I think a lot about words. About the sheer power they can carry at face value, but also the subtle undertones they can have, and how those can subconsciously steer a conversation. Manipulate it, even, when in the wrong hands. Regardless of intent, there’s much one can discover under the colorful surface of language, and one word in particular has been on my mind recently with the holidays, and it’s one I think bears much greater exploration on a personal level: faith.
There are two main branches of faith, in my opinion: an external faith—believing that something outside of our control is going to fix the problems of our family/ country/ community/ friends/ job/ partner/ planet/ economy/ environment/ behaviors/ life—and an internal faith—believing that our own decisions and choices, when guided with reflective thought, compassion, and empathy are what shapes our limitless potential here in our shared world.
I fear a total reliance on external faith leaves too much in the hands of others, and perpetuates an environment of inaction. The belief that a government/ team of scientists/ group of activists/ prescription drug/ messiah/ war/ consumer product/ deity … that “someone” or “something”… is going to fix everything, leaves me wondering how much longer everyone is comfortable waiting for that day to (maybe) come.
Far more powerful and tangible in my experience has been the cultivation of my internal faith. Learning to trust my gut. Asking myself how I think I can best be of service to others and help make this spectacular, wondrous home of ours better than when I found it, even if only a little bit.
It’s going to that mirror and knowing the answer might not always be yes, but bravely asking anyway: “Am I being the best me I can be?” I acknowledge that neither I nor any one of us alone could fix everything, but there are countless others out there that are selflessly working toward positive change, so why couldn’t I be one of them too? They may be outnumbered by those more concerned with self-serving financial or political gains, no matter how unscrupulously acquired at the expense of the wellbeing of others, but all the more reason to put my energy on the good side. Worse yet, I fear both groups are greatly outnumbered by the inundated—fellow human beings that are kept too busy working tirelessly week after week simply to survive and/or try to provide for their family—and the indifferent—those who’ve lost their faith, and perhaps rightfully so.
“Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” —British journalist Alex Hamilton
But where did I stand? And where did I want to stand? Bombarded with news of oil spills, nuclear reactor meltdowns, police murdering unarmed citizens, continued deaths and mass numbers of veteran suicides in the unconstitutional “war on terror” with no end in sight, to name a few crushing examples, it had been easy to become indifferent, I think. That’s not to say that I didn’t care about the outcome, I just didn’t feel that my voice could ever have any part in it. But this inaction—failing to seriously ask ourselves the question: “How can I help?” and not taking action on the answers we find—is what allows these atrocities and others like it to continue.
We’ve got an incredible democracy here in America, and save for the relatively small number of people with a disproportionately large amount of power who we continue to allow abuse the system, its ideals represent the most novel idea in human history: that each of us has an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But when I see capitalism, despite its many strengths, continue to get exploited, permitting elected and appointed politicians to collude with lobbyists, Wall Street opportunists, and captains of industry to create self-serving loopholes, subsidies, bailouts, and unreported backdoor deals that couldn’t be farther from the best interest of their constituents (other than perhaps in short-term, non-sustainable gains), I can no longer wait silently for “someone else” to start making some real disruptive noise about it, or any number of topics I feel increasingly unable to ignore.
Each day, I look for some new way I can improve myself and be of more service to others, especially those without a voice. The inundated. The indifferent. The exploited. I have faith that the small things I’ve begun to do—and that I’ll keep consistently showing up to do—will grow to help change the world for the better, even if only just a little.
I’m not special, no more than any other one of us, and I’m not writing this to say, “Hey! Look at how great I am!” I’m writing it because finding the strength to trust my instincts and push back against the norm feels uncomfortable. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Through yoga, meditation, and lots of amazing reads (Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell are especially applicable here), I’m just now starting to discover the incredible power of having faith in myself and my ability to derive strength even in the most challenging situations, because that’s exactly when I’m going to need it most.
To my fair-weather friend, external faith, I still got love for you. I just think there’s a whole lot of you and perhaps not enough belief in our own individual potentials. While I’m not a subscriber to any organized religion, I understand that there are many who discover their inner strength and capabilities through prayer, etc., and that’s fantastic. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” is a wonderful prayer indeed, empowering the individual and clearly recognizing that we can’t divorce ourselves from standing up for what we see as just and right and compassionate. And it’s external faith that got me to type this all out with my thumbs on my iPhone over the course of the past few days (yes, seriously) in the first place; if I didn’t believe that it would resonate with someone and make them think about—and maybe even act upon!—their own call to make this world a little better, I doubt I would’ve even bothered to scribble it down.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” —attributed to American anthropologist Margaret Mead
So what would you do if you could change the world? And what are you going to do now that you know you can? You needn’t wait to be picked by anyone; you can start doing something right now. And we really do need you to step up and do something right now more than ever.