The Paradox of Wanting to Change the World

2/19/2014

So the song by Emili Sande at the bottom – it does speak in a way about wanting to change the world.  However, it falls victim to an idea in our culture that if people can just find an audience, can just find their “voice” then that will change the world.  If you spend 5 minutes watching any reality show where young singing contestants are interviewed you will see this in action.  They just want to have a chance to sing before an audience – but in this instance it is also wrapped up in commercialism.  Success is also defined as having a record contract, and selling their music.  It seems that in our culture that there is a push to just find an outlet and then speak and we will change the world.  My reading of history shows a much different view of changing the world.  Enduring war, failure, and success only after death are often the hallmarks of those whose legacy endures.

F. Scott Fitzgerald observed, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  We live in a world where decision making rarely leaves a clear outcome and even doing their very best great people may fail miserably.   Those who put themselves in positions where they have to make those decisions have to live with this reality – the reality that even their best efforts will result in crushing failure and defeat.  Surgeons face this everytime they operate.  Every commanding officer in the army faces this when he gives orders to sends troops into the battlefield.  Police officers face this every time they go into communities with guns strapped to their sides. Presidents – the reality of that positions is something that I can barely imagine or even speculate on.

Also many noble, intelligent, generous, moral, and humane individuals have lived and are living happily in obscurity.  You hear about them – a friend may have met this amazing person, or you a hear a story of someone taking in a complete stranger and feeding them.  Every now and then I read articles that recount the deeds of remarkable anonymous people.   These people I believe change the world as much as any Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr.  These are the people who hold the fabric of their societies together – the smallest stitches that are invisible beside the bold strokes of the pattern but nonetheless keep the whole fabric from unraveling.

Coming back to this cult of success by just finding a platform and finding your voice.  It is seductive in its simplicity.  Make a difference by singing, by writing, by painting.  The internet feeds this.  Their are people who have genuinely made a difference through their art, but I am loathe to think they just fell into it.  True art is not about success – success defined in those terms is a business, which is fine.  I have no problem with art as a business.  It enriches culture and the economy but I don’t think it should be confused with something that is going to change the world – that is like a lightening strike.   This is an old argument though and I do not have enough knowledge to even begin to engage in it.

From an old text – Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

“For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.

No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist?

Here is a new voice also talking about wanting to change the world:

Emeli Sande – Read All About It

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “The Paradox of Wanting to Change the World

  1. Lots of good points – it’s an interesting question of what constitutes success and an enduring legacy. You mention how many creative, noble and talented people live in obscurity and how many artists are “successful” only long after they are gone – absolutely – there are many examples of this but it made me think of Henry Darger, a janitor and recluse who wrote a 13,000 page book that was only discovered by his landlord as Darger lay dying in a hospital. The documentary “The Realms of the Unreal” was made about him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRlvDKcDvsI

    I look forward to more articles!

    Cheers,
    Marcy Erb
    http://illustratedpoetry.com

  2. “Also many noble, intelligent, generous, moral, and humane individuals have lived and are living happily in obscurity. You hear about them – a friend may have met this amazing person, or you a hear a story of someone taking in a complete stranger and feeding them. Every now and then I read articles that recount the deeds of remarkable anonymous people. These people I believe change the world as much as any Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr. These are the people who hold the fabric of their societies together – the smallest stitches that are invisible beside the bold strokes of the pattern but nonetheless keep the whole fabric from unraveling.”

    This. Yes. You express it better than I have ever been able to. Thank you for that.

  3. Thanks for your writing here, it resonates! Occasionally we’ll find that cluster of flowers blooming where no one else will see, an orchid thriving high in sweaty branches in a twisted jungle…or delicate alpine petaled faces mesmerizing in the sun. So strange, because in mentioning them…I expose them, make them “famous” for bring so dang infamous…I can yank them out of their home, or bring tours to see them and yet now EXPOSURE is a kind of vandalism. And maybe, just maybe, its just knowing they are there, leaving them untouched, that brings the more pure joy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s