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.

What is worthy of our worship?

If you had a temple in the secret spaces of your heart, what would you worship there?

The Buddhist teacher, the Dalai Lama, has said, “My religion is very simple. My religion is Kindness.” In the temple of his heart, he has chosen kindness to value, he has chosen kindness to which to commit his life. He has tried to live with kindness, even when the Chinese government took over his homeland of Tibet, and he went to live in exile. When he could no longer go to the beautiful temples of his childhood, he opened the temple of his heart, and chose kindness and compassion for all people.

People worship different things within the temple of their hearts. It is a very personal choice, to find what is worthy of your worship.

The pagan writer and teacher, Starhawk, calls herself a dirt-worshiper. She points to the soil beneath our feet, and reminds us that all of our food comes from that soil. The soil is the place of Life. So it becomes the most valuable thing in the temple of her heart. She gardens in the soil, and replenishes it with compost. She creates ritual to worship the earth, and celebrate all the seasons of the earth—fall, winter, spring and summer. She tries to stop the companies that are damaging the soil by using too much fertilizer or cutting down the forests. Sometimes she even goes to jail. She is really committed to the earth and to the soil. It is at the center of her heart and her life.

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Take some time to ponder it.

What do you hold in the center of your heart?
What would you be willing to fight for, to die for?
Is your heart filled with junk?
Or something worthy of your commitment?
When you clean up everything, what stays in the room?
What is the thing you would never throw away?
What helps you keep your balance when trouble comes or storms rock your world?
What helps you connect with the larger reality of which we are a part?