Stop, Look, and Listen…On Activism

“In our most private and most subjective lives we are not only the passive witnesses of our age and its sufferers, but also its makers. We make our own epoch.” Carl Jung, 1961

We live in a time of uncertainty. Encounters with fear, violence, and worries about safety are not uncommon in our daily lives. As we continue to meet a reality that feels unstable and unable to reliably provide for us due to a panoply of economic, environmental and social injustices, the call to take action becomes more urgent—the need to clarify movement towards conditions that serve our lives and away from those that threaten them more real.

We may not always know precisely where we are going, but we know we must take action; a movement must occur. But what is the quality of this movement? This is a critical question that is especially important in our times. Is violence justified? Is nonviolent resistance enough? Do I take signs out into the street? Write letters? There are many ways to ask the question.

 Stop Look Listen,  © Evan Kaufman

Stop Look Listen, © Evan Kaufman

Stop. Look. Listen. I remember being taught this jingle about road safety as a child and it seems deceptively appropriate in navigating questions of activism. We teach our children well not to go out into the street before following these simple steps. The path of action is well served by a clear mind, one that is self-aware and tuned in, one that can see and hear what is happening in the moment.

The stop is essential to intentional action. Pausing in awareness of the moment, we begin to see more clearly what is arising, both internally and externally. And as we listen attentively to the inner and outer environment, a sense of movement is cultivated. This cultivated movement gives rise to a kind a self-awareness. When we act based on self-awareness, we are clearer about the quality and intention of our movement. This is different than the kind of action that Noam Chomsky calls “acts of unfocused anger,” those that arise from a reactive mind and that erode the social fabric rather than mend or repattern it.

Sometimes the most radical acts are the simplest. Chomsky, in the documentary Requiem for the American Dream, recalls the words of his friend, the late activist historian Howard Zinn: What matters is the countless small deeds of unknown people who lay the basis for the significant events that enter history.” Our daily lives and our small, countless acts arise in harmony with a larger movement through our ability to stop, look, and listen. An activism available to us anytime, anywhere, and anyplace. Now that’s radical!