If you’re paying attention, you will know that everything is terrible right now. War, and threats to human rights. Climate change, species loss, fracking, hunger, homelessness, inequality, injustice. I assume that you, dear reader, are much like me, and will be nodding along to that list, probably adding to it in your head, in a state of quiet despair. And then there’s Trump, and a victory for mean minded, bullying, prejudiced, planet killing, self serving greed.
What can we possibly do? In face of all that, anger is a natural response, leading us down the path into violence and more war, if we aren’t careful. Haters are fuelled by hating them. Despair is a natural response – these problems are so big, these people are so powerful. There are stories about exhausted people in treacherous conditions who start to think that the snow looks like a bed, and who lie down, and do not get up again. Hold that image.
Tyrants are only allowed to rule when, out of fear, or despair, or apathy, the rest of us sit back and let them. And yes, standing up to tyranny is dangerous, and can get you killed, but the more people find small ways to do it, the harder it is to suppress.
But we have to be careful in doing this, because ‘fighting’ can just have us turning on people whose misery and despair made it easy to manipulate them into making bad choices. The Brexiteres here who thought they were saving the NHS are a fine case in point. Good people can make terrible choices. Right now, we need all the good people we can get, and the people who are being frightened into supporting fascists need our help not our hate. Not everyone voting for the right is voting for the things these ‘leaders’ have done and will do. They’ve voted for empty promises, false hope, and out of a desperate need for change. Do, if you can, call specific people out on any specific acts of prejudice and hate you encounter – there’s a lot of it out there. I’m not writing this to play down real threats, real harassment, violence and bigotry. However, what’s empowering those people is the belief that they are the majority. They aren’t, and we have to make that clear.
We most certainly need change. We’ve got change, but it wasn’t the change we needed. We can take this is a call to start building what’s actually needed, instead. But how does one small person, with no voice, no power, no media machine make a difference?
Cultures are made out of people. Movements are made out of people. Start from the assumption that the people around you are good people – maybe misinformed and frightened, but still good at heart. You’ll figure out who the actual bigots and haters are, and you can withdraw energy from them as best you can. We need to tell each other better stories, and the story we most urgently need to tell each other right now is that the vast majority of us are better than this. The majority of Americans did not just vote for hate any more than the majority of Brits voted for racism when they voted out of the EU. We have to ignore the loudest, angriest voices on all sides, and start looking for the good intentions and the good hearts and the desire for something better.
It’s easy to blame people for ignorance, lazy thinking, being easily led. We have a shared responsibility here – and a media that seeks to misinform. If people aren’t taught critical thinking, if they aren’t taught history so they can learn from it, if they are taught to suspect experts and resent thinkers, they aren’t well placed to make good choices, and the whole democratic process is undermined. A nasty minority easily uses these tricks and vulnerabilities to manipulate people, and this has always been an issue for any kind of popular uprising. If it isn’t rooted in knowledge, in education, and compassion, things will be nasty. But, a popular uprising can have a Ghandi at the front, not a Hitler. Hold that thought too.
So, right now, no looking around at the snow we have to trudge through and thinking it would be better to lie down and have a sleep. Don’t do that. Don’t give up, don’t let the struggle for humanity’s future be lost in the small space that is you. This is a specific fight you can win, just by refusing to be defeated or overwhelmed.
Don’t blame easy targets, don’t pour your energy into getting cross with people who you think have made bad choices. That’s like blaming a domestic abuse victim for not having the means to get away from the person who keeps beating them. (It happens, due to failure to understand the mechanics, good people make bad choices.) People stay in abusive situations when their self esteem is crushed and they feel worthless and hopeless. Getting cross with those who are victims of this process, will keep them clinging to the real aggressors. We can do better than that, because most of us are better than that.