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What's It Going to Take to Heal the Apathy in Our Society?

By       Message Tim Hjersted     Permalink
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With a growing awareness of mounting ecological, economic, political, and social problems, there exists many growing currents of response.

On one hand, more people are waking up. They're getting involved. They're saying, "Not another day! This is where I mark the line." They're hungry to get involved and they're getting involved. Their desire to change the world is turning from simple wishful thinking on Monday mornings into tangible action. The thoughts they used to have only occasionally about their relationship to the rest of the world now occurs to them all the time. They're beginning to see activism not as something that is done only at non-profit meetings and at protests, but that activism is a way of life - that it represents nothing less than our personal, spiritual choice to choose determination over defeat, and compassion over apathy. Ultimately, in some way, it is the choice to reject our culture's post-modern slide into narcissism. It is to reject the modern consumer philosophy that true happiness and joy comes from personal material accumulation, from seeking personal desires and needs. It is the realization that the joy that comes from connecting to our relationship with the planet blows the old way of seeking joy out of the water.

These people are realizing that humans are social animals; we crave connection and community; we crave a wide, encompassing identity that connects us with the whole humanity of the world - not just our friends and family, not just our city, our country, our species - but every living being on Earth - plant, animal, and human.

It is a new philosophy, perhaps a very, very ancient philosophy, one that sees everyone on this planet as one family - that everything is interconnected, that the whole humanity and life of all beings resides in each one of our hearts, and that we reside in theirs. There is no "I" and "them." Truly, honestly.

The happiness of another is my happiness. The suffering of another is my suffering.

There is no separation. For millions and millions of people growing around the planet, the problems of the world are their problems; the happiness others find as we collectively realize a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world is their happiness. It is the most profound and meaningful happiness one could possibly experience.

You can't buy that kind of happiness at a store. You can't get it from beating the last level of a video game. It doesn't come out of the end of a pipe or at the bottom of a bottle. It doesn't come from watching sports. It doesn't come from how you dress or what kind of car you drive. It doesn't come from getting a college degree or from getting a fatter paycheck.

It comes directly from the final and profound realization that there truly is no "self" and there is no "other." We are inter-connected with everything. We are all of it.

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To paraphrase Shunryu Suzuki:

If the world did not exist, I could not exist.
If I do not exist, then nothing exists.

Scientifically, this is true, but our culture makes it hard to see. But it is what Martin Luther King saw; it is what Gandhi saw. It is what every person that works to change the world in some way experiences - not in words, but in conviction. It is what animates the life of every person that has committed to not giving up until the last person has the same opportunity for happiness that everyone else has.

It is this realization, how ever it might be described (it has been described in hundreds of ways) that gave every inspirational person in our history the personal, spiritual power to face the most impossible odds and to succeed.

To quote from a documentary that I watched recently , it is what "Martin Luther King called "Love in Action', and Gandhi called "Soul Force'; what Velcrow Ripper is calling "Fierce Light.'"

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It is what has made me want to dedicate my life to improving the world. It is why I do not feel like I have a choice anymore in the matter. It doesn't matter if it's impossible. It doesn't matter if everyone around me says it's hopeless. I've got to do it because my inner-most nature wants me to do it.

I'm not sure when it happened. I'm not sure how it happened, but at some point, reading more news about how the world is falling apart, watching more documentaries about how urgent and dire our situation has become doesn't shut me down. I've watched over 150 documentaries at this point, absorbed an ungodly amount of "depressing" information, and I have not become jaded. I've been burnt out before, several times in fact. And over time I have come to see that if we don't know how to absorb this information we will undoubtedly be crushed by it. I've seen this happen to many of my friends. They just shut down, not because they don't care, but because there is too much to care about, and we just don't know how to deal with it.

In an age where we receive more information from one edition of the New York Times than a man in the Renaissance might receive in his entire life, it is simply too easy to become overwhelmed by the barrage of stimulus, the barrage of causes and problems that beg us to care about them and to help out.

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Tim Hjersted is the director of Films For Action, a non-profit group that uses the power of film to raise awareness of important social, environmental, and media related issues not covered by the mainstream news. Through our website, public film (more...)

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