Confessions of a Non Swimmer in the Currents of Culture

( first in a new series.)

All my life I thought that the way to solve social problems was to make a big splash. To protest unjust ways of doing things, change laws, secure large sums of money, elect sympathetic politicians, mount popular public education campaigns, invent and spread innovative solutions. 

I took lessons and trained myself to excel at such pursuits. 

I had lots of misses and some hits. For example, I once managed to get three “public ed” commercials about our work on the tv show with the then highest ratings – the last episode of Seinfeld.

As I got older and looked back it seemed that most everything I had touched had been watered down.

Today I think I know why that’s true and what to do about it.

It’s true because there are strong, swirling currents, under the surface, that take our  precious, concrete solutions for a ride. Sometimes they engulf them. Sometimes they erode them. And sometimes they propel them farther and faster forward than imagined or expected.

These invisible forces are known by a variety of names – myths, habits, customs, beliefs. And by expressions such as, “we’ve always done it this way,” or “it is what it is.” One word that encompasses all these descriptions is culture.

I’m spending a lot more of my time watching the currents of culture.  I watch with fascination the ability of others, including those I don’t respect, to swim quite well with these forces. I marvel at the ability of artists to throw themselves with abandon into whitewater. And I notice those who, like me, barely get their toes wet. 

I’ve never gone full immersion.

Now I want to. Even though I can’t swim.

Why? Because I now see that my challenges, our challenges, are as much cultural as they are political, economic or technical. 

In preparation I’ve taken lessons from some of the strongest cultural swimmers I know. They tell me I won’t need a life jacket, that I’m more buoyant than I realize. Although I will have to get rid of my baggage.

So here goes. If I can keep my head above water long enough I’ll keep you posted on what I’m learning.

They say you can teach an old dog new tricks. 


My culture is my world. ~ artist

Musical accompaniment this post is River’s Edge by Great Lake Swimmers. Support their work.


What are you doing here?

Emancipate Yourself from Mental Slavery

Moose Hide, A Love Story

Cultural Transformation One (Baby Gerber) Step at a Time

Eyes Wide Shut, Carmen Papalia’s Guide to Democracy

Don’t Forget the Other Innovators

Artisans for the Common Good

A Bystander’s Guide to Civility in a Time of Rage

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  1. Jessie

    Great post. This is exactly what my TEDx TALK is about – stay tuned for May 31st. Everything i have learned re social change taping into the base of the icebergs… So glad you are willing to jump into the currents – it is worth the ride!!!

  2. Al Etmanski

    Thanks Jessie – swimming with currents, eddies, whirlpools which may also be iceberg cold. Imagine that. Do send details of your Tedx talk. – Al

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