How to change the world

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

So I said, call me Trim Tab.
— Buckminster Fuller

A very thoughtful person I once met could convincingly and rationally argue that everything we do, think, and decide is predetermined by either nature or nurture, that free-will is at best an illusion, at worst a lie.

For myself, I’ve always been basically a free-willer with at least predetermined sympathies if not tendencies. I do think we live most of our lives in a sort of automatic pilot mode. Many of us have given most things what we feel is enough thought that we accept (or oppose) whatever prevailing presuppositions are commonly accepted. Or we trust others who, we believe, have given certain things enough thought so we don’t have to think much more about them.

When we do that our actions certainly take on a predetermined patina. Let’s face it, giving everything constant thought and analysis would be exhausting and likely leave many of us frozen in indecision. Not all our actions would necessarily be clear cut choices if we gave our decisions more than a minutes thought.

That’s why I think my interlocutor’s predetermined assessment can be so convincing. We don’t really exercise free-will moment to moment, minute to minute. We do surrender, quite often, to nature or nurture.

Where I think free-will comes into play, when it comes into play, is moments of awareness. Those times when we are confronted with moments of potential change. Sometimes the moments are small, such as, our favorite take-out restaurant is now closed. Do we order from somewhere else or do we cook our own meal? Sometimes those moments are life changing. Do I continue to live as I am living, believe what I believe, treat someone the way I am treating them? Or do I change, however painful or difficult the change may be?

It is for those life changing moments where many people are in constant discussion these days, myself among them. And right now the focus is culture, particularly in the form of art, religion, or politics. I am not a political blogger, so I’ll leave that part to others more inclined.

But I am an arts and faith blogger. And that is the primary area of focus I want to see a societal change. So how do I affect that change? I am less convinced I can affect Change, but I do feel I can affect changes, either in myself or others I encounter. The solution I have often espoused here is relationship. I hate using that word so often. After a certain point it starts to become numbing to hear that, even when trying to articulate what that looks like.

I think a very important part of that is trying to view art and even faith as something other than a “product”, trying to avoid the consumer mentality the current global economy seems to insist is all important. There are movements and commentary often all over the web and in organizations that try to raise awareness of this issue, but they are usually more commerce oriented. We seem to overlook the the more personal and relational influence of this issue.

I do think one of the issues the arts face is this economic institutional consumer approach to art, that the end product is all that matters. I do believe that each work ultimately needs to be able to stand on its own merits in order to stand the test of time. This should in no way remove the necessity of the artist and community interaction in the here and now. Art is more important than being a consumer of art.

Modernity has convinced us that the artist is an individual, meaning that they can create in isolation and only at the behest of an individual (usually financial) supporter. So not only is the artist isolated from the community, but their process is also hidden and isolated. The community is not invited nor expected to be aware of what happens to get to the point of the great works of art from history that we still enjoy today. The community is not invested in anything but the “consumer reports” review of the resulting work.

Just as important as acting communally we have to be willing to engage with the artists on an individual, personal level. Sometimes it takes society at large time to catch up. Start with yourself. Others will follow. What is a community if not individuals acting collaboratively? Amazingly, a favorite questions to ask about a piece of work is still “What does it mean?” You know the best way to know the answer? Know the artist!

The artist has to also be willing to participate. A favorite perspective I heard about the Good Samaritan was not just how to be the Samaritan, but to be the person accepting help from the Samaritan. The injured was of a community that was in conflict with the Samaritans. Not only did the Samaritan have to put that aside to help, the injured had to put that aside to accept aid. And I do believe artists are quite injured at our present time, we need a change in thinking as much as the community and society at large needs a change in thinking.

In terms of faith, I think Christianity, particularly evangelism, has suffered the same consumer philosophy. Salvation is a product we can purchase by saying the right prayer, something that happens in a single moment at the checkout counter with the cashier. Christians become a sales team and we are judged by how many “sales” we have converted. “Truth” is a sales technique to draw the prospect into a corner and force surrender to the sale or to out argue the sales teams from the competition.

The only solution to both predicaments is to build deliberate relationships with each other, to practice hospitality, to rejoice when they rejoice and weep when they weep. Genuinely get into each others’ lives. We have to stop being or seeing the “other”. What is at the core of just about any of the violence occurring today if not treating people as the “other”, seeing them as rejected consumer products that need to be extinguished from the market place? We are not willing to accept each others’ failings or even our own. We have to be the perfect product or God won’t accept us. We are judged by what we contribute to the market place of people. We have eliminated or allowed to be eliminated the intrinsic importance of just being for each other.

One of the most important ideas, even for God, is the idea of Sabbath, of rest. This is something practiced in agriculture, letting a field have a year rest. We cannot always be or be expected to be productive. We cannot expect that of others or ourselves.

Change the world? Change locally. It doesn’t have to be top down. It can be bottom up. Jesus started by investing in twelve lives. He did other big, more spectacular events. But the most profound, world affecting changes came from just those twelve lives. Just call me Trim Tab.

Thanks for reading,
Joe

 
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