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the drop that controls the ocean

I realize I've fallen prey to magical thinking, believing that if I fail to do X or Y activist thing, then the whole resistance will fall apart. It arises from erroneous logic that goes like this: "This situation is so bad it caused me to cancel plans with a friend to go protest. I'm not alone; other people feel that way too. That's why there are so many people protesting. But if I let up, then they will, too, since they're like me. So I have to prevent that from happening by not letting up."

I am the drop that controls the ocean!!
world in a dewdrop

But of course, my actions don't actually control other people's.1 I doubt I'm even a very good indicator of what other people will do, but if I were, my actions still wouldn't control other people's; they'd merely be predictive. And it's grandiose to assume that my action or inaction is going to spell the success or defeat of, for example, resistance to the executive order2 on refugees and incomers from those seven majority-Muslim countries. Maybe this exhortation is something that only I need, but I'll put it out there anyway: Do whatever stuff you do because you want to help change something that you find intolerable. *Don't* do it because your action magically controls the outcome. It doesn't.

1It's true that our actions can influence other people, so if you do something or refrain from something, it may ... pick your verb--cause/push/induce others to follow suit. But you're still not controlling them.
2I wasn't entirely clear on how executive orders work, so I read up on them (well, mainly I read one Washington Post article) and created a two-page summary of what I learned, which I can email anyone who'd like it.

ETA: Please read also what rachelmanija writes here.



( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 1st, 2017 09:08 pm (UTC)
You're right about the magical thinking; thanks for this analysis.
Yes, I'll take the summary. Hugs and solidarity in the big-picture struggle.
Feb. 1st, 2017 09:15 pm (UTC)
Email on its way! And thank you ♥
Feb. 2nd, 2017 02:19 am (UTC)
I'm sure you do inspire others to action. You are always inspiring. :)
Feb. 2nd, 2017 02:43 am (UTC)
I mainly think of all the times I'm inspired by other people! But I guess we're all bouncing off each other and being influenced by each other all the time.
Feb. 2nd, 2017 03:03 am (UTC)
This is a good and useful reminder. *makes a note*
Feb. 2nd, 2017 05:35 pm (UTC)
I'm glad it's helpful!
Feb. 2nd, 2017 06:48 am (UTC)
This has been a really weird time for me because, in a situation which is the most urgent of any I've seen in my lifetime, I can't do any activism at all as it's currently defined.

I physically can't do anything involving physical effort. I'm already spending so much time making phone calls and writing letters for other (extremely essential) reasons that I can't add on more. So I am doing zero traditional activism at a time when I most want to do something, and when literally everyone I know is saying that it's essential.

But for everything I'm not doing, there are five or fifty or five thousand people doing what I would if I could. This is an unusually huge movement that has people unusually fired up. In a sense we are all needed... but I personally am not needed. No given single individual is. If one of us isn't there, others will be.

Meanwhile, I'm having important longer-term interactions with a tiny number of people. I'm obviously not doing anything single-handedly because the client is doing most of the work, but the entire point of therapy is that the client can't do it by themselves. I can do it because it's an extremely small number of people (currently four) and involves me sitting in a chair and having a quiet conversation for one hour per person. But a number of people have said it's completely transformed their lives.

I think that's as meaningful as protesting or calling politicians. Ideally I'd do both. But I can't do both. Your prison work is similar - it's a form of activism that consists of changing the lives of a smallish number of individuals in a direct and potentially very large way. Ideally you'd be out with a sign too, but this is the real world and we have a finite amount of time and energy.

I was recently reading about Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat who issued visas to Jews against orders during WWII, saving thousands of lives. One thing that struck me in his Wikipedia article was the space devoted to the disagreement over exactly how many lives he saved. Part of that was an uncertainty about how many people were involved (he mostly wrote visas for heads of families, so one visa could cover multiple people, but that means that it's hard to say how many people used any given visa) but also partly came down to the question of what "saved" meant. Some of the people he gave visas to survived initially because of that, but later died in the war anyway. Were they saved? What does "saved" even mean in that context?

I thought, "What does it matter if he save 2000 or 6000 or 10,000 people? It matters to each of them individually, but the Jews who didn't get a visa at all matter individually too. If only one person managed to get all the way through the war on a visa he signed, he'd still be just as important to that one person, and that one person's life doesn't matter any less because it's just one life.

Only Anne Frank's father survived the Holocaust; does that mean the people who hid the entire family did any less than Sugihara? Or that Sugihara did less than Winston Churchill?"

For many people, making those calls and going to the rallies is the thing that matters. They're working on the big picture, which will ultimately save many individual lives. But the small picture, in which one person sits down with one or a small group of people, matters too.

My life is on the line because I can't find a single person who both wants to help me and has the power to do so. So far everyone with the power has turned me away. I'm just one person. But my life matters to me.

If thousands and thousands of people rallied to reform the American medical system, maybe that would save me. But the other thing that might would be one doctor who chooses to try. The first option would save way, way more people, all of whose lives matter. But it won't be in time for me - that will take ten or fifty or a hundred years, if it happens at all. What I need is one person to say, "Your life matters and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to save it."

Rallies are important. Phone calls are important. But classes and therapy are also important. There's a whole lot of people trying to help everyone at once. We can spare a few to try to help one at a time.
Feb. 2nd, 2017 09:01 am (UTC)
Yeah, very much agreement. There are so many different ways of doing things. One of my partners' main contribution is doing childcare so that rushthatspeaks and I can go do non-baby-friendly activist things, and that is a real contribution. Therapy-- helping other people not despair in all this-- is a real contribution.

And personally, I took all of yesterday as a news holiday, and I don't think the revolution collapsed. And now today I'm back, and feeling better than I had been.

We're resisting to save ourselves, too.
Feb. 2nd, 2017 10:34 am (UTC)
There are so many different ways of doing things. --And so many things to *do*, some of them not directly related to the current political situation in any way, yet still important. When there's a huge threat out there, we're tempted to justify everything in relationship to it--and those justifications can be true (like what you said about your partner's child care making it possible for you and Rush to go to non-baby-friendly activities)--but things have worth even apart from that.
Feb. 2nd, 2017 10:21 am (UTC)
I want everyone to read what you wrote here, because you express so eloquently what I hadn't been able to articulate. (I tried several times to write what I wrote for this post, because initially my idea was much bigger and encompassed some of what you're saying, but also other things related to how history goes---but I couldn't do it because I couldn't figure out what my main focus was and because it was wrapped up in my unease over my own personal decisions and also peer pressure.)

But YES. One life has meaning, and saving one life is important--in any context. A doctor in Nazi Germany who saved one patient with appendicitis from death changed that person's whole world, and the world of that person's friends and family, just as surely as Chiune Sugihara's activism. And what you say about big-picture and immediate-picture activism is also true.

I want people to drop their feeling of responsibility for the whole world (or a whole big-picture issue), because history does what it does based on the movement of the whole ocean, and yes, it takes individual drops to make the ocean, but a drop in its drop-ness is only responsible for what a drop can do. If all the drops deserted the ocean, historians could analyze what trends or mindsets led to that decision, but what each drop is responsible for is what it's doing with its drop-ness. As an individual, you could be walking down the street shouting slurs at people and making fun of handicapped people (like SOME one I could mention), or you can be helping people get over PTSD. You're doing the latter. So regardless of what the ocean does or doesn't accomplish, you're doing GREAT. (I know you know this--I'm using you as an example and saying a long-winded AMEN to what you wrote.)

But, I was told, if I say the things I'm saying in this comment, then I'm acting as a huge demotivator--it's like I'm a traitor to the cause. But I don't believe I am, because what I'm saying has nothing to do with the cause. What I'm saying has to do with the level at which people need to feel a sense of responsibility and what motivates them to take an action.

Thank you very much, both for what you wrote in your comment and for giving me the clarity and courage to write the rest of what was in my head.

Edited at 2017-02-02 01:21 pm (UTC)
Feb. 2nd, 2017 12:08 pm (UTC)
That sense of ideological purity ("if you care about other causes, you're de facto harming this cause") is one of the things I like least about large group dynamics, and (to be honest) one of the reasons I'm not personally big on protests/public activism. Intersectionality is where it's at; no one person can care about every issue, but there's enough people who care to go around and focus on everything - if we can keep from undermining each other. I have no research to back this up, but I strongly suspect that this exact attitude alienates a number of potential activists. "So the stuff I care about isn't all that important, but I care less about this other stuff and the people protesting it are jerks, so..."
Feb. 2nd, 2017 05:29 pm (UTC)
That's a good article--thanks for the link.
Feb. 3rd, 2017 01:13 am (UTC)
You're welcome! I've seen it come up in my feed a lot - it's important stuff to remember, now more than ever.
Feb. 2nd, 2017 09:44 am (UTC)
That is a very beautiful drop. Which has to be worth something...
Feb. 2nd, 2017 10:34 am (UTC)
Thanks :-) I love that drop too. I love looking at the upside-down world in it.
Feb. 2nd, 2017 09:57 am (UTC)
Yes. So yes.
Feb. 2nd, 2017 10:35 am (UTC)
Thank you.
Feb. 2nd, 2017 10:28 am (UTC)
What a gorgeous photo!

Yeah, I feel the same, alternating with a profound sense of helplessness and anxiety to stop the horror.
Feb. 2nd, 2017 10:38 am (UTC)
I'm glad you like it! Water droplets do this on nasturtium leaves--it's beautiful.

It's a terrible situation, and we can't help but feel anxiety.... we have to try to fight the vision it shows us though. Things are grave, but there IS hope. All the protests are proof of that.
Feb. 2nd, 2017 03:24 pm (UTC)
Some very good reading in this comment thread.
Feb. 2nd, 2017 05:31 pm (UTC)
I have LJ friends with great insights :-)
Feb. 2nd, 2017 09:06 pm (UTC)
I have worries like that too. They're balanced with opposite worries that it doesn't actually matter whether I do anything or not because nothing will have an effect.
Feb. 4th, 2017 07:37 pm (UTC)
What you do has very real and perceivable effect on a personal level, e.g., when you help out your friends, or when you play with a dog, or when you set an example with your bicycling. It's when it comes to huge big things that any one person's individual effect is negligible (on its own--but it's never just us on our own; there are always others working too). Because we *are* so small, individually, I think what has to motivate us, when it comes to those big things, can't be desire for success or fear of failure, but rather simply wanting to contribute. And then we hope for success...
Feb. 5th, 2017 02:31 am (UTC)
Thank you; that's really encouraging. It helps to hear from someone else. And I'm glad your post was the catalyst for seeing other positive, encouraging thoughts as well. I think a lot of people need more of that these days. I certainly do.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )



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