You realize it’s probably not going to be us, right?
We got ourselves into this mess. You can put whatever demographic you want into that plural pronoun; everybody contributed in some way to where the world is today. Sure, some more than others, but frankly, I’m never interested in blame. Sometimes it’s useful to look at what contributed to the situation, but that’s about gathering information, not guilt or retribution.
And it’s almost never about love.
Hearing Without Listening
One of the reasons contributions are important to understand is because it can help us understand how we might want to change what we are contributing now. For example, I vastly underestimated just how thin a veneer of civil decency, belief in equality, and respect for diversity existed in this country.
That wasn’t my contribution.
No, because there was no reason for my ignorance. I had enough friends telling me (sometimes of their personal experiences) that they could feel the racism and sexism and intolerance seething just underneath. I thought I listened to them, but it was always with an idea that this was just the tail end of that kind of thing, or they were the outliers, or that fun idea that “the plural of anecdote is not data.
Turns out those stories weren’t the last gasp of a dying creed. Nope, turns out they were indicators of data after all. Turns out we’ve been in a live-action Lord of the Flies this whole time. Turns out that I was hearing what they were saying, but not listening to what they meant.
So now I work on fixing it, right? Now’s when I march, when I write, when I retweet and sticker and we will turn those rascals out and it’ll all go back to that dreamy time when we thought we were making the world a better place?
What an egocentric idea that is.
Not that those things aren’t important to do. But the idea that I – who was blind enough to not see that problem in the first place – am going to be the one to fix it? That I’ll even be alive to see it fixed? Life is not directed by Michael Bay. There aren’t pretty-but-harmless explosions, and the plucky hero doesn’t save the day at the last minute. That’s not how it works.
We Owe Tomorrow
It’s not gonna be us. It’s gonna be them: the people who come after us. Some of them will (hopefully) be our children; some of them will be the people who haven’t had the power in the past but who are right now clawing and forcing their way into the dialogue because they’re tired of watching us make things worse while we talk about making things better.
The greatest act of love we can give those who follow is to accept that. To let go of this attachment to the “revolution” in all its destructive glory and roll up our sleeves and do the actual work that will eventually lead to this.
In my case, for example, the most important thing I can do differently is to start listening. To stop thinking I know how things should be (because the situation we’re in means obviously I don’t) and instead use my privileged position in life to make it easier for those who are coming.
I don’t know what that looks like for you. I see my friends with kids, and I think: you have the most important job. It’s their work not to shield their kids from the hate that is pervading the discourse, but to teach them how to counter it.
I see people who are scientists, now threatened by lies and propaganda, and I think how important it is that those who understand the surveillance state teach others how to counter it.
I see people who have been doing this work for decades, suddenly looking around at those of us who recently woke up and asking Where have you been this whole time?
The answer can only be: Sorry. I wasn’t listening. I’ll try harder now.
Not because I’m going to get credit for leading the revolution. Not because I am going to solve the problems like some white knight galloping in at the last minute (Michael Bay didn’t invent that idea, after all).
No, I’m going to do the work because I love the future that much.
How about you?
Photo by Amandalynn Jones of Women’s March in Madison, WI January 2017. Used under Creative Commons License
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