I've been thinking about how much flack President Obama has been getting for either not doing enough or too much, for being too radical or not radical enough, in his first ten months of office, and I just want to say, "Give the guy a break!" I don't know about you, but, honestly, I sort of expected him to take us to the Promised Land - like some kind of Moses - when he was sworn in as the 44th President. I think some part of me was hoping that he would be able to magically fix everything that's been broken in this country, and on the planet, as soon as he was inaugurated.
Yes, he made bold campaign speeches, both serious and hopeful – the first mainstream candidate besides Dennis Kucinich to really address the critical situation in which we find ourselves as a country and a species. He spoke the truth when he said it would take all of us making sacrifices to create real, lasting change. He made the phrase, "Yes we can!" internationally recognizable. Honestly, he was the first candidate I've ever had the honor of voting for because I believed in supporting him. And… he's only one man. No matter how sincere, visionary, well spoken or down-to-earth he is, he is human… just like the rest of us.
I was simply so relieved and thrilled at having such an incredibly down-to-earth, well-spoken, visionary leader in the White House, I forgot that it was all of us (well, the majority of us) who put him there. I was so ready for a change, I forgot I had a responsibility to be part of it.
Because the truth is, no matter how much some may want to blame him and his administration for the various messes we're in right now – our national health care travesty, the real, horrible and deepening chasms in our own country between the "haves" and the "have nots," and the greatest challenge of our time, the global climate crisis - we can't blame anyone but ourselves. We are collectively responsible. All of these things started a very long time ago and we chose to ignore the signs and keep living as if everything was just fine.
Responsibility is sometimes a scary word because it means we don't have the luxury of pretending any more. When we take responsibility for our circumstances, personal and global, we have to wake up. We have to remember that everything we do has an impact. It also means that we are going to have to give up some of the things that we thought we wanted if we're going to make it to that Promised Land. When we begin the process of waking up, of becoming who we were meant to be, we must slough off the old, tight skin that kept us small and comfortable in order to grow into the bigger person we know we are. Letting go is both terrifying and exhilarating; it means, as Charles DuBois said, "giving up who we've known ourselves to be for the person we are becoming."
Yes, it will require some sacrifice; each one of us is going to have to take a long, hard look at how we live our lives, from the big stuff to the seemingly mundane. From how we buy our groceries and what we choose to do to our bodies, to how we use energy in our homes and how we travel. We no longer have the luxury of believing that any choice we make is "insignificant."
We must ask ourselves questions like, can I walk or ride my bike instead of driving today? Do I really need that toy, appliance, clothing or beauty item? Could I buy a different item that would use fewer resources and create less waste? Where does my food come from? Where were those clothes, toys, foods made? Who made them? Did they get paid fairly for their work? In other words, how could I make choices that have less impact on the planet while feeling more fulfilled, happy and connected to the world around me?
We are each part of a larger whole, we are not at the top of the pyramid. There is no pyramid. We are part of the web of life, a strand in the tapestry woven from the one thread that connects us all, no matter how different we may seem from each other, the trees, dirt, buildings, stars and animals. We must wake up to the fact that the world was not made solely for our benefit; it is not a department store in which we "shop 'til we drop" without thought for the consequences. We must wake up to the fact that we share this world with many other people and species for whom this world is also a precious, living source.
Because we are the one species who has caused the most damage to this precious planet, we must be the ones to take responsibility for it. Personally. We can no longer afford to ignore the fact that every decision we make has a great affect on everything around us. And because the U.S. is the most privileged nation on the planet (and the one with the greatest environmental impact), we have the greatest responsibility to do our part. With privilege comes great responsibility.
No one, not even the President, is going to rescue us from these things that cause pain or suffering, No one has a magic wand to wave over our lives or the planet to "make it all better." There are no band-aids big enough for the wounds we've created. The only solution is serious, concerted effort to do our part. As my friend Yvonne St. John-Dutra says, "We are the heroes we've been waiting for."
What if, like Mahatma Gandhi, we all realized that "we must be the change we want to see in the world?" Just like it took all of us walking to the polls in the election process last year, it's going to take all of us stepping out of our comfort zones and walking there to make it to this Promised Land. And we must walk together!
It's not necessarily going to be an easy road to walk. There are potholes, steep hills, sharp curves and blind corners. We may sometimes feel like we can't go any further, like it's just too hard. But we must remember, just like President Obama, we're not alone. There are people right next to us who can help us when we need it. There are people we can help when they need it. If we all work together to get there, remembering that everyone matters, that each of us is here for a reason, and that we have a responsibility to each other and our world, we'll make it to the Promised Land with a lot more grace and joy.