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Happy New Year? How So?

Updated: May 5, 2019



So, it’s been awhile. I - like many people - have been consumed lately with very pressing, daily matters. Insert irony here.


But I’ve also been taking a bit of an intellectual break as I got ready for the holiday season, enjoying my now college age kids coming home and just working on a general mental and physical health reset.


The holidays leading into the new year are - if nothing else - a great time for everyone to take a bit of a break. 


Without a ‘pause’, a chance to just empty our minds from the busyness of everyday, then how can we really ever find the time to ‘think’ about the big picture?


For the holidays, my daughter gave me the autobiography of Michelle Obama. I have not dived into a book so intensely as I did this one in a long time. It was excellent. Well worth all the hype.


Mrs. Obama has done herself very proud with Becoming. It is a reflection and a call to action. She also doesn’t pull any punches in calling out the negative - no, very destructive - behaviour we have been seeing in the States. But in the end, she also calls for optimism, hope and for people to act. She doesn’t say it explicitly, but really she is saying it is time to pick sides.


A recent article by David Moscrop (a Canadian political scientist and writer) in Macleans Magazine also proposes this is a critical time: ‘Without deep ethical and moral progress, it looks increasingly likely that little of what we have managed to develop is likely to outlast the next few generations.’


So this is the challenge. How do we find the time in our busy, busy lives to actually ‘think’ about what ethical and moral progress really looks like?


And I’m not just talking about people generally considered to be ‘intellectuals’ in our communities. We need EVERYONE to become more aware of what’s happening in our world; at a local, regional and global level. We also need everyone to make a choice.

Sociologist, civil rights activist and Harvard professor, Marshall Ganz talks about this moment of ‘choice’ in his article: Public Narrative, Collective Action and Power.


"As human beings, we make choices in the present, based on remembering the past and imagining the future. This is what it means to be an agent.


When we act out of habit, however, we do not choose; we just follow the routine. It is only when the routines break down, when the guidelines are unclear, when no one can tell us what to do, that we make real choices and become the creators of our own lives, communities, and futures.


Then we become the agents of our own fate.

These moments can be as frightening as they are exhilarating."


Ganz is telling us we NEED to find ways to break out of our routine ‘habits’ to really think about the choices we make everyday. And make no mistake, choosing to do nothing is a choice.


This means finding ways - for ALL people - to have a chance to imagine the world not just as it is, but as we think it should be.


This is not easy when many people are struggling just to stay alive, to find food, shelter… the basics. What it means is that those of us who are privileged enough to have ‘the basics,’ and more - also have a RESPONSIBILITY to do more. But to ‘do more,’ we also need to ‘think’ more.


This means while it may seem to be a ‘luxury’ to pause, reflect and really think about the world, where we want it to go and how each of us can contribute to creating a better world - for EVERYONE - we NEED to find the time. 


As I reflect on the ‘holiday’ season that some of us are privileged to enjoy, I also know and remember now, that many are NOT able to do so. It can be very frustrating, challenging and feel completely overwhelming to try to find hope these days, but we must find it. We need it if we’re ever to figure out a way forward that is about real ‘progress’ for all of us.  


It is completely hard - but we need to find ways to recommit ourselves everyday to doing our bit; to making a difference in whatever way we can - both in short-term and long-term actions.


So, as the holiday season comes to an end - I find myself looking for hope and looking to recommit myself to do whatever I can. That means finding time to ‘pause’ - to read, to think, to constantly question and work with others to make a difference in whatever way I can. My latest project is something that I don't know if it will help or not, but I'm trying, with others to do something.


It's called 42 Canada. Yes, 42 as in the answer to 'life, the universe and everything' in Douglas Adams sci-fi book: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.


The idea is audacious, yes. But it's also very hopeful. 42 Canada is about making it easier for grassroots change makers to NOT have to re-invent the wheel when they are trying to create change. It is about trying to create a supportive network to connect people who are just at the beginning of learning about how to more intentionally make the world a better place.


I think I love science fiction because it is a way to explore exactly that sense of how should, could the world be. I'm not into the scary, aliens are coming to get us stuff. I'm into the stuff that makes me think, and wonder and imagine.


Michelle Obama talks in her book about an incident where she felt herself ‘swerve’. It was the night she went along with a young lawyer she was just starting to connect with, fellow by the name of Barack Obama, to a community organizing meeting. 


She writes that the meeting was in Chicago, in the basement of a church with a bunch of women from a tough neighbourhood. These were not idealists, they were women who had a lot on their plates and no time really to think bigger. They were not very welcoming to young Barack.


But this young fellow, Barack, talked to them about hope and the need to imagine a different world, and as he talked - with an amazing amount of hopefulness, of belief in what that world could look like - both the mood of the neighbourhood women and Michelle herself shifted. By the end, she says, they were nodding and saying ‘Amen!’ to everything the spindly young lawyer was telling them. This is the ‘audacity’ of hope.


Michelle notes throughout the latter half of her book that this was one of the most amazing qualities of this young lawyer that she was in the process of falling in love with; he just wouldn’t give up. He was so full of hope and belief that we could as people make the world a better place, if we just chose to do so.


Now, many people might say - yeah, well - look at what happened after Obama though. True, but...


In that vein, I also find hope in another of David Moscrop’s articles that talks about how messy, and yet hopeful, our democratic process is and can be. He describes it as ‘slow, frustrating, and complicated,’ but he also says that this is the nature of democracy, federalism and the rule of law in action. 


Our systems are ‘works in progress’ and they depend on human beings making choices every day. Choices around what do we really want ‘progress’ to look like? What kind of human beings do we really want to be?


We can do this, but we have to stay vigilant and strong in our dedication to 'the work.'


Heading into 2019, I am appreciating the ‘down time’ to really ‘take time’ to read, reflect and recommit. I look forward to the New Year! I hope many others do too. It’s another opportunity to make a difference, to live a life with meaning - and to work to make the world a better place. 

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