Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Challenging the Status Quo

A few years ago I happily discovered that I share a birthday with Dr. Suess. If you don't know who Dr. Suess is (apparently he's not so well known outside of the US) please do yourself a favor and google him then read some of his witty, creative, and colorful children's books (my favorite is the Lorax). In light of Dr. Suess and my recent obsession with his quotes here is a particularly good one that was shared with me (also from the Lorax): 

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.

I liked this quote so much that I made the bold move to throw it in a recent PhD application essay. We'll see how that turns out for me... But either way it got me to thinking. The more I learn, the more I realize how ridiculously complicated everything in this world is. I find myself wishing I could place myself on one of two spectrums: blissfully ignorant or passionately idealistic. I think I used to fall into the latter category and now I want to jump back into my passionate idealism. While I'm grateful to have a much much better understanding of the complexities surrounding the world's problems and ultimately human behaviour, I also don't want this knowledge to make me apathetic and cynical. Because I do believe that the first step is simply caring, "a whole awful lot". 

The intricacies of our political and economic system and the unfortunate intertwining of the two, can leave any informed person exhausted and depressed at the complexity and simply seemingly hopeless situation. There are times when I just want to shut out the world around me with its hunger, disease, corruption, greed, and sadness and just climb to a mountain, build a hut and stay there in my own little world pretending everything is perfect. But here's the thing: even though I complain about the US and feel utterly overwhelmed when thinking how anything will ever change in my country, and even though I find myself super cynical and skeptical of most development assistance and white people going over to help "poor Africans" when I really think about injustice and how often the US has promoted some of this injustice or when I think about innocent people dying, or when I think about how through some of the simple actions I take every day I am inadvertently destroying our beautiful world; I can't help but care A LOT. And even though my education has perhaps aided in making me cynical it has also shown me that perhaps I CAN do something. 

Ultimately, I'm sick of having conversations about the world's problems and ending with well maybe someday it will change but this is the system we're just stuck in. Perhaps that is our problem today. When I think about history and the change-makers they were people who didn't accept things the way they are even if that was easier and safer, instead they were people who rejected the status quo. I've never been one to strictly follow the status quo and prefer to charge ahead and forge my own path, but I want to take this stubbornness (as people close to me call it) a step further and really challenge the status quo. So instead of complaining about how people don't bike in the US, I am just going to start biking wherever I end up next (whether or not it's in the US) as much as it is in my power to do so. Biking works in the Netherlands for many reasons but a big part of the success of biking is because there is simply a critical mass of people who bike. Forming a critical mass of support for anything is ultimately what can create change. 

Religiously taking up biking may not be a big step and I have plans to try and do more in other areas that make my blood boil in frustration, but whatever I do, I'm going to continue to question and refuse to accept things that I don't like simply because its easier. Change is never easy, but that doesn't make it any less necessary. To end my pep talk for the day: let's care a whole awful lot and start rejecting the status quo! 

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