It took me five years to write The Millennial’s Guide to Changing the World, because my intentions for writing it went through so many metamorphoses. I’ve decided that there are noble, level-headed, and productive reasons to want to change the world and there are batshit crazy reasons to want to change the world that will likely land you in a ditch somewhere with burned bridges all around you.
So, if we’re going to be effective at making change on a planet that seems to desperately need it, we also need to know on the deepest level possible that the world is perfect the way it is. Because it is the world that we have created — and the only way to bring peace to the planet is to be at peace with it; to find the order within the chaos. And then suddenly, it is clear to see that there is deep meaning behind the process of evolution and the time upon which we find ourselves in the now-ness of it. The change is always changing, and the best, most highest form of service we can perform here within the changing is offer our gifts to the material unfolding from a space of joy and contentment.
No one wants to work to change the world alongside a person who is in endless turmoil over it.
But you’ll never be able to walk through this world in that headspace if you try to change it for the following reasons:
1. BECAUSE THE APOCALYPSE IS NIGH!!
I spent a very long arguing with a mentor over this one. He basically said to me, “Alison, every species on this planet is evolving its way into extinction. If you think that you can stop that from happening then you are one sick fuck. Get a real job!”
Scientists just gave humanity until 2030 to act before catastrophic damage of climate change begins to take its toll. The time to do something about the complete unsustainability of our infrastructure was a decade ago.
However, the second best time to act is now. Authoritative, informed, united action on climate change will demand the entire restructuring of our society to integrate the needs of all living things into the systems that create resources for human beings.
And I, for one, cannot wait!
But I also know it’s not going to happen if we’re running around like decapitated chickens who already believe on a subconscious level that it’s too late for humanity — and that we are doomed.
For a long time, my efforts to change the world had me swinging from extremes — nihilistic paralysis to overzealous martyrdom burnout. In my young mind, I thought that large amounts of positive change would happen overnight; though now I understand that it’s not how the system works. Large institutions that have a monopoly on policy die slowly. We are operating from a corrupted framework, where large amounts of negative change do seem to happen sweepingly fast, but the fight for equal rights and reform occurs in tiny, underpublicized victories. We keep ourselves sane by learning to notice and appreciate the growth, and by accepting that resistance to the furthering of the needless destruction by the demagogues and their stupidity is just part of the package that comes with being a human who is alive, engaged, and caring.
I’ve also learned that it takes a lot less time to imagine the “creative collapse” than it seems to take for it to happen.
And maybe every generation has their own very special apocalypse theme. If it’s not the Mutually Assured Destruction of the Cold War, it’s the 2012 Mayan Calendar ending. Or what about that time all the computers were supposed to go haywire and explode during Y2K? Each time nothing bad happened, but in my house we sure did stock up on bottled water, which I guess is causing the world to end now.
It’s all an ebb and flow. One thing leads to another and the future is unwritten and you’re going to die eventually, whether it’s old and happy in some bed surrounded by your nine loving children or in a giant tidal wave, so chill the fuck out.
We don’t what’s going to happen. But we do know that all the people on this planet are going to die. One way or another, the people are going to die. How many have to die via climate catastrophes will be determined by how well and how quickly we can come together.
I’d like to believe that if we get our shit together fast enough, that solutions to issues like climate change will help create systems that make life better for us all. Let’s keep our mind focused on that bright future.
2. BECAUSE YOU ARE OUTPICTURING YOUR OWN SUFFERING ONTO OTHERS IN A STRANGE MARTYR/HERO/RESCUER COMPLEX
I remember back when I thought that everyone else around me was in such a horrible state of suffering; and that because I was such a privileged white biatch, it was my duty to save them all — even though all I probably did in my attempts was fuck their shit up more due to my meddling.
There’s a difference between sympathy and empathy.
There’s a type of sympathy that sees the pain in others and identifies with it on a deep unconscious level. This type of sympathy lives in a state of self-denial, in a space without self-compassion, and so it constantly attempts to climb out of one’s own skin and “fix” someone else to avoid what another’s suffering bring up for them.
However, the truth is that it’s the same pain. The same composition of nerve endings feel the same pain — whether it’s the hunger of a man who is homeless on the street or if it’s the existential angst of a millennial cashier, whose worldview has been shattered by the seeming meaningless of post-modern society and is fantasizing about ways to kill themselves as you inquire to them about the ingredients of the ranchero sauce you are about to order, wondering why they seem to be disassociating from their body.
Empathy understands this. And people who are capable of functional empathy are people who are also capable of self-compassion. Self-compassion calms the nervous system down, so you’re not so engulfed by your own pain. When you are calm and whole and peaceful, you can actually alter your actions to respect and accomodate the feelings of others.
Empathy is far more self-controlled than sympathy. It’s far more effective at self-preservation and strategically supporting those who are struggling with life in one way or another.
Because at the end of the day, no one can make another person come to terms with hand of cards they’ve been dealt regarding their identity and upbringing, and no one can empower someone enough to be able to skillfully play them, if they are attached to a victim identity.
What we can do is empower ourselves enough to be the kind of people who are capable of being interdependent with others in the world with steadfast integrity. And that is a lot of work in and of itself.
All we can do is stand before others as a living example of what it means to live with inspiration, to be liberated from the cause and effect of it all; to be the type of person who makes different choices, despite their self-destructive or abusive impulses. That is the type of person who can guide those who are willing and able to change, to change the way they interact with others and themselves.
All you can do is be empowered enough to create; to develop the kind of mindset that turns challenges into opportunities; to make your life’s work about skillfully solving a problem that effects many and makes you money, but in a way that one day these desperate people won’t need you anymore.
3. BECAUSE YOU WANT TO MAKE YOUR PARENTS PROUD
Ugh. This one is insidious. I was raised by two over-achievers. My bloodline is filled with outliers touting an intimidating amount of superlatives. My Grandma’s cousin won the Nobel Prize, gosh darnit. My great aunt was in the laboratory with Jonas Salk, when he developed the polio vaccine.
Do you know what that’s like?
Can you imagine the pressure of being the chosen one whose whole ancestral legacy has destined you to be the millennial who must to change the world to save the other millennials from the baby boomer apocalypse??
On some level, I was writing this book to make my parents proud.
And eventually, I realized I just needed to learn to put my dishes in the sink and Swiffer the hardwood floor and not die or go to jail to make them happy with me.
You have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can fly.
And perhaps sometimes you just need to learn how to file your taxes before you can change the world.
4. BECAUSE YOU HATE SOCIETY OH SO MUCH
“The first step to the knowledge of the wonder and mystery of life is the recognition of the monstrous nature of the earthly human realm as well as its glory, the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think they know how the universe could have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without death, are unfit for illumination.” — Joseph Campbell
Am I afraid of the system collapsing? Or do I not-so secretly want it to?
For most of my teenage years, I used to be embroiled with hatred for the system.
I used to sit in class and think about all the ways I could be a better teacher than this person.
I would think about the reasons why I should be President.
I would think about why we even need the electoral college.
I would think about smashing the patriarchy.
I would think about going off grid and starting a utopian society.
I would think about how I hated money, how I didn’t want to be a part of system that raised people to behave like cattle.
I didn’t want a social security number.
I didn’t want a credit score.
I hated it all, until I realized that what I really hated was…me!
And when you have nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.
What I hated was my relationship with money. I hated my relationship with the rules and authority. I hated my relationship with the voting system. I hated my perceptions of the monstrous nature of the earthly, human realm and the fact that in one way or another we are all basically food for one another.
Now instead of hate it, I’ve decided to play with it all.
To harvest all of that fear-based emotional charge and transmute in the heart, so that it turns into intuition.
And then, all of a sudden, this archetypal battlefield I used to be such a warrior in, turns into an amusement park where I am awake while dreaming.
And you now what? I don’t care if you lived during the time of Mao Zedong, Cleopatra, or Franklin Roosevelt — the wicked problems of the world have always been there. There will always be duality and polarity on this realm, but I do have a choice about how I perceive and navigate it all — and have decided to do so with some semblance of self-awareness and dignity.
Must we really throw the baby out with the bathwater for the system to evolve?
5. BECAUSE YOU WANT TO BE FAMOUS
I think that everything on this list could be considered symptoms of the psychological condition known as narcissism that I have spent lots of time studying, because like Icarus I have been known to fly too close to the sun at times, until I realized that: not everything has to be so greg damn dramatic.
And you don’t have to be known by all as an altruist to feel good about taking up space here on planet Earth.
Because what is this whole change the world game really about? Is it about others? Or is it about your ego, bravado, and validating that poor, miserable inner identity you keep avoiding inside of yourself?
When changing the world becomes about your ego, about being known by others for being so conscious and sexy and benevolent, you start to become the evil and vanity that created this empire.
When you want to change the world to become famous, the ends start to justify the means.
And as far as I can see, “helping” people — the kind people who really need it, is a gritty, dark occupation that requires much training and forces you to sit at the bottom-of-the-barrel, shoulder to shoulder with those who need to be seen and need to remember that humanity can be generous. Humanity can be kind. Humanity can view you in all of your desperation and denial without judgement.
It is not sexy. It does not revolve around photoshoots and green juice and yoga.
And it has nothing to do with many toes are you willing to step on to get to the top to be recognized as beneficent by all.
It is not about rising to power. It is about how we rise to power; and if we are lifting others up or putting them down, as we inch closer to our own self-realization of what it means be love and be loved.
I don’t think anyone really wants to be famous, for the price of fame is a giant psychological toil in and of itself. We want to be famous because we want to be successful. We want to be famous because we want to be loved.
And I love you, whether you are famous and whether you change the world or not.
You can find more of Alyson’s work on https://www.alisonsher.com/