Monday was a rough day. Last weekend, I finished re-reading The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry. You may have heard of—and read—The Giver (it has sold more than 10 million copies, after all), but most people don’t realize that there’s more. More delicious, easy reading.
Well, easy in a sense. Not so easy when you think about all the messages being sent through the dystopian and utopian communities Lowry describes. That we were created to live in community—in harmony with the natural world. How much we miss out on when we try to make things perfect. How easily we are manipulated by evil…
The previous Saturday, I stayed home from a family event, because I was tired and needed some downtime. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but then I watched the cinematic version of The Giver, and I started to ponder how different my life really is from that (seemingly utopian, but actually dystopian) community.
I started thinking about all the worst things. For example, that despite good intentions, I spend most of my time in front of my laptop (exacerbated by the fact that I’m working remotely this year). That I worked hard and traveled often during my daughter’s elementary school years. That I don’t dance enough.
It was interesting to realize that while I’m working hard on all good things (promoting the liberal arts, participating in a local municipalization project, and managing a community walking campaign and furthering my education), I am not satisfied. That’s a lot of doing, not to feel good.
At the same time, I was also wrapping up my first-ever reading of Small Is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher. I highlighted passages about unlimited economic growth (it’s not sustainable), the market as “the institutionalization of individualism and non-responsibility,” and how “modern technology has deprived [people] of the kind of work [they] enjoy most, creative useful work with hands and brains.” But the last few sentences made me stop in my tracks:
Everywhere people ask: “What can I actually do? The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: we can, each of us, work to put our inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind.”
Okay, what do I do with this? How do I balance the need for systemic change with putting my “inner house in order”? Well, the Universe was not done with me yet.
While driving to and from Great Falls Park on Sunday afternoon (to meet my college roommate for a long walk by the Potomac River), I listened to an Upstream Podcast interview with Maria Scordialos. It was all wonderful, but it’s the last bit I must share with you (in response to how to go about systemic change):
Witness what life is asking you to contribute to life. Not to yourself or to your family, but to life. … Who am I? What is my journey on earth at this time? And what is calling me to contribute? And how can I do that with as much beauty as I can? We then become artists—and those are very important things in my life right now: art, nature, and dialogue. But you have to have the dialogue to understand the calling. … What is it that’s calling us in life to contribute so that more life can come? That to me is the way one can systemically transform. If you can’t hear life speaking to you and you cannot hear that calling, then you have to do everything possible to quiet things, so you can have that dialogue. Because without that, we are lost humans. We’re not connected to ourselves. We’re not connected to what we can offer. And we’re not connected to a life that can be left to the future generations.
I’ve been spending all the time doing, but not being—not listening. I don’t have to listen very long to life to know that I am doing too much. This prevents me from having the kind of relationships I want to have—the most important thing in life. And I long to produce something beautiful (other than a website)—something tangible that can either be consumed during a family meal or passed down through the generations.
I think we’ll move the needle faster on systemic change if we stop doing so much—stop pushing and striving and fighting. We need to get back to the basics of contributing to a resilient community—greeting people when you pass them, sharing meals with friends, helping others, asking for help. (Inspired by a piece by my friend Liz Rog called “Weaving Community.”) And we need to get our “inner house in order.”
Today is Thursday. I feel better. I know I can move toward a balance between using my skills with digital communication and project management to support good causes, while also finding time to do creative, useful work with my hands and brain, nurture loving relationships, and explore the inside of me.
Thanks for sharing life’s ups and downs with me. I appreciate you.