• Ian McClellan

Week 41: I will be imperfect.

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

To get a good idea of the real state of the world I have always found it useful to go online, search for mainstream articles or videos at source, and read the comments. Not the headline, or the content. The bits at the bottom, where you are asked for an opinion, or where you are asked for ‘your say’.

This works, because headlines and content, are polished and thoughtful. They have passed through the scrutiny of a legal approvals and the expert filter of a PR department. The original is probably a good read, is balanced. It will have a hook, it might be publicising a TV show on the topic to learn more.

The comments are reactive, emotional, and mostly not moderated even if they should be. It works for stuff that has been shared as well, or stuff that has been Tweeted, posted, screen-grabbed, but sometimes that is already emotional or biased to the views of the reader.

Looking through the comments reveals the divisiveness of the world. Divisiveness that was the trigger for me to start project planetwise, in the manner that I did and the manner that I have tried to continue. To find common ground, even if it is just me doing better compared to myself. To feel less blessed as well as less outraged. To not to wait for systemic change from above, or groups, but start it from within and on an individual level. To be more informed outside of the bubble of our world, our social media, that none of us can help but exist. To be imperfect.

As the weeks go by, I’ve sometimes wondered if this somehow makes me a bystander. Not angry enough to jump in and join the protest, not confident enough to take to task those who cannot see what is happening to our climate, our resources, our planet and our people. Watching from the sidelines, as the world burns, and throwing nothing more than thimbles of water on the flames. I’ve even seen environmental activist groups starting to call individual actions ‘trivial’.

It sometimes makes me feel guilty, that even though I am trying to focus on this one thing, that I don’t seem to be able to fully engage in the argument as others, or to be too exhausted just by general life to fully commit. Too distracted sometimes even to remember to do all the things we promised, all the time. Too weak to resist regular chocolate on a plant-based day. Sceptical sometimes of groups that tell me I should be scared, and to be less scared I should buy this thing.

I then happened across an article about the history of arguments. You can read it on the brilliant School of Life website here.

What it made realise, is that I’m OK with being a bystander. The majority of us are bystanders to most of the arguments that are going on in the world right now, and I use the word ‘arguments’ deliberately and carefully because arguments they are. This is especially to the arguments that are happening online on any major global topic such as politics, human invented labels, and now with added pandemic. A hyperconnected world, means that a global conversation can exist, and that is a wonderful thing. There are examples everywhere of how a conversation can turn into a movement, and cause real attitudinal change.

The problem is, there are way more examples of when this conversation becomes an argument, the whole thing becomes a distraction from the cause. We are taught that arguing is a show of passion, and a true sign of our strength and commitment. That the louder we shout, the more inventively we mock or put someone down, the more we believe and deserve to be heard.

The trouble with this in terms of making any real progress to solving anything, is that anyone who has had a real, proper, stand up argument with someone over something that is important – will realise that you stop listening to the other person after about four seconds.

In terms of changing attitudes, shouting at each other online is a technological step forward but as much use as yelling into a cushion or an empty broom cupboard. In lots of ways perhaps that is how it feels, because of the detachment we feel from the person we are talking as we vent hate into a pixelated void. It must be, because if anyone talked to us in that way in real life and around a table on a pre-arranged subject (which is what you should consider online content to be), then we would hold our breath for a ‘sorry’. And if we didn’t get one, then we’d probably leave the room, or certainly not speak to that person again.

As an example, I have read recently and seen a lot of frustration online about our ability to pivot on the planet. I have read a lot about how governments, institutions, and other organisations have been able to change policy and law on many other topics such as coronavirus, or Brexit, but have been unable to pivot on the climate. That we have diverted billions or trillions of Pounds or Dollars or Euros into supporting economies, or have diverted advertising dollars and creative energy into new causes that didn’t exist a year ago, whilst ignoring the one that will make all others irrelevant. That unless we make big, systemic changes, our planet is likely to reach a tipping point, that we cannot reverse, on a wet Tuesday afternoon.

The reasons for this are likely more complicated than I can understand, but I am going to put it out there, that I believe that a contributing factor is because the future of our planet has in some places, descended into an almighty argument. I read the other day that governments were considering classifying Extinction Rebellion as a terrorist organisation, or an organised crime syndicate. I have read lots of good stuff that established brands are doing to try and change, but that too is being dismissed as trivial. It’s all got so twisted, that I have no idea who is right in either argument, but I do know that we really shouldn’t be talking about these things at all. Instead we should be listening and encouraging. These arguments are stalemate, even if each side is going for checkmate.

How can bystanders help? Are we happy that the bullies in the playground are in the corner, fighting amongst themselves? It gives us peace to get on with our days without the distraction of the argument, but that does not mean the bystanders should do nothing. It is how you deal with being a bystander that is important. I believe you can be an active bystander, and make a difference.

An active bystander, uses peer pressure to make positive changes. They do not succumb to the peer pressure to join the mob, but perhaps turn to the person next to them or to their friends, and quietly agree something they can do positively and together. They do not respond to the elbow in the ribs to vote a certain way or shout a slogan in the air, they quietly decide what is right, later but then do it consistently. The active bystander might say nothing, but goes home that day and decides to make a change, and they do it with conviction. They might not tell many about it, but the people they do tell feel the conviction that it is right. The active bystander, do what they can and trusts in the positivity of human nature, that others will think the same and act the same. They do not ask for thanks, and accept that it many ways it won’t be perfect.

If this feels a bit like justification or therapy, then maybe it is. It is justification for the harried, forgetful, imperfect changes, because they are still positive changes. It is for those who can only change one thing at a time, and who need help from each other to do it or to think of it in the first place. Those who want to celebrate giving up plastic bags, because that is still a good thing. It is for those who need to trade up on their way to levelling up. Who might keep an imperfect pair of trainers for twice as long as they might, before making a more sustainable choice next time, because that is a planetwise act too.

Those who reflect on the fifteen minutes of success in the hour, rather than the forty-five of failure, and quietly try to make it sixteen minutes next time.

The world will not be saved by swapping likes, trading follows, and exchanging insults. It will be saved by accepting that we are a bystander, but that a bystander can have value. It will also not be saved by silence, or being tricked into believing the peer pressure that we are doing it wrong or somehow not going big enough. Truly good ideas spread and stick, they spread before the internet and they spread in spite of it. But they never spread by shouting, and if you want a big following to shout at, you can learn how to do that on You Tube or via an Instagram tutorial. They always start by one person doing something so cool, that you can’t help but tell your friends about it. By sharing things that are true and with conviction. The internet can then spread this further and wider than you can ever imagine, but you can’t force it to.

Also, to be clear. If we dig trenches and throw mud, if we bring guns to a rally, if we mock with labels or caricatures, then we have already the lost the argument, and the planet.

Better to be wise, about any cause you wish to follow.

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