Saturday, June 20, 2009

How to be the change?

There was something that Shannon Hayes said at her Radical Homemaking reading the other day that's been sticking in my mind. Keeping me up nights. Really.

Someone asked how to build community when you are surrounded by people who don't share your values. Many of us who practice some sort of "alternative" lifestyle, whether it be simple living, veganism, attachment parenting, or whatever, can relate to the feeling of being isolated and alone among a sea of people.

Hayes answered that you don't have to have a lot in common with someone to have a relationship - a friendship, even - with them. We often have ideas of how other people are based on a small amount of information - the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the way they wear their hair, how they carry their baby. Once we get past that, though, and we meet the individual instead of the idea, we often find that we have more in common than we think. From there we can build a relationship. You just kind of do your thing, you come to a place of mutual respect, and it all works out.

So the person who asked the question mentioned the now-cliche Gandhi-ism: Be the change you want to see. And Hayes' answer is what is sticking with me: Be the change, and be loving.

I couldn't quite figure out why this has been in my mind so much. After all, I've heard the "Be the change" line hundreds, maybe thousands of times by now. But I think what's sticking with me is the "and be loving" part. Because for me, being loving IS the change.

Many people have the idea that being the change should go something like this: you do whatever it is that you do, be it recycling, biking to work, eating local, co-sleeping, or whatever. If you do it well enough, and tell enough people how great it is, then eventually they'll do it too.

However, I don't quite see it that way. Everyone has a different way of getting where they're going, but we're all aiming for the same thing - to have happy, healthy families. Everyone has different ideas, different resources, different priorities, and different information. That's okay. It's good, even. Diversity is good - not just in workplaces and schools, but in movements and ideas.

So being the change doesn't mean, at least for me, being an exemplary representative of a certain set of behaviors. It doesn't mean that I think that if everyone does it my way, the world will be saved and peace will reign supreme. Truth be told, it really doesn't have much to do with behavior at all. It's an attitude. I am not always able to live in integrity, but when I do or don't do something out of laziness, or greed, or ignorance, I try to forgive myself and resolve to do better next time. I try to love, forgive, and understand myself (warts and all!), and I try to do the same for others. I try to understand where they are coming from, why they hold a certain perspective, and to remember that we're all in this together. There are no good guys and bad guys. We're all just doing the best we can. This is the change I want to see in the world - acceptance.

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