Too Small to Make a Difference?

Snow on branches

[Snowflakes on branches]

Continuing from my prior post, as we confront the great challenges of our time, there is another hurdle that we may face—sometimes we feel as if the problems of our nation are so big, that what we have to offer is too small to make a difference. One approach to this problem is offered by Israeli writer, Amos Oz. He says,

Everyone of us has to choose confronting a big fire. Everyone of us has a teaspoon. Fill it with water and throw it in the fire. The teaspoon is very small and the fire is very large, but there are many of us and every one of us has a teaspoon. I do what I can as a teacher, as a writer, as a neighbor, as a citizen, to pour some water on the flames of hatred and incitement and fanaticism and bigotry and prejudice. I have words and I use words. My words are my teaspoon. This is what I can do. What can you do?”

When each of us does our small part, something can change about the larger problems.

Writer Charles Eisenstein goes even further. He addresses the underlying logic that permeates our society and our movements, that we need “big solutions to big problems.” This logic says, “whatever you do on a local level, you’d better make sure… it can go viral, because otherwise its impact will be trivial.” He says that “contained within this logic is an implicit hierarchy that values the contributions of some people more than others. It values the activities of people who have a big reach, a big platform, a loud voice, or the money or institutional power to affect thousands or millions of people.” And he finds this suspect in the movement for transformation because it is the same valuation as the dominant society’s allocation of status and power.

He explores the theories of change that underly such logic—that “change happens only when a force is exerted on a mass.” But the problem with this logic is that “the ruling elites” of the world always have “more force-based power—more money, more guns, …a bigger voice—than any activist organization ever could.” Yet, throughout history, there have been changes that happened in unexpected ways, from unexpected places. He says, “Reality often turns out to be the opposite of what the arithmetic of measurable impact would suggest. The most potent actions are often the ones done without forethought of publicity… Every act we take ripples out to affect the whole world…”

He goes on to reflect,

“My indoctrination into the logic of bigness has exerted an insidious effect on my own life, causing me always to question whether I am doing enough. When I focus on the small, intimate realms of life, taking the hours to tend to a relationship, to beautify a space, perhaps, or to enter the timeless child’s world with my youngest son, I am subject to an unease along the lines of, ‘There is something more important I’m supposed to be doing.’ The logic of bigness devalues the very heart of life.”

I thought about this logic of bigness quite a bit when I was trying to publish my book. I sent book proposals to several publishers, but got only rejections. One publisher was kind enough to give a reason. They said, your writing is good, but we don’t know how to market this kind of book because you are not well-known, and there is no big hook to pull people in. I didn’t have a big enough voice. But when I decided to self-publish the book, it grew from a sense that even a small voice must speak its truth, even a small bird has a song to sing. And so I named my publishing imprint Small Bird Press.

If we are all interconnected, then our gifts and our limits are intertwined for the life of the whole—what each of us has to offer is unique and irreplaceable. In the world of which we dream, hierarchy has given way to the circle of community. In the world in which we struggle, some of us will have the power to lobby, to protest, to rage against the destruction that can be caused by greed run amok. Others will have the power to grow gardens, to teach children to be kind, to dance and sing so that our spirits are replenished. All of it is important in this time.  We must live the life that wants to be lived in us, we must follow the lead of our hearts.

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New Story – New Questions

I have been reading a fascinating book, Charles Eisenstein’s The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. I am only part way through, so I don’t yet know what my final experience of the book will be, but I am loving the questions he is exploring. He asks about all the underlying assumptions and unexamined perspectives we hold in a world defined by separation. We believe we are separate selves, with humans separate from nature, earth from heaven, people from each other. What might it look like to redefine our world and our beliefs according to a profound interconnection? I have been exploring that same transition in my life and in my writing, and welcome the way his questions take me deeper into a new way of being.

For example, how much are we motivated by the feeling that unless we make something happen, nothing will happen? How is this undergirded by a belief that we are tiny separate beings in a dead, uncaring universe? What if the universe is utterly alive and we are one aspect of its aliveness? Might there be an unfolding process in this living universe that we can rely on, and attune to, and participate in? Then we can pause, we can wait until we are moved in our deepest (inter) being to act. We can lose the idea of “urgency” and “force” and “guilt.”  Eisenstein suggests we might  transform our whole approach to activism.

I keep reading.

The stones of the Burren.

The stones of the Burren.