I've been mulling over an old Scottish proverb lately: "Fools look to tomorrow; the wise use tonight." Ironically, it's been on my mind for some days, but I've put off actually writing about it for nearly a week. So what does that make me?
The notion of doing something "tomorrow," or postponing life for just a little while, isn't all bad. But what's struck me lately is the way that so many people—in religion, politics, advertising—utilize the idea of "tomorrow" to keep people from doing anything meaningful today. How many of the religious faithful have managed to avoid improving our world or tending to the poor, etc., because they were so confident that "tomorrow," that someday-paradise, a god would step in and make things right (or would remove the "righteous" from this wicked world). I think many religious leaders (though not all) intuit that if people realized they could do the work that they had assigned to God, then people would soon depend less on any god for their salvation, i.e., the health and welfare of our lives and planet.
Politicians use "tomorrow" very slyly, too, and usually to win political office. Look to Barack Obama. (Note: I'm in no way unappreciative of the things Obama has done in office; I'm more disenchanted with many of the promises on which he hasn't followed through. He's still the best option we've had in the U.S. for a while.) Obama's campaign, like so many other politicians at every level and from every party, was about getting voters to believe that with him in leadership, "tomorrow" would be a better place than today. Yet, for Americans at least, this has resulted in a dependency upon government to change the world that looks strikingly similar to that of religion. So now, many Americans sit and wait for government to improve their lives, to make a better "tomorrow," while the world around us begs for change today.
I would mention advertising and corporations, too, but the point should be clear by now. All kinds of people have a vested interest in getting us to believe that, if only we trust them, "tomorrow" will be improved, and we'll have all the things we don't have yet. Sometimes, of course, they're absolutely right! When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing millions of slaves, he improved the nation, and the world, in a very clear way. Still, the "tomorrow" that promised citizenship and equality to all of those slaves was 100 years in the making.
The upshot of all this: it's become increasingly clear to me how important it is for all people to realize that today, tonight even, is the time we must focus on in order to mend this broken world. It's not for religious leaders or politicians to tell us that we can't do it on our own, or that we need some super-human power/organization to do our heavy lifting. Waiting on someone or something else is to put the cart before the horse. The Civil Rights movement showed just how crucial it is for people to act first, and wait for governments and corporations to get with the program. That must be our aim, too. This means living in the "in-between," the ellipsis of life, that we too casually call "today," that important window between what was and what could be.
Now, if only I can convince myself that such urgency bears equally upon my own life...