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Extremism in Defense of the Planet

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“The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. The Nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

I might have agreed with Dr. King’s statement when I was a teenager during the Vietnam War, but it’s nothing that would have been ascribed to me as an adult.

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

Dr. King

Like many people, I have been taught to be wary of extremists. Stick to the center, stray neither to the right nor to the left, and you won’t get yourself in trouble. People won’t respect you if you stray from the comfortable middle. You won’t be listened to.

Unless you are an athlete or an energy drink, you don’t want to be viewed as extreme.

When I worked in environmental messaging and communications on Capitol Hill, we learned that the best way to side-line someone was to label them as an extremist. “Out of step” is a good phrase. Likewise, industry PR reps labeled all environmentalists as extremists — “elitist tree-huggers who want everyone to freeze in the dark.” We tried hard to represent ourselves as mainstream. Just a bunch of soccer Moms over here…what, you think I hug trees or something?? (I do, get over it.)

I’ve noticed that right-wing commentators are even calling the National Rifle Association “extreme” and “out of step” these days. Curiouser and curiouser.

In Praise of Imbalance

Last night in my spiritual book group, we got to talking about whether or not we can really make a difference in the world. Should we focus on our inner growth, become the best humans we can be, and trust that this will make the world a healthier place? Is it better to march in demonstrations and wave signs? Do you have to go to Africa and build an orphanage? Or is it the simpler things that count, like working at a soup kitchen or helping with Habitat for Humanity?

“Balance,” several intoned, followed by much nodding.

This may true for individuals; I’m not sure. But I am sure that balance doesn’t help a society or a world that is badly in need of change. Balance doesn’t lead to change, it maintains the status quo. In order to move from the status quo, you’ve got to have people out on the edges tipping the scales. The type of people who go on hunger strikes, who march in the streets, who refuse to sit in the back of the bus.

The comfortable people in the middle won’t like these troublemakers on the edge; they knock things off kilter. They will label them:

Extremists.

Getting Out of Step

I’m headed for the edge. I’ve changed my mind about extremists — I’m with Dr. King.

Look where “the norm” has gotten us. If enough people don’t get “out of step” pretty damn quickly, our planet is in big trouble. It’s not enough to just vote anymore.

Hand holding a world on fire

The oil and gas industry has more money than God, and they are willing to spend whatever it takes to stop action on climate change. It is up to “we, the people” to make this change.

Even my former employer, the well-respected but slightly stodgy 120-year-old Sierra Club, has just announced that it will engage in civil disobedience because the time is so short and the stakes are so high.

Creative Extremism

I think that when Dr. King talked about “creative extremism,” he might have been talking about the kind of extremist that creates new things, builds towards a new vision, rather than simply deconstructing and criticizing.

It seems we finally have a leader willing to lead towards that kind of vision. In case you missed President Obama’s inaugural speech on Monday, he spent more time talking about climate change than any other issue:

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

THANK GOD!

There’s going to be a huge climate rally in D.C. on February 17th. I’m going to make some signs and go act like an extremist. Will you join me?

Find out more about it here.

You can also make calls to help turn out other extremists — ahem, activists.

And check out this video:

How Do You Measure Success?

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What does success look like to you? Is it a “bitch-goddess” that causes “moral flabbiness,” as philosopher William James once told H.G. Wells? Success is often just another word for wealth, and it’s this “squalid interpretation” that led James to call success “our national disease” over 100 years ago. Certainly Mr. James would declare it a terminal case if he knew the Supreme Court had blessed the notion of corporations being people. Wealth at any cost — is that success?

In Cash We Trust

At least I’m in no danger of achieving that sort of success. Compared to people I’ve met in Central America and Africa, yes, I’m outrageously wealthy. But in the U.S., going from nonprofit environmental work to freelance writing to (potentially) a teaching position pretty much ensures my “failure” in this area.

Dying to be Successful

To some, success means getting other people to do what they want. That might mean voting a certain way – a successful NRA lobbyist. Or buying a certain product – a successful firearms ad campaign. Those outcomes also involve cash, either directly or indirectly. Many firearms dealers give cash to the NRA, and the NRA gives cash to members of Congress to get them to do what they want. “Morally flabby” success, indeed.

What about Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi? In a sense, they got people to do what they wanted – a Civil Rights Act and an India freed from Britain. But they got murdered in the process. I guess that was successful. There’s no “moral flabbiness” in a martyr’s success, but it’s not something I hope to emulate.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civ...

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, look on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), political and ...

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
Credit: Wikipedia

Was Jesus successful, also murdered for his beliefs? The story of his resurrection started a major world religion over two billion strong; but that isn’t what he came to do. He came to give individuals the power to change and to be transformed into the free, fully loving, healthy people they were created to be.  I can’t help but wonder how successful that’s looking from a cosmic perspective.

Adam

Transformative Success

I believe this is an ongoing story, that there is hope for all of us. While success is usually associated with outcomes, I’m thinking it has more to do with trusting the process and doing what we are all called to do each day to grow into our best selves.

This unfolding story of spiritual growth and transformation comes closest to my personal definition of success: becoming who I was meant to be, not giving in to the fear of being judged by others, letting go of my need to control outcomes, and reaching for the stars.

I have to believe that there is even hope for the “Christian leaders” who sputter through their TV make-up, judging others, pretending to be what they are not, and using fear tactics to prevent people from reaching their own glorious stars.

Reaching Our Potential

In 2013, I’ll measure success by how much freedom I give myself to become me, neither compelled by others nor trapped by my own crap.

Speaking of which: I enjoyed these ruminations from author Gregg Levoy on getting beyond our crap and reaching our full potential —

“It makes perfect sense that we should be called to go beyond our limits, because the One that calls us is beyond all limits.

I suspect that all the energy we have bound up in resisting our own potential is more energy than we’ll need to reach it. It takes as much energy to fail as it does to succeed.

The strategies are legion:

  • Hiding behind the tasks of discernment. By analyzing a call to death and picking apart all its varying implications and by poring over calculations that would put an actuary into a coma, we lose all the heat from the heart through the head, as if we had been in the bitter cold without a hat.
  • Waiting for the Perfect Moment. Waiting for just the right combination of time, money, energy, education, freedom and the ideal alignment of the planets….
  • Telling ourselves lies. For instance, “I can’t afford it….” [when] the truth was, “I won’t afford it.” I won’t reprioritize my life, won’t make sacrifices….
  • Choosing a path parallel to the one we feel called to. One that’s close enough to keep an eye on it but not so close we’re tempted to jump tracks. We become an art critic rather than an artist, a school teacher rather than a parent, a reporter rather than a novelist.
  • Attempting to replace one calling with another. Because we don’t like it, our parents don’t like it, it doesn’t earn enough money or prestige.
  • Immediately turning a call into a Big Project. Thereby intimidating ourselves into paralysis.
  • Self-sabotage. We feel called to go to art or medical school but are so afraid of finding out we don’t have what it takes that we “forget” to mail the application until after its deadline has passed.
  • Distracting ourselves with other activities. We suddenly become inspired to finish old projects we haven’t thought about in ages.
  • Playing “sour grapes.” We believe we won’t succeed … or will suffer unduly, so we try to convince ourselves we don’t want it anyway.
  • Trying to make ourselves unworthy of a calling. Hoping that God will decide we’re not the person for the job and take it back.

The degree of resistance is probably proportionate to the amount of power waiting to be unleashed and the satisfaction to be experienced once the “no” breaks through to “yes” and the call is followed.”

Source: Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life

Reach for the Stars

What does success mean to you?

What stars are you reaching for?

If you aren’t reaching, what’s holding you back?

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