I am presently seated in an office. Behind me sunlight is banging its fist against a window whose shades are drawn, begging me to notice that Spring is arriving soon. Perhaps I should be doing work, but instead my mind has turned toward the broader sweep of history, time, philosophy and the role of the individual in the world (it should not be of great surprise that I am embracing such thoughts given that I am reading a biography of one of America’s greatest leaders: John Adams). I am contemplating the fact that people always seem to “act their age,” that they give in to the demands of “the real world” rather than adhere to the longings of their hearts, and I find myself longing to unfurl my personal manifesto like a flag and plant it deep into the soil of my being.
Poets fight fiercely against the constraints of physics and biology (let’s remember that Dylan Thomas wrote about how we should “rage, rage against the dying of the light) and, on rare occasions, they succeed. The words of Pablo Neruda, Federico García Lorca and Robert Frost emanate from their throats and make the earth upon which we stand tremble with their passion; that they are buried deep within that earth only serves to amplify the effect. And so it is for this reason that I, too, think, and feel, and write, for to take the violent passion that makes my flesh shudder with love and transform it into the sweet music of poetry, of entrepreneurship and of justice, is the greatest of endeavors.
I refuse to act my age. I vehemently oppose the idea that poverty and pollution are inevitable. I subscribe to no notion other than that which bends towards Truth. I laugh at categories, yet categorize all the same. The words of my elders reach me but do not affect me. Experts may speak their mind but I mind only the expertise given to me by experience, thinking and practice. Politicians lay claim to the boundaries of what is possible and attempt to codify it, but when I show my passport to the world it reads only “I belong to no one and everyone. I do not request passage across your border for I am a force that recognizes no limitations and is unstoppable.” My heart does not beat 60 times per minute: it thunders, it roars, it berates my entire being until I move my arms and my lips in accordance with the rhythm she sets down. It is not enough to say that I “march to the beat of a different drummer,” for I am the drummer, the beat and the march.
When I was in High School professors would ridicule my idealism and calmly inform me that upon seeing “the real world” I would become more pragmatic, as though the world they live in–one of poverty, disease, war and climate change–is one that I should accept or admire! Timid, sad souls! Why should I accept mediocrity just because they have? Even then I knew that the problem was not with the ideals that I was espousing but rather with the meek people who could not live up to those ideals. Many are those that can boast of lofty thoughts and feelings, but few–oh, so few!–are those that can pick up those feelings like a sword when the world is swollen with hatred, with obstacles, with hopelessness. Yet the great men and women of the world have always held fast to their hearts in times of difficulty and, more importantly, shown others that they must do the same. Great men and women do not tell others what to do, rather, they demand of others that they do what their hearts are asking of them.
What is “the real world,” anyway? Is it the one in which billions lack access to clean water, health care, shelter and a constant supply of food, while several hundred million waste and over consume all of those? If so, then I fail to see the wisdom of my professor’s words. In fact, I submit that, to be blunt, my professors were frustrated, idiotic and unimaginative people that were trying to squash the soaring imaginations of the youth that they taught. No! All progress in history starts with imagination, is carried forward by diligence and dedication and is brought to fruition by inspired action. I believe that an hour spent daydreaming is more valuable than 100 studying. Why? Because though the 100 hours of studying can produce knowledge, the hour of daydreaming can unleash ideas and wisdom, the most valuable of all human tools. We mustn’t forget that nonviolence is an idea, as is renewable energy, democracy, and even romantic love! Ideas are what allow us to conceive and create the previously unseen and impossible. If I had to worship a prophet I would choose, instead of a single person, the generic innovator–anyone who comes up with something new and valuable to the body, the mind, the soul or the world.
That is why I am so ardent a believer in social entrepreneurship as a tool for bettering the world. One of the most important things to me is the recognition that not only is it inspiring and fulfilling to work on social issues, it is also a hell of a lot of fun. After all, what could be better than to earn one’s living by improving the lives of others? To apply one’s talents and skills towards solving seemingly intractable problems? To invent, to invest and to implement? No longer can we afford to think of the “do-gooder” in terms of Gandhi and Mother Theresa, for that is a model that few can or want to emulate. But everyone wants financial security for themselves and everyone wants to be engaged in meaningful, exciting and challenging work! The great challenges of the 21st century call out to us; they ask that more people than ever before become engaged and link up their daily work with their soul work. The task of earning one’s daily bread must become inextricably linked with the never ending search for meaning and understanding that transpires within the hearts of men and women.
And then there is love. Not just romantic love, which is celebrated as much in popular culture as it is in literature, but also love for others and the world. Boundless, wild, passionate love. Agape. The love that is carried like pollen in the breeze, that brushes our cheeks every time we step outside, that waits for us in the cold of night and greets us through our windows in the morning. The love that allowed Gandhi to free a nation and Martin Luther King to free a people. The love, as Dante put it, “that moves the sun, the moon and other stars.” This is the love that burns within me; it is a candle whose wax singes my innards and then hardens, forming the architecture of oneness the way that volcanoes create new land. Love for the downtrodden and the privileged. Love for the bird that sings and the hunter who silences the bird.
There is a great Tibetan saying: “do not hate the person that hates; hate hatred.” Recognize that within all of us there lies the potential to do good and to do bad, and that the line between the two is often as murky as a stagnant pond. Reality calls us on to be compassionate. We must work in violent opposition to injustice in the world while also understanding that we, too, are unjust. Knowing this, Jesus preached the wisdom of nonviolence and non judgement. Gandhi once said that “if Christians really practiced Christianity (loving your neighbor as yourself, turning the other cheek, basically following the Sermon on the Mount) then all the world would gladly be Christian.”
Great things await us. But they do not wait forever. We must forever let them know that we are on the way. We must seek inspiration and inspire seekers. We must love one another so thoroughly that like a great river, we overflow and let that love spill forth upon our surroundings. In short, we must so thoroughly and completely allow ourselves to be who we are that we thoroughly and completely change the world.