Complicity is inescapable. But it is not the end of the conversation. Knowing I am complicit in all that is good and bad about the world involves me in it. I am not disassociated from the world, nor do I wish to be.

I spent the first 33 years of my life separated from the world. Being “no part of the world” became a way of life. Though I attended public school, and developed an interest in history and the humanities, my viewpoint was as an observer. I had no stake. According to my worldview, the system would be violently overthrown by God, ushering in a new global utopia.

Waking up from this potent indoctrination, and understanding that we all are a part of the world was a heavy realization. The entirety of the world’s philosophies, behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, actions, cultures combine to form the background of the world we live in, whether each individual within it realizes or not, or indeed wants to be included in it.

After making such a connection, it’s easy to become burdened by guilt. I don’t think this is a healthy reaction. Complicity does not make us each personally responsible for all of the problems of the world, it just means that we are involved in a system that, collectively, has produced certain outcomes.

So what can an individual do in response to their systemic complicity? My first instinct was to rush to form black and white distinctions, continuing to separate myself from the elements of the world that I saw as most obviously harmful and negative.

What good does this do, though? To quote one of my favorite scenes in Todd Hayne’s film I’m Not There, this sort of guilt “doesn’t do a damn thing except disassociate you and your audience from all the evils of the world”. Refusing to engage doesn’t make the evils of the world go away.

Doesn’t do a damn thing except disassociate you and your audience from all the evils of the world. I refuse to be disassociated from that.

I don’t pretend to have any firm answers, but I think I’ve developed some starting points for myself. We have to learn to really engage with the world we live in. We have to search for and understand underlying causes. We have to be willing to dig deep. We have to be willing to challenge our assumptions. We have to be willing to talk with each other. We have to be willing to listen to each other. We have to be willing to learn from our history. We have to be willing to reclaim good ideas from the past, make them new again in our current context. We have to resist the urge to demonize people, which is the yin to disassociation’s yang.

We are all complicit, which ultimately means we all have a stake in making the world a better place. To finish the quote from I’m Not There, “I refuse to be disassociated from that.”