The theme for Sunday’s service at my church was dissent. Our brilliant minister took us on a walk through the Supreme Court as an examination of the nature of dissent and the truth content of legal opinion. No, it did not stop there for me… as you’re likely guessing if you’ve been playing along with me for any length of time. Dissent is definitely a key part of the American political system, and any functioning democracy. I’d take a step farther and say dissent is part of an extremely healthy adult life. What am I talking about?
I’m talking about the frequency with which our adult decisions rely on assumptions, rules, and habits of thought and action. So much of what we do has to do with what “should be,” “needs to be,” or “has always been.” These starting points become our sacred scripts just as much as a holy text might for some folks or a legal precedent might be for others. We don’t question them. They are fact. They are written. They are tradition. They just ARE… But ARE they?
Let’s expand our view a little to a cultural level and imagine what would be true if we used the “has always been this way” standard to make all of our decisions. Leaving things the way they’ve always been would make the United States a very different place, right? We would still have slavery. Women would not own property. There would be no public schools. Medical care would most often involve bleeding and hoping for the best. Dental care would feature wooden teeth for the wealthy; no teeth for the rest. I could go on for a while here. The point is that all systems are dynamic. Things change, and thank goodness for that. People also change, and thank goodness for that. On the changing nature of everything, James Baldwin offers: “For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock.” Even in the repetitions of earth’s natural cycles, change is born.
So what unleashes change in us? Sometimes it is born out of crisis – something in our environment or community creates a need for us to change individually and communally, to find new resources within and without. Sometimes change is born of growth, the moment when the skin we are in is no longer big enough to hold who we are becoming. And sometimes, change is born from dissent, the increasing dissatisfaction with the way that things are, the struggle to pinpoint the root of that dissatisfaction, to question its necessity, and to change it. This is true both in community and within ourselves.
So often people describe what is and isn’t possible in their lives and I gently inquire: “Are you sure? When did you decide that THAT isn’t possible? Would you be happier if that WERE possible?” I’m checking to see if that notion of possibility is a sacred script, an idea that is defining reality for them without being questioned and checked. “Are you sure?” So often people describe what they need to do and I ask: “Why? Do you really NEED to do that? Do you WANT to do that? What would happen if you DIDN’T do that?” The sacred scripts that dictate so many of our decisions are, by their very nature, unconscious. We accepted them a long time ago, but maybe it’s time for a little dissent. Maybe it’s time to have a little internal protest. If you could make a sign for yourself, what would it say? What rule are you following that you made up for yourself? What parts of your current experience would you protest if you thought you had the time and the ability?
If “nothing is fixed,” why on earth would we expect ourselves to stay the same? How could we possibly trudge on under the same assumptions, the same internal rules, the same traditions? If nothing is fixed, we may very well need to change. If nothing is fixed, we may very well need to think new thoughts, which means we need to start by discovering and finding the old ones. What’s keeping you the same? Are you ready for a little internal revolution? I’d love to help you paint your signs.