The system is broken. Here’s the uncomfortable truth about how you can fix it.
With each week passing by, I’ve been thinking more about what the average person can do about the world falling apart (both literally and figuratively). We constantly read about the multitude of problems cropping up and ballooning, and people who are impassioned, motivated, informed, angry and frustrated ask “What can I do about this? How do I stop this? How do I change this?”
The truth is that MOST problems have to be tackled from the top down — by those in power. That’s why education, and, consequently, voting is so important. But what do you do when quality education is largely inaccessible? Who do you vote for if the political choices aren’t great? What can you do when you don’t trust the media? What can you do when all the systems of power are so interlinked, often corrupt, and inefficient that you can tell there’s a serious lack of political and corporate will or ability to change things. Yes you have politicians making grand statements, and big brands stepping up and announcing their solidarity, but what happens after that? How do we know that it will go beyond lip-service and translate into action and commitments on ground? With every agenda politicised and corporatised, what can an individual really do?
What can you do when all the systems of power are so interlinked, often corrupt, and inefficient that you can tell there’s a serious lack of political and corporate will or ability to change things?
I often feel like those who control these things, and the people who can make a difference, just don’t want to; and I honestly feel like I, as an individual, have no ability to make them do anything. I’ve been hearing from so many friends and colleagues about how they feel this way too. Getting to that place is demoralising and can leave you feeling disillusioned. Yes, there are crucial ways in which you can contribute — like educating yourself and others, signing petitions, joining protests and movements, donating money and more. But not everyone can be a part of every movement, sign every petition, donate to every cause or protest on the streets.
The biggest contribution that I think one can make, is to begin and focus on yourself — your actions, your choices, your thoughts and your words. But that in itself presents big challenges. Because it’s about you, and you’re basically the only one accountable for yourself. I guess there’s something about human nature that makes us less productive, less proactive, less judgemental and less stringent when it comes to policing our own actions.
It’s tough because often there’ll be no one but you who knows if you’ve made the wrong choice. There won’t be anyone you have to report to for taking an inconsiderate action. There’s no one to hold you accountable if you don’t follow through on your words and commitments. We often do ‘good’ things or say the ‘right’ thing because others are listening, and we benefit from the positive feedback that our progressive actions reap in. But will we do these things if we feel like no one is looking?
I know I feel uncomfortable and uneasy when thinking about how much my existence, choices and actions are a product of my privilege. I wonder how to give up things I am accustomed to, how to challenge those around me, and make changes that would inconvenience me. Which brands do I stop buying from? Am I willing to pay more for alternative products? How do I boycott Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp without alienating myself? Can I make Dysco events more financially accessible while still covering my costs? Do I stop reading news from publications like The Washington Post because they’re owned by big corporates like Amazon? Should I be proud of my education if the University of California hadn’t divested from fossil fuels when I was one of their students? These questions are tough, and I can’t say I have figured out how to grapple with them yet.
If we can start expecting better from ourselves and be more conscious about our future actions (a very tall ask, I know) then that’s where we as individuals can have the most and lasting impact. Yes, you are just a drop in the ocean, and yes, you may never know what your goodness and kindness has led to. And yes, maybe you won’t see the change happen in your lifetime.
It’s fair for many people to then wonder, “Why should I use more sustainable materials if it’s going to increase my costs and my competitors aren’t doing it? Why should I spend my precious time learning about others’ struggles, when I have more pressing matters to deal with? As if me boycotting that brand is going to mean they’ll change their exploitative behaviour, when they have millions of customers all over the world?”
But that’s why these are the hardest sacrifices, and the most difficult things you can do. Because it means giving without necessarily receiving; caring without anyone knowing; and contributing without others acknowledging. I suppose this is a call for us to rally together, and consider some important filters when making choices. For all those who care, and feel frustrated. For all those who feel hurt and hopeless. For all those who are angry and demanding change. Change will begin when we stop supporting, following, buying from or listening to those who stand against what we believe in.
Put your money where your mouth is, they say. So what should we avoid doing? Don’t buy from brands that exploit people. Don’t share, like, or comment on posts by bullies. Don’t say nothing when someone makes a crass joke. Don’t work with people who treat others badly. Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Don’t feel guilty for not knowing. And what should we try doing? Switch to smaller, less exploitative brands. Email / tweet / tag and comment to make your opinions known and to pressure companies and officials to make better choices. Get more information, do your research and own up to your mistakes. Keep trying and making an effort wherever you can, even if it takes more time, costs a bit more, or makes you less ‘popular.’
The more of us that make this shift — the stronger our collective voice becomes. Our greatest strength lies in our numbers. The louder we speak and show that we’re not facilitating a broken system, then the system and those in it will have no choice but to react accordingly — since it’s often clear that money is what makes the world go ‘round. Not everyone has the luxury or ability to make these changes or choices, and no one can make all of them at once. But it’s important to try whenever and wherever we can.
The louder we speak and show that we’re not facilitating a broken system, then the system and those in it will have no choice but to react accordingly
By no means do I think that I’ve perfected all (or any) of these practices, but I am very eager to try. What we at Dysco are going to be working on is compiling an aspirational manifesto, to guide our business decisions and serve as a reminder of what values we want to uphold. We’re going figure a way out to give people easy access to other people, companies, and brands that are alternatives to toxic and harmful ones. We’re going to keep speaking up about what values we believe in, so you can remind us to stay true to our roots. It’s not going to be perfect, and it’s going to be an uphill battle — but at this point we think it’s time to step up to the challenge. If not now, then when?