Posted by: terrapraeta | January 8, 2008

The Ripple Effect

Oh Mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law
Law man has put an end to my running and I’m so far from my home
The jig is up, the news is out
They finally found me
The renegade who had it made
Retrieved for a bounty
Never more to go astray
This’ll be the end today
Of the wanted man

Styx, Renegade

My mind is all a-flutter today. Yesterday I could think of nothing to say, toady I cannot decide which of many things to write about. Which is worse, I’m really not sure.

So throw all the ideas into a hat, pull one out… nah, not that one…and the next? Ahha, okay. Let’s do that.

In the comments for Nesting Dolls (ed: original post) Joe and I got into a tangent on how change occurs and what needs to happen if we are going to see real, tangible change in the world. This is one of those things that I have really strong opinions about, yet it is hard to explain because it so contrary to what our culture tells us – while in a strange way, being exactly what our culture tells us. Confused yet? Let’s start at the beginning.

We are taught all our lives that if we work hard, act with integrity and honesty, behave responsibly etc etc, that we can grow up to become whatever we want to be. Do what we want to do. Make a difference in the world. That is, really, “The American Dream” and I think, a common set of assumptions throughout the first world. It is the ideal our modern industrial societies are built upon.

However, the reality of our modern industrial societies is quite different. On one side, you have the socio-economic realities of class and economic distinction: and the bare necessity that the great majority of people in society reside at the bottom of the heap. Whatever the hype, in fact the majority of people cannot be rich, nor can the majority of people be middle class. The poor are an absolutely vital piece of the picture. And the same is true of power structures and other components of ‘class’ and ‘status’.

So we grow up and run into these ‘facts of life’ and we become cynical. We see the difficulty of raising ourselves up in society – and certainly some still do, but there are only so many niches available, and those niches get smaller and more densely populated every year — and we see the corruption and nepotism in both political and business ‘leadership’. It becomes clear that little that we do actually matters to anyone, even ourselves, some times.

I believe this disconnect is a vital and necessary component of the system we live in. Our civilization needs high ideals to inspire people, while also requiring that those ideals rarely get met. It is the Horatio Alger story. Inspirational yet all but impossible. However, I think this myth fulfills another ‘need’ within the system. It prevents us from seeing the power that we do, in fact, have.

Choices, actions, and inspiration can only come from individual persons. Think about that for a moment. When someone tells you ‘the government did this‘ – in fact that is a misnomer. Some individual within the government made a choice and other individuals acted on that choice, made additional choices, etc, and the net result is what we see. (I am not going to discuss mass/mob psychology at the moment, although that is another fascinating topic and does play into this, it is really off topic for where I am going today)

So once we recognize the primacy of individuals in action and choice, let’s consider the effect this creates amongst individuals and communities (real or virtual). What happens when a single individual is driven to question, analyze, think outside the box, try something different? I submit that every single person that they encounter is subtly effected by their behavior. Sometimes in a positive way, sometimes negative and sometimes ambivalently – but they are always effected. And of course, how much they are effected is entirely dependent on several factors: the intensity of interaction, the radicalness of behavior and the charisma of the individuals involved.

I think back on my life, and my tendency to be a renegade. By that , I simply mean that I tend to ignore the ‘common wisdom’; I am generally less concerned about others opinions of me and my behavior than the average American (person?); and I am a voracious reader/thinker/analyzer. The combination has left me a little bit on the outside for most of my life. If only I had the charisma to really use it!

In any case, when I was in college, I lived for a number of years in small town America. Really small town. A lot of the people there did not know what the hell to make of me, but I had family in town, so I wasn’t a stranger, and I was there long enough to win some people over, and of course, when all was said and done I had managed to make a couple of really close friends. One of them, I know for a fact, because she has said this to me, now finds herself a little bit challenged to interact with other locals because she no longer thinks quite like they do. She talked with me enough, considered enough possibilities outside of the small town box that she has been subtly changed. And now, she finds herself voicing opinions and considering options that her neighbors find simply, bizarre. But before she is done, how many of those will also be subtly changed?

Some weeks ago, I talked about the power of consumer choice. Herein we find a second way that individuals can make a difference. Simply by letting ourselves share with one another: particularly when what we share is outside the mainstream, contradictory to our cultural assumptions or simply from a slightly skewed perspective. Everything we do creates a ripple effect so the next time you hear someone say that nothing they do matters, think of me and tell them why that is not true.

 (Originally Posted October 5, 2006)


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