I Want To Make a Difference, But…
A little while ago, not long after the shooting of Terence Crutcher, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I wrote a facebook post that was pretty hopeless.
Feeling sad. I had a great day climbing today, and I was super excited to post on social media about it, and then I remembered, oh yeah, fucking cops just shot an unarmed black man with his hands up — after he was already tazed. And oh yeah, son of and significant advisor to an ACTUAL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE compared Syrian refugees to poisoned skittles.
Man, I was so stoked to post something about climbing, and then the real world went and stole my thunder by reminding me just how fucked up things are.
Makes me remember, oh yeah, climbing is just this idiotic diversion I do so that I can take my mind off the real world. Sometimes it makes me sick to my stomach how I make money – writing this banal and pointless garbage about what amounts to little more than a distraction, so we can kick back and relax with our Soma of choice while the world just keeps on going to shit before our eyes.
Not a sob story, not asking for someone to tell me how it’s ok and I’m doing the best I can, not looking for someone to remind me that we all need to find our own inner peace and happiness before we can help anyone else. I know, I know. But still.
You know what, I’ll put it out there. I’ll quit writing about climbing at the drop of a hat if someone helps me find the opportunity to write about something that matters. I don’t write about climbing because it matters, I write about it because it’s just about the only way I’ve found in my little privileged white bread first world to make a living. I’m trying to pay the rent, the bills, the health insurance, the little shit. But I’m not going to pretend it matters. It’s a distraction, no more, no less.
How can I make a living writing about social justice, conservation, climate change, genocide, Palestine, blacklivesmatter, monsanto merging with bayer so they can charge us for both carcinogens and cancer meds all under the same roof, and everything else? Please note, I’m not asking, hoping, or expecting to ever eclipse the poverty line. I just figure as long as I’m making what amounts to little more than chump change in the first place, I might as well write about something that counts.
I couldn’t believe how many people came out of the woodwork to give me solid advice for how to deal with these frustrations.
“I think spending a lot of time talking to and interacting with the people/issues who/that you wish to write about is the only real way to jump from where you are now, to where you’d say you like to be, writing-wise,” Sarah Thompson wrote. “Which means not solely hanging out with the people you currently write about.” Spot on, Sarah.
Damien Gildea reminded me that I “have inside knowledge, traction and an audience, which is more than you’d have if you went and tried blogging the good works of MSF out of Aleppo, for instance… Climbing is good, but dumb and getting dumberer – you can help make it less dumbererer.” This was a common theme among the comments — use your voice within your audience to bring the attention of climbers to the things you think are important.
“I’ve been in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests all over America,”John Couch Haltiwanger III shared. “I’ve reported from the middle of refugee camps in Jordan. But I still get to come home to my cushy, white male American life and write about these things as an observer… It feels exceptionally unfair… But then I remember that I’ll probably never change the world, and my job is really just to use my voice and privilege to speak for the voiceless…” This was so interesting to hear. It’s so easy to say “the grass is greener” and presume that if you just had this one thing (in this case, the ability to write about issues you are passionate about) that everything would be hunkydory. I think John’s point is a fantastic one–these issues won’t just go away overnight. Everyone has a part to play in tackling them. Do what you can, from within your sphere of influence. Don’t despair when the world doesn’t change at the very moment you’re ready for it to.
At the same time, though, don’t just give yourself a free pass to rant on social media and then piss off. As Ken Etzel pointed out, “Chris, you make it happen by doing it. Just like when you started writing about climbing. You made that a reality, I feel the exact same way as you and want to make a larger impact. The cards are in our hands.”
My sister, Jennifer Beal, really got through to me by reminding me of a quote from one of our favorite writers: JRR Tolkien. “‘Small hands turn the wheels of the world because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.’ Each person plays their own (albeit small) role. Find your passion but always stay humble and kind.”
And Jason Kei really brought it all home for me, when he shared his thoughts. “I’m on the side of not abandoning the sphere that you’ve made a home in… The issues that beleaguer our society bleed into absolutely everything, but the upside of that is there is work you can do in your corner. For instance, how many black folk do you know that climb, and if it’s not that many (that’s my assumption), ask why not and what you can do to maybe change that, especially through your writing. I can especially see the value for black youth, a way to experience their own strength and autonomy in a safe environment. Facilitating access and equal opportunity into the predominantly white world you love is justice work.”
There were many other comments as well, plenty of which were just plain nice, and much-appreciated. People reached out with personal messages suggesting programs to look into, or names of people I could talk to about issues I am interested in. Bottom line: I find over and over again that when you really put yourself out there, and ask for help, people answer. I feel incredibly grateful for that.
All of us are born into a context — a certain time and place — that none of us have any choice over. Be yourself. Your world is not less real, not less important, than any other world. Jason is right – Black Lives Matter is an issue everywhere. If we aren’t talking about it in our local community, then it’s an issue there, too. Simply not talking about it – in and of itself – is an issue.
What all of these comments really boiled down to for me is simply not to give up, not to stop trying, not to fancy yourself impotent. We DO make a difference. We DO have a sphere of influence. We ARE capable of affecting change. Everything we do can be a vehicle for more light and love in the world. The way we speak, the things we read, the way we think about the world.
As Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “It’s the cameras that are new. It’s not the violence that’s new.” Is the systemic oppression of black people in this country still fucked? Yes. But are more people paying attention to and talking about, and demanding change than ever before? I think so. I hope so. And if not, I believe we can (and must) make it so.
Writing about huge social issues on the internet may seem like a helplessly small gesture – but it adds to the growing cultural consciousness and awareness surrounding them. And while I’m not advocating for not doing more, I certainly would encourage you not to do less.
Climbing may be dumb, and writing about climbing may be dumberer (thanks, Damien). But if it allows me to amplify my voice, and encourage a mostly priviliged, and mostly white subculture to be cognizant of, and interested in, larger issues, then I think a dumb little climbing blog can actually be a good thing. Maybe, in some way, it’s the best thing I can do – for now.
And, so, I guess I’m going to keep on doing it. And I encourage you – whatever it is you are fighting for, and however it is you are fighting – to keep doing that, too.
“Nothing I do makes a difference” is a great excuse for doing nothing. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Do whatever it is you can. In the end, that’s the best thing you can do.