Dreamer of dreams

March 6, 2011

I continue to struggle with something I have written about on this blog before, which is how to take actions that uphold my ideals. I have not written much here recently, in part because I have not felt particularly inspired in the past few months. In fact, I have at times felt quite hopeless and powerless, such as when I read about the flurry of reactionary bills in Congress or budget cuts to K-12 education in Colorado.

I encounter many demands – through my church and on the blogs and websites I read – to be a political activist, to write yet again to my congressperson, sign yet another petition, or attend yet another rally. Even though I know there is evidence of such things actually having an impact, I find it difficult to gather the motivation to partake in these actions myself. I remain unconvinced at a visceral level that doing so actually makes a difference.

However, the constant bombardment of demands to act combined with my lack of motivation to do so results in guilt. Am I not doing my part to make this world a better place because I do not partake in political activism? When I am feeling neither completely hopeless about the world nor guilty about my political inaction, I remember that there are many ways of being in and contributing to the world. Political activism is only one such way, and it is not for everyone. Politics have always sickened me and made me feel hopeless and powerless, and I don’t think this is likely to change.

As I search for my way of acting towards peace and a better world, I take inspiration from the first stanza of the poem “Ode” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

I am a dreamer of dreams. I am a music maker. It is through being these things that I will move and shake the world. My way of acting is not in political activism, but in waking people up, shaking them out of their sleep and shifting their perspective on life, on the world, on their community, on their meaning. I believe that my way in the world is as a “quiet leader”: I am not out to be the next senator but as a dreamer of dreams I am a leader nonetheless.

Therefore, I must learn not to feel guilty in the face of demands for political action that I do not fulfill. For I am a dreamer of dreams, a music maker, and a mover and a shaker of the world.


A quote from… Lady Gaga

June 5, 2010

Lady Gaga on hatred and love:

I’m not trying to create and generate more hatred in the world… I just want to generate awareness. It’s always wrong to hate, but it’s never wrong to love.

I don’t believe in any hatred or any war-like behavior. I believe in commitment and love and positivity.

Awesome, go Lady Gaga!

These quotes (and a bit more) are from about 5:30 to 6:51 in this interview:

A sappy movie with a message

June 13, 2009

Last night I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching the romantic comedy Love Actually. In a loosely woven plot it shows different aspects of love through the lives of several couples in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The movie is sappy and fun. It has a contemporary, modern feel to it; the music is pop and the clothes are stylish. Some of the relationships are based on superficial factors and love at first sight. However, in spite of these factors that could make it just another light-hearted, meaningless flick, I thought it conveyed well a deep and important message about love. That love is all around us, all the time, if we just look for it. The beginning and end, with short clips of people greeting each other at the airport, and the snapshots into many couple’s lives throughout the movie (as opposed to most romantic comedies which focus on just one couple), effectively convey the sense that love is, in fact, all around. Our culture focuses so much on a seemingly pervasive hatred, and I think it would be good for all of us if we took a moment to notice the love around us instead.

Obama and hope

November 8, 2008

There is no question that Barack Obama is a charismatic and inspirational speaker and leader. Like many others, I am hopeful about the change he has promised to bring to this country. As many are saying, he has a lot to live up to, and no doubt he will disappoint some – perhaps many – people. He is, after all, only human, and he will inherit some huge problems with this country.

However, I maintain my hope because I am inspired not only by Obama’s own words, but by the movement that has arisen in his wake. Tuesday night was historic not only because he was the first African-American man elected president of the United States, but because of the unprecedented celebration and joy at his election. Unprecedented in my lifetime, at least. I have never before witnessed people taking to the streets in celebration in the numbers that they did Tuesday night, and that itself is incredibly inspiring to me. To see people from many different communities, of different colors, genders, abilities, and ages, out on the streets together crying and hugging and cheering. To see them out there together sharing happiness and excitement with each other. I contrast these images with ones that have been more common in my lifetime: thousands of people on the street rioting, burning things and hurting each other. The celebration of Tuesday night around the world gives me hope that people can stop the violence of the past and recognize that they live together in a global community.

Obama is indeed a powerful leader to inspire this kind of excitement in people. My hope is that people will maintain their optimism about the future and their sense of connectedness with others, because that is how change will really happen. Yes, Obama will be in a position of power, where he can enact certain changes, but ultimately the change has to come from the people who recognize that we are all one community and who, most importantly, believe that change is possible.

Inspiration from the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

November 3, 2008

I recently read the book We Speak as One: Twelve Nobel Laureates Share Their Vision for Peace, edited by Arthus Zajonc. You can read my full review of it here, but in summary it contained short biographies of and an imagined conversation (created by juxtaposing quotes from each individual in such a way that it could have been a conversation) between 12 of the Nobel Peace Prize winners. I found it quite inspiring to read their words and I would like to read more in-depth writings by each of them.

Each laureate has a strong hope and vision for a world at peace, and they each feel so sure that there is a better way than war and violence. Their words address many of the fundamental causes of war and violence and express the strong belief that our problems can ultimately only be solved peacefully. It was so encouraging to be reminded that I am not in fact a crazy liberal with wild, out-there ideas about how we could all live in peace, that peace is not just about hippis singing about living in harmony. It is a realistic and important vision and these laureates are people who have been widely recognized for their serious, on-the-ground work towards peace.

A few quotes (selected more or less randomly; pretty much everything they say is quotable):

We have somehow bought into this lie in the human mind that we have a right to kill each other, so we train people to go out there (which is totally against our human nature), and we train them to kill. This is wrong. We need to organize our societies on a new value that we can solve our problems without killing each other.
– Mairead Corrigan Maguire

When a country like the United States believes that it needs to control the resources, the power of the world, it denigrates other possible solutions because ‘nonviolent solution’ implies you sit down, you discuss. So you have to make people who think differently from you seem weak, you denigrate nonviolent solution, you denigrate multi-lateral discussions to resolve problems, you make peace really seem ridiculous and absurd. You conjure up the image that always makes me insane, of the butterflies and birds flying over the rainbow, proving that it’s a storybook image of peace. There’s nothing storybook about peace, it’s really hard work all the time…You get up and you struggle every day to make a difference in the world. That’s not utopian. I wish it were. I wish it were as easy as visualizing world peace. It isn’t. It’s finding ways to address the things that bother you.”
– Jody Williams

In my opinion, I feel that the safety of mankind begins in the community. We are not human beings alone; we hare human beings socially, spiritually, politically and economically, in concert with each other. I believe that it is through the community, the community of the family, the community of our villages, of our religious beliefs – this is what enables us to have security and to grow as persons. We cannot stay in the mind-set of ‘individualism.’
– Aldolfo Perez Esquivel

It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.
– Aung San Suu Kyi

Getting lost in the details

October 25, 2008

I have a strong need to do some sort of active work related to peace, something more than write this blog, but I have not yet figured out the exact form I want such work to take. The question I would like to answer is “what sort of work would make me feel like I am directly doing something for peace?” However, when I contemplate a particular activity I could do, I immediately fear that I will not feel completely satisfied by it, that once I start doing it I will find that the everyday details overshadow any sense of helping the greater good or that it won’t feel like enough because it is only affecting a small set of people. I know these fears stem in part from my strongly held ideals; I addressed this same issue in my post on “How to live as an idealist.” The question of what work to do is difficult to answer because any concrete work is not going to completely fulfill my ideals. I am only able to imagine being fully satisfied by peace work when I think about such work in the abstract.

However, I do think it is possible to participate in peace-related activities that I find meaning in, and I do not expect to answer the question of what those activities are by sitting around at home browsing non-profit websites and writing blog posts. It is important that I do take action, even though the actions feel like they fall short of my ideals, because this is the only way I can come closer to an answer. By trying a variety of activities, I will hopefully discover what sort of work feels most meaningful to me and best utilizes my skills and abilities. This is why I started volunteering in July at a food bank, and am now pursuing volunteer work in a restorative justice program. Although neither of these programs perfectly meet my ideals, my participation in them gives me new experiences and perspectives and sheds different lights on the question of what work I want to do related to peace.

As I spend time studying specific types of work I may do, I do not want to forget the larger reasons of why I am pursuing such ideas to begin with. Although thinking about my ideals can cause me to feel dissatisfied with any concrete work, I feel that remembering them is also central in helping me discover the most satisfying work possible. I need to re-center myself occasionally on my vision of a world at peace and the skills and characteristics I bring to this vision: my strong compassion, the fact that I am not desensitized to violence, my ability to listen and communicate well, and my ability to be in touch with my feelings. As I contemplate doing particular peace-related work, I do not want to lose sight of my vision for the world or of the combination of skills and experiences that is uniquely mine to contribute.

Costa Rica: a model for peace

September 26, 2008

Did you know that Costa Rica is one of only a few countries in the world without an army, and was the first to abolish the military, in 1948? As I wrote about a couple weeks ago, they are the seat of the University for Peace. Today, I came across this video about a “peace army” in Costa Rica:

They have actually changed the name from Peace Army to Academy for Peace, which I am pleased to see because the word “army” has militaristic connotations. Their mission statement is:

The mission of the Academy for Peace is to empower every Costa Rican child to pass the practice of BePeace to the next generation. The BePeace practice builds social and emotional intelligence through a combination of the HeartMath method for “feeling peace” and Nonviolent Communication for “speaking peace.” The powerful synergy between these two methods was discovered by our founder, Rita Marie Johnson.

To fulfill this mission, Academy for Peace trainers are implementing a national BePeace “train-the-facilitator” program in the public school system. These facilitators learn to train teachers, students and parents in the BePeace practice, with an emphasis on mediation as a way to resolve daily conflicts at school. This program is provided at no cost to the schools.

The work this organization does is incredibly inspiring to me. Their approach to peace combines the need for individuals to be aware of emotions and feelings with techniques of mediation and non-violent communication. They know that peace begins with the children, and their focus is on training teachers and children themselves in their approach called “BePeace.”

Peace is possible, and this organization is a reminder of that.