The fact is…

That people are being gas-lit every day.

That the environment is getting worse.

That we’re only a few steps away from reenacting The Handmaid’s Tale.

That subjugation and merciless violence continue unabated.

That the rights, freedoms, and unnamed liberties that some segment of Americans take for granted remain elusive or unrealized for millions more.

And the fact is… the majority of people in a position to change things don’t care.  At least enough to actually get out and do something about it.

What’s true or factual doesn’t matter anymore, in light of what these same people in their positions of power believe.  Belief has overtaken consideration or reasonable inquiry.  The belief that doing the least harm and the most good has been abandoned.  Greed and selfishness have overridden common sense.

Instead of building a longer table and working harder to uplift, we’re constantly being sold on the virtues of self-centered and illiberal belief structures.

Screw you, I got mine.

Gotta stick it to the Libs!

Are you triggered yet, snowflake?

And instead of being able to have reasoned discourse, the response is to treat that attempt at discourse as an affront–an attack on the very values that the victim claims to hold sacrosanct.

The fact of the matter is this: not everyone can be reached.  No amount of data, reasoned discourse, or inquiry can have an impact on those who choose not to be reached.  The ones who have already made up their minds have made them based on a flawed world-view and without empathy.

Do you expend energy reaching out to them, constantly being rebuked and further entrenching them in their recursively-reductive positions of scarcity and fear?

Or do you instead reach out to the ones who haven’t yet made a decision?  To the ones that are looking for a compelling argument as to why they matter, why their friends and family matter, and why they should care about others who aren’t yet their friends or family?

That’s the question that’s screaming for an answer.  That’s a fact.

Why?

Lead with it.  It might seem inscrutible, impossible to comprehend the reasons why depending upon what subject is being queried.  But the impossibility of starting with it begs the question itself: why not start with “why”?

Take, for example, an engineer.  Brilliant, but utterly fearful and ineffective at communicating.  Why?

Perhaps that very same brilliant engineer might have been smothered or abused early in their life.  An educator or authority figure might have told them they’d never be able to communicate well.  A parent who could never be placated or pleased tore them down at every turn.  Maybe that’s why.

Maybe moves us closer.  Why gives us an opening to insert insight, perspective, and empathy into the discourse.

When we’re confronted by difficult choices, disagreement, or discontent, we have the agency to ask the magic question.  It’s up to us to dig deeper.

So, why not?

Empathic

It’s not that I feel more than most people, I’m just more willing to feel it. I’m not more nuanced or practiced at placing myself in someone else’s proverbial shoes or position, I just more willing to do it.

Why am I willing to place myself in positions of vulnerability? Why am I placing a greater importance on listening and empathizing than action?

Because that’s where the magic is. It’s been my experience that being honest and vulnerable with someone gives them the space to do the same. When that person feels as though they can stand at their full height, unencumbered by preconceived notions about who they are or what is expected of them, that’s when the person can be the most real.

Engaging in the kinds of connection that expose flaws in our thinking, grants us a different perspective, or challenges long-held beliefs is paramount to our growth. When we have these opportunities to grow in ways that we normally wouldn’t when left to our own devices, why wouldn’t we?

Re-entry

It’s been challenging trying to deal with what Burning Man participants typically call “reentry”, especially after so many days away from what passes for the normal pattern of life.  Returning to the seemingly endless expanse of lit concrete-and-steel boxes, the noise, the confusion, and the heat that comes from compression of human life and energy into spaces not meant for it all–the time away gave me space to gain perspective on things.

I encountered people both familiar and not, places that I’d never visited in ways that I hadn’t considered previously.  I interacted with real people, held real conversations.  Language was utilized and my brain processed real-world information–and now this; a return to screens, text, shrouds, and obfuscation.  Having to hide and find refuge behind headphones and unplanned work, all in an effort to preserve a certain level of comfort and life circumstance.

To be fair, it’s not as if I don’t enjoy the life that I currently have.  I love my friends, I very much enjoy what I’m able to do outside of work and all of those other adult-type commitments.  It’s just that I see so many other people, friends included, who are out there “winging it” and living life a lot more fully than I am.  I’m not sure that dropping everything and living out of a duffel bag is really the way to go for me, but the very notion is intoxicating in the way that the phrase “being a fly on the wall for when Hunter S. Thompson meets Henry David Thoreau in the afterlife” sounds.

There’s a general feeling that I’ve been wrestling with more now than at any point previously in my life, and that’s the feeling that I haven’t yet found what makes me happiest.  I’ve been counseled in the past from friends, coworkers, and well-meaning “adults” that this relatively recent obsession with “finding your passion” flies directly in the face of a reality that I’m not sure I fully accept.  Supposedly one that operates under the base assumption that life is mostly toil in the pursuit of (and ultimately in utter subservience to) capital, with “private life” relegated to the frayed edges of the aforementioned compulsory indentured servitude–and somewhere in the intervening periods between the peaks of wealth accumulation and the intermittent soul-crushing realizations that a privileged class lives completely separated from this paradigm, you’re supposed to get laid?  That’s supposedly a “respectable life”?

I’m not sure that any of what I’ve been counseled to believe is true is actually true, given the evidence right in front of me.  While there is merit to the notion that “finding your passion” has become a kitschy shibboleth for an entire sub-section of a society that has become disillusioned with identity of any variety (social, political, economic, national, etc.), I’d like to think there would be a common understanding that finding a passion isn’t about running off to an Elysian field or utopia.  On the contrary, I would instead posit that such a state or place does not and cannot exist, as Jeremy Rifkin similarly posits in this informative (albeit abridged) talk on empathic civilizations:

“Empathy is the opposite of utopia.  There is no empathy in heaven–I guarantee you, I’ll tell you before you get there.  There isn’t any empathy in heaven because there’s no mortality.  There’s no empathy in utopia because there is no suffering.  Empathy is grounded in the acknowledgement of death and the celebration of life, and rooting for each other to flourish and be.” – Jeremy Rifkin, author and political advisor

There’s something to be said for living a life where at the very least income is not a genuine problem.  But when that life is all that you know and that a persistent feeling exists in the back of your mind that you are not yet really “living life”, it becomes difficult to ignore.  I suppose the benefits of having the time and energy to consider it for what it is and process why it remains so prominent in my mind is a privilege; one that I intend to take full advantage of.