“Postmodern irony and cynicism has become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists.” David Foster Wallace
“We can spend our time being disruptive, or we can be thoughtful and architect a revolution.” Jack Dorsey, founder Twitter
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver
On January 25, 2011, tens of thousands of Egyptians filled the streets of Tahrir Square in Cairo to protest Egypt’s corrupt government. The police responded quickly with tear gas and water cannons. But the solidarity of the people held strong. Day after day this happened for weeks. Eventually the countries leader Mubarak had no choice but to step down, which he did with outspoken vitriolic reluctance. And the people were heard.
But not many know that on January 18, one week prior, there had been another protest in the same square for the same reasons. But only four people showed up. Yes, four. The police of course were able to quickly snuff it out, escorting the handful of haranguers away. Among them had been a resolute 26 year old woman, Asmaa Mahfouz. And she was not the least bit deterred.
Later that day, she posted an impassioned video to Youtube, asking Egyptians everywhere to join her the following weekend, on the 25th, for a redo protest. She pleaded with the men to be men and for the women to be like men if that’s what would encourage them to step out. “Those who don’t come should consider themselves a part of the problem.” It captured her ideals and her passion. She posted the video link to Facebook and Twitter. And people watched. Then more watched. It went viral. And her people by the tens of thousands listened.
One woman with a passionate vision for a better Egypt and an audacious belief that her voice mattered in the world’s conversation started a revolution that changed her country forever.
Stories like this make it clear to me that a shift is happening in the cultural air we all breathe. Our collective psyche is changing. Though our view of the world has not changed much probably, we are seeing ourselves differently in it. We can have a voice now. We always could. But now its just much more obvious. We can blog, tweet, Facebook, video, or text our voice from anywhere and instantly have an audience.
In case this is starting to sound like a self esteem pep talk, let me share what I believe this means. Bear with me because I’m about to wax philosophical for a minute. I think this tells us postmodernism is done. Or at least we’re done with it.
Postmodernism was the necessary reaction to modernity. Modernity told us that everything could make sense and everything could be known and everything could be fixed. It mechanized the world. It was characterized by optimism, that we could achieve utopia. But it rarely considered the cost of such drivenness or progress. Nor did it ever question its own motives.
In the words of Steven Pressfield:
“A boatload of well intentioned ideologies evolved during the mass-culture, industrialized, dehumanizing epoch of the late 19th and early 20th centuries all posited the same fantasy. They all preached the human nature was perfectible and that, thereby, evil could be overcome. It can’t.”
We needed postmodernity and its skepticism to ask these questions and thereby rescue us from the arrogance of modernity. It deconstructed the unquestioned ideals and motives and methods of the all too authoritarian modernists. It plundered back the inherent mysteries of life, the spiritual, the beautiful, from the suffocating confining structures of ideologies and institutions.
It did it’s job and now its time to say goodbye. We’ve all had just enough deconstructing. We needed the delicate dissection of a surgeons touch to remove our collective cancer. But postmodernity’s knife has cut too deep to the point of taking our lives. It rid us of modernity’s arrogant answers, but now threatens to gut us of meaning. And so we are leaving it behind.
We now live in a world looking for meaning again. Not answers or equations, but stories and relationships.
Cynicism is so last year. We want to make sense of the world and make it better. It means we don’t want to hear your opinion on something unless you have a solution. We don’t care what you think is wrong. Its just not cool anymore to be a skeptic. We only care what you’re going to do about it now. And we won’t listen to what you have to say unless your life backs it up. What are you doing to make the world a better place? What would you die for?
We are all trying to tell the story of how the world should work. Indeed it has become the era of the Narrative, the Story.
Have you noticed how popular the idea of story has become? Books and conferences abound on this topic. Its even the latest business marketing craze. The company with the best story is getting our attention. Seems like everyone is telling us how to live a better story. And honestly, its exactly what we want to hear. We believe there is a better story to tell.
And we all suddenly have an opinion on the matter. We always did but maybe felt intimidated by all those skeptics and cynics. But now we can be heard regardless of who is more educated or sophisticated. In an era where anyone can tweet the president, we want to be heard more than ever.
I think its wonderful that more people are sharing their opinion. We need it. But it makes dialogue very difficult at times. Too often dialogue in our day deteriorates to a shouting match. Ever seen one of those happen in the comment section of a blog or in a post on Facebook? The shouting folks tend to be the people still trying to cheat and be heard without the hard work of living a good life.
Which really makes it the era of competing narratives. We no longer believe that whatever is good for you is just fine. We don’t think you can live your life however you want. For better or worse, tolerance has died with postmodernism. We are more revolutionists. Revolutionists are by definition, “People who work towards a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it.” Revolutionists believe they have a solution to the world, not just their own little life.
Okay, so what’s my point?
If you have a pulse (hint: you do), then your life is intended to matter in the story of the world. People don’t work all that well when they just live for themselves. We need something to give our lives to. Your life must serve a bigger story than your own. You need a revolution.
How do you want the world to be different? Or if that question feels too big, how do you want the world you witness every day to be different? Maybe you dream of curing cancer after witnessing its destructive effects on a relative. Maybe you long for the people of India to know Jesus and so you’re moving there to start a business. Or you just want to be one house where the parents stay married and the children know what it means to live a story of love and laughter.
Here’s the deal, you don’t have to save the world or fix it completely to make a difference. You just have to be, as scholar NT Wright has said a “symbol maker” or a “story teller.” Those are the people we listen to. The modern day revolutionist is a creative, an artist, not as much a sword wielding warrior.
I know, I know. You may be weary of hearing about your need to embrace your artistic self. And it might be because it sounds trite. Its not easy. Ask any true artist. And being a revolutionist may not mean changing anything you do. Its more the attitude you bring to your life. It could mean changing a poopy diaper (as I did this weekend at 2 AM) and knowing that the kindness you give your son in the process changes the world. It sets in motion his little life in a way that could revolutionize the world.
Don’t be intimidated by the ‘weary cynics’ in your life any longer. Their day is done. You will be criticized. You will be deconstructed. It probably means you’re saying something that matters.
So what’s your revolution? How are you spending your days?