As I’ve watched and read about the Occupy protests spreading around the world, I’ve found myself growing ever more optimistic that at long last, fueled by a combination of righteous anger, passionate concerns, as well as growing fears, we are waking up from a trance and are taking the necessary steps to create viable solutions to our complex, interconnected and growing problems.
There’s a Star Trek episode called “This Side of Paradise” in which a group of colonizers on a bucolic planet are drugged by the spores of a flower that make them wholly happy, yearning for nothing. When the starship Enterprise visits the colonists, the entire crew becomes exposed to the spores and abandons the starship to live a life of bliss on the planet’s surface. Only Captain Kirk, loving his starship so much that his anger and fear served as an antidote to the spores, remains immune to the siren call of a life of ease. He manages to provoke and enrage Mr. Spock, his first officer, enough that the drug’s effects wear off him, too, and together they come up with a plan to break the spores’ effects on everyone else. Freed from the spores’ power, the colonizers realize that they have done nothing on the planet in all the years they’ve been there. Recognizing, however, that he’s taken away their seeming happiness, Kirk is compelled to soliloquize that we must struggle, work and face meaningful challenges to be fully human, arguing that this is our essential nature.
In this moment in history, we are witnessing a massive movement to face and solve huge challenges. Fueled in equal measure by anger, fear and a love of justice, freedom, democracy and our very planet, people are voicing their frustrations and expressing their ideas. Every single day this movement grows bigger.
As people gather in protest and longing; express their anger, as well as their thoughts for viable solutions to systemic problems; fill the streets of every major city; and embrace the challenge of creating true democracy, real peace, just economies and viable systems that safeguard our earth and the myriad species who reside here, the world is witnessing how anger and yearning can finally break the hold of apathy. When people face the loss (and potential loss) of access to the basic necessities of life, and when the vapid consumerist mindset that has kept them seemingly content no longer cuts it, they are leaving their entertainment centers (not so dissimilar from Star Trek’s ease-inducing spores) to work for change.
As the momentum continues to gather, the future (however bleak it may appear when we catalog the numbers of people living in poverty and slavery, or of animals becoming extinct, or the rate of global heating that exceeds scientists’ predictions), is less bleak with each passing day that more and more people peacefully gather and demand substantive, systemic change and offer well-thought-out solutions to the complex challenges we face.
What will keep this movement going and growing is the fact that it feels so very good to do something; that as Joan Baez once said, “Action is the antidote to despair”; that the people who are taking to the streets are enlivened by the act of taking up this challenge. They are satisfying something deeply essential to human nature that Captain Kirk spoke of: the need to strive to meet a worthy goal. Most of the solutions to our grave challenges still remain hidden, but millions are coming out to seek them. And they are finding out how meaningful (and even in the midst of resistance, joyful), this can be.
That taking up this great work is so inherently rewarding is the greatest possible news for dark times. The satisfaction and joy people feel in coming together for a common purpose and a challenging task will fuel the eventual success of this global movement for justice, peace and restoration.
If you haven’t joined this movement yet, in your own way, with your own voice and talents and style of action, don’t delay. Ask yourself what you fear and what you love? What world do you want? What talents and knowledge do you bring to the table? What solutions can you come up with? Embody them. Do them. Share them. You’ll likely find your greatest happiness in the process and discover the depth of what it can mean to be fully human, fully engaged, fully committed to living your life with integrity and purpose.
Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and dynamic resources. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given a TEDx talk on humane education and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil.
Image courtesy of Mat McDermott via Creative Commons.