I’ve been dwelling with this question for a while. Like any good, real, question it is taking me for a ride. What makes a difference?
Before I get into my response to this compelling question, I just want to extoll the value of a good question. A really good question, such as this one, doesn’t have one right answer, and doesn’t lend itself to simplicity. In addition to asking one to reflect on a specific something, it asks one to let in the complex, incredible diversity of this world. That is what I hope to do, as I let this question lead me deeper and deeper into mystery.
My response to this question has been one that has unfolded. The question is still resonating within me. It is still provoking my awareness. Level-by-level I am discovering that I have very little reason to believe that I have any kind of response that makes the question go away. I am being skewered (changing one could say, the question itself is making a difference) by the uncertainty it is raising in me.
Initially, I thought this was a fairly easy question for me to address. I have been vocal and consistent advocate for community. On some level I know I believe that caring and real connection make a big difference. I have spent a good part of my life trying to restore the natural social habitat of our species. I really believe that our social nature, which runs wild in our feelings, is an endangered life form. I have spent, and probably will spend, the bulk of my life-energy working on behalf of this perception. I could compellingly argue about the importance of this issue. I have good reason to believe that community has big implications for our complex consciousness, our sense of belonging, and our future.
Therefore, you can imagine my surprise, when this question led me to a deeper more fundamental and miraculous realization. It was a week after I thought I laid the question to rest. I was satisfied with what I believed, and my efforts toward that end. Suddenly, I became aware that it wasn’t given to me, as a human being, to know what made a difference. I really didn’t know what made a difference. This was devastation to the part of me that was invested in community (in my own knowing). Miraculously, even with the loss of my precious illusion (and I could feel it/me dissolving), I experienced joy and awe.
“Not knowing” freed me. In ways I am still discovering. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the miraculousness of not knowing what makes a difference. Where I think I might feel bereft, I am discovering the warm pleasure of coming to my limitations. The fundamental paradox that everything makes a difference and nothing makes a difference places me in a wonderful position. I can’t not try, nor can I necessarily make a difference. Instead of being disheartened by my own ineffectuality, I am instead graced to know that I alone am not responsible for change.
All I can do is “show up.” That alone is not enough. Something more happens, if change occurs, it is something I can’t make happen. My presence, and the energy I put into making a difference, add up to increased probability, but they are not decisive.
Or, things might change for reasons I cannot fathom. I don’t even get to be aware of all of it, there is no intention on my part. What makes a difference then? There must be some other kind of ripeness to change. Things happen, I don’t know why. Maybe I am an ingredient of that change, but I am completely oblivious of it. I make a difference (or, do I?) without knowledge or effort. I don’t notice, or know. Shit happens.
I like arriving at this realization. It lets some of me off the hook (of responsibility) and strangely puts other parts of me more firmly on the hook. What do I mean? I am not sure yet. Play with this question a while and see what it does for you. For me, it relieves me of thinking I am that important. Apparently, I’m not. At the same time I am sometimes.
This floors me. I don’t get to know when I matter. Thus, I want to show up for everything — I might be a necessary ingredient.
“Not knowing” seems to make me a more effective advocate for making a difference.
I’m savvy enough to know that when I think I know, I probably don’t. Now, thanks to this question, I am learning that ‘not knowing’ is probably the best way to advocate for change. What is ripe for real change is most likely beyond me, and my efforts. Change, therefore, is safe from me, and more likely to be change for change’s sake. Then, how I respond is how I aid change.
Making a difference is, and is not, up to me. Instead of that disappointing news discouraging me, I feel freed, and less distorted by my own shortcomings. Change happens, Lord knows how or why. I want to believe it can be directed. That some law of the Universe applies. Knowing that making a difference is to some extent my doing, and knowing that it is not, somehow ties me more firmly into the mystery of it all.