08/17/2012 12:45 am ET | Updated Oct 17, 2012

Resignation: The Cure

I've been preaching for years about the epidemic of resignation that seems to be infecting our species. I don't mean every individual is infected, but when you see enough "sick fish" you begin to suspect that the pond might be polluted. I last mentioned this in a blog and many of the comments chastised me for not offering some solution. It showed that we're even becoming resigned to resignation.

By resignation, I mean the mood of "powerless acceptance" that arrives when we can no longer see or imagine a possibility -- when hope evaporates. Resignation is probably a good thing at times when we simply can no longer stand our complaining and suffering is too painful. It is easy and probably natural to just tune out the problem and keep functioning someplace between ignorance and denial. At some moment when a critical mass of people agree something is hopeless, the resignation becomes a kind of collective conversation about the "way it is" which is reinforced and rationalized to the point that we no longer even question it and we call it "common sense."

Many years ago Joel Barker, in his film The Business of Paradigms, told a story of how when we drop a frog into boiling water it will immediately jump out, but when we put the frog into water and gradually raise the heat it will slowly boil to death. I believe that the resignation we can observe and hear in the media, in daily conversations and in endless commentary on the Internet is slowly "cooking" us into a state of "no possibility" and increasingly even cynicism.

Buckminster Fuller once posed the question "What can the little individual do?" He offered the metaphor of the "trim tab." The trim tab is a small rudder on the back of a big rudder on a great ocean liner. The ship's engines move the boat forward; the trim tab does all of the turning. It is the committed individual that makes the difference to make change happen -- in fact as Margaret Mead once said, that is the only way it ever happens.

So what can we do about resignation? To begin, we need to acknowledge and face our own resignation. We don't have much choice about most circumstances, but we always have a choice in how we relate to the circumstances. If we can see areas of our life and our world where we've become resigned we can simply acknowledge it and declare our responsibility for how we relate to whatever we've become resigned to. If we do this we are no longer victims of the situation and can begin to question and consider possibilities. We can reflect on whether we are committed to take some action and become "trim tabs," or we can simply choose to accept a situation as it is, and in doing so be free of our complaints and have compassion for others.

I don't think any of us can "fix" all of the world's problems, but personal responsibility and commitment combined with being open to possibility can shift us from resignation to conscious citizens capable of choice and action. Only the individual can commit, and none of us can fulfill our commitments alone. But if a critical mass of us can "own" the fact of our resignation and commit to having a different relationship with the circumstances, then we can transform the larger culture and in doing so shift our relationship to the future from one of silent resignation to one of possibility and enthusiasm.

For more by Jim Selman, click here.

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