Wait, isn’t stasia biking in the woods somewhere far away from the technological world? Yes, yes I am. But some pre-planning combined with a bit of internet voodoo is bringing you these thoughts that I wrote before I left. Magic!
So without further ado: What are YOU doing to make the world better?
Last weekend (as I write this, not as you read it;) my brother was in Portland, and we were joking about interviews. He often answers a whole range of questions, from the relevant and interesting to the totally inane, and we were joking about hijacking the interview process, turning it into something with social worth beyond mere entertainment. “Your questions are all well and good,” I imagine him telling an interviewer, “but what are you doing to make the world better?”
We were joking, but I’ve thought about that a lot since then. Because really, that seems like a question anyone should be prepared to answer, at any point. Interviews, especially sports interviews but really any interview designed to get flashy media attention, are so often into being epic: tell us about this mind-blowing thing you did! Tell us how sic your experience was! Show us how strong and burly you had to be to do this! Let’s drool over footage and pictures! Let’s talk about how every little thing you do is so awesome! Which is good for entertainment, but lacks any sort of substance. And makes our dominant social discourse about pleasure and entertainment rather than social obligation or accountability.
That’s what I imagine getting at with the question of what you’re doing to make the world better: a reminder that entertainment isn’t the only thing that matters.
I’m lucky to be sharing my life with someone who lives by making the world better. I give James a lot of shit about how much he works and how he hates to have fun (which is untrue, by the way;), but every day — I mean seriously, every day — he’s actively trying to improve the world through better government, more civic engagement, large-scale reform. Every day and in every decision he makes — about anything, seriously — he’s working toward social justice. I’m sure that it often seems to him like he’s getting nowhere, but the point is that no matter what, he’s working on it. Instead of being overwhelmed by how much there is to fix, he just starts chipping away at the root causes as best he can.
It’s the most admirable thing I’ve ever seen. Where are the people interviewing him, clamoring for his thoughts on something?
And me? I’m working on it. But I think it’s fair to say that I could be doing better. Certainly I spend a good amount of time teaching and trying to inspire the next generations of earth’s stewards. But I also spend a good amount of time dreaming about and then actually embarking on adventure – which only enriches me unless I can somehow translate it into inspiration, into showing others it’s possible to live passionately but lightly.
Things like biking instead of using gas, avoiding packaging, saving water, using solar energy — all those things are important and good, but they’re sort of the status quo of world improvement. They’re the kind of actions that keep things from totally falling apart but individually done, in a vacuum, don’t necessarily make things better. Unless I can inspire others to follow my lead, biking or trying to not use chemicals or saving my grey water to use in the garden or canceling my trash service and trying to create no waste is a very, very small thing in an immense world. I’m not making things worse, but by myself and focusing only on my own actions, I’m not necessarily making them better either.
Which brings me back to my imaginary interview question. How rad would it be if “what are you doing to make the world better?” actually was a question that sports stars or politicians or celebrities or whoever is constantly put in the spotlight could expect to be asked? How rad would it be if that were a question anyone could expect to be asked? Imagine if it were the default to have thought deeply about your own actions and how they’re benefitting the rest of your community, your world – imagine how much more substantial our discourse could be, how much more of a platform we’d have for discussions about real issues.
Would we all necessarily agree on what makes the world better? No, of course not. And I wouldn’t want us to, because conflict and differing opinions, rationally explored, often bring out the best in us. But if we could at least all agree that it’s something worth thinking about, at least we’d have a point to start — and maybe something a little more toothsome to talk about than the last epic and totally rad thing we saw on YouTube.