It is inspiring to hear so many stories about an increasing number of individuals at the grassroots arising to make their communities a better place. Reading these stories, one gets the feeling that instead of getting discouraged, we are learning, little by little, to overcome challenges and obstacles to social action.
This approach also seems to slowly dissipate a dangerous misconception about social action: that it is something really big and therefore, an impossible challenge for the individual to tackle. This leads to the belief that social action that brings about meaningful change can only be performed by someone special, unique, and powerful, a superhero of sorts that the kind of which is not often brought into this world.
I love superheroes, but only in movies and comics, and definitely not in the realm of social action. For I feel that it is not in the actions of a few exceptional people that we will see social change, but rather in the concerted efforts of normal people who to come together and, united in their vision, act wisely, tirelessly, and consistently, contributing their talents and skills to make a difference.
This idea of the superhero needs to be firmly addressed, because it often feels like it encourages us to be lethargic, apathetic and become unconcerned. It makes one think that I am normal, no different from the masses of humanity, therefore I am not a superhero and cannot make a change. It feels like even individuals who do have a strong skillset can get stuck in this mindset; they cannot even see themselves like The Avengers, because they feel they are that worthless. And of course, compared to, say, a flying man of steel.
Perhaps then we need a shift in perspective. Why not start thinking instead of ourselves a little like ants instead? At the fear of sounding like the a pro-Formics (how I look forward to the Ender’s Game movie), out of a unified collective, many “superpowers” to make significant change emerge.
But we also do not want to go the way of the Borg. That is to say, we do not want to lose the wonderful gift of our individuality. So the trick just might be to balance out the beautiful fact that we are each unique, sentient beings, with the need for unity. We should therefore be neither be Formics nor Borg.
I would say that we have to be less like The Avengers, and more like a gigantic, worldwide Star Trek crew. After all, each member of the crew of the USS Starship Enterprises (all of them!) and the USS Voyager were all amazing, but alone they could not accomplish nearly as much as part of the crew of their respective ships.
This last analogy might not be geek worthy, but it illustrated the concept of social action as a team effort that requires universal participation quite well. Any keyboard typically features letters that are used all the time, such as “e” and “a”, and letters that are not used as much, say, “q” and “x”. However disproportionate the ratio of usage, all four of these letters have to be present on any keyboard for a book to be written. Universal participation is essential, and each letter ‘contributes’ to the final product as often as it is needed.
When it comes to social action, this means that all of us have to be keenly aware of what is going on, and be ready, willing and eager to jump in and play our part, however small it might be. Because ultimately, social action will only yield results when everyone will contribute their 110% – which makes superheroes out of all of us.