Amid All the Recent Tragedy In the World, This Is the Little Thing That Got Under My Skin


I am sometimes told that my optimism is powerful because I am also no stranger to despair. My deep conviction that a more beautiful world is possible stands alongside a lot of grief and pain for what is happening on this planet, and sometimes that pain wears the story of "It's all terribly wrong and hopeless, the world is spiraling down, every precious thing is being eroded..."

Lately there have certainly been a lot of events on the world stage that contribute to that story. Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq... the mass slaughter of elephants, the tar sands... but sometimes it is a small thing, seemingly a trivial thing, that stabs right through me. 

The other day I was walking with four or five children in the condominium development where my in-laws reside. My son, my niece, a couple of friends. The development has an expansive lawn with small trees lining a long driveway. One of the girls grabbed a low branch and swung her legs above her head, hanging upside-down. A car driving toward us honked the horn and the lady inside angrily motioned for her to get down. She pulled up, rolled down her window, and said, "I am on the management board here, and we don't allow that kind of behavior," or something like that. 

I don't know why that petty incident should hurt more than the carnage around the world, but somehow it got under my skin. Maybe because it is not unrelated to the carnage. The mentality of control, the subduing of the wild, the emphasis on "security" at the expense of life, play, and freedom, the conquest of childhood, the "civilizing" of the Other... all of these threads wrap together into the big ball of earth's dominant culture. 

Maybe it is because the mentality that is disturbed by a child swinging from a tree branch is so far removed from the kind of world I want to live in that I felt that intense pang of hopelessness. What kind of miracle will it take for the kind of people exemplified by this woman (and there are many) to change? Probably it would take a severe shaking of the foundations of their world. I do not wish that on anyone, but I do not believe that the social transformation that we seek writes off some people and leaves them behind. That kind of elitism is a recipe for disaster. Everyone has a gift to offer this collective emergence. But for many people, I think it will take an enormous dislocation to access it.

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