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let's talk about change
and i mean real change, not just mouthing the words
by cheryl l
9.28.08
general

Let’s talk about change.

Oh, I’m not talking about Barack’s campaign motto of change, or McCain’s Johnny-come-lately call for change, I just want to talk about change. In general.

Most of us will spend, over the course of our lifetimes, a great deal of time talking about change. We talk about it in the big, abstract ways, and in small, precise ways. We start off talking about ourselves, and personal change ideals, and how much these changes, big or small, will impact our lives, and make things better. Whether it is a new job, a new place to live, a new doctor, a new haircut. A different school for the kids, that new recipe for lasagna, different food for the cat/dog, that new antacid or antidepressant.

Half the time we actually make the changes, and half the time we don’t. The changes that are easy, comfortable, gradual – those aren’t so hard. I can drink two less cans of soda a day, we tell ourselves, or try out that other brand when it goes on sale. It’s the big, life-altering changes that scare us, and which are often left undone, even when doing that change would likely leave us for the better. Even when we know it will leave us for the better, it is difficult to take that first step, because all of us fear failure.

And really, what’s bad about failure? There’s an old saying that goes, “Experience is what you get from making bad decisions.” So really, if we fail a lot of times in a row, that’s okay, because it’s experience, right?

We are lucky to live in a country where, as citizens, we not only have the right to discuss and criticize our government in private or even in public – and not die for doing so – but we can go right up to our lawmakers and go, “You stink. Not just phew, but dang, where are you hiding the stinky Limburger?” We can get on television or YouTube or the radio and publically poke fun at our politicians, right up to our supreme Head of State, and heck, some people even get paid to do so.

But most of us fear becoming publically known for challenging the system, for loudly pointing out, “This is wrong. You are wrong!” to our lawmakers. I would be willing to bet that most of us (myself included) couldn’t even pick out our local-level politicians and councilmen and yes, even our community organizers, if somebody wasn’t out there constantly sending us newsletters or emails or something. And, if our own little world of comfort doesn’t collapse in the two or four or six years since the last election, most of us go into the voting booth and vote for the names we know and recognize, or the party we chose to affiliate ourselves with the first time we voted, because most of us think that things are going along okay until a really big crisis comes along, and then we go, “OMG WTF! Who voted that jerk into office?”

The United Nations opened their latest session with an impassioned plea from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, speaking out strongly against the American juggernaut and – what a surprise, calling for change. It would be expected that those from the Middle East would raise their chins in defiance against the U.S.: we’ve stuck our hands in so many alternating pockets over there, helping arm whoever can best help us now, or shaking palms and sealing yet another oil deal, or hey, it’s Tuesday, so today we’re invading Whatcountrynowizban.

What if, instead, it had been one of our allies in the European Union, standing up to say that they were tired of playing with the big kid on the block, who alternatively bullied or favored those around them?

As a nation, Americans have been incredibly blessed. Through the ideals of Manifest Destiny, our forefathers laid down a vision of one glorious nation, free from shackles of oppression, sea to shining sea, chock-full of truth, justice, freedom, and the American Way. And boy, did people just flock here left and right – the more oppressed and repressed and opportunists alike – to shape our fledgling nation with a lot of interesting ideals.

Let’s face it: the American Way of our forefathers was to run roughshod over the native populations, take their land, take their resources, and the consequences be damned, because It Was Our Right. God said so. Or at least, a bunch of old, rich, slave-owning white dudes who wrote the Constitution said so.

Maybe later we’ll think about reparations, but right now, wow! Just look at all this land! There was a time when we had so much land – and so much of it was really good land – that we gave it away for free. And man, back in those days, we don’t have to do any of those old-fashioned ways of doing stuff like oh, conservation and protectionism and recycling! We have tons of land – just dump it somewhere out of sight! It won’t come back to bite us in the butt! Well, not for at least another few hundred years or so. Okay, maybe a hundred and fifty. Man, those years went fast, didn’t they? How come there’s a big ugly trash dump in my backyard?

There is still a great deal in the Constitution which is valid, and that’s why we still use it as our governing document nearly 250 years later. It’s such a good document that not only do other people like creating their own governmental documents from it, but we like to go around shoving our document down other people’s throats.

The political landscape of the 20th century led us up to this point. It’s obvious, yes, but most people don’t look at the obvious. There were a couple World Wars, see, and that really made a mess out of much of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. And after WWII, in particular, America went forth and loaned lots and lots of money to countries all over the globe, even countries who used to be our enemies, because, after all, that put us in a position where everybody owed us. We sent out our soldiers to help keep the peace, because many countries lost entire generations of their men in these wars.

Back home, we never were perfect, either. Our own country had been saddled with drought and Depression, and we couldn’t seem to make up our mind about whether or not we should get publically involved in this whole war/Hitler thing in Europe – didn’t you people just have a big war twenty years ago? Didn’t you people learn? – then hey, somebody went and bombed our favorite piece of paradise, so then we were all, “Oh, you’ve brought it now, the big kid is getting in the pool!” We then went on to participate in the Korean “conflict”, and the Vietnam War, and probably, if you walked up to the average American on the street and asked them why were involved in either of those latter two wars/conflicts, the answer would be, “I don’t know – Communism?”

The conceptual ideal of Communism is that everybody gets a little something. However, in execution, the reality has been that everybody gets a little something and mostly a whole lot of nothing, with a side order of lack of freedoms.

In short, however, we in the homeland have lived a life that has been quite gluttonous to the rest of the world. We have plenty of land to stretch our elbows, relish our freedoms, wantonly waste, and in the end, we can say that our government pretty much promised us a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. Our last 50-60 years have been spent finding ways to make our life even more comfortable and effort-free, and at the same time, we have spent a lot of effort cramming more and more stuff into our days, so we never feel we have enough time to take advantage of all this great time-saving stuff we’ve invented!

To top this all off, because everything started to become so very easy – we of course want to pass this along to our children. And not only pass it along – but we don’t want our kids to “suffer” the way we did, growing up and going without – which has resulted in a current generation who seems to think that they’re going to get handed everything on a plate. And if they don’t like what they get served first, well, they’ll just keep moseying down the line until they find what they like.

No wonder other countries resent us. I look at people half my age – and I’m not even 38 yet – and these are people who cannot fathom the idea of growing up in a world that doesn’t include cable TV, cell phones, DVDs, computers, and the internet. When I was a kid, a Barbie that cost $8 was considered expensive; today, that’s cheap.

Fortunately, the post-Baby Boomer generations are not as apathetic as our parents think we are. We grew up in a world that rapidly changed – and, thanks to CNN, changed right before our eyes. We witnessed tragedy and success live on TV. And those who could embrace change – to computers, to email, to cell phones, to BlackBerries, to progress – survived the cuts and the downsizings and thanked their lucky stars to still have a job.

We do more with less people, but the population keeps growing. And it keeps growing overseas, too, which means the same amount of resources have to spread further and further among the world’s rapidly-rising population. And we keep shipping jobs and buying goods from overseas, because it’s cheaper – and we lose jobs at home, and we’ve become a disposable society.

Meanwhile, overseas, they’ve embraced our innovations, and created plenty of their own, and they’ve integrated their traditional lives with the modern ones. Europeans are savvy, hip, techno-chic, and they work hard to make their lives greener. Eastern Asia is not so quick to catch up in the “green arena” (ie. pollution issues), but they’ve embraced technology quite heartily, and in less than twenty years, have found their footing on the world stage to be a big part of the future.

Yes, let’s talk about change. We need to change. We need to change to keep up with the rest of the world.

We need to stop assuming that it is our “right” to thrust our values and our laws upon everybody else in the world, and then stop playing coy when those same laws come back to bite us in the butt.

We need to make greater contributions to the world social good than our latest finale of Dancing With the Stars and YouTube antics.

We need to become an energy-efficient nation, and that’s a change we have to make in a hurry. We cannot leave ourselves constantly at the mercy of other nations; a country of our size and resources should become far more self-sufficient. When I travelled through Tibet last year, I saw people who lived their lives on thousand-year-old standard: minimal water resources, latrine refuse recycled as a fuel source, yaks as transportation. But they had solar energy. Even the poorest of the poor that I saw had solar energy, even if it was just a passive solar water heater on their roof – and our lawmakers are trying to tell us that it is “too expensive” or “too logistically difficult” for our country to use solar energy?

We have to give up some of our comforts and learn that we cannot afford to not do things simply because we’re too lazy or too apathetic.

We have to look more to our issues at home. With our financial structures cracking and collapsing left and right, how can we possibly afford to be spending money all over the globe?

It is easy to vote for the easy, the same-old same-old, to hope that things will somehow magically right themselves if we keep doing stuff the same old way. But if the old way isn’t working, why would we vote for more of the same?

Change is difficult. Sometimes it must start at the bottom; and other times it must trickle down. But we all must change. None of us can leave the blame any longer with other people. We all must act, we all must grow. We must demand more transparency in our lawmakers, and we must genuinely all work to see that change happens.


ABOUT CHERYL L

Photographer. Writer. World traveler. Gamer. Avid reader. Computer enthusiast. Connecticut yankee-turned-Chicagoan. Hockey fan. Drives American. Eats organically and locally. Supports no-kill animal shelters and children's charities. Likes intelligent debate.

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