Monday, October 7, 2013

The Long Game

(photo from:
My housemate grew up in the GDR. We talked recently about freedom and government leadership—swinging from climate change to vaccinations to consumer choices, ending with brain-drain, and how the Berlin Wall was built to prevent State educated people from crossing over to West Germany in search of better jobs and more diverse opportunities. “But you can sort of see their point, no?” she asked. “It’s a stupid and short-sighted action, though. If they’d waited ten years or looked at the problem more or something…”

We all want to do something. We want to solve the problems now, or yesterday. In our search for solutions there are a lot of quick actions, a lot of settling for any port in a storm, any horse in the race, of joining and doing because it is something, anything that feels like we’re regaining control. “There,” we can say, drying our tears and anxiety sweaty brows, “I donated to a climate action group, I bought beets from the Farmer’s Market, I wrote my Senators strongly worded letters, I work 50 hours a week at a place with a mission I believe in, I voted for the most electable candidate who didn’t make me nauseous, I biked to work, I’m only having one child…c’mon, World, I’m doing my part! Get better!”

We’re good at this, good at plugging ourselves into existing frameworks of solution pieces. And it is, perhaps, slowly working on some level, but I’ll admit find it all a bit rote and hollow at times. What keeps me awake at night—and I was up at one o’clock this morning, wide awake, eating toast, and looking out the window into the grayness at it all—is trying to figure out what is bigger or smaller, what is a deeper solution. There are things in this world I love to be point of breathless laughter. None of the easy solutions require anything equal to that depth of feeling.

The Berlin Wall was the clearest example of locking the barn doors after the horses run away. And, if I were a horse in the USSR, I would have bolted from that barn at the first chance I got, lest I be devoured by starving peasants. It was a quick and relatively easy solution—the people are leaving, let’s build a wall to keep the rest of them inside. It does solve one aspect of the problem, but creates quiet a few more. A deeper approach, potentially a more effective way to solve the same problem would be to ask people why they were leaving, and to adapt the barn accordingly, to make it a place where people would want to stay. However, that community-driven approach does not seem to have been something that the Communists went in for, which is a bloody irony.

The solutions we have for saving the world were thought up by hippy-types, also known as effective environmentalists. None of these are quite as draconian, as Stalin-esque, thankfully. But we’re still playing catch-up, solving the immediate and obvious, rather than looking deeper at the causes of the problems. Without doing some deep soul-searching on a personal level about our complicity in the forces that ravage our lovely planet, that abuse our fellow humans, we’ll only be throwing up walls and covering our cavernous wounds with Band-aids, and, maybe some arnica from the health food store.

We need to look deeper for the sources of the problems, and begin building the solutions from that point.  I believe that our over-consumption is a huge source the problems of the world. Deeper, the forces of media and corporate control that thrive on our mindless gluttony, that hypnotize us into believing that we need more cheap stuff to be happy, to be whole. And, the source of that is perhaps the breakdown of social structures that allow such stupid and cheap thoughts to gain ground in our beliefs and to shape our lives. But these are what I see as the sources, and I daily struggle with how to overcome them personally. They may not be your same seen sources, and so our paths to solution will be different.

And, regardless, this looking deeper and harder at both ourselves and the problems of the world, of trying to make the barn nice and treat the horses well so they’ll stay, this will take time. We’re not a nation of patient people. Most of all, we’re not patient with ourselves. We want to save the world, and we want to do it next week, and we suspect that if we maintain a certain routine and regime, if we follow the rules and push each other to be greener and kinder every day, then we’ll get there fast. Following anyone else’s dictum for as long as this will take becomes a trudge, not a long walk, we come down with guilt and “should” and “supposed to.” To me, as long as this problem is going to solve, as long as this world is going to need warriors and stewards, then we’re going to need to take time to rest and to enjoy ourselves, to fail and to lie fallow now and then. The urgency of the threats to our planet not withstanding, we must be more patient with ourselves.

If you aren’t familiar with the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, I suggest you find it, and harness it to your soul. It allows for patience, it recommends happiness, it guides to the joy of finding that what you love best is actually the best path forward for you. It allows for your humanity within this long game we must play.

Do the same, if you’d like.

Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.


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