What I learned about shifting culture from the people who love our world and our culture enough to put their entire heart and soul into fixing it.
Culture is my jam. I like things that are trendy, and I want trendy things to make the world better. I love the movement towards modern branding and luxury quality for natural products, which lead us to believe that people who are in the know are using natural products. Composting has always kind of overwhelmed me, but learning that Regrained makes Superfood+ bars out of the waste from craft beer made it seem new and exciting.
When I was presented with the theme for March, of Conscious Culture, I immediately thought of how many people I have met who are using their work to shift mainstream culture to a more conscious place.
And I was stoked.
It was a dream come true. I was going to write about musicians, artists, poets, makers, and venues; moving me one step further along in my goal of being affiliated with iconic journalistic culture brands such as Vice, Vox, or Fast Company. I imagined the pieces would be fun and deep all at once, like a Rolling Stone cover article. And the fact that I regularly use poetry or song lyrics as quotes to begin my articles would seem less off-the-wall.
Besides, six months ago I officially added the moniker culture critic to my bio. This is my life’s calling; my soul work — to look at culture and wax both philosophical and practical about how it should and can be better. It had all the components of proving to be my ikigai.
It also epitomizes the only way I’ve been able to lean into the wellness concept of loving something in order to change it. Every graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition will tell you that hating your body is the #1 reason you hate your body and that to create the changes you want to see, you have to start loving your body and being grateful for all the things it does right.
Applying that philosophy to mainstream, or even pop, culture means we can still celebrate the audaciousness that can be American culture and also criticize the parts that are failing and contributing to inequity, misogyny, racism, sexism, class disparity, and the literal destruction of our planet; with the goal always being to shift that culture to a more conscious place.
And then COVID-19 turned everything upside down and stopped us all in our tracks. Everything from predicting next season’s fashions to the latest trendy restaurant opening or when our favorite bands would be in our town moved to the back of the line.
On a global level, people are dying and governments are failing to stop it.
Deeply embedded cultural notions of freedom, autonomy, and responsibility are fighting with our desires to live and come out on the other side of this. Similarly, cultural notions of whose responsibility it is to take care of whom, who will suffer the most, survival of the fittest, and what is appropriate behavior for any given situation are all showing up with megaphones — mostly arguing with and criticizing each other.
I started feeling like maybe my long-dreamed of series on culture shifters had lost its place. The world just seemed more urgent. I acknowledged that while I have no idea what our world will look like on the other side of this, the one thing I do know is that it will look different.
And, while it would be amazing if the result was that some of the necessary work around culture shifting became less of a struggle because the whole world would realize that we have to take care of our planet and the people who live on it, the real-time expositions by those with power make it highly unlikely.
I was reminded of what Robert K. Greenleaf said in his 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader:
Criticism has its place, but as a total preoccupation, it is sterile. If, in a time of crisis, too many potential builders are taken in by a complete absorption with dissecting the wrong and by a zeal for instant perfection, the future of that civilization is dark indeed.
Yes. This was how I had been feeling. There is no way the response to a global pandemic is going to be perfect when the way that our culture has been operating is far from perfect. So why were we spending so much time talking about how not perfect our response has been?
Instead, what can we, as potential builders, do now, today, that will provide help while also providing pathways for change?
How can we, as the architects of a new economy, love our people and planet so much that a shift towards better people and a better planet is organic?
Shifting culture is almost impossible and rarely without carnage.
On the one side you have those who are attached to the old culture and on the other side you have those who are urging a new culture. Someone has to lose.
Whitney Phillips (discussing Robin Wall Kimmerer’s thesis in Braiding Sweetgrass) says in her NiemanLab Predictions for Journalism 2020 statement, that the success of change is dependent on the relationship of these two groups:
those who refuse to relinquish their ideological comforts and those who are willing to reimagine their relationship to the landscape, for better and for worse and are prepared to work through the resulting anxiety and grief.
This is why we need culture shifters.
Culture Shifters are bridge builders. Maybe it is not the relationship of the two groups as much as it is the innovation to connect them.
As I sat down to think about this, to revisit those ten essays I had written over a month ago, and to write this piece, my eyes fell to the last line from that particular paragraph in Greenleaf’s essay:
The danger is to hear the analyst too much and the artist too little.
I decided to turn down the voices of the analysts and turn up the volume on the voices of artists. I turned on my Modern Politics playlist — a collection of songs that inspire and encourage me to believe that change is possible — and the first song that came on was Mumford & Sons, Blind Leading the Blind.
I sang, danced, and re-read all 10 essays I had written weeks ago.
I saw that all ten of them matter more today than they did a month ago.
It is not only acceptable to continue to talk about culture-shifters and culture-creators, it is my responsibility as a writer. If, as Mumford says, we are not known if we are not seen and heard, and we are afraid of that which we do not know, then it is my role to continue to put the names and stories of the people the world needs to see, hear, and know out into the world.
We are building a new world. I urge you to join with us as we hold the hands of the people and planet we know are crying out tonight for a better world.
This piece was originally written as the introduction to a series of 10 profile stories on Conscious Company Media. It now lives on SOCAP, in its original format, which introduces each profile.