Abandon the Road. The World is a Splendid and Fluid Thing.
I love life. I love the size and complexity of the world. I love the truth in the old saying, “If you want to make God laugh, make a plan.”
I also HATE that saying.
I hate it because in this world, I must always learn. I can never be sure. I hate it because I must constantly accept that no matter how hard I work, my vision will never be realized. I will never be able to make what exists in my imagination become reality.
When I was young, I battled this truth with all I had. As I aged, I reluctantly learned to accept that this truth is a natural part of the fluid world around me. When I choose to act, I begin my action in a world that no longer exists when I am finished taking that action. Conditions around me have changed during my action. They have changed, in part, because of my action. Sometimes, often, that change is so profound that the action I decided to take is made irrelevant by the time I finish acting. Most times, I must adjust my action mid-stream to accommodate the changes in my surroundings. And sometimes, more often than I like to admit, I have misjudged the pre-existing conditions, and I learn my plan was never going to work.
As I struggle to constantly adjust to the most influential place in an ever-changing world, it baffles me to watch people around me struggling to hold on to simple answers and convenient solutions. People often want to act as if there is a single right idea, in spite of the fact that we all admit that we know better. And the dogged nature with which people attack a "correct" idea, is often more hurtful to any cause than staying on the sidelines could ever be.
When we collectively began to demand a cure for AIDS, none of us could have predicted how the realities would change around us. Knowing we might not make the journey ourselves, we paved a road for a new generation toward an oasis we thought we could see on the horizon. The road we built is good and solid and easy to travel. But we never thought the world might abandon the place where our road went. And after all our work and effort, we are loath to abandon the road. But we didn’t account for the fact that the world changes. Our road now leads not to an oasis but a desert. Most of the world doesn’t want to travel the route we built.
None of us could have imagined how these conditions would change. It is not our fault that our well-intended road leads to no desirable end. None of us would have even guessed that viral suppression and prophylaxis (PEP & PrEP) might emerge as viable strategies to end HIV. But they have. It is not the cure we hoped for, but if used together, they might be a viable solution to the problem. The game has changed. Yet so many of us are still playing by old rules instead of being open to learning new ones. Many stick to the old road and refuse to try the new path.
The new reality leaves us with a choice. We can take our road making skills, and teach this generation, the one we never expected to see, how to build their own road. We can help them go where they want. Or we can put our energy toward a new endeavor. We can begin reclaiming the desert. We can try to lure the young to a less wonderful destination than what we had imagined they might want.
I believe this is the biggest challenge of every civil rights struggle that holds a vision for the generation that follows. It is also the biggest challenge of every parent. Will you impose your vision on the young, or will you adapt to the changing world they are growing into? Will you bend your vision to theirs? Do you want your plans to be lived, or do you want to empower choice? Are you willing to forsake the work you have done to achieve that empowerment?
Collectively, we would benefit from a more considered approach to the politics of change. An approach that will allow us each to live as a full partner in the larger world - the world in which we have worked so hard to claim our place. Can we become the first generation to demand our change, and still graciously acknowledge the impact of that change on others?
I started meditating on these ideas after reading Corina Kolondy’s open letter about gay marriage on HuffPost. What Kolondy says is true, and she proves that gay marriage is an issue that affects everyone in a traditional marriage, in spite of our party line that they are not connected. I am starting to wonder if our denial of this larger impact in the pursuit of our goal also causes hate to grow? Do people innately sense the dishonesty of statements that suggest change will not impact them, and therefore resist the larger message? Do people see outcomes that do not match promised ones as a measure of deceit? Does that in turn fuel hate and resistance instead of reduce it?
I think that if we want to change the world of hate, we should lead by example, and not allow ourselves to be fueled by Righteous Indignation. Righteousness is always born in anger, and it is as close to hate (and just as destructive), as anything we can feel. It has been well modeled for us by those that would suppress our rights, our choices, our progress. So it is easy to respond in a like way, easy to believe that righteousness can be effective - we have felt its might crushing down on us all our lives. But perhaps responding in kind is short-sighted. Perhaps righteousness purports to be too sure. Perhaps it blinds us to how the world is changing even as we speak.
The key to a successful new world order will be found in our ability to see the sameness in each individual struggle. It will be in our ability to see that Emma Watson's recent UN speech is not just about the struggle between men and women. It is about how the rights of all are inextricably linked. Our success depends on learning that Emma's fight is our fight. They are equal struggles and in that equality they are the same. It all centers on the right to choose and live your own truth. It is all centered on the golden rule, the idea that if I want that freedom for myself, I must first give that to you.
If we can be united in a global vision, instead of our traditional, myopic, reactive ones, if we can coordinate our respective efforts for change with a basic understanding that we all want the same things, health, security and happiness, then we might actually win the revolution once and for all. Happiness can never be prescribed - it must be discovered.
Our success will be about living in our full spectrum - allowing it to become a part of our every choices, our everyday lives, and our everyday language. Notice how the words you choose can separate you from other things. How often do you say, "I would never," or "that's just not me." Don't those words always come with a level of prejudice and a marginalization for whatever is on the other side of them? They exist as a fire wall between you and what's on the other side. The use of the phrases, "I'd like to understand that better," or "I don't know enough about that to judge," open up a dialogue of connection instead of throwing up a hard barrier.
We have, since the beginning of human life, we have grown toward a global oneness. In genetics, we are finally learning we always were one. Ahead of us we must end AIDS, re-write the rules of capitalism, and reverse our systematic destruction of the Eco-system that supports us. The challenges we all face are too great for us to solve by responding as as anything less than a global society.
Today, you are invited to join the world and stop bickering. Leave behind the road you built, trust that it is solid and it will stand. Many will even use it to find their happiness. But now, the world has little place for petty differences or righteous, selfish anger. You are allowed to have those things, you are so very entitled to them. But choosing to live in that entitlement is your choice, it always has been. Know that if you choose to keep those motivations, they not only limit you, but they limit our collective progress. They hurt us all. Your small battles, your righteousness indignity will not change the evolution that lies ahead. It will only impede its progress.
Instead, notice how the words you choose can separate you from other things. How often do you say, "I would never," or "that's just not me." Don't those words always come with a level of prejudice and a marginalization for whatever is on the other side of them? They exist as a fire wall between you and whats on the other side. The use of the phrases, "I'd like to understand that better," or "I don't know enough about that to judge," open up a dialogue of connection instead of throwing up a hard barrier.
I learned these lessons the hardest possible way. I have survived. I lived when almost everyone else like me died. I had to fight for my right to live, my ability to chose my battles was stripped away by the need to make change immediately. And then, I had to live with the consequences. In doing so, I learned that there is always a place for me in the world, no matter how much I resist accepting it. In the end, my differences are only as important as I make them. I have also learned that there is always a place for you, and whatever you chose to be if you can claim it and build on it in good health and with respect for those that are different. This has not always been true, but today, in the coming global reality, it is. No matter how much Fox News and MSNBC prey on our fears and use them to hide that fact from us.