This post was written by guest columnist Katharine Hargraves, a writer, designer, creative director, and curator based in Los Angeles. Her creative work explores tensions and dynamics between interfaces and strives to engage the public in open-ended collaboration.
A culture reflects the collective. Entrepreneur and economist Jeff Lawrence famously said, “There is no such thing as a dysfunctional organization, because every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it currently gets.” Apply this logic to the social, economic, and environmental issues of modern times and it’s easy enough to see that solutions to the problems at hand require everyone’s participation.
Certainly, it is easier to absolve one's self of responsibility and continue to blame our policy-makers for our growing global problems. Yet, our insistence that one man or entity alone can uphold our values is what needs to be examined. Around the world, we are witnessing a breakdown of alignment on a global scale. In simple terms, power is an exchange in which both audience and authority participate. We cannot undo history's violent imprint, but we can adjust our input.
Traditionally, communities self-regulate with trust. In this exchange, all individuals are expected to contribute toward the success of the whole. Yet large cities don't translate the ancestral social codes the same way and we max out. It becomes easier to vocalize a value set in a status update than actively make the trade-offs that every moral decision inevitably asks of us.
Day after day the news bleeds.The crowd mentality is so pervasive in our culture that it's easier to just watch that cat video because if we decide to take a stand the first question we must ask ourselves is “What do I do?” What you allow is what will continue. When you are aligned with your values, things change for the better. Put another way -- the results are what you expected. As the Millennial generation continues to evolve into the world's players, the challenge that will define us (beyond our ability to navigate the deafening levels of information) is whether we embrace this new power – and before it's too late.
The internet makes us equally engaged and apathetic. Witnesses at remove, the events unfolding on the computer screen need more than our “informed” commentary and upvotes. In other words, we need to allot our attention equally to both digital and physical arenas. We can harness the internet's power to bootstrap our growing impact, but real change happens when we live consciously from our values combined with active engagement in our local community.
Start simple; cultivate trust in your circles. Buy what you believe in. Turn off Facebook and take a walk. Commit to a cause. Ask who you can help today. Match every impassioned comment you leave online with a stand in real life. You are what you feed.
Today's activist has a different toolkit than the stoic icons of social justice from the 60's and impassioned revolutionaries of the 70s. While the digital arena has proved effective in mobilizing the grassroots sector, the expectations of the national and global community demand our participation on the daily. Although the corporations in power are good at keeping us distracted, the system will only serve our needs when we take ownership - beginning at the individual level.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently noted, true – and lasting – change requires “ordinary people envisioning, acting, and constructing the future.”
So until further notice your participation is required.