The ones we’ve been waiting for (hint: it’s us)

Many of us are waiting for Godot.

In some ways, it’s easier. There’s so much to do and accomplish in our daily lives that some problems just seem insurmountable without someone else to lead the charge.

“I’ll work on that issue,” I’ll think to myself, “Just as soon as Godot gets here. Then I’ll help out. Then it will be amazing. Then there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.”

But, of course, Godot never comes.

And so I go about my aburdist French life. Doing this and that. Nibbling around the edges of change.

But perhaps it is time to stop waiting. Godot will ever come. No Deus ex Machina will descend from the heavens proclaiming all fair and just in the world. No change will come without each of us – individuals, all – working for it.

I recently finished reading my colleague Peter Levine’s book, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: the Promise of Civic Renewal in America.

Levine explores how we can collectively tackle what he calls “wicked problems.” Those societal issues that are so complicated that your brain starts to leak out your ear when you think about them too hard. Or maybe that’s just me.

For example, creating a just and fair society is not simply a matter of raising the minimum wage – as if that were a simple matter. It’s about equalizing opportunities throughout everybody’s life. Ensuring that kids have healthy food to eat, safe homes to live in, and enriching opportunities which teach leadership and agency.

But when it’s a battle to make a small change like minimum wage, how can I even think about tackling bigger issues? When trying to unravel these deeper problems, I quickly go down a rabbit hole of economics, psychology, history and more. Finding fallible people and fallible systems.

Eventually I get frustrated. Why can’t it just work? If no one wants children to die terribly in violence, why doesn’t it just stop? Why does it have to be so complicated? And how on earth could I even begin to address a situation I don’t truly understand?

The truth is, I can’t design a perfect world. I’m not infallible or omniscient. I don’t know what’s best for everyone. I hardly know what’s best for me. Even if I spent every hour of every day reading relevant literature and thinking deeply about these problems, I still wouldn’t have the solutions. Godot would never come.

And that’s okay.

Because you’re not infallible or omniscient either. And neither is anyone else. It seems pretty clear our elected officials are not. Our journalists, moguls, and social icons are similarly wanting.

We’re all broken, scarred, scattered people doing our best in a difficult world. There will always be problems. Even if we could end poverty and war, there would still be disaster and disease.

The best we can do is work together. To talk to each other. As people. As individuals. As beings whose experiences have shaped our views and opinions. As creatures who see the world very differently, but who ultimately all want something better. For ourselves and for our children.

If we indeed are the ones we’ve been waiting for, then perhaps I would say, it is time to stop waiting.

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