by joe courter
As we humans live our lives, we all determine, consciously or not, some values and principles to live by. Within that is the balance we pick for doing things that benefit our selves and doing things that benefit others.
In reading about and watching “Selma,” it got me thinking about the level of self-sacrifice shown during the Civil Rights Movement. Not just the risks and pressures put on the leadership, but the dedication of so many who marched, whether in their own town, or to pick up and travel to another place, such as the students who went south and joined SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), or the people from all over the country who went to Selma for that second march after the first had been so brutally repressed.
Choosing to live a conscious, intentional life in the service of a greater goal involves sacrifices but also provides a sense of purpose and satisfaction that can provide riches far different than money and material pursuits. It is a deep sense of being part of a history of struggle for a better world, and a recognition that, while we stand on the shoulders of those who went before, we too may be continuing such work, which may not be evident now, any more than those who sat in at lunch counters in Greensboro and elsewhere in the ’50s knew the historic impact of what they were doing.
Adhering to high principles is often impractical. As individuals we have to find that balance. Within us all, genetically we are programmed for empathy, otherwise we would not have succeeded as a species. But now our cleverness as humans has set in motion some rather destructive collective behaviors that are having negative effects on our environment and the quality of life of so many people. Their lives are impacted by a global economic and trade system, and the production and use of weaponry which has proliferated into horrible devastating conflicts around the world.
On principle, we as a species should see that things need to change. But to do that is impractical, because the very systems which have set all this into motion have a huge momentum. It will not turn around easily. We live in a country addicted to high energy use, on a quest to continue this addiction, jones-ing for other countries’ oil. Our capitalist system has a layer of extreme wealth at the top (Koch Bros. and others) who are calling the tune on our media and our governmental operations. Its reach is global. Even change through the ballot box has been compromised. There is a feeling that this a runaway train that we are on. What can one do?
You do what you can. And, at this point, local actions — building community and connections — is the best way to put your principles into action. One of the great things about our community is the amount of people doing just that. Grassroots efforts not done with profit but people in mind — the HomeVan, Gainesville Compost, Girls Rock Camp, the South Main block that includes Citizens Co-op (now settled with its fired workers, see page 17), the CMC, Sequential Artists Workshop and Wild Iris Books, our locally owned bars and restaurants who give back so much to the community, all the artists and musicians whose dedication enrich us all, the people who prioritize preservation and use of our natural resources like Alachua Conservation Trust. Even if not directly involved in these efforts, supporting them with attendance at their events, their shows, and maybe bringing a friend along.
If you’ve got kids, hook up with other parents, and if you love kids but don’t have your own, give others a hand.
Kurt Vonnegut, in a speech at UF years ago, talked about the insanity of the idea of the nuclear family, that kids need a variety of adults in their lives. As he put it: “Get yourself a gang.” Same is true for us all. The struggle for positive social change does not rise from individuals; it come from organizations and activities, humans coming together in common cause. Going out in the evening to events, going to meetings, may not always seem practical, but it is those things that can give joy, meaning and purpose to our lives.