Friday, April 11, 2008

Changing Me to We

Perhaps you have seen or heard about the logo developed for Al Gore's new endeavor. It is a visual pun on the words me and we, showing an upside down m, which becomes a w before the letter e, all inside a green circle. Like this.

His new organization is called I am reminded about the power of symbolism: an individual, transformed into the collective we, encircled by green. While on some level we may think it overly simplistic, childish even, to reduce a call to action in response to a global crisis to a few letters in a circle, but the power of direct communication cannot be minimized. If a simple idea can be grasped, internalized and function as an inspiration, this is the stuff of cultural shifts. Think of the peace symbol, or the flower being stuffed in the barrel of a gun and what these images meant to the anti-war movement in the Vietnam war era.

The logo spoke to me of the profound change in thinking that will free us from the tyranny of excess, waste and hyper-consumption that has sapped the earth and our cultural of its creative life force. It says we are all in this together. It isn't just about me and what I want today, but rather how do my actions impact the greater whole and how can I contribute to making things better. The Hummer and the gated community may keep the "others" at bay for awhile, but when the water (or oil, etc.) runs out, it runs out for everybody at some point.

And the funny thing is, this turns out not to be about sacrificing, or giving up, but rather it's about relearning self-reliance, getting creative and conscious again. It becomes a relief and is empowering and I believe the American people are ready and yearning to apply themselves if only given the chance. The opportunities for innovation are stupendous. This could be the flowering of a time of unprecedented creativity, a giant leap forward. Perhaps a logo reminding them that me and we are two sides to a whole will do that.

Who among us did not cringe on some deep fundamental level when, after the horrible events of September 11, our President, who, at a time when the country most needed guidance, leadership and a moral compass, instead told us that we should go shopping? How utterly humiliating this was. Not only were we to once again seek the false and fleeting balm of some new gadget or toy, but we were to turn to this at this time of crisis, as if this is all we know how to do. Does this sound familiar? As our "economic stimulus" quick fix checks will soon be hitting the mail box as we once again are encouraged to bury our heads in the sand.

The "we" way of thinking doesn't mean that humans, and our basic needs and wants will or should change, but what it does mean is that in finding news ways of doing and being we will discover greater opportunities for more genuine interactions, meaningful work, greater artistic expression and reestablish closer ties with each other and the natural world. These are all things that have been missing in our lives as a great many people sense.

To bring this down to a more local level, perhaps you read Edith Pearlman's eloquent essay about Brookline's Town Meeting form of government in the April 7th Boston Sunday Globe? As we draw near to that time again, I would like to ask each of you Town Meeting members, and everyone who serves on a board or commission, to keep in mind the "we", which in this case includes the Town as a whole as well as future generations of Brookline citizens and beyond. As Edith put it in her essay, "The ideal representative is the one who closely identifies his own self with the town, even to the point of conflating them -...The good of the municipality is expected to trump that of the individual or the precinct"


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