Whether New York, Chicago, or here in Los Angeles where I write, a big city is where the well-educated, well-dressed “beautiful people” are. Glamour, culture, fame and fortune beckon the ambitious one. From near and far they come in seek of the better life. Some combine pluck with luck to find what they are looking for, others continue to dream and strive, still others are left far behind. It’s the Law of the Jungle here: not overtly written, but still faintly legible behind the veneer of glass curtain walls. Crime, corruption, addictive substances: these too are part of the big city lifestyle. They are the handiwork of glamour’s evil spirit, who is drawn to the sidewalks of urine, blood, and discarded needles. Graffiti-covered concrete infrastructure is the matrix of the big city that is both a billboard for the silenced ones and, for many, their eventual tomb.
Out the window of Synchronis’ downtown studio loft, ambulance sirens blare in the distance every twenty minutes or so. Another overdose. Or perhaps the rush is unnecessary: it’s just another dead body. More predictable than Big Ben, the sirens are the background noise that has become the urban equivalent of a pastoral wind whistling through the trees. It is 2021 and every recent year resets what we consider normalcy. And its f*ing insane.
People are complex. Not one is resolutely good or bad. The street thug and the white collar professional are both some sort of mix that coexists with a healthy dose of hypocrisy. We are all virtuous (or virtuously bad) in our own mind, but whose other mind do we have? Our character is weak enough to generally succumb to the trappings of power and money and this is where a cycle of misplaced incentives create a vortex of despair. We drive by the sidewalk campgrounds that no longer leave room for walking. We stare ahead at the stop light to avoid the glance of one of those forgotten ones. He wants a dollar, but is it for food or another bottle of booze? The forgotten ones aren’t forgotten by accident–it takes daily effort and we’ve become good at it. Perhaps we comfort ourselves through our moral support of transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, more money for mental health care, and so on. These are all laudable but insufficient treatments for the symptoms and not the disease–like hoping for the fall of the Berlin Wall armed with a couple of bucks and a pick axe.
That we feel like a cog in a machine and powerless to fix the urban-scale dysfunction is understandable. However the fix isn’t at an urban scale. The bad news/good news is it’s as big as the entirety of the developed world, but at the same time as small as little ol’ me or you. Let me explain.
We spend a lot of time fretting over this political leader or that one, thinking one of them will be our savior and the other, our downfall. In reality, neither should be seen as all that powerful, or frankly useful. They are no more than a mirror of where we are as a corrupted, and hardened, society. And society is no more than a mirror of its collective soul. And its soul is no more than a mirror of your soul–yes, little ol’ complicated you (and me), the virtuous hypocrite.
So, in the end, the fix is not at the scale of the developed world, not at the scale of the megapolis, not really at the scale of your neighborhood. It is at the scale of one’s individual, beating heart. The heart that loves your caregiver or your just-born child. It is small, but it has a superpower, bigger than an atom bomb, that will transform the world if you let it. Today, as you read this, light that fuse and release that superpower. Dig deep to see your neighbor as you see yourself. Worry less about what’s yours as opposed to theirs. Living in the moment, little by little, stranger by stranger, interaction by interaction, act upon your heart and less your mind and its petty concerns. That stranger, that foreigner, and that person of another race is only your brother by another mother. It’s an intention that can quickly become a habit that will change the world for the better. As we emerge from this Great Pandemic, let this finally be the jolt that underscores that no time is better for personal change than now and, from this, I promise, the world cannot help but to follow your lead.