Five Thoughts On Having Meaningful Impact In This Uncertain Worldfeatured

It’s not that I am promoting one political party over another, per se. Nor am I a Trump apologist–so far from it. It is just that I see the world needs a lot of help and that a lot of other people see that, too. Seeing it, we feel uncomfortable. What can we do?

Can we trust ourselves?

Some people say “Can we trust Trump?” Others say, “Could we have trusted Hilary?” The amazing writer and thinker Charles Eisenstein called Trump a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Hilary, on the other hand, he wrote, is a wolf’s in sheep’s clothing.

As much as I like Charles’s post-election essay, I’m not sure he is entirely right from the point of view of the issues I champion–climate and environment, race justice and and alternatives to consumerism. In these areas, things will be much worse under Trump than Hilary. But the truth is, even if Hilary had won, there would have been plenty of work to do on these issues.

Either way, I’m frankly not so interested in stories of whether it will all be ok or not or who is right or wrong or whether the real issues are that the political system left poor whites behind or on and on. Nor am I interested in the blame that is going around. The blaming of this demographic for this or that demographic for that.

Because we all need to fix all of it. It cannot and never could be one group of us against another group of us. If it is, then the battle will never stop and we will just have pendulum swings. I’m not saying there can be compromise on every issue–because there cannot. Nor am I saying that all of us are in the position to hold out fig leaves because some have been treated so badly by our systems that asking them to “be understanding” is, frankly, kind of violent.

Among the things on which there can be no compromise: climate and race justice are simply non-negotiable. There is no way to compromise on making sure the planet remains habitable for all people nor on making sure that our society is fair to all. But we can look for ways to make sure that no part of the society has to pay more to make the necessary adaptations. We can also champion causes of justice that those of us in the progressive movement have forgotten–like, say, poverty among Appalachian whites, among others.

With regard to all these issues, in response to the questions of whether we can trust Trump or could have trusted Hilary, a reader of mine wrote to me by email and said, “The real question is, Can we trust ourselves?” Can we trust ourselves to give our attention to creating a world that is fair and just and that is good for all of us to live in.

Honestly, that applies to citizens on both sides of the aisle–How do we maintain our dignity and the dignity of our fellow citizens (my post on dignity here) while finding a way to live that works for all people?

No matter who you voted for, if you want the best lives for the most people, you absolutely cannot leave it to the politicians. They are frankly too dumb to fix it. Most are myopic and overly concerned with maintaining their own power. And corrupted by special interests and big business. They can be influenced by We The People though. Which is part of why we all need to be involved.

And honestly, what else is there worth doing? What else is worth spending our lives on besides for helping each other? We are all going to die. Do we really want to spend our lives chasing after and then hypnotizing ourselves in front of the biggest flat-screen TV possible?

So how does this translate? What do we all need to do?

Here are five thoughts on steps we can each take. The list will change and evolve with time, I’m sure. But for now:

1. Find Ways To Help The Vulnerable (Including The Planet)

There are acute–meaning immediate and emergent–problems like the threats to immigrants, the climate crisis and racism. Then, there are the chronic and long term problems that we all might dedicate our lives to (not to say we can’t dedicate ourselves to the acute). My point is that the immediately vulnerable need our help right now.

Here is a great illustrated guide on what to do if you witness xeno- or homophobic harassment (basically, go and be physically near and quietly speak to the victim about any subject, while ignoring the attacker). You can volunteer to help refugees at home and abroad through the International Rescue Committee. For climate action, I have always loved Bill McKibben’s 350. org for its emphasis on grassroots engagement. For race justice, Black Lives Matter for people of color and for allies Showing Up For Racial Justice. The Human Rights Campaign fights for LGBTQ rights. To keep up with indigenous water protectors trying to stop the North Dakota Access Pipeline, here is Standing With Standing Rock.

Put yourself on these organizations’ mailing lists and look for opportunities to volunteer. Also if you have other resource to share, please put them in the comments.

2. Decide What You Stand For. In Fact, Why Are You Alive?

At the New York City rally in support of the Standing Rock water protectors, I heard one of the speakers say “You can overcome any obstacle if you know what you stand for.” So what do you stand for? What is the purpose of your life or, more aptly, what is the purpose of this part of your life (why do people think we have to have only one purpose?!).

I don’t believe in looking for silver linings if they cause us to go back to sleep and complacency. But if a silver lining motivates you to action, here is one: The U.S. election has woken so many of us up to the fact that the world needs us and that we must make a difference (that we must make a difference is the answer to the question of whether we can make a difference).

Helping the world and feeling as though you have meaning and purpose and impact in bringing about the world you want is a long-term thing. So while we need to assist with the emergencies faced by the vulnerable, how can we move ahead in a way that sustains us in the long-term when it comes to having positive impact.

Again, it doesn’t really matter who you voted for. The U.S. election and Brexit reveals that there are so many communities and issues that need help and assistance. The time for self-help is dead. We are in an era of each-other help (something I write about in my book How To Be Alive). There are no jobs on a dead planet. There is also little point in saving a planet where people live miserably.

So… what do you stand for in the long term? How will you assist in bringing that about? How will you reorient your life around what you stand for? This is actually the entire subject of How To Be AliveYou can find a free How To Be Alive workbook here. There is also an exercise I developed about finding your calling here.

3. Learn About How Social Change Happens

A lot of us are really naive about how change occurs in society. We think you vote once every four years or that you vote with your dollars and those are our two degrees of making a difference. We have so much more power. We get to change our culture by how we live individually and in community every day. We get to change our society by how civicly engaged we are and how much pressure to change we put we put on the institutions–governments, businesses, religions–that form society’s backbone.

Marriage equality is a great case study in social change. Read Marc Solomon’s Winning MarriageMarc was one of the key architects of the marriage equality movement. You will learn a lot about how change occurs from this book. For a much shorter read, Greenpeace has a piece on how social change happens here. Remember, though, that no one really understands how change occurs. There isn’t really a road map–only tools. Learn, and then trust yourself to innovate and find a way.

4. Realize what a tremendous privilege it is to be part of the change

I find mythologies helpful and one that I like is the story of the Buddha. He was a rich prince whose father sought to protect him from suffering of any kind. He got to eat what he wanted and to surround himself with beautiful people and have fun and pleasure all the time. What a terrible tragedy if he had spent his whole life that way! A waste. He would have spent his whole life doing nothing but feeling good.

Then, he snuck outside the palace and saw suffering–a sick person, an old person and a dead person–and, for the first time, realized these things were going to happen to him and everyone else. How can pleasure be meaningful if there is so much suffering? What is the point of being alive?

Then, Buddha asked: What is the path out of suffering for myself and everyone else and he made it his life quest to find out.

Some of us are suffering so much or are in so much danger that we don’t have the privilege of being part of the change. We have to just protect our loved ones. But others of us have been shaken out of our complacency in the same way Buddha was shaken out of his–just enough suffering to wake us up but not to oppress us.

We are so lucky to have been woken up! We could have spent our lives chasing after pleasures that don’t really matter (not that a little pleasure isn’t a good thing). We could have thought it was all about getting a better job or a bigger house or a faster car. Now, we have the privilege of being part of the change–of actually doing something with our lives.

5. Listen and Pay Attention

I want to be careful with this one. Each of us have different jobs. Each of us have different roles, depending on our abilities, privileges and situations. I’ve read it best put by my friend Joanna, writing on her Facebook page:

“I’ve seen posts from people of color who say “hell no” to understanding and sympathizing with (implicitly racist, however well intentioned) white trump supporters–and that is very legitimate! But then a bunch of white people reading the thread jump on the bandwagon and are like, yeah man, let’s throw them off a bridge! And then on the other side i’ve seen white people making blanket statements about how we ALL need to be more understanding. It’s just not true. we have different roles in this fight. you know?

“Just to be really pedantic about it: white people who are liberal minded and didn’t vote for trump need to find our inner stores of compassion for the people who did vote for trump and, yes, talk to them about why and what’s really going on and where it hurts and how they might view things differently. Because someone has to change some minds and if it isn’t us then we leave that responsibility (per usual) to people of color which is in and of itself a form of racism.”

Bonus Point: Don’t Burn Yourself Out

Remember we are in this for the long hall. The world can change on a dime and it can change incredibly quickly. Be clear about what you stand for, and make that your main direction. This is the essence of the Good Life. But also remember that a good meal isn’t all meat and potatoes. You need some spice. Some desert. And afterwards, a good rest.

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