A few years ago I was invited to a dinner party in San Francisco by a guy I’d known growing up in San Diego. I hadn’t seen him in years, but the last time we’d hung out, he was completely wrapped up in the party promoting/bottle service scene in SD. During the time in between he’d apparently left that life to find greater purpose and follow a more spiritual path.
The dinner party was quite lovely. The food was delicious and vegetarian, and many of the people there had all met at different spiritual retreats. It was a crunchy, hippie, new age vibe that is not uncommon in San Francisco. Of course when I saw the guy I knew wearing pants that looked like a cross between Aladdin and MC Hammer, I had to bust his balls saying, “How did you go from a guy who orders bottle service to a guy who wears pants that look like that?”
A lot of the conversations that evening were about spiritual retreats, self-help books, and “really focusing on myself right now”. At one point the guy I knew said, “A good friend of mine told me recently that I’m a really good receiver.”
“Wait, what do you mean,” I asked. “Like you’re good at picking up vibes people are sending you?”
“No, he responded in all seriousness. “Like, I’m really good at receiving gifts.”
I couldn’t look anyone in the eye for a bit because I was afraid I’d break out howling with laughter. When I noticed that no one else in the room was as incredulous as I was though, I said my goodbyes and broke open into a laughing fit after I walked out the front door.
The Bay Area is an epicenter for new age, self help, woo-woo kind of stuff, and while the above story is obviously an absurd and extreme case, we all know people who fall into this category. Good for them! It’s not my cup of tea, but if it makes you happy great.
There’s just one thing though, solely focusing on yourself and your own personal growth simply isn’t enough, especially right now.
If the focus of your spiritualty is just on personal growth and has nothing to do with helping raise up others, then your spiritualty is bullshit. I understand that its important to love yourself before you can love others, but you can also work on yourself while trying to make the world better. Hell, you might even find what your looking for while you do so.
We are in a terrible place right now. The federal government is taking immigrant children and holding them in internment camps. White Supremacists are proudly marching in our streets. The conservative majority Supreme Court is undermining workers rights and rewarding greedy corporations. The Right is doing its damnedest to strip away women’s reproductive rights. The list goes on and on.
If you’re just focusing on yourself right now, you’re part of the problem. If you’re not expressing your outrage at what’s happening, you’re implicitly condoning it. If you’re not doing something with your time or money or influence, you’re helping the evil bastards win.
It drives me crazy when I see Facebook or Instagram feeds that are full of inspirational quotes and memes, but don’t make a single statement condemning the horrors that are happening around us. This is no longer about being political, it’s about being human and standing up for others who don’t have the privilege of just focusing on their personal growth.
Now, I’m not saying that posting on social media is gonna change the world, but it’s a good place to start. First and foremost it’s a public declaration, and that’s an important initial step. If you’re appalled by the things going on, you need to use your voice in person, as well as digitally, to say so. Next start sharing well researched articles by respected news outlets. Even if the Trump Administration is trying to undermine the power of the press, it’s vitally important to spread good journalism.
After that it’s time to do some work. Donate to organizations that are on the ground fighting. Donate to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. If you’re as concerned about the immigrant detention centers as I am you can go to RaicesTexas.org and donate to the org that’s funding bonds to get parents and children out of the detention centers and giving them legal representation. Also, make sure to call your elected officials and let them know how incensed you are.
And finally show up. Taking part in the Women’s March was amazing! But there’s more work to do. Get into the streets. There are protests happening nearly every week. Get involved. There are rallies across the nation on June 30 th . Check out MoveOn.org/families to find the nearest one to you.
Personal growth is important, but not as important as guaranteeing that everyone has the opportunity to focus on it.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.