351. Armchair Revolutionaries

I have a deep and lingering suspicion that most of us are only under the illusion that we’re actually making a difference in the world we’re living in.

You’ve heard of armchair psychologists. The people who, when told that someone is depressed, tells them, “Just think happy thoughts. Can’t be that difficult. You’re just not trying hard enough.” Parading as a member of the community when they clearly have no place there, having not participated in any of the works associated.

That’s pretty much how I feel about all the chest-pounding going on in my Facebook newsfeed.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the phenomenon. Something controversial happens, and the denizens of the internet take to the message boards and Facebook feeds to provide the world with their golden opinion. Online protests are signed. Pages are created for people to “like”. Every once in a while, when people get angry enough, they take to the streets.

Myself, I’ve never been in a riot, and am glad. I hear that bad things happen to people involved in them. Protests, on the other hand, we’ve had a couple going on in Malaysia over the past couple of years: “Bersih”, to call for clean and fair election; and “Stop Lynas”, to, well, stop Lynas from being set up on Malaysian soil.

I wasn’t there for either one of them. But I found it astonishing how quickly everyone forgot it ever happened and just moved on with their lives. After the crowds were dispersed with tear gas and water cannons in “Bersih”, most of them went home for a shower and an early dinner. Some were taking group photos in McDonalds’. After petitioning outside the Lynas site, at evening, the protestors went home, and that was all. No closure.

If you ask me, no difference was made. For all the hype of “standing up for your country” and “doing the right thing”, nothing was done but the creation of a lot of energy and noise. It was like sports’ day, except without medals.

But everyone went home feeling all sorts of satisfied with themselves anyhow.

I’m not qualified to complain, of course, having not even been present at the protest itself, or having done anything substantial. And I’m not. It’s just a startling observation that perhaps… We’re more interested in feeling like we’ve made a difference than actually making a difference. We want to be a part of the revolution more than we want a revolution.

When the French got angry in the late 1700s, they stormed the castle and dragged their royals out into the streets. When he saw battle tanks rolling towards Tiananmen Square, “Tank Man” went and stood in front of the tanks until they had to physically remove him. When people got angry with the unequal distribution of wealth in our capitalist economies, they… camped outside banks in tents.

Well, yes. It made the news: “Bersih”, “Stop Lynas”, The Occupy Movement and all that. But after the headlines were done and the news for the next day rolled in, I’m willing to bet half the population has already pushed the matter to the back of their heads, choosing to focus on more important things like, “What’s for dinner tonight?”

I realize that this is an incredibly pessimistic thing to say, but more and more I’m becoming convinced that it’s true, seeing the volume of emotionally-charged speeches being made without any substantial actions backing those words up. It’s a lot of noise, again, like sports day – but without any medals being given out. Everyone still goes home with a swelling feeling of pride, though.

If there’s anything to be taken from this post, I guess it’s this: Don’t join in the change that you wish to see. Be the change that you wish to see. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Ship canned food over to the afflicted in the Gaza conflict. Send letters to the grieved families in the wake of the MH17 crash. Buy a homeless person lunch. Hug a colleague. Tell your family you love them.

In that way, you have already made a thousand times the difference standing in a crowded square can make.

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