Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
There is no return from 2020. The chaos that has erupted this year has been impossible to avoid, and I expect that the trends of this year will change what life in this country looks like moving forward. From the COVID-19 pandemic, to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, to the increasingly chaotic climate of Washington politics, to the various natural disasters that have constantly disrupted business as usual — these issues have demanded our attention this year like never before.
“Not being political” doesn’t really seem to be much of a legitimate option any more. And when I say “being political,” I don’t mean adopting a die-hard partisan allegiance or shoving political issues down people’s throats at any given chance — I mean being a socially-conscious citizen. There are just certain issues in society that we cannot afford to ignore, and the unpleasantness of 2020 has made that very clear. Now, the way in which we choose to address these problems will greatly determine whether our nation further descends into divisive chaos or flips the trend and gets on track for a more sustainable, functional future.
I think the primary question at hand then is, “How do we create real, lasting, effective change?” We don’t have a problem producing a long list of grievances we have with the current state of society, but when it comes to actual solutions we are much quieter. And the people who are loud are often wrong.
Some of the louder people would tell you that the issues I listed in the first paragraph merely reflect manufactured propaganda, and that you should feel nothing but pride about being lucky enough to live in the greatest country on God’s green earth. I hope that you can tell that this is a lie. Just because an issue may not directly disrupt your life doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. While there is plenty to be proud of about our country’s many successes, we must also own this country’s many failures as well.
Other loud people take the exact opposite view, and insist that our institutions are beyond reform and that abolishing “fill-in-the-blank” is the only real solution. I’ll admit — this view is usually espoused by people my age who don’t really know what they’re talking about, and I can sympathize with the urgency. However, history has shown us that our nation’s institutions are very much capable of bringing about powerful reforms to society. Therefore, we should not be looking at how to overthrow these institutions, but at how to make them function better. The overall problem with this approach, which is the key point I want to make here, is that it does nothing to heal our nation’s divisiveness, and I think that is the key to long term success.
So I would instead propose a third approach: real change comes from changing hearts. That is why revolution is no solution — it merely steamrolls opposition and only sews more anger. Any long term solution that we can hope for must be foundationally based on mutual respect. Laws can only do so much to heal our nation, and oftentimes they invoke even greater resentment for many. Laws can change history, but they can’t change hearts. That comes from relationships. I think one of the most basic yet fundamentally radical things you can do to change the world is to live your life in a way that spreads love and empathy into the hearts of other people. Just think about that. Imagine how much that would shake things up. Admittedly, this attitude requires great humility and patience, but if we want the type of society we say we want, that’s how it has to be. It may seem too simple of a solution to you, but I truly believe it makes all the difference. If our elected leaders brought that spirit to Washington, we would get actual legislation and compromises instead of filibusters and finger-pointing. If we all embodied that spirit, there would be no need for protests. It would turn hearts of hate into hearts of grace.
Now some of you may think that my approach is ridiculous. In fact, you may say I’m a dreamer. But, (I hope) I’m not the only one.