I don’t write Call to Action essays, though I am often tempted to. These types of essays see a problem in the world, and call upon their readers to rise from their chair, from their video games, from their daily routine, and do something about that problem. Sometimes what needs doing is marching, sometimes voting, other times hugging, or talking, or listening, or exercising. Whatever it is, the problem isn’t going to go away until people start doing more of what they’re not doing.
I’m tempted to write Call to Actions for two reasons. First, I see problems in the world. Not always, but sometimes. I notice other people doing things like suppressing votes, or taking offense, or just thinking they’re right about something I am almost certain they’re wrong about. People thinking they’re right when they’re wrong is particularly irritating. I can’t have all these folks spreading misinformation. My Call to Action would be a public service.
The other reason, sadly, predictably, is that I’ve noticed these pieces seem to go viral more frequently than other essays. Apparently, my lifelong need for attention remains unsatisfied. I start mulling hot takes for my headlines, searching the horizon of my awareness for what’s bugging me the most. If I’m looking to be bugged, I will definitely find a bug. They’re everywhere.
Being bugged is also, in its own way, exhilarating. Anger is instant energy. Feeling dull, hopeless, powerless, inert? Get angry and you’ll be on your feet. I’d rather be angry than afraid or depressed. Hopelessness is the bottom of the human well, the last stop before suicide. I’ll climb any rope out of that pit. If that rope is outrage, so be it–I’m climbing. At least I’m moving; at least I’m heading up.
Which is why even though I don’t write them or read them, I understand why people do. I think there’s more formless despair in the world than is openly expressed. Within all the outrage and calls to action is a yearning for something better than what is, for a life free of from a nameless burden we have been carrying for so long we can barely remember what life was like without it. But we can remember; if we couldn’t, we wouldn’t believe in something better, we wouldn’t believe in freedom, in life as we are certain it ought to be lived.
The greatest compliment I’ve ever been paid for my writing came from the copy editor for my book Fearless Writing. My acquiring editor passed along that she, the copy editor, had felt soothed while she was proofreading the book. I didn’t realize until then that this is all I’ve ever wanted for my readers–that they feel soothed. My chosen job is to say, in as many different ways as I can think to say it: Everything’s okay. This may seem like the opposite of a call to action, but it’s not. In my experience, remembering that everything’s oaky, that I’m safe, that I’m valuable, that nothing is required of me to love or be loved, is the best starting place to create something I want to share with the world.
After all, I can’t share what I don’t already have. If all I have is a yearning for peace, then all I can share is that yearning. But if I want to share peace itself, if that’s what I want more of in the world, then I have to find it in myself first. I can’t wait for the world to give it to me so I can pass it along to others. I could spend my whole life waiting for that, growing more tired and bitter and despondent as I did. I could bemoan the lack of leadership in the world, the absence of heroes and great artists whose job it is to move and compel me. I could talk of better times, of simpler times, happier times. I could wait and wait, my despair and disapproval a call to the world for the help it never gives.
Or I can listen to the call myself. Despair is just the call unanswered, energy spent holding closed the portal through which the answer comes. Safety is not a locked gate, value is not a number in my bank account, and love is not just some word to be sung or whispered. I must look for what I want where it can actually be found. Once discovered, the choice is mine what to do with it. That choice is easy. Because whatever I found is always bigger than me, I must share it, and in giving find there is always more.
What’s Next? Talk with others. Take action.
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