The following list is my take on the most fundamental tools necessary for those of us looking to create culture by truer standards while simultaneously improving the state of the world. Its simplicity might surprise you (keep reading, I’ll explain). By offering these tools, I am in no way suggesting that we must have mastered all (or any) of them in order for change to occur, but that we might see them as infinitely valuable and allow them to shape our experiences.
12 Tools For Changing the World
(presupposing freedom of choice and access to education)
- Bullshit Meter (non-cynical variety) — It is impossible to avoid all the influences that threaten to warp our sense of truth, so a tool for filtering these influences is essential. In order to function with intention, we must strengthen our ability to see falsehood all around us without allowing it to turn us into cynics or breed complacency.
- An Acceptance of Now — It took me awhile to get this one, but it sure was a game changer when I did. Whenever we consider the need to improve upon something, (i.e. the world) there is the implication that NOW is inadequate. This fosters a sense of longing, angst and discontentment with our current circumstances. The more comfortable we can become living in the moment without judging it, the more powerful we are to shape the future.
- Self Awareness — I think many people (especially women) falsely believe that investing in ourselves is the same as being selfish. But until we first learn and then honor our natural born gifts, capacities, limitations, rhythms and hearts, we cannot offer our truest selves — our greatest gifts — to the world.
- A ‘Natural’ Aesthetic — There is beauty all around us; in the wind through autumn’s leaves, in an exchange of smiles on the street, even the spiral of water down a drain. If we’re not careful though, we begin only to see the beauty being sold to us. Checking our aesthetic and rooting it in natural wonders, simple pleasures and creative endeavors helps us to see factory-made beauty as the lesser of lovelies.
- A Personal Definition of Progress — “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” C.S. Lewis
- Want Assessor — The want assessor tool is a little like an internal bullshit meter. Learning to catch ourselves when wants creep in and truly think before acting on impulse can curb loads of needless consumption and help us see the truer needs behind our desires.
- Patience — The more accustomed we become to instantaneous results, the more confused we are as to how to create lasting change. We want progress now, but that’s not how true progress works. Equally important is that we recognize that we need not have it all at once. Doing or having more is a far cry from living well.
- Reverence for the Natural World — There is simply no motivation to protect something we are not intimately connected to. The best way to become connected is not to guilt yourself into gardening if it’s really not your thing, but to figure out what you do love to do outside and start there.
- Faith in The Greater Good — Neither religious, nor a-religious, the faith I’m talking about is as unique as each one of us and as personal as we choose to make it. We know we have it when we can go about our days with an assurance that everything is going to be okay. There are many paths.
- A Reckoning with Anger, Resentment and Fear — These three tools are dull from overuse and far too dangerous for an intentional toolbox (as history has so generously shown us).
- Abandonment of Perfectionism — Julia Cameron said, “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best, it is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves — the part that tells us nothing we do will ever be good enough.” Our cultural obsession with perfection is doing a real disservice to the notion of doing good, as good is now often seen as not good enough.
- Openness and Tolerance — To the mystery of life, to uncertainty and change, to new ideas and experiences and to vulnerability in our endeavors. An openness to love despite the possibility of loss and connection without expectation are where some of life’s sweetest, most profound changes occur.
What do all these tools have in common? Two things: One, each has more to do with changing ourselves than “the world” and two, every one of them grows most naturally and abundantly when fostered from a young age and rooted in strong homes and communities. Given these tools, what worry would we have for future generations? They’d have the foundation from which to figure it out.
Wait, so no “save the planet” slogans or “end world hunger” initiatives? Not even a mention of social justice?
Yes, no doubt, (many) such endevors are important, too, but they ought to be seen as bandages, not foundational tools. To shed a little light on my reasoning, I’d like to share an experience:
Last winter I had the opportunity to be a part of a stove project in an impoverished Mayan village (in the poorest state in Mexico). The idea was to install vented, efficient wood fire cookstoves in the homes of families most in need, feasibly alleviating a whole host of common problems from respiratory disease to horrific burns. I spent the night with a young family who had more than many in their community; a one-room sleeping shack (separate from their cooking shack), a dilapidated outhouse and a pig. More than hospitable, we were offered a place to sleep on the floor, Nescafé with enough sugar to make it thick, Coca-Cola and hot tortillas made from fresh-ground masa.
Already blown away by all I was taking in, something unexpectedly powerful happened as we were settling in for the night — they turned on a tiny black and white television. In poured commercial after commercial promising firmer skin, happier children and domestic ecstasy for the bargain price of what these people might earn in a week. As the telenovela (soap opera) came on — dramatically depicting the ‘covetable’ lives of the wealthy — I gazed at the faces of my new friends in their beautiful handwoven clothes, breathed the cold night air blowing in between the slats of their wooden walls and hid my tears behind my tiny plastic cup of certain diabetes. I wanted to jump up and warn them, “No! You don’t want this! We’ve got it all wrong!” I wanted to stand in front of that stupid tv (threatening the self-sufficiency and contentment of these already-oppressed people) and say “Look, people in my country are starved for what you have! You raise your kids together and live off the land and practice the arts of your ancestors? Those are riches far more valuable than anything we can buy!”
But then I remembered the young mother who just that morning had shared of her son’s death due simply to the absence of a doctor and the fact that most of the women I’d met didn’t know how to read and that the “foods” we’d been offered were not only malnourishing, but all they could afford, and I sat quietly — forever changed — but utterly speachless.
Slowly, I’ve come to realize why I had nothing to say in that moment — because my purpose there was not to influence their perspectives, but for theirs to influence mine:
Our job as free and thinking people is not to “save the world.” There’s something critical lost in such radical (and egotistical) notions of environmental and social responsibility. Not only do they detract from the virtues of intentional everyday living, but the poorest of poor on this planet are looking to us for examples of better lives. Until we create models worthy of emulating, all “relief efforts” are mere band-aids for the very wounds we are perpetuating, whether inadvertently or not. Until we use our freedom with intention we are simply trading one set of oppressive circumstances for another.
The solution is simple (which is rarely synonymous with easy): Live well in your places.
In the coming months, I’ll be breaking down this list and giving more definition to its individual tools. But first, I need to give this part of my brain a break and focus on making home! You can expect to see lots of projects over the next few weeks. A huge THANK YOU to all who stuck with me from the start of this series. For those who just landed…