A Time to Speak Up: 12 Insights on Recent Events. #6 What Gives Us Meaning?

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

This is a momentous time that we are experiencing. Who can be trusted for wise council? Where are the elders? Elders have something to add to the conversation about what is going on today. I am one elder who feels I have something to say. The following are 12 Insights that I have learned and want to share with you.

07.1 progressiveIn earlier blogs I described how the progressive worldview is gaining ascendancy on the U.S. stage and becoming the dominant worldview. In fact, it is gaining followers very quickly and seems to be on the trajectory to become more entrenched in American institutions and consciousness. The progressive movement’s popularity, in my view, is because it is providing meaning for many Americans.

Humans are meaning-making animals. We want our lives to be filled with purpose and meaning. If not, we might live out our lives in despair or apathy. Meaning does not have to be the usual signs of success, such as a high-flying career, publishing umpteen books, or being awarded citizen of the year by your city. Meaning can be mundane, such as being a good grandmother or helping out a neighbor in need. Meaning is very personal and takes many different forms.

07.2I make the case that the progressive movement is providing a source of meaning to people who want to create meaning or more meaning in their lives. With the decline of neighborhood associations, neighbor interactions, civic organizations, religious attendance, and extended family, the traditional sources of meaning have declined or disappeared. To replace these traditional sources, some people have latched on to social justice movements as a way to help people feel they are contributing to the greater good.

Alignment with causes such as BLM or social justice actions, is a way for people to signal that they are contributing to the greater good by helping others. The key word is help. Instead of helping people who really need help, elders in isolated settings, tutoring at-risk kids, helping with a church rummage sale, or building houses for the homeless, many have found they are finding meaning in protests and the causes they represent.

Identification with a movement is a type of meaning-making that is in many cases 02.3 defund the policeactually far removed from the suffering the movement is trying to solve. For example, many people support defund the police as a worthy cause, yet the people who it harms the most, inner-city minority poor, are the ones who many people think they are helping. In reality, they are not.

I have found that many progressives have flocked to causes with the (probably unconscious) intention of finding meaning in their own lives. Since it is difficult today to contribute at a community or family level, causes are a quick and painless way to assuage our meaning-making needs. This is perhaps one reason why progressives can shift their attention quickly from one cause to another. Not long ago, the economy was a major focus of needing an overhaul, then it was climate change that grabbed our attention, and now anti-racism is the cause of the day.

My point is that finding meaning in social justice causes has its drawbacks. Often the solutions to problems targeted by social justice activists are complex and defy simplistic solutions. Joining a protest with simplistic jargon, such as defund the police or white04.3 fragility, often does more harm than good. Targeting an enemy and shouting they are causing the problem, delays seeking realistic and difficult decisions.

Thus, finding real meaning in one’s life may take rethinking one’s superficial involvement in social justice causes. There are many other ways to find meaning in life.

01.2 DeniseAbout the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Ames’ varied life experiences— teaching, scholarly research, personal reflections, and extensive travels—have contributed to her balanced and thoughtful perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded the educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units, and conducted professional development workshops for the non-profit and its clients.

Dr. Ames is now developing her new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, and Reflection Nexus.  Turn encourages life-long learners to see things with new eyes, learn from the past, and understand the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five colliding worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

DivCover-dsDivided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them has just been released!

Divided addresses the question on the lips of every American: why can’t we get along? The cultural divide is threatening our democracy and destabilizing our country. Divided looks at the deep cultural divide through the lens of five colliding worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. This approach helps us make sense of our deep divisions and suggests ways of bridging them.

It is urgent that we understand and bridge the cultural divide. Bridging the divide is dependent upon first understanding it. Gaining an understanding of the five worldviews enhances our success of arriving at sensible solutions and increasing civil conversations. If not, rancor and intractability ensue.


Divided is one of nine books written by Dr. Ames and the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books  


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