Tomorrow is Now! Our Individual Responsibility in Societal Change
Whether or not you're a fervent follower of politics, there’s no doubt that the past week has been a tumultuous firestorm for all of us. Not only did we get to witness a nail-biting presidential election, but with it, we ushered in an entirely new era for our young democracy – an era of greater freedom, liberty and hope, among other things. Welcome to the Jazz era. What now?
“We do make our history, that we are making it now – today – by the choices that shape our course.”
In an attempt to understand how, as individuals, we must play our roles in the creation of our shared human future, I turned to a book that probes this very question. ‘Tomorrow Is Now’ is a timeless manifesto, written by a beautiful and dying Eleanor Roosevelt. She described the book as “one woman’s bold affirmation that, with imagination, with courage, with faith in ourselves and our cause – the fundamental dignity of all mankind – they will be met.”
As human beings, mistakes are inevitable; in fact, it is in our very nature to lapse into them, time and time again. And yet, a deep-rooted fear – the fear of the unknown – keeps us frightfully clinging onto a status quo built on antiquated beliefs. Roosevelt echoes this very sentiment in her writing:
“It is essential, above all, that in making history we do not forget to learn by history, to see our mistakes as well as our successes, our weaknesses as well as our strengths.
We need imagination and integrity, courage and a high heart. We need to fan the spark of conviction, which may again inspire the world as we did with our new idea of the dignity and the worth of free men. But first we must learn to cast out fear. People who “view with alarm” never build anything.
One thing I believe profoundly: We make our own history. The course of history is directed by the choices we make and our choices grow out of the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people. It is not so much the powerful leaders that determine our destiny as the much more powerful influence of the combined voice of the people themselves.
Roosevelt herself was only eighteen when she began fighting for the rights of working women. Her firm belief that power lies with the people is as clear as a sunny day:
A democracy is made up of one man and one and one and — ad infinitum. But each man is responsible for what he does.
Government is people. The ultimate triumph of the democratic system depends on the individual use of democratic principles. We are not a faceless mass. As individuals we can influence our government at every level. But we must accept this responsibility. We must know what we think and speak out, even at the risk of unpopularity. In the final analysis, a democratic government represents the sum total of the courage and the integrity of its individuals. It cannot be better than they are.
Today in the Maldives, we confront a culture that is increasingly predicated on the seductive promise of instant gratification. We confront a culture actively selling their rights, their hard-earned liberties, to make a quick buck or two. It is an uncomfortable truth when Roosevelt writes:
Now and then I see individuals who are stirred out of their apathy, who see something which needs to be done, something in which they believe wholeheartedly. They set to work with a will. Then something goes wrong. That is when they need to be reminded, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Obviously, it takes great determination to go on working, year after disappointed and frustrating year, for some reform that seems important to you. As time passes you feel that nothing has been accomplished. But, if you give up, you are abandoning your own principles. It is deeply important that you develop the quality of stamina; without it you are beaten; with it, you may wring victory out of countless defeats, after years of what seemed to be hopeless effort.
And as enticing as it may be to simply sit and watch from the sidelines, our apathy towards current affairs is a dangerous, destructive force. It isn't a matter of voting on election day anymore - it is a matter of actively engaging in our community, of pushing towards the frontiers of change we believe to be necessary. Choosing not to have a part in fixing our society's brokenness, Roosevelt argues, is as harmful as doing the breaking ourselves:
The citizen who sees things going wrong in his community and shrugs his shoulders or complains to his neighbors and stops there is partly guilty of the condition. It is in his hands to rectify it.
It is my conviction that there is almost no area of life which we cannot transform according to our own desires if we want something badly enough, if we have faith in it, and if we work for it with all our hearts. It is not too much to say that every bad situation is a result of apathy, of lack of planning, of individuals who think, “After all, it’s not my business.”