It was now almost twenty years ago that I had this idea, that I called Housing for World Change. Baby boomers with extra rooms, who were finding they might want a little help around the house, would be matched with young activists and social change workers who needed a place within the hotbed of the Bay Area as a social change Mecca. Everyone would win.
I wrote this idea up as a three-page document, or so. I wasn’t sure who to share it with. When I visited my dad in Sedona, I shared it with him. I was very enthusiastic. He was supportive, asking, “So, how would this work? Well, that’s pretty interesting.”
I saw the ways in which the economic forces put downward pressure on the momentum and enthusiasm of young people—coming out of hotbeds of activism and idealistic motivation, free from many of the constraints of people in later years (families, health issues, personal ties and so on), these young people had a chance to bring energy into things that need changing.
An ongoing theme over the past twenty or thirty years to me, is the divergence between the motivation and enthusiasm of people, and the ways in which the daily pressures of life thwart those energies, leaving people with deferred dreams, and an abandoned sense of who they really are. All the ways in which we seem to be living in a society in which there are a thousand forces pulling us towards a normalcy that is 90% things we don’t want, and only a tiny number of threads and spaces to go in the direction that most of us would want to go, if given a choice.
In many ways, the forces of my life have been about how we can create room for those natural impulses of good to come out. And it’s funny, because it seems like so many people have an emphasis on —a very discouraged viewpoint, actually — that, “oh, welp — most people don’t really care that much do they, oh welp.” But I don’t really see this. I see people tender, very easily thwarted, I see them full of influences that are not helping them, and I see them terrified often, out of their wits. But I don’t — generally — see them as the non-caring automatons they seem to be. (When I look from far away, sometimes it does look like that; but when I look closer, then I see it).
To live through an apocalypse with everyone obsessing about the tiniest of trivialities. Hanging out in the shallows, when the depths are so interesting — not to mention, absolutely essential to our survival. To live through this time, it is utterly surreal. It asks of you to ignore almost everything you know, in exchange for a promise of superficial happiness which allows you to cover up the pain of being a complicit component of the destruction.
All this, while I myself have never figured out exactly how to get out of it. Only to keep exploring, trying, venturing, exploring, and integrating. Going more and more into the consciousness direction, somehow finding some clues, here and there. If anything, finding a lot of keys, but those keys are just as hard to explain to people as anything else, although they are, actually, more powerful.
The basic premise is: I am an agency within the culture now, and bear some level of responsibility for my actions. Those actions are part of massive waves of culture, which at this point we cannot pretend to ignore, are precipitating mass extinctions, cultural destruction, etc., etc., etc., — a vast dissolution and basically horrifying destruction. And I am just supposed to ignore this, as I pursue my career? I don’t think so.
Anyway. But still been just as much pulled into it as anyone else, because the whirlwind of economic necessity, and human needs, and the hypnosis of personal dramas, they all pull us in, like a vortex of absurdity. And the biggest part is: we think our voice doesn’t matter. But yes, it does.
As Seth Godin says, we are in a culture which massively privileges outcomes. So being on a 30- or 40-year journey of trying to understand how to make sense of (and create change in) a culture that is hell-bent on not having it, that is not a journey that will seem to have a lot of value to it. For most people.
Anyway, now let’s get back to Housing for World Change. I am not sure what I expected to happen when I told people about it. What happened next—after I had told it to a few people—was that I totally and completely dropped it.
And now, approximately twenty years later, I met a new friend the other day. She said she is applying for a job where they support people who need housing, and help place them with elders who have an extra room in their house. Hmmm, I thought. Oh yeah. That idea. There it is. What we really do not realize, is that our ideas can matter. Now if you have ideas, of course that is just the very first part, in a way.
BUT. Sometimes encouragement really matters. Sometimes the right kind of encouragement really. matters.
I know that in the right circumstances, I would have thrived and found a gentle seed bed, a nursery, where the sprout of my idea could have taken root. Even if that particular vision had not, I could have moved forward, much faster. People seem to be at a loss to realize the obvious: that there are a multitude of extremely valuable skills that could be taught to—well, everyone—but to young people especially, and to those who are really in these formative moments, when they want to start making a difference, making change in the world.
There are a vast web of skills, but when you contrast this with the desert that most kids are in — any amount could really make a difference, maybe a big difference. If you understand how cultural threads are woven together, you could begin to really see and appreciate how even a few filaments that begin to take form near each other, create the structural integrity for the next level of filaments to begin to form.
We don’t always see that we are a thread in that pattern. Or even get any recognition.