(June 2017) This book is a great reminder of how life is not a perfect arc. The greatest takeaway for me is that we must embrace paradox. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The opening line of A Tale of Two Cities was written by Charles Dickens in 1859. It could describe many years in many cities from then until 2017.
We tend to fall into the trap of seeing the world in terms of “either/or” – it’s all great or it’s all terrible. Realistically, it’s never all one thing or the other. We lose sight of that reality because we are not wired to embrace the paradoxical nature of many situations that ask us to see both the darkness and the light simultaneously.
This book was originally published in 2004 with additional updated chapters added in this 2017 audio edition. It’s a reminder of what life was like after 9/11, the global nature of the Iraqi War Protests, and how people reached out to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. There was great tragedy followed by moments where “citizens” found a way to come together as an empowered force for good.
Author Rebecca Solnit points out that we are overly focused on “regime change” as the answer to social and economic justice issues. She goes global in her examples of how CULTURE change is the most lasting of change and is not dependent on who is in power in any particular government. Often, people driven change is a reaction to an oppressive regime – it galvanizes disparate groups to come together in a way that makes their unified efforts a force to be reckoned with.
She gives concrete examples of how environmental activists in the western part of the United States found common ground with ranchers who despised them. It turned out they had overlapping interests on which they could work together. It took sitting down face-to-face, person-to-person, to overcome stereotypes and objectification of “otherness” to see how their alliance could serve each group’s agenda for protecting the environment.
This book is the needed antidote to the despair many feel as they wake up each day in a dramatically altered America. We cannot embrace despair. Doing so assures that we give up our personal power to affect change. As Alice Walker pointed out years ago, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” That is the battle we must fight each day.
I highly recommend this book. It shifted my paradigm in a positive way and reminded me we have seen great challenges before and we have experienced great victories. The minute “change” becomes our “new normal” we lose all memory of how we got there. Solnit wisely points out that if we are going to build monuments, they should be built to constantly remind us of what people can accomplish and HOW they accomplished it. We should not forget the journey in celebrating the outcomes. Life *is* the journey.