« POSTED | Main | I almost shaved my head »

Building a better boat

Warning: The following post was written as emerging thoughts over a period of three days (with little editing). The flow of logic makes sense to me, but just barely. If you can't figure out what the heck I'm talking about, there is a recap with the main points at the end.

I was taken to task a few nights ago, and rightly so, regarding my level of community participation. The topic came up because I did not know that Charles had re-married, a dead giveaway that I had not read a newspaper in the past week.

My argument was that no, I don't read newspapers so often, but that the important news gets to me anyway. Either I will hear about it in daily conversations (as I did the ever so important news about the royal wedding), I will hear about it a few days late when I catch up with NPR, or it will start popping up on blogs somewhere. There is, of course, news that is important to me but not covered in the newspaper. As such, this is what I spend most of my time searching for and reading.

There are two drawbacks to this "let it come to me" approach.

1) I find out late. Fortunately, there is rarely anything happening that is so time sensitive that my reading about it two or three days later becomes an issue. I have never had a need to know about something happening "in real time"

2) More importantly, it was pointed out that the news likely to find it's way to me via daily interactions and NPR or similar national news-sources, will not include local news from my community. The problem with this of course is that the place I can have the most impact is on a local level.

This is where the problem lies. I have no community. I have not lived in my home town for ten years, although I am officially registered to vote there. In the past ten years I have lived in eight different localities. Three of those were in Michigan.

This is an issue I have been contemplating a lot lately as I think about what my role would be in a better future, one where we are not acting so stupidly as we do today. I also think about what my role would be in actually helping to create a better future, one that I would like to live in.

It has been obvious throughout history that community is important. We are social animals. I, for one, hate living in isolation. Yet, how often do I participate in my community? How often do I interact with my neighbors? With work and study and grand ambition to save the world by changing how other people do things (forget about changing myself), I spend very little time on community.

It seems apparent to me that the future will require us to get back to a local community based living. Either we will do it by choice, because people gradually come to see that it is the only way to stop the ecologically devistating trends we see now, or we will be forced to as globe-trotting and purchasing goods produced around the world becomes prohibitively expensive. There are really no foreseeable, viable alternatives.

If this is the direction the world must head in, what is my role to help take us there sooner? After all, part of the reason I am here studying is to see what, if anything, I can do. Over the year, I have come to see it as if our entire culture, economy, and way of life is a big ship. There are huge holes in the ship and water is gushing in. One approach is to work like hell to patch those holes before the ship sinks. This seems to me to be the method advocated in the courses I have been taking. The idea is to patch the holes, but save the ship. Many peopler are working hard at this.

In the meanwhile, there are other people jumping ship, attempting to build their own boats, boats without holes, boats that float. These are boats that may resemble the sinking ship, but they are rebuilt from the ground up, having learned from the structural flaws of the predecessor. The hope is that when the poorly designed boat does sink, at least there will be people who know how to float. We can only hope that the sinking of our current broken way of life does not suck down all the other boats with it.

What does this have to do with the whole community thing? I'll (try to) tell you.

A part of me wants to stay and try to fix the sinking ship. It would mean that I can continue to live my life in a way that more closely resembles the culture I have grown up in. It would allow me to justify my travel and inactivity on a community level because I am busy working for the betterment of the world. Sacrificing what we have come to believe are necessary comforts is for other people. Spending less time at work, and more time building strong communities is for other people to do... people whose job is not so important as mine...

As heroic as that sounds, I don't think it's the way. If I want the world to be in a certain way (less stupid), I have to stop telling other people to change, and start changing myself. I envision a world where people spend less time working to pay for a week-long trip to the bahamas, a second car, or a flat screen TV, and more time interacting with people in their local community, helping each other to be less stupid. I envision a world where there are no uber-leaders flying the world over telling everyone else how they should live, but rather a world made up of people active on a local level, showing other people and communities how to live through example.

If a world of people leading by example is what I see, I guess I better lead by example as well. And if a world of people more active in their community than in their global company or crusade is what I see, I better live as though I mean it.

Easy enough to say.

Now comes the hard part, the part I have been contemplating for months now. How the hell can I do that in Japan? Especially in Tokyo where even if I was Japanese (Japan is notoriously prejudice), interaction with neighbors is kept to a minimum. I really see no way that I can make meaningful connections with the people around me in Tokyo. It's about as great a challenge as you can find... certainly more challenging than anything that has ever caused me stress in job up until now.

Of course, I have to work too (or Tomoe will throw me out). What this means though, is that when finding a job, I have to keep in mind that I want to do more than just preach... I also want to live what I feel is right. The major obstacle to living how I believe has always been time. Even just thinking about what I believe takes enormous amounts of time, let alone planning and then actually realizing those beliefs. Taking a more active role in community, even if it is just getting to know the neighbors, is something that has to be done, along with all the other things I wish other people would pay attention to.

I know everyone talks about balancing their life and work, but somehow they only talk about it after their work has already been decided, and then the question becomes, "how can I fit a full private life into the time left over". I am going to have to take the opposite approach. Build my private life first, the way I want it, and then ask myself, "How can I make money in the time left over?"

Uhhhhh..... Anyone get all of that? What I wrote sat there on my computer for a few days. I was trying to decide if I wanted to post it. In the end, despite the incoherent ramblingness of it all, I have decided to keep it in the hopes that making these thoughts public might put a little more pressure on my to follow through when it comes time.

In case you didn't get anyhting of what I wrote above, or don't see the connections, I'll recap. A friend made note of the fact that I am not active in a local/community level. This is something that I too have recognized and have been trying to figure out how to fix. I still don't know how, and living in Tokyo makes it all the more difficult, but it is one of the main pillars on which I hope to start building my life. I feel that it is more important to live how I wish others would live, rather then just finding a job that keeps me busy preaching, and then trying to figure out how to live what I preach in the time left over. I have no idea how I will do it. But if I can't, I have no right to preach it to other people anyway.