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With a growing awareness of mounting ecological, economic and social problems, there exists many growing currents of  response.

On one hand, more people are waking up. They're getting involved. They're saying, "Not another day! This is where I mark the line." Their desire to change the world is turning from simple wishful thinking on Monday mornings into tangible action. The thoughts they used to have only occasionally about their relationship to the rest of the world now occurs to them all the time. They're beginning to see activism not as something that is done only at non-profit meetings and at protests, but that activism is a way of life - that it represents nothing less than our personal, spiritual choice to choose determination over defeat, and compassion over apathy.

Ultimately, in some way, it is the choice to reject our culture's post-modern slide into narcissism. It is to reject the modern consumer philosophy that true happiness and joy comes from personal material accumulation, from seeking personal desires and needs. It is the realization that the joy that comes from connecting to our relationship with the planet blows the old way of seeking joy out of the water.

These people are realizing that humans are social animals; we crave connection and community; we crave a wide, encompassing identity that connects us with the whole  humanity of the world - not just our friends and family, not just our city, our country, our species - but every living being on Earth - plant, animal, and human.

It is a new philosophy, perhaps a very, very ancient philosophy, one that sees everyone on this planet as one family - that everything is interconnected, that the whole humanity and life of all beings resides in each one of our hearts, and that we reside in theirs. There is no "I" and "them." Truly, honestly.

The happiness of another is my happiness. The suffering of another is my suffering.

There is no separation. For millions and millions of people growing around the planet, the problems of the world are their problems; the happiness others find  as we collectively realize a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world is their happiness. It is the most profound and meaningful happiness one could possibly experience.

You can't buy that kind of happiness at a store. You can't get it from beating the last level of a video game. It doesn't come out of the end of a pipe or at the bottom of a bottle. It doesn't come from watching sports. It doesn't come from how you dress or what kind of car you drive. It doesn't come from getting a college degree or from getting a bigger paycheck.

It comes directly from the final and profound realization that there truly is no "self" and there is no "other." We are inter-connected with everything. We are all of it.

To paraphrase Shunryu Suzuki:

If the world did not exist, I could not exist.
If I do not  exist, then nothing exists.

Scientifically, this is true, but our  culture makes it hard to appreciate. But it is what Martin Luther King saw; it  is what Gandhi saw. It is what every person that works to change the world in some way experiences - not in words, but in conviction.

It is this realization, how ever it might be described (it has been  described in hundreds of ways) that gave every inspirational person in our history the personal, spiritual power to face the most impossible odds and to succeed.

To quote from a documentary that I saw recently, it is what  "Martin Luther  King called ‘Love in Action’, and Gandhi called ‘Soul Force’; what  Velcrow Ripper is calling ‘Fierce Light.’"

It is what has made me want to dedicate my life to improving the world. It is why I do not feel like I have a choice anymore in the matter. It doesn't matter if it's impossible. It doesn't matter if everyone around me says it's hopeless. I've got to do it because my inner-most nature wants me to do it.

I'm not sure when it happened. I'm not sure how it happened, but at some point, reading more news about how the world is falling apart, watching more documentaries about how urgent and dire our situation has become doesn't shut me down. I've watched over 150 documentaries at this point, absorbed an ungodly amount of "depressing" information, and I have not become jaded. I've been burnt out before, several times in fact. And over time I have come to see that if we don't know how to  absorb this information we will undoubtedly be crushed by it. I've seen this happen to many of my friends. They just shut down, not because they don't care, but because there is too much to care about, and we just don't  know how to deal with it.

In an age where we receive more information from one edition of the New York Times than a man in the Renaissance might receive in his entire life, it is simply too easy to become overwhelmed by the barrage of stimulus, the barrage of causes and problems that beg us to care about them and to help out.

It is a problem unique to our generation (and I have to laugh as we throw one more on top of the list). But it is one that if we do not discover the solution to, frankly, we're all gonna be screwed. Figuring out how to turn apathy into action is one of the most important and vexing problems we can try to figure out.

Because as I mentioned at the beginning, there are many ways people are responding to our mounting environmental and social problems, and among all the people that are waking up and getting involved, there are many that have responded by shutting down. The empathy center in their brains has short-circuited: too many images of oil-soaked baby seals, too many images of starving children in foreign countries, too much political corruption rampant in Washington, too many examples of the media failing to do their job on The Daily Show, too many ingrained and inter-locked institutions upholding the status quo. Logically, they could make quite a case for saying that trying to change anything is pointless. And it seems that the logical side of their brains has won over and suppressed the voice in their heart. Or maybe not.

But in either case, they have given up before they have even started. They've accepted that the world is spinning out of control and have resigned themselves to enjoy what little of the party pie is left before it's all gone. There may be a deep seated rage in many of today's youth, that goes suppressed, a rage from simply being born into these problems - that it was already out of control before they were even born.

And from the way it's looking, the world they will inherit has already been squandered. Our parents generation grew up in a time of unprecedented growth, the age of cheap oil - a 100 year paradigm that fueled all the rich affluence that we have enjoyed up to today. But the 21st century, the young are realizing, will be a century of decline -  declining supplies of cheap energy, fresh water, arable soil, and clean air; declining mental clarity in a world saturated by commercial noise, declining security in an age of climate change and growing resource wars. For the youth of today that have not responded by becoming incredibly pissed off, they have responded by becoming incredibly despondent - birthing the kind of philosophical narcissism and ironic  distance that is so perfectly embodied by the modern "hipster."

Of course, billions of people all over the world never even got a taste of the party that we in the affluent West have gotten to enjoy. Can you imagine the anger one would feel knowing how so few in the West could enjoy so much while so many in the rest of the world will not benefit from any of it before it's gone? And some people have trouble understanding (not condoning mind you, but understanding) why kids in the Middle East would dream of blowing us up.

We've got to listen to this anger, not fight it but listen to it. So many people in our society are apathetic towards politics or social change. How can we turn the tide? What's the secret to transforming apathy into resolve?

I mean, what do you say to a person that says "everything is  pointless"?

Like I said before, I've felt burnt out and depressed about our situation many times, but every time, a spark was lit and my  enthusiasm regenerated. Now, it's been quite a while since I've felt jaded. Something happened to me that made "pessimistic realism" completely unacceptable to me. Now, I get depressed if I play video-games or party too much, and I feel more alive than ever when I'm "working" on activist projects. I don't even feel like I have a choice  about it anymore. I do it because there's simply nothing else to do. Anything less just feels like I'm denying reality. I know that a world of incredible potential and beauty exists if I will simply work to find it.

That's the conclusion, but like many core convictions that we accumulate over life, I cannot remember how I got here. I know millions of people all over the world have had this same kind of conclusion. I know many of my friends have had this conclusion. They've felt jaded about the state of the world, and then something happens to them, and suddenly their old view of the world seems entirely unacceptable. A spark ignites inside them, a passion to engage with the world rather than insulate oneself from it. And the beautiful thing is, whatever this spark is, it is self-sustaining. It is the furnace that burns in you the rest of your life, and the more you use of it, the more  of it you have.

So I would like to ask everyone reading this, what was the spark that lit the fire for you? If you felt jaded once but found your way out of it, what was the catalyst? What gives you the energy to not just care intellectually, but in action?

I would love to hear your stories and thoughts on this. Because if we can figure this out, then I think we'll have found the key to riding this tsunami of growing problems like a surfer rides a wave. We can engage with the reality of the world without being drowned by it.

From this, I think we can discover a philosophy on how to live one's short life on this planet with passion and vigor, with unconquerable determination. And from here, a whole other world becomes possible.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Start with Americans' rampant apathy to truth. (3+ / 0-)

    I'm gonna go eat a steak. And fuck my wife. And pray to GOD - hatemailapalooza, 052210

    by punditician on Sat Mar 19, 2011 at 10:08:11 AM PDT

  •  Apathy (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    arizonablue, FiredUpInCA

    letting go of what you don't believe you can do, in order to focus on what you can.

    They didn't take baby steps when they saved the Rich.

    by Whimsical Rapscallion on Sat Mar 19, 2011 at 10:34:56 AM PDT

  •  Starvation? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    arizonablue

    It focuses the mind wonderfully.

  •  My passion for Civil Rights (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    arizonablue, Tim Hjersted

    started when I watched  protesters being mowed down with fire hoses.  I was in my early teens, and I couldn't understand it.  I lived in NYC.  To me, the only difference between me and my friend Denise was she had two siblings, I had seven.

    I felt so strongly that to discriminate- to deny one group of people what everyone else enjoys- is just so wrong, I couldn't just 'not do anything'.

    So I marched.  I attended rallies, heard speeches and thus began my life as a politically active liberal.

    Growing old is inevitable...Growing up is purely optional

    by grannycarol on Sat Mar 19, 2011 at 11:32:54 AM PDT

  •  I think it is more of overwhelmed than (6+ / 0-)

    apathy that keeps people from acting.

    I am reminded of a parable of someone walking on a beach. A storm at high tide has dumped thousands of sea stars up on the beach where they will surely dry out and die as the sun has come out and everything is warming up quickly. The person is flabbergasted at the tragedy.

    There is one other person on the beach. They are walking along, bending down with every other step, picking up a sea star and heaving it back into the sea. The first person hails them.

    "There are thousands here! You can't possible save them all!"

    "No," the second person replies, "But what a difference to the ones I do save."

    Here, the first person is so overwhelmed, they don't know how to start. It takes the second person to help them, to show them that even a little difference matters. In today's society, I see a lot of people so overwhelmed by the tragedies around them and their own struggles, they don't act because they don't know how.

    I don't know if there's a good solution, but we have to start some where. For those of us tossing sea stars back in the ocean, it often feels like our elected leaders are in the surf tossing sea stars back out!

    I think WI fight is so important because it shows we can act. We can make a difference. At the very least, we can be heard. It gives an example for people who might want to do something, but felt there was nothing they could do that meant anything.

    I am much too liberal to be a Democrat.

    by WiseFerret on Sat Mar 19, 2011 at 11:34:52 AM PDT

    •  I agree, but would add (5+ / 0-)

      that it is also a lack of knowledge/awareness about why acting would look or feel like.

      Don't underestimate the power of the distance to actual political action that characterizes most Americans lives.

      Being active citizens has to be learned and then relearned when the structure of daily life (and the structure of feeling of people's daily lives) increases the distance.

      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Sat Mar 19, 2011 at 12:11:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  what a great diary! and hardly any comments (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FiredUpInCA, Tim Hjersted

    it seems there's some apathy right here on kos

    you're so right tim, your writing is just the kind of thinking many of us do, and all too often, feel alone

    because staying awake and aware is hard work
    it hurts to see inequity, violence, repression

    after jfk, and bobby, and mlk were killed, and lbj kept the vietnam war going, i got so sick of knowing that i dropped out, and concentrated on my family and my career

    it wasn't until i saw mr. obama speak at the democratic convention in 04 that the fire that had been banked within sputtered to life

    so even before the miracle happened and he won, i was paying attention again

    which feels good, even though it also weighs me down

    but, as you write, the connection with the world's peoples that is called for is a great spiritual high, and once experienced, the last gaspings of a corrupt, prejudiced, selfish system aren't going to keep us down

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