The answer, my friend…

A few weeks ago I heard a man speaking about aid work. At one point, in the middle of a litany of problems in the world, he spoke of “countries where the winds of political change are blowing.”

I don’t know whether anyone else noticed what was happening through the plate glass windows behind him as he spoke, though: just as he dropped the tempest-as-politics metaphor a man walked into view in the background carrying a leaf blower, cleaning up outside while we sat inside listening. And there they were: the winds of change.

The contrast couldn’t have been much more stark: an older white man in an air-conditioned room talking about how we respond when the winds of change blow, discussing our reaction to the uncontrollable and unpredictable forces of political nature; and outside, a sweaty, dark-skinned man in his thirties making the wind blow, harnessing it to get the job done.

Maybe I should go on record here and say that I don’t actually think very highly of leaf blowers. Good old fashioned raking is good for me, doesn’t pollute the air and can actually get wet leaves as well as dry ones. And while I’m qualifying, I don’t want to pick on older white men or play into tired stereotypes. Actually, I’m seeing some particular older white men do amazing and visionary work these days. My point has more to do with the winds of political change. I think it’s important to realize that they don’t just blow, people make them blow.

The consequences of the distinction are notable, and significant in at least two ways. First, if we perceive the world as something that happens to us, then the best we can hope for is to react well. If we perceive the world as a space in which we move, however, our choices are much broader, and our sense of possibility much richer. We don’t just react, we act.

Perhaps more importantly, if we put the agency back into politics, i.e. we remember that movements and events don’t ‘just happen,’ but are chosen by individuals, then we are more likely to perceive not only the possibility of different choices, but also the humanity of the people involved in making them. That last part is particularly important, I think, and in a social context that so often tries to force complex reality into dichotomies— Democrat/Republican, Israeli/Palestinian, rich/poor, Christian/Muslim, us/them— it takes conscious intention to maintain a nuanced and human perspective.

When that ironic moment presented itself I almost chuckled out loud, but I caught myself, and I spent the rest of the day thinking about what it meant.

And what does it mean? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

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9 Comments on “The answer, my friend…”


  1. “…in a social context that so often tries to force complex reality into dichotomies— Democrat/Republican, Israeli/Palestinian, rich/poor, Christian/Muslim, us/them— it takes conscious intention to maintain a nuanced and human perspective.”

    And, it seems to me, no small amount of bravery.

  2. Ben Foxworth Says:

    This posting makes me think of Kate Campbell’s song, ‘Crazy in Alabama,’ in which change does not come on the wind, bur rather, on a train. Amazing song.

    Lyrics available on her website for anyone wishing to read them (scroll down six songs), and there is a video of her performing the song (and making a small error in her own lyrics, here.

    Fine posting, David, as always. Serendipitous, too!

  3. James Bunge Says:

    I once received a coffee mug with the message “CREATIVITY: There is nothing more empowering than an idea who’s time has come”

    What a bunch of drivel I thought. (I’m sure it’s a paraphrase and association that Victor Hugo had not intended) After all, what’s so empowering about waiting for your idea to come to fruition? Are we to just sit and react instead of act, and what is so empowering about that? If it wasn’t such a good mug I would have “recycled” it sooner.

    Since I kept using this mug, I kept thinking about how I disliked its message. It was later, while reading the letter that Martin Luther King wrote from the Birmingham Jail, that I found words to my reaction. Here is the passage from his letter that struck me.

    “..Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this ‘hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity…”

    What better a call to action than that. Too bad it wouldn’t fit on a mug.

    Blessings on your work,

    James Bunge

  4. Marjorie W. Joyce Says:

    Comments on your Transition

    Your song has been sung,
    But your song is not over.
    As you sing your new tune
    And develop Peace in the world.

    Your song sings on.
    It sings on in the joy of music you have opened to others.
    In the lullabies new mothers sing to their babies.
    In love songs sung to lovers.
    In mountain melodies sung on front porches of Grey Eagle.
    Your song sings on.

    Music is magical because in a concert, many people are joined as one – in enjoying a special moment.
    Yet as you work towards PEACE, I see you again striving to capture the spirit of the crowd – and passing on what many can do as they all choose to work together for Peace.
    It seems that you are working to capture not just the momentary “specialness” of a concert. But a “concert” with feet and hands and motion. A call to action to make specific changes so that God’s Love is spread in the world and Peace reigns on Earth.

    I have many things that I am thankful for. I am very thankful that 19 years ago Nancy Cleary insisted that I attend a concert of yours at the Third Street Coffehouse in Roanoke, VA. My life has been so much richer for getting to know you, your parents, your sister and your music.

    Marjorie W. Joyce

  5. Katie Cole Says:

    I used to find myself citing your lyrics in reference to my passions of ministry and social work; now I find that I’m also citing your blog for one of my social work papers (no pressure or anything!).

    For the sake of my paper, how do you (formally) identify yourself now? David LaMotte, folk musician, activist, Rotary Scholar, peacemaker, ordinary radical, …?

    Best of luck in your graduate studies… I empathize with late nights and lots of reading!

    Peace,
    Katie Cole

    • lowerdryad Says:

      Hi Katie,

      Thanks for your note – I like “ordinary radical.” 😉 These days, though, my most common moniker is Rotary World Peace Fellow, and I’m happy with that one. Maybe “songwriter and activist?” Honored to be quoted, at any rate. Please send the paper along if you’re so inclined. I’d love to read it.

      Best,

      David

      • Katie Cole Says:

        Of course! If you don’t mind, I’d rather not post my little paper online, but I’m happy to send it to you via email. My email address is ****.

        Peace,
        Katie

  6. Cindy Ramsey Says:

    I found your blog thru your song “We are each other’s angels”.

    As each one of us change, open up, come awake, and become aware, we drop our pebble into the pond, and the ripples reach the distant shore, ever effecting that which was, that which can change, which can become.

    The music of so many call to me, to soar upon the wind, to soar across the earth, touching all who have touched me, to share the love that I have received, for is that not what we all need.

    I believe that the wind will blow and carry the change. We only need to drop our pebble into the pond and watch it go, watch the ripple flow, traveling to touch a shore we cannot see.

  7. Joyce T. Snodgrass Says:

    Oh David, I laughed out loud at the juxtaposition of leaf blower and change in the wind. Then I took the opportunity to let a co-worker/ friend who likes reading Z Magazine see it, because I think she’d like your blog.

    jts


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