I took the long way around the lake again today. This time it was prompted by my thoughts, rather than the prompter of my thoughts. Earlier tonight, I attended a dinner celebrating sustainability at the University of Richmond. Aside from excellent catered food, there was also a presentation on climate change and leadership by Dominic Frongillo that alternately surprised, engaged, devastated, intrigued, and inspired me. He was elected into public office at 22 years old (beating out four other candidates), has been to numerous climate summits across the globe, and recently moved to Germany to start a new job. Apparently he also specializes in life coaching on the side, given my interaction with him after the dinner. My small introduction of myself and attempt at striking up a conversation quickly morphed into a lengthy series of life-searching queries that triggered some chain reaction in my brain.
I began thinking about my own desire to find fulfillment in life (ambitious, I know). I began to think about how much power we have as humans (particularly those of us who are citizens of the Global North), even as individual, independently acting people. And yet at the same time, I am internally pressed to ensure that I do not overestimate the impact of my actions. I mentioned something to this effect while talking to Mr. Frongillo, and he was swift to correct me, telling me that I would make an impact and encouraging me not to frame things in the negative. The challenge, then, is to be realistic about my impact- that is, once I understand what my impact should be, defined by my own standards of ethics and fulfillment.
Combating climate change is in essence, to me, the actions required to stop the world from careening down this seemingly endless path of destruction that we have undoubtedly set it on. I have never had doubts about anthropogenic climate change, but after seeing the data tonight, I cannot begin to reconcile the unimaginable devastation with the complacency I feel I have allowed to control me. I am compelled by Mr. Frongillo’s argument that combating climate change is not a technological problem, but a political one. In other words, we have the ability to stop our planet from barreling into oblivion, but we lack the desire or the incentive to enact these changes.
I am at the same time reminded of my father’s words: that in order to enact true change, we must create a world akin to a super-saturated solution. A world in which a great deal of people are willing to take on the daily, often thankless, often literally back-breaking work that comprises the pre-reaction particles within global solutions to global problems. (Did you catch that pun? I’m proud of that, but my dad explains everything much more eloquently. Seriously, read his post. And the rest of his blog.) My goal is not to be the catalyst- or, rather, even if it is or was at some point my goal, it cannot remain so, for too many people are seeking to be the catalyst, the one human being that tilts the giant ball of human change enough for it to roll down the hill. But it is those who shape the hill, those whose backs, like Atlas’, hold up the ball, preventing it from rolling the other direction, that are the people Mr. Frongillo calls “agents of change.” And it is that group that I must be part of in order to reach a level of fulfillment that I feel makes me human. And I must find a path in life where I am sure that I am fully dedicated to Atlas-ing for the world’s essential change.
All this has not compelled me to jump on some train to go protest and shout- it has not prompted a radical shift in my behavior or broad plans. I believe my Atlas-ing does not lie solely on paths like that of mass nonviolent protest, though I certainly would not be surprised it if led me there at points. Rather, I must live with intention. An intentionality that prompts me to consider consequences while maintaining a balance of past and present that enables me to live a moment.
So often I think we are turned off of commitments to change because we see the big picture as outside ourselves. Calls to action that ask us to do many small things on a regular basis seem to lose their efficacy in their minuteness, while at the same time also seem to overwhelm us with their constancy. If we cannot commit to all of them and cannot to commit to their continuity, then we have a tendency to give up. We continue to live our lives as before, because we do not incorporate ourselves into the canvas that is our world- we see ourselves as outside the realm in which change is enacted. Simultaneously, calls to action that involve committing one’s entire life to a single cause are unquestionably overpowering in their requirement for utter dedication, and we back out because we are not sure that we can live inside the world in which the ball of change exists. I think- and these are my raw, unpolished, and relatively unexamined thoughts- that intentionality is a way to bring oneself into the world where one can begin Atlas-ing. Intentionality is perpetually stationing oneself and one’s actions in relation to the issues that rock the globe- be it climate change, genocide, civil strife, world hunger, poverty, or any of the mass of complicated human hurts that haunt us. Climate change is unique in that while it does not affect all people equally, it does affect all people. We inhabit this planet, and we are destroying it with reckless abandon.
In the face of this looming disaster, at the crux of this imminent time, I find myself searching for the prescient moment that will bestow upon me the “focus, clarity, ease, and grace” that Mr. Frongillo asked me if I would have as a “change agent.” My hope- my lifelong necessity- is to find the path where I truly know and feel that what I am doing, my acts in the world, are, like my parents found in their choice to farm, Atlas-ing for the world’s solution.
And while this may hold world travel and international development (what a controversial industry…) for the times ahead of me, if it means in the here and now that I should walk around the lake barefoot a little more often, or find a place to put my hands in the soil, or find some chickens to chase around, or simply converse with those around me, or write this lengthy, public blog post, then I must answer the call, for I have committed to being intentional.