Activism versus Spirituality: The Quickest Path To Human Liberation Is…

One of the most intriguing realizations I have come to from the broad range of conversations in the tipping series is this: While there does seem to be an element of universality in the impulse to ‘change the world for the better’, agreement eludes even the most enlightened thinkers on how to actually make the great shift.

Through these interviews I have found two general types of people passionate about global transformation:  activists and spiritualists.  While certainly not the only categories of change-makers around, these two ideologies stand out as containing critical pieces of code for how to make sustainable change on the planet.  And unfortunately, they are often at odds with one other.

This has always bothered me, and today I am sharing two videos that typify each of these worldviews.  My hope is to shine a bright light on the disparity between activists and spiritualists because if we are going to really tip this thing, and put an end to things like social injustice, planetary destruction, and war then integration between these powerful worldviews is necessary.

Activism: We Must Go Forth And Eradicate All Evil

The first video has swept the world garnering almost 80 million YouTube views in its first week.  Wow.  Titled “Kony: 2012” this 30 minute film intends to light a fire within us to capture and imprison Uganda’s most feared terrorist: Joseph Kony:

You can really feel the energy in the Kony: 2012 video, no?  The message hits our emotions, tugging at our heartstrings with the filmmaker’s personal story of his Ugandan friend and the sharing of his own son to frame out the message.

The second video is a 20-minute clip created by someone named Lee Harris, which frames out a deeper, more spiritual understanding of our current moment in time.  This video delves into the actual experiences so many millions of us are having, providing a more spiritual and uplifting lens to comprehend the chaotic nature of present-day reality:

After watching these two videos, do you see a common thread in terms of intention (the world needs some serious changing) but vast differences in terms of approach and action plan?

The activist message seems to say ‘let’s go out and fight injustice, overcome it with sheer numbers and force’ while the spiritual message recommends us to fully surrender to what exists in the present moment, and ‘work on ourselves, feel our emotions, get our bodies in great shape, and generate compassion for everything around us’.

Activists feel the urgent need to go out and set the world on fire.  They have great energy and creativity, shining clear beams of light on the problems in the world while inviting us into their particular causes for social change.

Spiritualists sense that in order for things in the outside world to fundamentally shift a critical mass of individuals need to make the necessary changes within themselves.  Simply going out and setting the world on fire won’t work unless enough people have looked inside themselves and lit those fires internally.

But which approach is right, and what is the fastest, least messy way to create a world where war, starvation, and genocide are ancient history?

Like the question itself there may be no linear answer, and perhaps the very process of contemplation and inquiry is what pushes us forward into new and unforeseen areas of resolution.

The key is to find a middle ground between the two (and not only between spiritualists and activists, but between all such dichotomies), because while no single approach is exclusively ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ we will all be better served to understand how each piece is relevant.

Where Activism Fails and Why Kony: 2012 Can Never Work

I spoke with a good friend who is a psychotherapist in San Francisco.  While being sympathetic to the plight of the 30,000 children and horrific acts of cruelty happening in Uganda, she told me that atrocities just like this are happening right here in San Francisco, and all over the United States, every single moment of the day.

I wondered about the massive viewership of the Kony video.  80 million people were inspired to pass along and share this message about events in Uganda, an area of the world they will never visit, while similar atrocities exist each and every day in our own backyards with little-to-no notoriety.

Like many activist projects this film aims to create a ‘movement’ to stop Joseph Kony, compelling us to join a fight that in some way represents our own values.  While I completely agree that people like Joseph Kony need to have a bright light shined on them, I also see powerful activist messages like these as distractions.  Yes, distractions.

While there is war in Uganda, there is also war in San Francisco and in every town in the western world.  If we are brave enough to take an even closer look we realize that many of us are at war with our families, at war with our friends and lovers, and most of all at war with ourselves.

The blatant truth is that most people on the planet do not want to deal with their own pain and suffering, and we relieve ourselves by transmuting personal anxieties into other areas.  We have become a culture of transference, never taking accountability for how our individual lives play a role in the greater realities surrounding us.

As time moves forward, and the systems of the world become more complex and technologies become even more composited into our daily lives it becomes easier to feel that we have NO control, no input, regarding the happenings of the world around us.  We are spiraling out of control….

While necessary and relevant as activism is (I will explain below), powerful movement builders like Kony: 2012 distract us from actually having to play a personal role in moving humanity closer to a genuine transformation.

Let me give an example to make this point clearer. I recently went to a conference focused on environmental sustainability, and was blessed to meet many of the long-time leaders of this activist movement.  Some of these folks are quite well known authors and speakers, and I was enmeshed in a powerful protester energy swirling about the room.

One of the leaders spoke about the incredible progress the movement for ‘saving the environment’ has made over the decades, and about two sentences later explained that in 2012 there will be twice the amount of drilling into the planet for oil than in 2011.  What?

The message is this: while wonderful, powerful activism has persisted in environmental issues for the last 40 years it has resulted in a present-day reality where the greatest destruction of all time is happening as we speak.  I ask you, where is the progress in that??

What will happen if the 80 million views of the Kony movement lead to his capture and arrest as the filmmaker visualizes?  There will be some nice press, people around the world will feel ‘good’ about results of this movement, but this will be a temporary phenomenon and hardly the eradication of evil intentions on this planet.

We NEED wake up and stop fooling ourselves.  We so willingly transfer our attention to tiny snippets of external reality, like Uganda, affording us the ability to send a few emails, maybe throw in a few dollars, and remain relatively impersonal about the whole thing even though to the outside world we have ‘done some good’.

There is nothing wrong with activism and caring about people in this world, and wanting to support children in Uganda.  But we must stop being exclusively attached to the notion that this type of moral support is solely how we change the world!

It’s Not Solely About Spirituality Either

I am not erring solely on the side of the ‘spiritualists’ either.  No, we are at the point in our evolution where we clearly see that everything plays a significant role.

Activist energy is incredibly powerful and creative, providing us vivid lightning rods of awareness about things like injustice, generating new lenses of perception about how to deal with it.

Activists stir the pot, and wake us up in a meaningful way.  We desperately need this type of tension in our field, and our only mistake is to exclusively identify with activist activity being the only manner in which to build a new world.

A similar mistake is to wholly believe that spiritual pursuits are enough to shake us out of the nightmares of external reality.  If every person on the planet suddenly decided to climb up to some mountaintop and sit for 20 years in silence, many of the world’s problems might cease to exist but where would the fun and excitement be in that?  Would 7 billion people be happy and fulfilled doing this?

No, we are a diverse and exhilarating species of beings and we need to recognize that ALL of it matters, and all of us matter.

A More Unified Song For Real Change

While we certainly need to integrate all of the energies flowing through the human field (activism and spirituality being two examples) we also need to recognize that the pendulum is currently swinging quite strongly in one direction.

Not enough people are doing the internal work, and the majority of people on the planet continue to distract themselves from, well, themselves.  This is why the world remains in a state of chaos, as most people are terrified to stop for a moment and look in the mirror.

We seek deflection, numbing and rationalization to take us away from internal pain.  We don’t yet understand that behind this pain lies liberation.  True liberation.

In a way it’s understandable because ‘the work’ is challenging, requiring us to stop and examine our thoughts, emotions and behaviors in a world that relentlessly pushes us forward, challenging us to survive let alone thrive.

But we have to remember.  There is a reason the teachings of the Buddha, Jesus Chris, Mohammed, Lao Tzu and all the other great wisdom luminaries remain timeless and virtually untouched for millennium.  The question becomes how do we relate these deeper spiritual truths, wisdom that has been floating through our existence since the beginning of time, and enmesh this knowledge into powerful activist energy so that transcending changes might really take hold?

The Seeds of a Real Tipping Point

In my view the answers lie in finding the middle ground, and because so much of our reality is currently about searching to the outside for answers, a vast majority of us must intentionally toggle the boat inwards and focus on perhaps the only noble pursuit there is in this life: to understand who we are.  To understand whom YOU are.

And while we can gain understanding about who we are through books, conversation, coaching and community, the bulk of the work needs to be done by the individual.  Meaning you.  Meaning me.

No more beating around the bush, it is time we mature as a species and do the work at the individual level in order to transcend the nature of our collective output.  This is our task right now, and the only way to get the pendulum moving in the other direction.

For many people this may mean taking on more of a spiritual path, becoming more self-reflective and engaging in personal growth work.  And we don’t need to look at this as some boring chore.  On the contrary we should engage in this process with joy knowing that at the center of such inquiries lies joy, abundance and love.

We all want this, and we all have this.  We simply need to make a tangible commitment to start looking.

We change ourselves to change the world. It is the only way.  No more deflection, rationalization, externalization or numbing.  The time has come for us to own our own humanity.

The exciting thing is this: it is already happening!  More people than ever before understand the truths I am writing about here (which, by the way, is nothing new).  But we need to keep pushing the edge, spreading the knowledge, forcing ourselves to step into the fire and risk looking ‘weird’ or ‘strange’ by those around us.  The truth is, they are also starting to wake up and we might be quite surprised what happens as we start becoming truly honest with each other.

After conducing all these interviews it is clear to me that this website represents a calling for a tipping point to come about in this very area.  I am not suggesting we need to turn our backs to normal pursuits like working, making money, raising a family or even being an activist, but we each need to take a stand for our own lives, and plow into the mystery of our minds to expose the roots of anger, hatred, sadness and war that reside within us.

This is the path to our own liberation, and the liberation of all beings on this planet.  So we might as well say yes to it.

Love ya,

Todd