“Think Small” is my new motto. It helps me handle the complicated too-muchness of it all.”
-Maira Kalman (from And The Pursuit of Happiness)
Over the course of the fall, 2012, I attended a number of conferences relevant to my work. In September, the Nobel Conference, focused on “Our Global Oceans” which addressed the health of our oceans from many different scientific disciplines. In October, a conference examining the theme of economic democracy, with lectures addressing our economic history, our currently changing economies, the challenges we are likely to face in the future, and methods and models that might serve towards more democratic and stable regional, national, and global economies. In November, I attended the Sustainable Living conference, held in Grand Rapids, MI, which pretty much speaks for itself. Finally, I attended the “Great Unleashing” of my own little town of Viroqua as part of the growing transition town movement.
The Economic Democracy Conference and the Sustainability Conference both endeavored to knit theoretical concepts together with concrete action - community-building and active endeavors- while illuminating the historical and scientific underpinnings of the challenges that our communities, our nations and our world will be facing in the decades ahead. These are BIG challenges, big enough to make me feel very small and sometimes frightened. Sometimes big enough to make me want to bury my head and pretend that I don’t know, because there is not much that small, little I can do to affect change on such a massive scale.
When I registered for the conferences, my intention was that I would take notes and report back through this blog on what I had learned -that I would relay the details of information as inspiration towards action. But to my surprise, no matter the topic, my take away was repeatedly the same. This was a lot of information to absorb, presented by scientists and thinkers far more experienced than I. Time and again I walked away inspired, trying to figure out how to digest and report all that I had taken in. But at the end of the day the titanic issues repeatedly returned to me and my own small life of daily pursuit. What could I do that might make a difference? Could I save the oceans? Could I reduce our dependence on fossil fuels? Could I fight the corporatocacy the undermines the physical, mental, environmental and fiscal health of our country? The answer, of course is no. And yes.
I often feel sad and inadequate that many-a-day I do not live up to even my own standards of exemplary behavior for making a difference. But I have come to believe that holding consciousness for what could be and building community around those intentions, plant the seeds for radical change. Being willing to start small – first and foremost, in our own hearts- nourishes those seeds, and by starting small, we are less likely to be overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges.
The problems of this world are manifold, complex, and often frightening. I am not naïve to this. But being an optimist, I am content to believe that even the tiniest actions can make a large difference when multiplied exponentially. Furthermore, collective action builds community and community builds resiliency. If collectively we can agree to use fewer fossil fuels, if collectively we can begin to share resources, if collectively we can support our local businesses, support sustainable agricultural practices, try to keep a connection to the products we consume and where they come from -we are building community. And when we work collectively towards a shared future, the sacrifices do not feel quite as impossible.
I remember as a child, hearing the stories of my grandmothers during World War II. Their husbands were off at war and the women were left to keep the country running. They had Victory gardens, their food, and fuel, and rubber tires were rationed. But there was community in the shared anxiety and sacrifice of the nation, and when those burdens were shared, they were diminished. In fact, sometimes when burdens are shared the feel weighty and more like challenges, that while daunting, are exciting to meet together.
Masses of people working collectively can create sweeping changes in a short period of time. We cannot rely on our government to fix these problems, though if our officials feel the pressure of collective shifts they will be more inclined to act. The answer to our future lies within each one of us as individuals -our capacity to engage in our communities, share our knowledge, share our resources, commit to conversation, and build a trustworthy community network, designed for resilience. Localize for resilience. There is community to be discovered everywhere –from the tiniest village to the largest cities. Working on small can go a long way towards a healthier future.
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
Dalai Lama XIV
In closing, I would like to re-post the link to a TED talk “Community as Common Destiny”, given by Renette Senum of Nevada City, CA (profiled on the RST website). Senum has spearheaded an impressive list of community action projects in her lifetime –a list that has sizably expanded even since the time of this talk. But the inspiration she brings for the strength and resiliency brought through community action is timeless. Community as Common Destiny