This is a true story, but names and some details have been changed to protect the innocent.
Mary’s a generous soul. Mary and her husband Bob had just moved into a new house, and that left their rented apartment vacant for the final month of their lease.
Steve, an activist and friend, needed a place to stay in the city and without hesitation Mary offered up their vacant apartment. As agreed, Steve only stayed a week.
After Steve left, Mary came back to the apartment to prep it for end-of-lease inspection. What she found horrified her.
The place was a wreck. Empty beer bottles, half-eaten pizzas in grease stained boxes, trash everywhere. Looked like the aftermath of a frat party gone nuclear.
Mary called Steve and asked WTF. Steve’s reply: “Oh yeah, sorry, there was a <fill in your favorite social justice cause> crisis and I had to grab a bus to Chicago to go protest.” Mary spent two days cleaning up the mess and wondering if this was the true price of generosity.
I’m guessing you may have a Mary and Steve story of your own. There’s an ethic in cause politics that can be summed up as “too busy saving the world to be kind, thoughtful, or polite.” It’s a lethal kind of self-serving bullshit, and it may be why progressives almost always lose.
The brilliant, world-changing and unfailingly kind Emily Jacobi recently shared with me a wonderful blog post by Charles Eisenstein that essentially argues that if Steve had cleaned up after himself and missed the protest, he might have made a larger contribution to the world he is working to create.
“The logic of bigness devalues the grandmother spending all day with her granddaughter, the gardener restoring just one small corner of earth to health, the activist working to free one orca from captivity. It devalues anything that seemingly could not have much of a macrocosmic effect on the world. It devalues the feminine, the intimate, the personal, and the quiet. It devalues the very same things that global capitalism, patriarchy and technology have devalued.”
Eisenstein counsels us to turn away from what he calls the “logic of bigness” and trust that small actions, especially driven by compassion, empathy and a selflessness, are the real world-changers, regardless of apparent scale:
“We are transitioning away from a narrative that holds us separate from each other and the world, towards a new and ancient story that Thich Nhat Hanh calls interbeing. In that worldview, self and universe mirror each other: whatever happens to any being is also happening in some corner of ourselves. Every action we take ripples out to affect the whole world and eventually comes back to affect us as well.”
Want social change? Mind the ripples.