By conservative estimates, there are currently enough wrongfully convicted people in prison in the United States to fill a football stadium.
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On Hiroshima Day, I was at a small demonstration in front of the General Electric headquarters in New York City, protesting nuclear power and nuclear weapons. At 8:15 a.m., the moment the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, we sat down in front of the entrance and observed silence. We were arrested almost immediately, taken to the First Police Precinct and kept in a holding cell for about an hour. During this time, except when I had to walk, I meditated.
Meditating didn’t “protect” me from what was happening, but made me experience it more directly. Certain moments filled me with blind terror: the handcuffs being snapped on my wrists, the door to the cell clicking shut. What scared me was knowing there was No Way Out.
Of course there is a way out, and that is internal. While meditating, I realized that I didn’t really want to go anywhere, I was just attached to being able to go somewhere. Meditation enabled me to overcome this attachment, to channel my energy from the ego center to the heart.
This is the true alchemy — the transformation of fear into love. It’s available to all of us. It can save the world.
But on the physical level, putting one’s body in front of the entrance to General Electric — sole producer of uranium for the American military — is a good start.
New York City, New York
Society is us, not some remote or abstract entity “out there.” Our thoughts and feelings this moment are making the world what it is and creating our perception of it. No matter what we may like to think, we are always equal to what we judge. In the spirit of this recognition, changing society becomes the moment to moment play of changing ourselves, of becoming the good we wish to see. As we embody the change we seek, we give it substance, we become part of its foundation — a foundation that can last where words, programs and legislation cannot.
What is important then is not so much what we do, but what we are — our willingness to be animated by Truth. In letting freedom in, in doing 100 percent what we are best at, without reserve, in being ourselves, we fill our places in the dance of the Whole. As the colors and shades of a great painting radiate their part, the whole painting brightens. It is ever so simple. It is us and up to us and the time is now.
Mill Valley, California
Things fall apart. We might as well be reconciled to that.
I think of the missionaries who come to my door and come in to talk, who remind me of something in myself. Something in me sees the safe world, the known world, crumbling, and wants to hit the problem of changing society with a blueprint, a textbook and a technique. To do it like an engineer, build a good structure and walk away, problem solved.
But the problem isn’t solved.
Society isn’t just a hunk of metal. It’s us, it breathes. Maybe we do well to treat it like a person, not be hitting it with hammers all the time, give it space to be what it is and appreciate it for that.
Things have been going downhill for as long as anyone can remember, probably since the beginning of time. That viewpoint is always available.
But life is not a situation where I am building up and evolving while society (that is, everyone else) is breaking down. I share the whole breakdown. Day after day, my life falls to pieces! By reflex I rouse up all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to fit the smashed egg back together. Occasionally though, I accept the catastrophe and something surprising happens: something strong and new stands where the mess was. Humpty Dumpty becomes a beautiful omelet.
This past summer the course of my relations with the opposite sex was driving me crazy. All these grand, saving relationships were failing, one after another, before they’d even begun. It was breaking me to pieces. One day I finally let go and began to watch, as if at a picture show, popcorn in hand. I still felt drawn to my big dreams, but I had gained a freedom from them. I’ve laughed and cried, watching a few more go.
What drives us crazy about society may be just what we need to grow. Sure, the world is a damned mess. But there’s a smile down there, on the other side. It’s all working out by falling to pieces.
I’m not saying death to engineers. Let’s improve roads, sewers, administrative efficiency, minimum standards of living and health. But the project doesn’t end when the engineer’s new structure is built. The slow disintegration is as true as the quick integration. Why so desperate?
Maybe we can relax a bit. Maybe society saves itself, and we can love it, let it find its own way back home. Wherever, whatever that is.
Changing society is different things for different people. Somebody wants bike lanes, somebody else wants socialized medicine, somebody else wants disarmament. I’m one of the people who’d like to see the whole thing turn round — not over, into its opposite (which is the pothole we’re plagued with as dualists; we can only see the gaping hole in the gum, not the new tooth coming in) but a real healing, a realignment, a new way to be.
That’s going to take a lot more than picket lines. Of course, you’ve got to holler when a car backs over your toe. But how does a person born and bred in an automobile factory dream a horse?
My relationship to my body, to my dreams and music, to assorted voices, has carried me past Revlon, the White House, and asphalt. But not much past. Even as a third generation musician (mother and grandmother hold degrees in music — an exceptional heritage for a woman) it’s been just about all I could do to keep at it. It’s pretty safe to say that this society is hard on women, poets, artists, in fact, everybody you didn’t see on Ozzie and Harriet, to say nothing of the earth.
Some concrete suggestions: if you are working with, for, or giving time to a group or organization, subject it to these criteria:
The only other thing I can offer is a lifestyle suggestion: GET BACK. And sympathy for all the schizophrenia (Joan of Arc vs. I’m-just-a-little-drop-in-the-bucket), self-doubt, and suffering in trying to live (love) by your own lights.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
To really change society, make a plan and then make it work, on the deepest and most subtle levels of reality. The ancient Hindu scriptures, Ayurveda, tell how to concretize the desired intentions. Change is born first in the infinitely refined areas of existence.
If I want something to be different, first I make room for the change. Then I wait and watch to see how the wind is blowing. If you take off against the wind, there’s too much resistance. Better to keep alert and map time. Patterns and cycles make themselves known quickly to those of patience and faith.
Purity of heart is the key to success. To love the Lord, thy God, above all things, and thy neighbor as thyself — that makes a lot of room for change.
The most effective use of the surroundings is to use what is at hand. If it’s not at hand, then it has to be obtained, with as little effort as possible (effort = resistance). What cannot be obtained must be created, and there again energy is expended. Make good use of the surroundings and achievement becomes effortless. Life by its nature is infinitely long and progressive. Only struggle creates failure and woe and despair.
As the young 60’s idealist I had tried to change society: break down the bad old to bring in the better new. Now I realize that “society” was much too big for me. I am one person and can touch only those directly around me. Society is people — individual, unique, living, changing persons — you, me, Adib, Mary, Juan, and Mr. Kleinbaum. All colors, all year, all different wave-lengths.
Change what to what and for what? Everything is always changing and yet “there is nothing new under the sun.” Change hate to love? Greed to charity? Self-centeredness to brotherhood? How can one change another’s heart? I can only change mine alone and that with great difficulty and much failure. And perhaps, I can also touch another’s heart with a smile and a helping hand, person to person.
Remember when it was “in” to say “for real!” to any comment? Why add “for real”? Something is either real or it is an illusion. Really change? Do you mean permanent change? Then ask as well for the wind to freeze. As long as there is life, there is change, bad to good and good to bad.
To make society do what they want it to do is the aim of all political institutions, religions and corporations. All are effective to a degree, but as wise ol’ Lincoln said, “You may fool all of the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” And thank God for that truth.
In my crusade to change society, I have learned this: society is an abstraction like “loving mankind.” I can only affect those around me, love them as they are, meet them where they are. Hopefully I can touch their hearts with love and then, perhaps, they will change within themselves where they really are. Each person is society. Start to change society by loving your neighbor (and don’t play the pharisee and ask, “Who is my neighbor?”). This answer will not suit the revolutionary nor the impatient idealist, but it is my answer (I admit taken from One who practiced it much better than I) and I have seen it work.
Helga E. Tetzlaff
I can tell you loudly and with authority, brethren, the most fundamental answer to the question of really changing society. Like the person who told President Nixon that the way to get out of Vietnam (a question that so puzzled the press and intelligentsia at that time) was to turn the boats around, I can tell you that the way to change society is to change yourself.
Don’t you dare tell the Metropolitan Sanitary District they’re polluting the Chicago River until you keep all known poisons like drugs, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco out of your own blood river. Don’t you dare shout for urban renewal until you’ve renewed all your own flab, unexercised muscles, and broken down mind-chambers filled with the soot and run-down piss of TV watching. If you want to get big on defending this society’s poor and leveling out a bit its rich, then before you form a Marxist action group in your neighborhood, be sure that you sell all that you have of any value and give it to the poor in your own neighborhood (they’re there), let anyone who wants to use your car and house and phone and bath and spend no money on any frivolities including eating out, vacations, delicate food like ice cream and candy bars, records, concerts, movies, and similar indulgences.
One little pure sparrow does a universe more of society-changing than a thousand half-pure grackles. When a grackle tells the ravens to clean up, the grackle enlarges to overflowing the rank of the hypocrites and society remains the same. When the pure sparrow tells the ravens to clean up, a soft song resounds through eternity with the weight of a black hole (let the astrophysicists understand) and the power of a tide. “Society” is nudged toward pure, positive, life-giving change; the world is advantaged and there is music in the heavenly spheres.
A quick listing of some of the laws governing the Heavenly Kingdom of Love (which a modern age will be skeptical of viewing as it does license as virtue rather than license as the tool with which to find virtue) are: 1. Put God first; 2. Don’t worship idols or fashions; 3. Don’t use God’s name unless you know what you’re talking about; 4. Remember the seventh day Sabbath to keep it as a day distinct from the working days; 5. Honor those who have parented you; 6. Don’t hurt people; 7. Don’t play fast and loose with love and marriage; 8. Don’t steal; 9. Don’t lie about your fellow human beings, your brothers; and 10. Don’t desire things you don’t have or can’t afford. There are others, like forgive those that wrong you, pray for your enemies, turn the other cheek when persecuted, love your neighbor as yourself, and share what you have. Abide by these and the atmosphere of Heaven is brought into your life, joy is spread abroad in your own heart and to others, and the world is changed a bit, for the better.
Christians (one of the world’s large religions) teach that only one Man ever lived that way perfectly and in so doing He not only changed the world but redeemed it. Things will really change if you begin to believe something so wild and large and wonderful as that.
Elk Grove, Illinois
(I.) Let’s go play!
Let’s all go to our favorite places and daydream about what we’d like to do if we could do anything in the world. What do we enjoy most? What do we do best? (We’d have a world full of enthusiastic people — just imagine all that energy!)
Let’s all figure out, from our dreams and visions, what kind of world we’d like to live in. Let’s write stories and draw pictures and sing songs about that world.
Then let’s do all we can to make our visions real now.
(II.) Every year, give one family in each neighborhood worldwide a one-year vacation in a totally unfamiliar place. Let family members live the lives of their new neighbors for the year, with few remnants of their accustomed lives to dilute the experience of cooperating and communicating in a different culture. In time, chains of personal contacts will envelop the world. Fund this peace corps with money ordinarily wasted on armaments and other military foolishness ($500 billion last year!).
What about society really needs changing? Violence in all its manifestations, expressions and subtleties is a pervasive and worthwhile target. When did it become all right for people to hurt other people? And more importantly, how can it be changed?
Stop hitting children; it is straightforward, deceptively simple, and involves changes toward the developing generation by the generation in power. Stop hitting a generation of children and our society will change, slowly, inexorably, permanently.
The reasons for not hitting children are three-fold, but interrelated. The first objection is that violence and pain are ethically repugnant means of coercion. Most people would not resort to physically attacking another adult, but somehow it is more acceptable to bop and bash children. Its acceptability is all the stranger when one considers that an adult is several times the height and weight of a child. “It’s for his own good,” smash! “She has to learn sometime,” crack!
The second objection is psychological and somewhat complex. Succinctly, if a human being is hurt, traumatized, or threatened, the first impulse is to pull away. If the noxious situation cannot be avoided it is withstood but with psychological consequences. The helpless child may attempt to master similar situations in the future with the violence which that child knows best, and with all the rage, this time, that could not be safely expressed previously. Abused children become abusive parents and it is partially their need to psychologically overcome the violence done to them as children that leads parents to hit “with a vengeance.”
The third objection is developmental and focuses on how and what children learn. Children, as many creatures, learn best and most rapidly by observation. As children watch parents hit, they too learn it is acceptable. Restrictions exist but, within those limits, it’s okay to hit and punch to get what you want; it’s okay to hurt people. The restrictions seem less important than the fact that a basic behavior has been learned and generalized to other situations.
Stop hitting children and many of the reasons children grow up to hit will be gone. Stop hitting children and the chain of be struck and strike back will be broken. Stop hitting children and in 50 years we will have a society where it will be as morally repugnant to wage war as it should be to strike and hurt your own child.
Jamaica, New York
Society is a huge forest, and each of us is merely a single tree within that vastness. Most of us can’t see the forest for the trees. To change society (which is this grand thing like mountains and heaven) we must break it down into parts and see ourselves in it, in this microcosm of living, and change it by starting with ourselves. Change that part of you that you see “out there” which you don’t like. Then help neighbors and co-workers where the roots of their problems are. We have to change people’s minds to change the environment they live in. From community to county, county to region, throughout the expanding universe of the world, of the forest. But, like the growth of trees, it is a slow process. All good things take time.
Love all things; the rock, the cloud, the body, the spirit. Other guides: don’t watch too much television (moderation), read more (do your homework), believe in yourself (eliminate self-hate), exercise (body and mind), recycle (cans and thoughts), improve your memory, eat wholesome foods, avoid negativism, be happy, be patient, seek truth, listen to your heart and intuition and allow for mistakes (have compassion). Provide an environment where change is possible. Let the tree grow. It knows how to grow on its own. When the season is right, change will occur. There is no gardener in the forest. Only animals. The inclusion of one thing does not mean the exclusion of another. There is enough room for us all.