June 11, 2017  |  Sunday Letter, Trinity Sunday

Grace and peace to you and through you

In the face of so much that is going on at the moment, the question is often asked: What difference can one person make? We ask ourselves this question when trying to gage whether anything we do will make a difference for good in the world. Sometimes just asking the question becomes the basis for us to not do a thing – because after all, why do something that we are not sure is going to make any difference?

Yet, have you noticed that we are less inclined to question the difference one person can make when that person is acting against the common good. We see it here and abroad, one person in one position wreaking havoc. I am sure a couple of leaders come to mind.

I realise that one of the explanations for this may be because it is easier to break something down than it is to build something up; which makes the “breakers” arguably more effective than the “builders”, or at least so it seems. It is also obvious that things take longer to build than they do to destroy. It can take a few minutes to chop down a tree of many years. The breakers are camera-grabbing sprinters who can fit their destruction into a tweet, while the builders are ultra-marathon plodders needing a full-length documentary to tell their story. The “breakers” also tend to use extremely blunt, yet very effective motivating tools like fear and selective favour.

Nevertheless it’s interesting that we are more inclined to question the difference a person can make when they set out to do good than we are for one bent on doing harm. As Rebecca Solnit says in her fantastic book, Hope in the Dark: “People have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.”

But there may be other reasons that we need to take more responsibility for. Fearing the burden of responsibility upon us, we sometimes convince ourselves to the point of certainty that nothing good can be achieved. We make statements like: “But that will never happen.” “They will never change …” “They will always …” In this we become certain of our own futility by a made-up story that is filled with insurmountable stumbling blocks making the hope for change impossible. As Solnit says: “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes–you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is … the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.”

Sometimes the “builders” are more like sustainers who don’t do anything other than preserve what is and therefore the results of their work are not easily seen or valued until what is, is no longer. A bit like a riverbank that for the longest time faithfully channels the waters responsibly, only to be noticed when broken. Because nobody is tweeting about a riverbank doing its job today, let us honour the unnoticed and under-appreciated river-bankers who humbly channel life among us.

Grace, Alan

 


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