I Thought I Knew How to Fix the World

We cling to our own worldviews, says Dorotea Mendoza. Imagine if we listened to each other instead.

Dorotea Mendoza
31 August 2020
Image by Elena Mozhvilo.

“This is the way to fix the world.” In my early twenties, that was my attitude. I was organizing with a group that had a clear analysis of how society works and how to fix it. Everywhere I went I clung to our worldview. It was the only correct way to fix this world. I was so sure of it.

I cringe now at the sweet arrogance. At the same time, I admire the energy. In these uncertain times, part of me wishes I could bring back even a fraction of that certitude.

I’m struggling to find just one thing to share about what in Buddhism I think will help our society now. I pause and consider what I’ve just written: in these uncertain times. I want to press backspace, erase that, and get back to the point. Instead I let it stay, and I listen.

For many people, it’s mostly been, or has always been, uncertain times. I think of the children in Syria, and the Rohingya, and a dear friend who’s been homeless, fighting for years to get out of the system. She says it feels like a whole lot of thrashing about with no real way to get out. It’s like she’s stuck in quicksand.

How does one get out of a quicksand? Slow, deliberate movements, arms out, reaching lightly to someone or something for support.

I am reminded: slowness, discernment, solidarity. I would’ve missed this timely, essential reminder if I hadn’t let the pause breathe, if I hadn’t listened, if I’d continued fretfully looking for the most profound Zen teaching. I needed to step out of my own way.

Imagine the strength and wisdom of a sustained amalgamation of movements when deep listening happens.

Let’s see what else comes up if I let go of the search for the most brilliant Buddhist practice that will save the world.

I’m wishing that political movements would listen to each other. That when a fresh, exciting movement emerges, people would pause and listen. Perhaps there are other movements out there that are decades or centuries old, less sexy, less funded, but nonetheless effective for the people in it. I’m imagining the strength and wisdom lost, not to mention the absence of respect and perpetuation of divisions, when this deep listening doesn’t happen.

Imagine the strength and wisdom of a sustained amalgamation of movements when deep listening happens. A sense of continuity unfolds, of mutuality. When it’s no longer this is the way we fix the world, how many more layers can we add to this tapestry we’re co-creating?

It’s now 11:01 a.m. on June 1, 2020. Today will be the seventh day of protests following the death of George Floyd—yet another Black man murdered. Outside there’s already the steady sound of helicopters and police sirens. The pandemic is still raging too. These uncertain times. How do we listen?

Dorotea Mendoza

Dorotea Mendoza

Dorotea Mendoza is a writer, activist, and Zen practitioner. She was born in the Philippines and grew up in New York City’s East Village. She now lives in Brooklyn with her partner Matthew and thirty-three house plants.