Every season, people root for their candidates like sports teams, trumpeting how everything about their position is “right” and everything about their opponent’s position is “wrong.” After the election, they’ll settle back either vindicated or defeated by the vote.
It’s all an illusion. It’s an illusion to think that everything about your team is right and the other team is wrong. It’s an illusion to think that establishing any side as right or wrong represents solving real problems, and it’s an illusion to think that after an election is all settled, it’s fine to return to complacency.
It’s an illusion to think that establishing any side as right or wrong represents solving real problems. Tweet This Quote
The truth is that nothing that’s ever achieved in practice is completely right or wrong. There’s always something that could have been more effective in a path taken, and there are always effective aspects of the paths not taken.
As a society, we repeatedly polarize our assessments of effective and less effective into “right” and “wrong” and concentrate our energies on argument instead of action.
Massive resources go into attack ads and posturing. Tremendous energy goes into vitriolic news programs, comment threads, and 24/7 character assassinations. I think many of us sense the enormous waste in this system, but what better options do we have?
Of course, right and wrong does not go away entirely—it simply turns inward instead of outward. We will still make assessments about what values we align to.
We polarize assessments of effective and less effective into “right” and “wrong” and argument instead of action. Tweet This Quote
But instead of sharpening them into weapons of debate, we’ll share them with those open to discourse and approach such discussions tuned to common ground and mutual expansion of perspective. This process constitutes the “conscious” part of conscious action.
Then comes the fun part—action. By action I mean exploring the problem you are going to solve. Don’t simply talk about the problem, or rally a group to hold up signs about the problem. Get real about the nature of the problem, your role in it and how the problem gets solved from your unique place in life. Here are some examples of entrepreneurs who successfully turned discontent into action:
My Plastic-Free Life
In 2007, a photograph showing the belly of a seabird filled with plastic trash shocked Beth Terry and inspired her to try to live a plastic-free life. She made small changes month by month and gained an intimate understanding of how plastic has pervaded every facet of our lives.
Then, she figured out practical ways to achieve her goal of a near plastic free life. She started a blog that’s become a hub for this knowledge and wrote a book to help others who want to try this path.
By opening our values to discourse, we promote a mutual expansion of perspective. Tweet This Quote
The Good Food Revolution
Will Allen wanted to find a way to bring fresh food to the inner city. He started by setting up a small farmer’s market stand in a rundown area of Detroit, and each year found more and better ways of serving his community.
He’s now created a three-acre greenhouse facility that composts wastes from around the city, employs dozens, and produces 1,000,000 pounds of food annually. He also authored a book about his experience. Watch this brief video to learn more.
Through conscious action and openness to learning, we make tremendous progress. Tweet This Quote
These are two examples of regular folks passionate about solving a problem, who, through a process of conscious action and openness to learning and trying, were able to make tremendous progress and set an example of what is attainable.
They didn’t stage protests or go on talk shows to prove others wrong. They didn’t need an army or billionaire backers. What they had instead was a preference of action over argument, and a dedication to solving a problem that mattered to them.
There are tremendous advantages to this approach. First off, you quickly become deeply informed about the issue. You are no longer just blustering the ideological aspects of an issue, but becoming familiar with the nuances that practically make it tick.
What we need is a preference of action over argument, and a dedication to solving a problem that matters. Tweet This Quote
Second, you demonstrate through your work what a changed world looks like and get to live in that world ahead of everyone else. And finally, action shakes off the feeling of powerlessness and futility that so pervades our attitude toward the big issues.
What we must recognize is that while democracy is among the better systems of government we’ve come up with—democratic decisions are lagging indicators of public opinion. By the time the majority is ready to support something, by definition it’s reached the point of becoming obvious to most people.
Meanwhile, most of the world’s change-makers are looking at new ways of being and working together, where by definition the majority has not yet reached this understanding.
If you hope to change the world, then the belief that everyone must agree with you (by winning all the right/wrong arguments) before you can live your change is frustrating and daunting and most importantly, untrue.
If you want to change the world, know that the belief that everyone must agree with you is untrue. Tweet This Quote
Live the change, work with others that can see your perspective, and be open to learning from other perspectives. Be patient in the face of detractors. Don’t worry about arguing right and wrong, only concern yourself with which actions you’re taking and how effective they are in living the change.
We’re at an important point in our journey toward global sustainability, and none of us has the complete answers (another reason not to waste time on right and wrong). The only way we’ll get to answers is by trying to live into the future we believe in with our eyes, heart, and mind fully.
A version of this post originally published on UNREASONABLE.is in June 2013. It has been updated and reposted to inspire further conversation.