Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.—Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is still dark as I’m writing this, but already hundreds of reporters and photographers are gathered in Pennsylvania for the weather prognostications of Punxsutawney Phil. The 130-year-old tradition, much like last night’s Iowa caucuses, has little to do with the actual outcome, but the tradition is one we can’t seem to break and, for a day, we are distracted by a myth that something might actually change. In our minds, we know both events are heavy on hype and short on substance. There’s a blizzard moving into the Northern sections of the Midwest, and powerful thunderstorms, some possibly with tornadic activity, will hit the opposite side of that system and move Eastward. Being in Pennsylvania, Phil could actually see his shadow, supposedly indicating six more weeks of winter but that won’t stop the storms from coming. We expect too much from a groundhog.
We are the same way with our politicians. None of last night’s results produced a clear winner. On the very crowded Republican side, no one achieved even a third of the overall vote. As I’m writing, most news outlets are saying the Democrat side is still too close to call, so again, no clear winner, no one standing above all the others. We know the system is broken. We know little, if anything, said on the campaign trail will ever evolve into reality. Yet, we buy into the rhetoric and hyperbole of a presidential campaign just as surely as we do the shadow of a chubby little groundhog.
I firmly believe that the measure of a person is not in the size of their stature nor the poetry of their speech but in the length of the shadow they cast. There is an overabundance of people who stand tall and talk big but whose actions fall quite short at their feet. Interestingly enough, a great number of those people are politicians. Talk is cheap on the campaign trail and it is easy to be boisterous and make promises that are popular with the electorate. What one discovers after being elected, however, is that moving a nation is as complex and slow and difficult as trying to move the Rocky Mountains from Colorado to Florida. To pin all our hopes and dreams on one personality is about as foolish as making picnic plans based on the predictions of a Pennsylvania rodent.
Change comes from those who cast a long shadow. To know who casts the longer shadow, pay attention to where they stand in relation to the light. Have you ever noticed what happens to a shadow at high noon? It’s almost non-existent. Those standing directly under the spotlight, those who seem to glow with the radiance of illumination, cast very little shadow and affect very little change. They are too concerned with keeping the light on themselves and do so by saying what pleases the ears of those listening. Those who stand at an angle from the light, those who buck the system, those who claw their way through red tape, those who spend more time doing rather than talking, those are the people who cast the long shadows, those are the people who get results.
To that end, who best to rely upon to create change, to get work done, to clean up the mess and change the system than ourselves. We are not powerless, and we certainly are not brainless (with a few questionable exceptions). There is much one can do through invention, creativity, and more often than not, good ol’ hard work. If the banking system is no longer meeting the needs of the people, let’s create a new system of money management that better addresses contemporary realities. If global corporations truly cannot be trusted to act in the best interest of their customers (and they can’t) then you have the ability to work around them, create a local cooperative if necessary to achieve the same service in a more responsible manner. If you don’t like how a coffee shop brews their coffee, do as I do: buy a french press, buy and grind your own beans, heat your own water to 150°, and make your own coffee (it really is much better this way). Dance with your own shadow.
You are the one who has the power. You have two incredibly strong weapons: your wallet and your vote. Don’t let anyone tell you that your voice doesn’t matter; people who say that are cowards who would rather complain about the system than contribute to its overhaul. You can do great things. So can the person next to you. Working together, we are invincible.
Yes, we need a strong, central government and we need strong people who can cast a long shadow running that government. Make no mistake, though, when it comes to real progress and creating genuine change, the shadow that makes the most difference is your own.