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Change the World?

(written shortly after September 11th, 2001)      |     » La Versione Italiana

There is, of course, no end to the magnificence and horror in the human drama. Across the continents, humanity rises to every challenge, sinks to any depth. We cherish each heartbeat and murder at will. We bless nature’s miracles, yet trash the hood.

We accept this polarity as human nature and we move on in our ‘glassy essence’. All the while our righteousness lords over other life; yet we beseech gods for mercy. Our angers flare to violence and we demand justice. We covet ceaselessly, give generously. Our wallowing is legion, yet we take art and science to Olympian heights.  

So how do we best come to terms with this ‘marble and mud’ of our existence, most immediately in the glare of last Tuesday’s horrific assault on civilization? One answer is to pay finer attention to two questions: “How deeply do I care about our common future? How do I actually make a positive difference?”

Ben Okri, of Nigeria, of Africa, of Earth, observes: “There was not one among us who looked forward to being born. We disliked the rigours of existence, the unfulfilled longings, the enshrined injustices of the world, the labyrinths of love, the ignorance of parents, the fact of dying, and the amazing indifference of the living amidst the simple beauties of the universe. We feared the heartlessness of human beings, all of whom are born blind, few of whom ever learn to see.”

We each need to shout humbly and confidently to Mr. Okri: “Yes! I hear you. I feel that indifference and fear it. I must care as deeply as my time permits, my breath testament to my opportunity. My life must count!”

Of course, it already counts: we change the world everyday. Just by engaging in life, we make a difference. As a gregarious species that enjoys getting along well, most of those differences are positive, driven by our intelligence, our natural empathy for others, our desire to laugh, and the myriad satisfactions of helping make things better.

Even when, or especially when, crisis intervenes in our life, we can create moments of grace, moments that reveal a wide range of selfless participation with each other, including not least acts of incredible courage and sacrifice.

Though we can’t change human nature, we can change human nurture. Most easily, we can pay closer attention to our moral compass, to our interactions each day – and rarely do we need someone else to tell us how.

It comes down to reconsidering the ethical stands we take with each other and with all life. We might not have the moral vision of Vaclav Havel or the moral courage of Nelson Mandela, but we can foster ethical awareness and leadership in ourselves.

Without presumption or attitude, but merely to ameliorate, we each must be a moral guardian of this homearth. Unless we learn to respect and care for each other as neighbors, unless we come to terms with the increasing vulnerability of life on Earth, true progress will remain an illusion, mired in the quicksand of greed, violence and selfish intent.

Are we watching our lives in a movie, sitting too close to the screen? Do we see only red and yellow pixels, flashed by mongers of news or commerce? Are we becoming too numb to absorb a larger reality?

So many people live in relentless poverty. So many are unwilling refugees. So many suffer needlessly, die as children. Each one is our neighbor, born free, deserving human rights. They must be invisible no longer. Every danger, every loss, every injustice in their lives affects us all.

Think of those known and unknown who sacrificed for you. Think of those who inspire you. Use the powerful images that work for you. One of mine is the tuxedoed cellist, Vedran Smailovic, in Sarajevo in 1992. He braved sniper fire in the marketplace each day for 22 days to play Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor to honor the 22 people who were killed there by mortar fire while they were queuing for bread.

Positive change is simply the currency and responsibility of individuals, of you and me. This is our saving grace. We just need to be even more attentive and curious, even more on the lookout for that one, tiny, quick, wonderfully private, unnoticed moment when you alone create a smile, lend a hand, unfurl a brow, still a cry, or calm a nerve in someone else.

That’s power! In fact that’s humanity’s most powerful force for positive change – and you can do it with a wink, as quick as the beat of a butterfly’s wing. Who knows what transpires from those moments; but it does indeed change the world.

It also changes us, for it is an inward flow, not just outward. The more positive energy you give, the more you get; it’s the same need, the same compliment, as breathing in and breathing out.

So breathe this earth! Soar its surface! Know its people! Engage this planet, your fragile home, and all its sentient beings in the essential connection of good intent.

  ~  Tony Balis, September 24, 2001

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