Doing The Next Thing

Map: The Global Hunger Index 2009 by Severity
Image via Wikipedia

I blame it on the heat. It happens every summer. I watch my ambition, intention, drive and expectations fall in proportion to the rising temperatures. There is some of that in my present ennui, and that’s the easy explanation.

So as a countermeasure, I give myself the little lecture that reminds me how, throughout history, sea change for good in politics and society has come about from the unflagging, passionate and clear-sighted efforts of small groups of people not altogether unlike you and me.

We can all point to a few individuals whose names are household words, whose principles are printed on a magnet on our refrigerator, who would turn us from our hatred and greed, our ignorance and self-absorption, towards those things that are worthy, noble, true and good. We know they are right; we are mostly too busy to be bothered.

For the most part, those revered individuals were ignored at best in their own times, more often persecuted and punished for their efforts, but did not give up the fight. They saw their communities, countries and countrymen behaving in self-destructive ways, even when light was shed in dark places, answers were offered, solutions given. And ignored.

But face it, pal: you’re not Gandhi. And the Floyd civic groups you pour your heart into, while well-meaning and worthy of effort, can’t buoy up the rest of the planet. And the reach of your voice seems more and more to stop at the edges of your own skull.

So what is to become of the conversation in those places where the future might creep into the dialogue in my little world? People are burned out on hearing about issues so large they see themselves as powerless–population, world hunger, pollution and mass acts of hatred. How do you get your head around such planet-sized obstacles?

At the middle point between damned if you do and damned if you don’t lies the black hole of apathy. I don’t want to go there or be there. But I feel its pull today.

Meanwhile, those I admire get up every morning and do the next thing. They put on their pants and write, speak, study, meet, organize and hope. They are undeterred knowing they will likely leave this hungry world in chaos, when it could have been otherwise. They do the work for the good that might be rather being overwhelmed by the ills that loom so large and ominous just ahead, or even now.

Do I tear up this digital journal page and toss it in the little trash icon and take what catharsis it offered and go on; or do I save it and let others read it over my shoulder? Do I return after all to Lester Brown‘s World on the Edge (Living on Earth interview) as a possible news column I had started and stopped when the indifference set in?

If so, find the hope. It lies in Brown’s subtitle: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.

We do still have a choice. But only if we don’t let the conversation die. If you are like me and can’t stand the heat, come on back to the kitchen. And we’d best keep talking.

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About

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

5 Comments on “Doing The Next Thing

  1. Inspiring post, Fred. If you need to read some good stuff, try Emerson and Thoreau. I’m reading alot about their impact on the environmental and social justice movements in a good book called Blessed Unrest, which I also highly recommend. It is supposed to be a survey of all the current components of these movements, but I’m 1/4 way through, and still in the 19th century. That’s fine, becuae I am totally ignorant about our big thinkers back then. Pretty exciting stuff, those roots.
    And don’t forget to let your photos talk for you when you tire of verbal communications. I would love for you to join the iLCP (International League of Coservation Photographers) and go on one of their photo assignments called RAVEs (Rapid Assessmant Visual Expeditions.) The photographers volunteer their time, and their images are used by big environmental campaigns to effectively communicate a pressing issue. They go all over the world as well as places like the Chesapeake Bay.

  2. Actually, I think I have Blessed Unrest on the shelves somewhere around here. Need to hunt it up. Hawken is one of those prescient, gentle, wise and vigilant prophets unheard in his own country (Planet Earth) who must find it tempting to just hang it up. And yet, he sees and explains how we can do right by “oikos” of economy only if we first honor the house of ECOlogy. One more voice crying in the wilderness.

  3. I can’t help but believe that you and the groups of people of whom you speak can make a difference if they persist. Surely the combined voices of many such small groups across the planet will eventually make a difference in the consciousness of all. At least I hope so. You are allowed a day of apathy now and then, Fred – but get back to work tomorrow, okay?

  4. Another word of praise for Blessed Unrest – I found it almost magical to consider the multitudes of people across this planet working quietly and often unnoticed to create important, meaningful change, and not just on environmental issues. It will inspire and give comfort.

    And the best antidote to apathy is play – by however you define that. It restores and re-energizes the spirit like nothing else can.

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