by Neal Lemery
(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 5/27/2022
I try to live an organized, purposeful life, with some guiding principles and an action plan. My “to do” list should be close at hand, current and relevant. If I don’t keep myself organized and on track, at the end of the day, I feel lost and useless, adrift on my own sea of inaction and idleness.
We can easily get overwhelmed with too much information and too many demands on our time and energy. Distractions are everywhere, and I can find myself in “response mode” with depression and anxiety closing in rather than “take action and get something done”.
I strive to be an instrument of change. If I get caught up into the “news” and become mesmerized with the crisis of the hour, I become merely reactive, and I don’t get anything meaningful done. I can’t change the news, but I can change how I respond to it. I can change my world, my culture. I can make a real difference.
Today’s Seth’s Blog offers some insight in how each of us can be an instrument, an advocate for true cultural changes and shifts. While there are many good things about our society, the “news” tries to focus me on what isn’t working, what is “bad”, what agitates and stirs me up to feel impotent and angry. I want to reject that attitude and instead focus on what positive actions I can take to move ahead in this world and help move the world a better place and me a better citizen and human being.
“The people in the news and at the podium get all the attention, but they’re a symptom, not usually a cause. Everyday people aren’t the bottom, they are the roots, the foundation, the source of culture itself. We are the culture, and we change it or are changed by it.”
“From peer to peer
“Change happens horizontally. What do we expect from others? What do we talk about? Who do we emulate or follow or support? What becomes the regular kind?
“But the people who are consistently and actively changing the culture are not easily distracted. One more small action, one more conversation, one more standard established.
“The internet would like us to focus on what happened five minutes ago. The culture understands that what happens in five years is what matters.
“Focused, persistent community action is how systems change. And systems concretize and enforce cultural norms.
“If you care, keep talking. Keep acting. Stay focused.” https://seths.blog
This week, I focused on self-care, and took myself to the “Mexican Modernists” exhibit at the Portland Art Museum. I’ve long been a fan of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, their art, and their passion for social change and activism. Their art was a strong and effective voice for the working class, and for social change during and after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), which heralded economic and political reform. Those times offer us a striking parallel to current events.
These artists gave voice to revolutionary social and economic ideas, and sparked a cultural reformation that engaged a generation of reform and rich conversations about the future of Mexican culture. Their influence spilled over to the USA, with Rivera’s public murals in our cities instigating controversy and debate about the power of the elite, the attributes of American culture, and indigenous people.
Their art, their advocacy, and their willingness to speak out on issues is a mirror to our society’s issues today, and gives us some effective roadmaps on what we can do to examine and reform the current culture and political climate of our own times. Yes, artists not only give voice to our culture, but also direction on what we can do as individuals to make the needed changes and to increase our own awareness of what we need.
For myself, I have my “ten minute rule”. I can do most anything for ten minutes in the day. Why not take that little snippet of time, a mere ten minutes, and do something that supports change and growth. It may be some moments of personal reflection and writing, or music making. It may be a rich conversation with a friend, or writing a supportive note on a card and dropping it in the mail. It may be doing some gardening or art making. It may be showing up in the community and doing some volunteer task that makes life better for others. It doesn’t have to be splashy or exotic, but over time, every day, that work, that attention adds up and starts to make a significant difference in our world. Just ten minutes.
My only criteria is that the task needs to attend to a long term impact on something that’s important in our culture. “Just show up” is the guiding rule for this work. Every day, like the Chinese proverb about how a steady, seemingly insignificant drop of water erodes the boulder, over time.
I sometimes call this work my “guerrilla social activist” work, doing something behind the scenes, and making a difference, instigating change. (5/27/2022)