Most of us will finally change under two exaggerated conditions: either we cannot stand or tolerate the situation, issue, or circumstance any longer, so we will change; or we want to experience something that has such a passion for us that we will go for it, no matter what it takes. Both of these are extreme motivational processes. Change masters instead face and understand change as a natural daily process that creates constant openings for growth, learning, and psycho-spiritual development.” —Angeles Arrien
Some things become terrifying the more closely you study them. For me, Arrien’s observation about people, change, and exaggerated triggers is one of them.
Arrien was a cultural anthropologist who noticed that the common trigger for change is “under duress.”
Should people around us or over the horizon and far away bear more of the consequences of our reluctance than we do ourselves, we can be just self-absorbed enough to wait until those consequences sneak closer to us or people like us.
When the storm surges hit our cities, or drug addiction meets our children, then we’ll do something. But not before.
This is one of the core problems that Umair Muhammad addresses in Confronting Injustice. The strategies that work for resolving this problem at the interpersonal level, say between close relatives or in-laws, don’t work for a shared, global, and complex problem like climate change.
For a person I have a challenging dynamic with, I can easily say to myself, “If people around me are on a different path than me; if they choose to invest in coal production or start a street pills business, that’s up to them. I’m only responsible for my expectations and actions; I’m not responsible for what they choose.”
That’s rhetoric that a 12-step family support group might offer someone at their wit’s end because of a relative in straits.
But with climate change, there’s no viable way to retreat into the castle of the saved/woke and leave the damned/problematic on the far side of the moat. Our circle of concern and responsibility can’t be human-sized; it has to be Earth-sized with implications for all of us, or it won’t protect any of us.
Muhammad argues that we’ll need greater cooperation to plan and execute our responses to climate change than we’ve marshaled for anything else in human history, including the Second World War.
We’ll need that cooperation even more than we did during the war because, as Muhammad notes, the impulse to reduce consumption across industries and so reduce economic productivity entirely contradicts industrialized nations’ cultural stories about having more, doing more, and getting more in the venerable name of Profit Margin.
I think Muhammad’s right about what justice will cost, and I’m doing my best to imagine that the cooperation we need is in fact possible, despite all signs to the contrary in the US and international political systems.