David's Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however, the material is ©2019 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters, please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
For a while at my local cinema, each movie would be preceded by an advertisement for the theater itself. Obviously responding to the competition of watching movies on television at home, this ad proclaimed the advantages of the big screen and ended by saying, “Go Big...or Go Home!” It was obvious which was the smart and preferred option.
Sometimes, I think this is the option that runs much of our lives. The problems that exist in our world—climate change, terrorism, war, political corruption, economic inequality, threats to democracy—all seem so large, so planetary, that we can feel disempowered and helpless before them. They seem so BIG, and unless we can go BIG in our response, we might as well just go home and let someone else, someone BIGGER than us, deal with them.
The adulation of bigness in our society is nothing new. However, though valuing bigness seems a logical route to power, it can actually be disempowering. After all, how many people bother to buy lottery tickets if the jackpot is just a measly few thousand dollars, or even a million? These days, what attracts people to stand in long lines to dip into their wallets is a Bigger than Big, Mega-Jackpot of hundreds of millions. Anything less can seem a waste of time and energy.
Where this comes up for me is when someone asks how they can make a difference in the world. Most of the time, this is a rhetorical question, at least when asked of me! What they are really doing is giving voice to a feeling of frustration and helplessness at the size of the problems in the world. I know, because they often say that they are feeling too small to make a difference. The challenges seem so big that only a big solution seems fitting. The problem is that they don’t feel capable of that kind of bigness. They feel disempowered by scale.
But this is an illusion. The world is built from small things; whether they’re atoms or cells, structures or societies, there is no “big” without the small - and their activities and relationships. A microscopic virus can kill me as surely as a building collapsing on my head. “Small” is not a synonym for “powerless.”
If someone asks me how they might make a difference, my first response is to say, “Acknowledge and accept yourself as someone who can make a difference.” From my perspective, each individual is already making a difference through his or her choices, actions, and connections in life. Many of these differences may, in fact, change very little in the world, but you never know. The ripples and consequences of what we do can spread wide and effect changes that would surprise us, even BIG changes.
However, it is one thing to acknowledge that yes, of course, our actions are going to have consequences and sometimes those consequences can make a big difference, and something else again to actually envision oneself as having the power to make a difference. The latter not only is empowering but it changes our evaluation of scale. Yes, there is a need for big solutions and actions, but this doesn’t mean that small actions are less important or influential.
Years ago, I heard a radio commercial that neatly summed this up. It was advertising a garage chain and said, “We don’t want to change the world; we just want to change your oil!” After all, the proper lubrication of my car’s engine is vitally important to it running well and providing me the transportation I need.
Small acts of kindness, generosity, acknowledgement, and appreciation offered to the people we meet daily may not seem like much, but they are the oil that lubricates our social interactions and enables communities to mesh and work well. Yes, it would be nice if I could come up with a solution to climate change, but what about tending to and if necessary changing the emotional or mental climate in my family or in my workplace?
It’s wonderful to feel a desire to change the world in positive, constructive ways. The more people in the world feeling that way and acting on it, the better we will be. But we need to recognize the power and value of paying attention to the small world right where we are and changing what we can right there. Then we stand in our power; then we make a difference. That is miles better than slumping in helplessness and despair.
Paradoxically, we may have the greatest influence if we Go Home in order to Go Big.