I’ve been feeling pretty low.
That song’s been replaying in my head, the one that goes: I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do.
I see through so much of it, beneath so many problems down to the core, to some fundamental disconnect in the fabrics of our institutions and the minds of our leaders. The problems are complex, certainly, but at their core, they are simple. They are always questions of humanity, questions of value, questions of trust and fear, questions of love, questions of priority. Valuing profits over people, valuing comparative status over cooperation towards a communal wellbeing, valuing safety from fear over trust. If you dig at the root of so many social problems, you come back to the same fundamental root.
We live in a society of contrast. We define ourselves by what differentiates us, not what unites us. We are up because someone is down. We are rich because someone is poor. We are strong because someone is weak. We are loved because someone is not.
It exists in all of our minds to varying degrees. We all have our Ego hang-ups, our needs for acclaim and love and success that are not absolute, but comparative. We want to be the best. It’s not that we want to be great, we want to be better than.
I do it too. I do it so much I drive myself insane with it.
And I see it in just about every action we take, especially on a systemic level. There is so much to shift to make that simple shift within us, and the thing is, I just don’t know how to make it.
I was talking to my mother and my aunt about homelessness today, and the topic made me so upset and angry that I had to leave the conversation. They weren’t saying anything horrible, quite the contrary, but the fact that we live in a world of skyrocketing rents and substantial homelessness in so many cities makes me sick.
How do we fix the homelessness crisis?
Hell if I know. And now we come to the point.
I’ve got this loop in my brain that keeps me from doing anything. I want to help, but I don’t know how. I feel powerless to help, so I feel useless, so I feel worthless, so I feel unworthy. I feel unworthy of enjoyment and fun, of love and connection, of good times, of pleasure, of happiness itself. I feel unworthy because I see so much degradation and exploitation in the world and the fact is, I’m not doing anything about it.
My best friend always plays the Soup Kitchen card. Go work in a soup kitchen, go to a protest, go volunteer in a shelter, go do this band-aid kind of activism of any kind. Maybe it’s great advice and I should take it. But the tape in my mind replays: Okay, so every hour you spend in that soup kitchen is an hour not spent helping with immigration reform is an hour spent consuming non-renewable energy is an hour spent causing as many problems as you’re helping to solve.
Because there’s just too much to do, and I can’t do it all, so I seem to do none of it.
There’s a line in the Tao Te Ching that says something along the lines of: find your own natural exquisiteness and use it to share with the benefit of others.
Find your own talent, your own passion, your own love and make that your activism.
I think the problem I’m having is, I don’t know what my own exquisiteness is. I know a lot of things it’s not, a lot of hats I’ve tried on that haven’t fit. There are so many things to do that don’t make me happy. The question is figuring out what does.
But if I don’t believe I deserve happiness, I’m at a stand-still.
I know, for me, the unworthiness issue comes from guilt. I feel so profoundly guilty for privilege, for resources others don’t have, for being at the top of an unequal pyramid that I truly don’t believe I deserve to be happy. I am a repentant sinner in my mind. I am eternally paying for what I did wrong, and I deserve to feel remorse and self-loathing.
Maybe that seems righteous, maybe it seems abhorrent. The fact remains that no amount of telling myself I don’t need to be guilty has ever worked.
I’m wondering then, what justice is for privilege. What justice there is beyond revenge and repayment. There’s talk in much of the leftist sphere about transformative justice, about finding solutions to the underlying causes of harm and working through those. Transformative justice treats instances of harm as symptoms of a deeper disease that is, at its core, the disease I first mentioned. Ego, contrast, comparison, and the degradation that comes from hierarchical systems.
The question for me remains: what is the duty of those at the top of the pyramid? On a personal, emotional level – what is our contribution? How do we act to level the playing field? What can we do? How can we use any influence we may have for the benefit of all, or at least, the benefit of those whom our privilege adversely affects?
Do we have a duty, or should we pursue our own exquisiteness to share with the benefit of others?
If we are guilty, do we deserve happiness?
And what is justice without someone to blame?