The widely used phrase, misquoted a bit from Eldredge Cleaver, “If your not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” is intended to be a call to action. I agree with the need for action, but I would like to rephrase the saying a bit – “If you stop being part of the problem, you are already part of the solution.”
It comes down to this: we are in charge of who we are and what we do. We decide where we put our attention and our energy. We choose the focus of our lives. Our dominant culture is in chaos and its turmoil tends to draw and hold our attention. It keeps us wrapped in its grip even when we abhor its values. Our very desire to change it serves as a link in the chain by which it binds us.
Much of the frustration we all feel comes largely from our attempts to fix the problem from within the problem. That approach cannot work. Something entirely new is needed. It must involve a way of living that is far more pervasive than angry protest, outrage, and argument. It must permeate the very neural fabric of our brains, shifting us from fear and reactivity to trust in a new way of living. We must step away from the myriad ways in which we consciously and sub-consciously participate in the fabric of a dysfunctional economic, social, and political structure.
A question cycles through my life each day: Is there some small way today in which I can withdraw my energy from the network that supports the chaos? I’m not trying to destroy the network – at the moment it is too powerful. I’m not trying to force it to bend to my will. I am simply trying, each day and each moment, to remove one small element of my own participation, then another, then another. I really don’t want to make specific suggestions at this point because that usually leads to “yes, but…” mindset. Each of us know the hundreds of subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which we support our own comforts and self-images, and thus chain ourselves to a destructive and illusory culture.
It is important to understand that I am not advocating a “withdrawal from the world.” On the contrary, I am advocating a deep engagement with the world – an engagement that is not possible without first withdrawing my attention and energy from the fantasy world which has been captivating me for a lifetime. It is an engagement with nature, with face-to-face relationships, with sights, sounds, textures, and feelings that have been too long passed over.
Until enough people stop playing and turn their attention to Something New, no amount of outrage or protest will effect any meaningful change. But if we keep removing, piece by piece, the economic and social assumptions on which injustice, greed, and power are sustained, one day the whole pyramid will fall. Of course, like Humpty Dumpty, it will be a Great Fall, but a new alternative culture, formed beneath the radar, will be ready to pick up the pieces and heal the wounds. Unlike “all the King’s men” who couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again, we, or our descendants, will put together something entirely new that no longer sits precariously on a wall of injustice and hate, but rests solidly on the Rock of Reality – Love and Compassion.
(My spouse, Nancy, has recently written on this same general theme from her own journey. The Prison of our Culture)