Some days, I think I’ve got an answer. And other days, I’m confused and uncertain. Is it do nothingness? Is it the ethic of non-attachment that is also not attached to non-attachment? Is it receiving forgiveness from God, and then going and sinning no more? Is it another version of the paradox of faith and good works, both seemingly incomplete without the other? Is it surrender to your Higher Power, and then go and be clean and sober because your self-will run riot is no more?
It’s helpful for me to think of a concrete example, so as I often do, I turn to the gay rights movement. So many of us are working as advocates for change. We are beating back the homophobes, responding to their criticisms, while trying to take stock of the gay culture and its needs for reform and internal criticism. The work can get exhausting. I personally find the work of reading the anti-gay rantings of conservative religious bloggers to be the most demanding, because they can often push my buttons in ways that knock me off my more usual balanced frame of mind. Your hot button issues may be different, but follow along.
How do we respond to those who push our buttons so? Do we do nothing? Do we respond with gentleness and kindness? Or a shaming fuck you that puts them squarely in their lowly place? Or do we buy their cell phone records, stalk them, and slash their tires? I honestly believe there’s a time and a place for all of these responses (except for the criminal acts), depending on the context. Just so we understand that some of these responses are basically expressions of pretty base, mean, or crude impulses. Good can come from the expression of even the basest impulses, however more often one fuck you leads to another, and a cycle of misunderstanding, anger, and pain continues needlessly. Fuck you responses bring bad karma.
Doing nothing. If I care about equal rights for all and cultivating a culture of respect and acceptance for diversity, is it really an option? Change isn’t just going to happen all by itself. Or will it? According to research, the world is changing… all by itself, one might say… and the actions of any one particular individual are completely irrelevant. Wider trends are at work in the world that are far outside our control. Basically, the wicked homophobes are dying. Jerry Falwell and James Dobson are 71 and 69, respectively. They won’t live forever. Bye bye. Opinion polls one after the other tell us that pro-gay beliefs are increasing among the younger generation. Each younger generation gets more and more pro-gay. If we close our eyes, sit back, do nothing and just wait for all the old farts to die off, the world would change for the better. To put it bluntly. (Forgive me, all you good old farts. I’m not talking about you. Just the bad geezers.)
We surrender to the Spirit outside our own control. As I wrote once last summer, it’s a recognition that there’s a Force in the world history, a marching forward to greater depth and equality and expanding liberation for more and more people… and beyond that, the liberation of all sentient life. If present trends continue, progress happens… even without our explicit efforts. This isn’t knowledge. Admittedly, it’s a form of faith, a fragile thing in a world where nothing is inevitable and the possibilities for the catastrophic destruction of the planet are within our reach. Change on a massive scale rarely happens because of the actions of any one individual, but as a result of the collective interaction of millions.
In surrender, we find our equanimity in action, or at least glimpse its possibilities. We do what we do, we say what we say, think the thoughts that arise, as if it were all inconsequential, and as if it were all the most important thing we could possibly do. It matters not because the action has intrinsic significance or value. It matters so much because we matter, and we all need each other so very much.