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  • Carroll Devine

Be the Change

Have you noticed how insanity, ignorance, rudeness, intolerance, hatred, violence, and anarchy are increasingly getting the upper hand in our world, our nation and our communities? How could anyone not notice?

I have lived in various countries of the world. In the space of five and a half years, I journeyed through thirty-two of them, and I can tell you that although every country and every country’s people have their own beauty and magnificence, compared to most of them, we in this country have been blessed beyond measure in so many ways. This is not only in material wealth and natural resources, but especially in what has been called the American Spirit.

This is the spirit of generosity, of good will, of resourcefulness, inventiveness, creativity, and bravery in exploration of new ideas and new frontiers, both external and internal. It is the spirit of cooperation as well as its necessary partner, competition, in the creation of better lives. It is the spirit, as well as the practice, of not merely “tolerating” others who are different from us, who don’t believe as we believe, or do as we do, but in being kind and accepting of them. It is the spirit of optimism even in the face of defeat and disaster. It is the spirit of taking responsibility for our own lives, pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and helping others along the way. It is the spirit that makes us unafraid to challenge what we see as wrong, and take constructive action to fix it. It is the spirit that recognizes our humanity and our failings both in how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. And it is never ever giving up, never losing heart.

It is in this spirit that I challenge all of us, to help stop the insanity taking over our lives, not the peaceful protests, but the senseless rioting and hate-mongering. Let us be the calming voice, the voice of reason, the voice of cooperation and reconstruction, the voice of the best in us, our Womanhood, Manhood, and our Humanity. Let us base our speech and our actions on wisdom and love, to rebuild, renew, and rejuvenate that best in us and in our country. Let us stop the fear-mongering, the insults, the dishonesty that is plaguing us on both sides. Let us stop allowing ourselves to be duped, stop adding to the fray, stop parroting the lies or half-truths and the incendiary language and slogans of the glitterati; stop helping to perpetuate the mass hysteria; stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution.

I am, as many of you are, disappointed, dismayed, even horrified at what’s going on in our country. It’s frightening to see so many people involved in baseness on both sides, and to see the destructive forces at work, overshadowing the constructive ones. I see people being attacked both verbally and physically simply for their political beliefs. I see people refusing to take responsibility for their actions, choosing to lay blame anywhere but on themselves. I know we are better than this. We have to be.

Among my friends and family are people on both sides of the political spectrum holding a wide range of socio-political beliefs on numerous issues, and I guarantee you that no two people are in accord with every tenet or issue on either side of the spectrum. Yet, in the current atmosphere of senseless divisiveness, when individuals voice their advocacy or support for even one of the beliefs, issues, programs or persons of one faction, they are labeled, assumed to be supportive of all positions held by that amorphous group, and sharing in a common motivation and morality or immorality. This is tearing apart families and friendships, as real prejudice, virulent criticism and denunciations of one side for the other rule the day, instead of honest research into facts, consideration of possible solutions to problems, and self-examination.

We are losing our civility, as people condemn one another bitterly, often for having traits which they themselves display – like insensitivity, intolerance, hypocrisy and especially hatred, all the while closing their ears to any thoughts or opinions that are different from theirs. This reminds me of when we were children and a sibling or playmate was saying something we didn’t want to listen to. We would simply put our fingers in our ears, close our eyes, and scream, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

I see this going on today in some universities, which are supposed to be places of higher learning, places where we can explore and examine new thought, and have genuine discourse on what might contribute to the betterment of the world. Instead they are becoming places where too fragile minds are safely harbored against new thought, and differences of opinion. Students are increasingly rewarded for regurgitating one-sided arguments. If we and our country are to survive, we must start listening to each other and stop shouting at each other. “Any civil discourse,” someone said, “must begin with civility.” In continuing down our current path, we are losing sight of who we are and what we can become.

Having differences of opinion, having differences in belief or in lifestyle does not have to make us enemies. Often, voicing our differences and working with them can strengthen us.

Let’s think it through. If love trumps (defeats) hate, doesn’t it make sense for us to be the manifestation of that love, not of hate? If we fight hate with more hatred, hate is easily the victor. It only grows and consumes us all within it. If we fight ignorance with more ignorance, ignorance grows, and the world becomes a darker place where nothing makes sense, and chaos rules. If we try to fight ugliness, pettiness, greed, anger, violence, incivility, and inhumanity with more of the same, the world only reflects back those same terrorizing emotions and they grow exponentially.

We may have good intentions; we may feel good in “showing our solidarity” with others who are venting their discontent; we may think we are doing our part by joining in the civil unrest. But are we really accomplishing anything constructive when the civil unrest has turned into demeaning, hurtful and pointless screaming matches and violent attacks in the streets and on social media? Are we just wasting energy spinning our wheels? It is apparent that we are being manipulated, and as such we are playing into the hands of evil, destructive forces which have infiltrated all sides of the political debate and which would further divide, demean, deny, and destroy the good we have and the good we are.

When I recently came across a quote of Augusten Burroughs, I instantly claimed it as my catch-all defense. “I myself am entirely made of flaws,” he said, “stitched together with good intentions.” Are good intentions enough though, to save us from ourselves? I think not. As my mother, and so many others have said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke warned back in the 18th century about something that still holds true. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” So, I have sympathy for those whose frustrations, and desires to “do something” have driven them to march in protest, or to spout anger on the Internet, but these actions are not the answers to correcting all or any of the grab bag of grievances which have brought together so many discordant voices. Too many are lashing out without any constructive goal, not understanding what they are doing, blocking and denouncing any and every move or presumed future action by the new administration, not bothering to educate themselves on what might be reasonable, workable, and good efforts at solving certain problems.

It is the height of absurdity to believe that one party, one political affiliation and all its adherents are morally reprehensible evil-doers, liars, and hypocrites, while those on the ‘other side’ are all morally, intellectually, and socially superior. It’s also absurd to believe that the sky is falling and that the new administration will throw us back into the social dark ages.

There’s no question that the extreme unrest is an eruption of some of the anger that has been festering in our society for years, stemming from a variety of sources and reasons – whether they be personal, emotional, health, financial, social, or political situations, or any combination of concerns.

Yet, we see this anger relentlessly poured out today with a vengeance over the head of a new administration, as if he were the origin and cause of all our problems and anger; even though he has hardly even begun his term, and as if, had the other candidate won, these and/or other problems wouldn’t exist. It’s not necessary that a person be on one side or the other politically to see the folly in this and the danger to our nation’s welfare. It IS necessary to take off our blinders, stop being tools of the negative forces of anarchism and start being accountable.

Anyone who can’t see how far we have advanced socially in our nation hasn’t studied history and/or is too young or oblivious to have experienced the change. We must work with what we have, within the law. And we, as reasonable, responsible people CAN work together.

We as a nation have survived many administrations, none without problems or discord, and I am optimistic that we will survive this one, for two reasons. One is that we have a strong foundation in our Constitution and our other laws, as well as the general consent to abide by them in order to make our republic endure. The other is that we have been and are (with certain criminal and moral exceptions) a civil nation with a core of basically good people who understand the importance of working together for the common good.

Still, the anger that is manifesting itself today, mostly in blind rage, is turning us against one another and against ourselves. “We have met the enemy and he is us,” Pogo said. Blind rage is full of energy but accomplishes nothing, and is destructive of the very life we cherish and want to see survive.

Imagine what we might accomplish with the energy that is exploding if we channeled it into positive action, with a healthy balance between idealism and pragmatism. Could we agree to just take a step back from our egos to consider what we are doing, what we really want to accomplish and how we might find better ways to do that? Can we who protest or complain, whether loudly or quietly, each find a way or ways in which we can use our particular talents to contribute to a rebirth of vision and cooperation? Can we agree to make no more excuses for not doing this?

We have to know that if we want to SEE a change we must BE the change. While it’s true you can’t change anyone except yourself, we can each decide how we might contribute to the rejuvenation of our society. We can put our own particular talents to work in volunteering with school, community, or church programs, or in badly needed areas like adult literacy.

We can help our friends, families, and co-workers, with understanding and calmness. We can study history, learn more about how government works, research issues, share what we know, and not be led around and inflamed by any media. (Consider that most are in the entertainment industry, not in education, and so are concerned about ratings above all.) We can start having open community discussions of common concerns where everybody agrees to listen to one another, write letters to Congress, seek rational meetings with officials, or contribute in other meaningful, productive ways.

In the meantime, how about having a moratorium on social media smearing, name-calling, impugning character, spreading incendiary comments, and serving as mouthpieces for destructive forces? Those among us who consider ourselves to be spiritually evolved or evolving must realize that every time we engage in vitriol and fear and hate mongering, we take an evolutionary step backward. Vitriol is toxic to the mind/body as well as to community. Think: Would the Dalai Lama send out words as arrows or incite hatred? Would Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., or any other spiritual teacher have done it?

Let’s all take a deep breath. Get a grip. Think it through. Focus. And be the change.

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