well planned and executed perfectly.

The reality is that social change is messy and hard. there are never enough people, never enough money, never enough hours in the day, and almost never a clear plan or idea. Nothing comes with guaranteed success.

Sometimes I think we are waiting for some magic plan, some perfect organization, or just the right moment to step in and do our part. We excuse our inaction by saying that action is pointless, that it does not work, that we are up against too much. We don't want to choose a team til we know which one is winning.

Instead, we need to be willing to be a part of something that doesn't work. We can send letters to representatives even if we are convinced it won't change their mind. We can go to the protest even if we think that one more body won't make that much difference. We can ask someone not to make a racist joke even if we think they will just do it in our absence anyway.

For me, there are at least three reasons to be a part of something that might not be working right now. One, it might work. You never know if you will be the person that turns a group into a critical mass. Also, something that is not working now might change into something that does work. Second, you have to include the impact your efforts have beyond just the stated goal. Maybe others who see you trying will be inspired to try as well, maybe you will learn something new in the process, or meet a wonderful person. There are lots of benefits that happen along the way.

Finally, for me at least, to not try is not an option. As long as I know what I know about the world, I have to be trying to change it in some way whether i am "successful" or not. It is the only way i can get out of bed in the morning.