For the last couple of days, everyone has been sounding off on the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik blames the tenor of politics. Rush Limbaugh (of course) blames the Democrats—if not for the shooting, at least for daring to say that the tenor of political commentary such as his is unacceptable. And although many bloggers just want to vent their outrage, others are using the occasion to forward their own political agenda—of whatever color.
But they’re all missing the point.
It’s a big world out there, and the problems are even bigger. Once in a while, a regular person finds him or herself thrust into a position to change the world—like intern Daniel Hernandez. But most of the time, people like you and me have no control over the big stuff. And the more time we spend bemoaning the state of the world, the harder it is to see that our responsibility in making the world a better place lies in the normal course of boring, everyday life, amid soccer tournaments and office politics. The Big Picture isn’t a single, gigantic image; it’s a compilation of countless single pixels, a mosaic made of billions of individual persons, whose actions send ripples into surrounding pixels. The world doesn’t change from the top down; it changes from the bottom up.
“Macrocosm and microcosm is an ancient Greek Neo-Platonic schema of seeing the same patterns reproduced in all levels of the cosmos, from the largest scale (macrocosm or universe-level) all the way down to the smallest scale (microcosm or sub-sub-atomic or even metaphysical-level). In the system the mid-point is Man, who summarizes the cosmos.” (Wikipedia)
When we rail against headline-grabbing problems at the “big picture” level, we fail to recognize that these incidents don’t come out of nowhere. The way we treat the clueless clerk at the checkout stand; the words we use when addressing other drivers—this is how we impact the world. These are the lessons our children learn, and build upon as they grow. If we never admit our own fault in a conflict, the next generation will believe that they never have to apologize. If we never make a calm, respectful attempt to reach understanding with people who upset us (at church, at school, at the office), our children will grow to believe that it’s normal to harbor grudges that fester in silence and resentment.
These attitudes grow, like a big snowball of negativity rolling downhill, all the small-scale pettiness, nastiness and cruelty that humanity is capable of, naturally giving rise to more cruelty and nastiness.
I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t be outraged, that suicide bombers and shooters and sexual predators are blameless, or shouldn’t be held accountable. But in the end, the only way to change it is to change the messages that people hear.
Whatever your beef is with the world, work to change it within your own sphere of influence. The fact that 90% of children diagnosed prenatally with Down’s are aborted makes me nearly choke with rage. But howling about it isn’t going to change it. When the Scary Bad messages are deafening, and people have nothing with which to counterbalance it, how can I expect them to do anything other than exactly what they do? The only way I can change it is by giving Julianna to the world—publicly, as I do here; by advocating for tearing down the walls in the schools and in the community, and (to a much lesser extent) by weighing in politically.
Changing the world starts with you and me. If you don’t like what you see, change the message in your own pixel. If you abdicate your responsibility because the business of life is overwhelming, how can you stand on any kind of moral pedestal and pass judgment on everything that’s wrong with the world?