As I look around, read books, follow twitter, watch movies, consider elections, I notice that much of my focus and many of our our discussions are inward looking and smaller than what came before us. These small things incite us to banter back and forth rasher than lift our eyes to ideas that are larger than ourselves. Even when discussing homelessness, poverty, suffering, the conversation will inevitably drift toward who is doing what wrong or sputter out in a tacit acknowledgement that we have no power to change any of this. We are, myself a prime example, small people unable to narrate a story that goes beyond our own small selves.
This is a harsh idea and even in writing this I want to erase it as a blasphemy against my own self delusion and scream that this is not me. I want to write that there a great things afoot, portents of momentous change, tides of deep and powerful currents that will wash up upon the beach something tremendous and true. But that is not the case.
If we zoom out and look at ourselves over the last 150 years we discover something interesting. Tsunamis of innovation and social change drove us forward at break neck speeds until we began to slow – somewhere in the late 60’s or 70’s. It is true that in that time we erupted in terrible world consuming wars but we also changed the lives of a large part of the worlds population for the better. The 1st and 2nd industrial revolutions spurred the creation of women’s rights enshrined in law, the rise of the right of minorities, the lifting out of poverty of millions of families, the gift of eduction to billions that could never achieve it before, the eradication of life destroying diseases, the birth of non violence as means to political change. We took flight around the world and to the moon, we built computers where none had ever existed, we understood the mysteries of the building blocks of life, we created institutions of learning and community that spanned continents, and in Canada we decided that health and well being weren’t only for the the wealthy but were a right of every Canadian. We shone in our quest to move beyond ourselves and explore uncharted waters of human endeavour. We were, despite our flaws, magnificent.
But since the slowdown began to happen what have we achieved? Someone from 1960 would not feel so out of place in 2013. In fact I believe they’d wonder why we hadn’t achieved more. They probably would have wondered why we didn’t continue on that magnificent trajectory. Why hadn’t we ended hunger and poverty on our planet? Why haven’t we sent humankind to live on other worlds? Why haven’t we stretched ourselves in understanding and compassion?. Why haven’t we inscribed in every corner of the planet, in every village and city, on every heart and hearth, laws that protect and enrich us all rather than those that protect what we have? Why? There is no doubt in my mind that if we had had the will to do these things, to take what was given to us and build upon it. the planet would be cleaner, we would be safer, and everyone better for it. We chose, an important word that chose, to not do these things.
Now it would be easy, and understandably so, to hide behind the notion of our own lack of individual influence and power. But we can’t really do that can we? We chose not to do these bigger things. We chose not to end suffering in other parts of the world, we chose not to be serious about the state of our planet, we chose not invest in education and health care, we chose not to demand of our governments to abolish the humiliation of poverty, we chose not to demand of ourselves and each other something larger than ourselves. We stay small, stare inwardly, and shut the world from our ears so that we can live our comfortably small lives. Most of us don’t even show up to participate in the the one thing that lifted us all up to begin with – we don’t even vote.
In writing this I acknowledge my own complicity in everything i have criticized and chances are that tomorrow, or next week, or next year I will go back to continuing down the path I always have. But shouldn’t I at least try to lift my eyes a little higher? Shouldn’t we at least stop looking inward, even for an hour, and look beyond our own small lives and consider something larger? I hope we do. On Thursday some of you can do this here in London. You can go to the polls and vote and that can be your rebellion in the the face of smallness. Revolutions have been started with much, much less. Maybe you will continue on looking outward and remind me when my gaze drops to the ground that I need to keep looking up. Maybe you won’t. But we should try. Shouldn’t we at least do that?. Try.