Tuesday, October 13, 2009
everything that happens will be from now on
my life has always felt yanked by different impulses: on the one hand, i believe humans are here to explore a higher purpose--namely, something i'll call creativity and the authentic experience. and, thus, i've tried to devote my life toward this aim.
but there is another side, another impulse that draws me into its orbit. for lack of a better term, i'll call this my "social justice" impulse. this is the side that leaves me buried in documentaries, political podcasts, pbs specials, magazines subscriptions, newspapers and blogs, public radio, and (most virulent of all) piles and piles of non-fiction books on everything from environmental sustainability to world poverty to biographies on john stewart mill. i feel compelled to consume as much content as possible because, well, i want to better understand the forces that work to keep power in the hands of the few while denying opportunity to the many. my hope is that the better i understand these forces and their various manifestations, the better i can mobilize my life (and the few people i may have a modicum of influence with) to resist the crushing machine.
over the past few years, though, my social justice side has come to dominate more and more of my life. happily, i do feel as though i better understand why injustices continues to grow, even as we (ostensibly) become a more modernized, industrialized nation (if not world). but, here's the thing: i've never felt more creatively impotent as i do now. novels and music and movies make up less than five percent of the content i consume. (it used to take up, no joke, 100 percent.) yet, i can't seem to break out of my social justice streak and tip the scales back in favor of my creative pursuits--painting, writing, producing audio documentary. i do try, but always end up feeling compelled to put in just one more hour to fighting oppression and the oppressor. and then another hour. and then another.
yesterday, however, i took a long walk through a canyon in the hollywood hills. it was dusk and the clouds heralded a storm pushing its way down from the bay area. here and there, light slashed across the sky in messy ribbons. i could see clear across LA, all the way to the water. and farther still, i could see the horizon--a shelf of azure against a wall painted gold.
and i thought: maybe life is not about opposing hate, but rather about spreading love. (feel free to vomit at such a hackneyed pseudo-epiphany.) as i stood at the canyon's promontory, just sort of taking in the sweep of the land below, i felt i understood something (at least for me) profound: love begets love. and, therefore, any peaceful act in its name increases its amount in the world. it was all so obvious now. i'd been spending too much time fighting vader and not enough time communing with yoda and my inner yogi. in my effort to fight hate and greed and violence, i hadn't paused to realize that any and every act of love (which can be anything from playing guitar in the park to ten minutes of meditation to sharing a genuine smile with your local librarian) is a repudiation of evil and an endorsement of compassion. as i made my way back down the trail, i began thinking how to best boil my "aha" moment into a bite-sized, bumper sticker. then i realized such a slogan already exists: make love, not war.
we're all on this earth to fight the forces most ruinous for our survival. that is something i continue to believe. it's just that now i believe every step taken in peace promotes the very idea of peace. every act of love--no matter how small or seemingly obscure--begets another. instead of fighting an enemy, make a friend. instead of bringing something down, build something up. it's not that simple, of course, but a war on anything (even on evil) is never as effective as a party for peace.
the game can never be won, but it's the only way to win.