"People have to have some hope - whether they achieve it or not. For example, I am a Buddhist and so enlightenment is my final objective. When I light a butter lamp, do prostrations, chant om mani padme hum, I am putting something into the cup that might lead to the cup overflowing and enlightenment. I know that my attainment of enlightenment is unrealistic - yet I do it. it's a lot more unrealistic than the prospect of independence for Tibet. But it is important to have an objective."

--Phuntsok Yangwal, founder of the Tibet Foundation.

Phuntsok is talking about the chances of success for the Tibetan Independence movement.He is responding to the question that so many of us activists get asked, no matter what our cause.

What can one person do?

And what you want to say is "not fuscking much, but that's a hell of a lot more than what you're doing," which is the brutal truth, but it doesn't help much.

Look at it this way (I'll take the environmental case as an example): The ideal is that we go about our lives without screwing over the world we live in. Degrading our environment is, by itself, bad. (To everyone who's about to go "yes, but we need to to maintain our standard of living!" SHUT THE FUCK UP and read what I actually wrote, I'm getting to that) However, in order to produce the goods we want or need to live, it is currently necessary to pollute, cut down, or extract various aspects of our environment. Now the ideal would be producing everything we want without harming the planet, yes? Well, the technology for that isn't available yet.

What do you think is going to result in the development that allows the change to the ideal? It's not going to be the people who are happy to say "we don't have the technology, so we'll continue on our merry path o' destruction," that much is certain.

I myself long for a near-complete revolution of human consciousness. I wish all the harmful throwbacks to superstitions of by-gone ages would just disappear. Like homosexuality as a sin and all the other meaningless things that independent minds see are ridiculous and irrelevant to faith, or all the small-minded things that make high schools so horrible, or that doom people to corporate drone-hood. I'm not asking for everyone to be happy and nice, everyone's different. Besides, I'm often neither. It's just the social conditioning in this place. It's all about how powerless you are and how you have to fit in. And my ideal is it being gone. But I genuinely don't think it's going to happen in my lifetime. Instead, I will become a teacher, preferably high school. I'll help out the few kids who are realising their potential in spite of the pain that others give them for it, and try to inspire the herd-animals to look a little into what they could do for themselves.

The idea is not to change the world completely, single-handedly. There are some people who can do this, but I am probably not one of them. They achieve what they do not because they are superhuman, but because the history of the moment in which they change the world contains hundreds, thousands, millions of people and their drops.

The sheer distance that often lies between here and there is what I think daunts people who don't see their tiny contribution as worthwhile. It's like they think that what they have to give is worth nothing because it's not a huge leap towards the goal.

Well, that idea is just flawed. Logically, empathically, flawed. It's a simple choice: do you put your talents at the service of your ideal world or don't you? What is most frustrating for people who try, who genuinely want to make the world better, is the great inertial mass of people who do nothing to help. Many of them share the ideals of a healthy planet, a co-operative society, freedom, love, whatever, but will do nothing to change things. When someone asks me "what can I do," it hurts me so much I want to say "you can reassure me". It's hard feeling like nobody out there cares, which is how I feel about a lot of things even though everyone I speak to gives a damn in some way. They just don't give anything else, and that erodes confidence, faith in humanity. A large part of what the activist strives for is to make people who don't give anything give a little.

I add my drops to the cup, but the greatest thing I can do is convince others to do the same. That's what I think I'll make my answer to that question.

Hmmm, kinda got off track somewhere there. *ahem* Add drops to cup! Do now!

Universal Disclaimer (technically another essay): I know that what people think of as an ideal world will tend to differ from person to person. But by how much, really? I encounter all sorts of people who agree with my views on how the world should be, whether I'm talking armed intervention or cannabis prohibition. But so few do anything...
Anyway, if other people have different ideas from me as to how the world should be, why don't they do something? Is there really anyone out there who wants the world exactly the way it is today? (hold on, that's the technical definition of conservative - aanyway...) I hate democracy because there's a few people who exercise power and a lot of people who say nothing about how they want things. Even if most people in the world have a different idea of how they want it to be from me, if they only expressed what ideas they do have, it would be easier to reach some sort of consensus - the current situation is one where few people are willing to take a stand on how they want things to be.