Making a difference or else?

As I thought more about my last post I started to wonder whether my attack on “making a difference” might encourage resignation or paralysis in the face of “a world on fire.” Certainly, I observe a fair amount of resigned and/or paralysed nihilism in the attitudes and actions of those around me. Perhaps such persons have caught on more quickly to the problems with “making a difference” and have taken this realization to its natural (resigned) conclusions.

I think that there is probably some truth to this. People concerned with the world around them become disillusioned, because making that difference either seems so impossible and difficult (grabbing control and imposing difference) or else so trivial (buying fair trade). Or else they see the destructiveness in the kind of difference-making that focusses on possession and control, in its various manifestations. Not knowing where else to turn, they sink into resignation, apathy, and paralysis.

But, the root of this apathy comes prior to the recognition that making a difference may be exhausting, unethical, damaging, stupid, or trivial. For we start down this path as soon as making a difference becomes primary. It’s this initial move that entraps us into a logic that must make change or else. What if, instead of saying “yes, the world is fucked, now go make a difference,” we said “yes, the world is fucked, so go do some good work”? If we didn’t start with the importance of making a difference in the face of evil, then, it looks to me like this kind of resigned apathy would have no source or sustenance. On the other hand, the opportunity to do good work might just mobilize people to work for good in our world, including that good which requires dramatic change at a systemic level.

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2 comments on “Making a difference or else?

  1. Kampen says:

    Your post made me think of this poem:

    It may be that when we no longer know what to do
    we have come to our real work,

    and that when we no longer know which way to go
    we have come to our real journey.

    The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

    The impeded stream is the one that sings.

    -Wendell Berry, “The Real Work”

  2. Gerald Ens says:

    I like it. Thanks for this. I think it speaks well to what I was trying to get at.

    You probably won’t be surprised to hear that, though it’s been some years since I’ve read Berry, I’m very aware of his influence whenever I write something along the theme of “good work” or “end goal isn’t everything”, and this was especially the case for my last two posts.

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