Part I or Three Parts
by Barbara Kaufmann
I thought nobody cared. It seemed no one was watching. No one was listening. Didn’t people realize how dire the matter, how urgent? The planet is in danger! Do people not “get” that our original and only life support system is failing? And if Mother Earth fails, humans become extinct. We’ll have done this to ourselves! Our own extinction will come out of greed—we will have pillaged the planet for profit! Can you even fathom it? I can’t.
If the planet is destroyed and life extinguished, where will the pillaging greedy spend their money? The Earth is an island and if we ruin this planet, there’s no place else to go! Haven’t folks noticed the disconnect between humans and the planet? Does nobody see how flawed the practice is, of making scientists the enemy? Or making teachers the enemy? Where was the rest of the world when in my own Wisconsin, teachers became the enemy while their collective bargaining rights were stripped and their nobility trampled. This happened in the state of “fighting Bob La Follette,” champion of civil rights, womens’ rights, human rights, fair labor and wages, and anti- corporate power/money in government! If it can happen in Wisconsin, it can happen anywhere.
Teachers—for goodness sake—who are overworked and underpaid are suddenly the enemy? Teachers who instil values of generosity, inclusion and appreciation in our youth. They are the first to teach children about history and life and our environment. Over time, education, once a priority, has been downgraded to an afterthought. So begins the dumbing down of civilization. Was this apparent apathy a sign that the world is now indifferent to those to whom we entrust our children for a third of their day and therefore a third of their lives in their developing years? Do we really want to marginalize and alienate those who are responsible for educating our children—those people... who shape the people... who shape the future?
Have you noticed that our way of speaking to each other has eroded and lost its civility, sometimes even devolving into a collective “mean girl syndrome?” Where have conversation, civility, and respectful discourse gone? One only has to scan comments beneath articles that are far too often too far from civil, a worrying trend that makes everyone the “other.” It takes the breath. And this trend infects the narrative at a time when unity and collective stewardship is not just wise, but urgent! The nasty-vibe that seems to have invaded casual discourse, and written commentary has become outright combative. Reading responsive comments can leave one wincing, with eyes watering. It’s like picking your way through mine fields or threading a path through a war zone of language. Was a kind of madness overtaking the human narrative?
At the same time that people are being treated as less-than-human, corporations are gaining “civil rights” and have now become “people” while people have become objects to be exploited and tossed aside. Instead of using things and loving people, we are using people and loving things. And words aimed at people have devolved to vocal artillery. Are others panicked too, at the exponential growth of bullying, the groundswell of suicides encouraged in mean words perpetrated by real people, then acted on and acted out by real people?
A lifelong activist and passionate about change and making the world a better place instead of a bitter place, I was gripped by overwhelm, despair, helplessness. Creeping cynicism and hopelessness began to turn my insides cold. The world turned dark. Inside that fertile darkness of resignation arose an anger—at least a glimmer of passion remained—even if it was disgust. With anger comes enough energy to roll up the sleeves and create real change. Having come of age in the sixties, I didn’t understand the apparent widespread paralysis, the apathy, the indifference. I couldn’t abide the self-serving egocentrism, the blindness to a catastrophe looming right under our noses. Yet it was all around me and my planet was suffering for it! There was only one of me and there was so much to do! Apathy certainly looked attractive, but apathy suffocates effectively and will eventually suffocate life if it’s not overcome.
So where were the mass protests? Where were the social justice crusades? Where the civil and human rights marchers, the new freedom riders? Where were the shoulders that rise from and tower above the crowds to give speeches and loud encouragement? Their words to arouse, and maybe even demand, revolution? Where were the organic homegrown leaders awakened and pushing up from the fecund ground of a rotting ecosystem?
No, that’s the wrong metaphor—it seemed more like an ecosystem become psychotic, a world gone mad. Having adopted military (not peaceful) metaphor into our everyday speech, we wish for a sane army to sweep in at the last minute to rescue us from ourselves. It would take an army! Who now will save us? Where are the ones we have been waiting for? Wait a minute, WE TOGETHER ARE AN ARMY. Where are the ones we have been waiting for? I think perhaps it’s time to consider the possibility that—perhaps we are them.
But how to go about convincing us that indeed we are them? As an activist, I was weary of the military metaphor that had crept into the lexicon; I was tired of fighting against all the time. Instead, I wanted to stand for something. What was the unifying force that would bring us together? What would it take to accomplish it? Only an alien invasion? (There’s that military-speak again.) What was going to dissolve the arguments, the egos, the differences? Was there something that we could agree upon? What was the one thing you can’t argue with? What in the world is it?
Next: Part II of “What if the World gave a Party... bring your red shoes”
Barbara Kaufmann is an author, artist, lifelong activist and filmmaker who has been accused of art in service to humanity to “simply change the world.” Her medium is “story”—another name for “narrative.” She noticed that the plot of the world’s story wasn’t developing so well, so she began to call for a more humane narrative on the planet. A longtime contributor to Voices Education Project , she’s the founder, editor, contributor and spirit behind the “Words and Violence” program—a free downloadable resource swelling with information on bullying and finding its cures, soon to be in its 4th edition addressing the ways we bully the planet. She has written for the Huffington Post and is now a blogger for the Charter for Compassion. Called ‘an extraordinary writer and spiritual thinker’ she tells story with words, images and film. www.onewordsmith.com