Yesterday was our press conference for the annual Thanksgiving Food Drive. We had talked about this as a food bank board a year ago, realizing that this year would be a special occasion – the closing drive of our 25th year as an organization. We had then talked about holding some kind of celebration, but following the news that we had to share yesterday we opted to put aside any festivities.
We discovered that our numbers are up 19% over this time last year. Our highest month ever was just last month, where we assisted 3840 families during that period.
At what point will we admit to ourselves that we might be in the beginnings of structural failure as a society? These kinds of numbers go up every year, without fail, and yet we continue to hope for better days. The stats are out there across so many sectors – unemployment, personal debt, poverty, environmental decline, the loss of possibility for the next generation, and so on. They have been reiterated and detailed in numerous venues for the last few years and yet somehow that knowledge hasn’t prompted us to enough effective action.
Truth was supposed to set us free, wasn’t it? At least that’s what Jesus and other great moral leaders had taught us. But it seems like the more we know, the more we remain affixed to our mediocrity. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were the smartest generation in history, the most affluent as well. We had learned from history’s mistakes and were supposed to have been creating wealth and sustainability for all. Yet with more facts and figures, research and stats, than enjoyed by any other generation, that knowledge has imprisoned us within our times.
From our leaders we have been pampered, then pacified, and now put off. We used to widely hold to the theory that those desiring truth would begin on a new path of self-discovery. We have awaken to the understanding that all this truth was mere fact, and regardless of where it originated, it was incapable of helping us find a better way of conducting ourselves.
There is no need for us to search about for some kind of new data that will liberate us; it has been there, self-evident, for the last two decades. We must act with alacrity and a sense of urgency if we are to redeem these times in which we live. Except that we aren’t. It’s like the systems governing our world are so strong that we feel helpless to cause change. And so we celebrate the little individual accomplishments because, really, they’re all we have. Increasingly as I talk to people I hear the familiar refrain that we can’t change the system anyway. This feeling of helpless to change the broader world has caused us to only focus on ourselves – understandably. The problem is that the great challenges confronting us as a people are not merely private but public, to a greater and greater degree.
Someone reading these lines will rightfully claim that facts are not truth, and they would be correct, as we shall see in our next post. But this is the modern era and the age of objectivity was supposed to liberate us. It hasn’t; our big problems are now even more imposing.
Psychologists have a term for what has collectively happened to us: learned helplessness. It tells of how we actively assist in our joint impotence without really knowing it. It is more common among the affluent than the poor, and more among the young than those older, sadly.
When we feel helpless we naturally look for someone else to hold responsible for our state. That’s natural, as is the penchant to blame our leaders for the lack of action. Of course we want change, but feel it must stem from them because we feel incapable. On one side of the ledger we list all those great challenges confronting us, and on the other side we jot down those to blame for their lack of cure – corporations, government, mindless bureaucrats … whomever. And that’s fair enough because it is their own paralysis that led to our challenges being unaddressed for so long – somewhere along the way they lost sight of us, and our families.
But in our legitimate grievance we came to believe in our own powerlessness. Worse, it persuaded us to abandon our traditional sense of obligation to our neighbours and our communities. In protecting what we felt was our shrinking piece of the economic pie we consented to the gradual shrinking of public investments that has now become a flood. Suddenly our fellow citizens, like those 3840 families coming to the food bank, are at permanent risk. Our withdrawal into ourselves, and our own personal successes, has resulted in broader community insecurities.
In short, we cannot be liberated from our condition by facts, research or empirical data. These have actually succeeded in showing that the more information we have, the less we are able to act on our own, or our neighbour’s, behalf.
But something is changing – we can feel it. We are growing uncomfortable with our own performance in the long dark night of our paralysis. It is we who must change; waiting for our elites has been a fruitless exercise. We still live in a democracy and we can bring about our own change. The accountability can continue, as it must, but the days of our inaction will eventually come to an end, as they must.