And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair –
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin –
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
— T. S. Eliot in “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”
Julia “Butterfly” Hill disturbed the universe for 738 days by sitting in a 1,500 redwood tree from December 1997 to December 1999 to keep the 180-foot tree from being cut down. Her efforts saved the tree. Though many people, including those who agreed with her, said she was carrying her protest to an extreme level, the very nature of what she did attracted attention, garnered support, and that resulted in an agreement that saved the tree. In spite of one attack by morons with a chainsaw, the tree is carrying on its long life.
Most of us wouldn’t have done that because when all was said and done, the practical ramifications of sitting in a tree for two years would have probably made us unemployable, not to mention the loss of income that would have bankrupted us. There is so much noise in the world, that it’s hard to know what any of us can do or say to disturb the universe enough to make a difference. Today, authors hear that “it” is all about “platform.” One has to have a “platform” filled with Facebook and Twitter and blogs and Pinterest and LinkedIn to have any hope of seeling books. The trouble is, everyone else is out there in the same social media trying to sell their books. It’s hard not to get lost in the crowd.
Anyone who wants to follow his or her beliefs and passions and work for meaningful change is likely to feel just like the writers who are trying to sell their books: what must I say or do to be heard? Fortunately, there are many organizations we can associate with that will help us be heard as part of a group. If you want to fight to save redwoods, for example, you can join the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the National Parks and Conservation Association and many other groups. Many of them want hands-on help as well as your donations and your help in letter-writing campaigns.
In 1967, I came within several breaths of going to Sweden to avoid being drafted and forced to participate in a war I did not support. I had the means and the opportunity. The reasons why I didn’t are both complex and unclear, but within the context of this blog, my leaving the U.S. (and being banned from coming home for many years) would not have changed U.S. policy in Vietnam. If I had been famous, perhaps living in Göteborg might have either changed a few people’s minds or convinced everyone who knew me that I was nuts.
It’s a hard call, I think, to figure out the difference between running away and leaving because you cannot accept what your country, town, company or organization is doing. I absolutely cannot accept the United States’ policy of using drones to kill people it doesn’t like in foreign countries. In my view, that is unconstitutional and in violation of international law. This practice hasn’t been discussed very much in the Presidential race because few people are upset enough about it to disturb the universe. And, like those of us who have considered sitting in trees or moving to Sweden, we’re more likely to scuttle our own universes rather than impacting the national debate.
I would like to disturb the universe when it comes to the use of drones in sovereign foreign countries, the spying on Americans done with little uproar based on so-called “security reasons,” the mistreatment of the environment, the intrusion by governments and religious groups into a woman’s personal rights, and a dozen or so other issues. But I never quite know how.
The Quiet Approach
Whenever my frustrations about issues get too strong, I use every relaxation technique I know to pull myself back into what I believe is an essential truth: as Joseph Campbell said “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”
Seriously, we’re not burying our heads in the sand when we admit that we cannot save the world. While some people will make very noticeable positive impacts, most of us will have to take a quieter approach. Perhaps we’ll donate some money to Planned Parenthood or we’ll add our name to a petition about oil pipelines through sacred Indian lands or we’ll spend the weekend with a volunteer group that’s clearing brush and deadfalls off a national forest or national park trail.
And who knows, there the ripples from such quiet actions influence. The universe we must dare to disturb, I think, is ourselves. Are we following our beliefs? Good, then doing so may impact a friend and then a neighborhood and after that, who knows who will step aside from their busy day-to-day life to help. We’ll probably never meet the people we influence, but that doesn’t matter. We won’t have a page in wikipedia that tells the world who we are and what we did. That doesn’t matter either.
The hardest thing is, perhaps, that first step. Are we following our beliefs? If not, we need to disturb ourselves greatly. Once that happens, the universe that matters will never be the same again.