The level at which effective change occurs

April 18, 2012

After having indulged my emotional reaction to a David Brooks column on the necessary elements for change in the world in a comment at the time it was published, I have had some further thoughts on the subject.

If there’s a level of political infrastructure and a level of social organization people pursue for changing and repairing the world, I think there’s also a level undergirding it all of personal self-awareness of all human beings.  At that level, people can be influenced in a more fundamental way and ideas can permeate the collective unconscious, or whatever we call it, and be available for retrieval to all through their own internal understandings.  I think it’s a slow process but a surer one than many others.

I think I have a part in that process, and I think to maintain myself in a way that allows me to do that I am foreclosed from pursuing other ambitions.  I don’t feel comfortable talking about what it is I think I do and what it takes to do it, beyond noting it takes a whole lot of willingness to serve, but maybe if I could figure out a way to do so without feeling that I was compromising something more important, maybe then I would.  I’ve sometimes thought doing so might help me as much as it might help other people have a more accurate sense of my life, because I think by not talking about it much with others, I undervalue it with myself — I think I underestimate what it takes, for example, in terms of skills, energy, time, etc., and I also probably underestimate how much it means to me, how much I appreciate what I get to do and see, and how satisfying it can be to do and to be part of something like this.  I think it feels a little like trying to stand up in a small boat, though, when there’s a need to be careful not to capsize the vessel for no good reason, when I try to explain what it is I do.  But if I could find a way to talk about it in a way that feels to me appropriate, maybe it would actually help.

When the poet Horace wrote (in Odes, Book III, Ode 24) about the futility and emptiness of laws without the backing of customary social norms, I think he was getting at what others more recently (Lord Moulton) have referred to as “obedience to the unenforceable.”  At some level there needs to be a willingness to cooperate and to do what serves a good greater than personal affiliations and interests for human beings to thrive and reach our potential.  I think that kind of attitude arises out of the mindset and understandings of people who have developed an awareness of themselves, of their emotional reactions, of the motivations and functions of their behaviors.  I see that level of human activity as bedrock, as the equivalent of atoms and molecules being fundamental to the material world.  I don’t doubt that other layers are there that need to be worked on, too, for the repair of the world, be they political structures or social ones, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what I’m about, that’s not where my skills and opportunity take me.  I think I do have a sense of what I’m about, but I can’t say I’ve found a comfortable way to live that life.

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