The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

Eden Phillpotts

What single change would do the most to make a better world? That was the question posed by a friend recently. His answer: “Educate women worldwide.”

He mentioned this as we made the rounds of the wider Los Angeles metro area on our annual trip out there, a mini-reunion and winter break that, for various reasons, was postponed this year till spring. Our trips incorporate elements of a retreat. We talk as we walk the streets or trails or beaches. We don’t walk the talk; we talk the walk.

This year’s trip coincided with the verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial, so George Floyd and the reckoning with race were much on our minds. It also coincided with a federal judge issuing an order requiring Los Angeles to do more to address the homeless situation in central L.A.’s “skid row” section. Block after block of encampments hugging the street. Tents and tarps and blankets and bags creating modern-day “Hoovervilles.” They can be found under most overpasses and dotting the hillsides along the highways as well. The Southern California climate draws a large homeless population, so it’s more visible there than back here. Homelessness is a consequence of an economy that creates winners and non-winners. Those on the margins include people suffering from mental illness and drug dependency, the economically and culturally dispossessed.

Eliminating racism and homelessness would make the world better. Reimagining policing could be an antidote to the murders of unarmed people of color by a police force that takes its marching orders from a society built on a foundation of white supremacy. But we can’t adequately reform policing until we first accept the existence of “systemic racism” and strive actively to create an antiracist society — rejecting policies and ideas that produce or normalize inequity between racial groups, according to Ibram Kendi’s book, How to be an Antiracist, which envisions a society where all racial groups stand “on approximately equal footing.” 

Solving homelessness is stickier still. Shelter is the first step. Someone has gone to considerable effort and expense to distribute tents to many of the homeless in L.A.’s skid row, which is an improvement. But what about sanitation and mental health services, addiction therapy, a subsistence income with job training, and probably much more? It’s complicated. “Shelter” and “home” are not always synonymous.

Closer to home, one of our hosts is battling cancer, so her answer understandably focused on affordable, accessible health care, which would go a long way toward raising quality of life worldwide.

But why stop with reimagining policing, homelessness and health care? Why not reimagine the whole world?

Answering the question “what would do the most,” it seems to me, requires identifying the biggest problem. That would be climate change, our planet’s most urgent existential threat, so converting to clean energy from fossil fuels was my response. It would also correct our second-biggest threat: economic inequality. The greater the disparity, the greater the suffering, the greater the instability around the world from the twin scourges of poverty and malnutrition. 

The first step toward reducing the gap might be to embrace what our other host in L.A. advocates: “free-market socialism.” The free market creates wealth, but socialism distributes it in a more just manner than capitalism ever could. Capitalism leans predatory, socialism leans nurturing. The latter humanizes the former.

Eventually, though, I come back around to the first answer. What would move us forward most, it seems to me, is equality for women worldwide. Equal pay, equal opportunity, equal education, equal access to political power. No glass ceilings. Women’s equality will heal the sickness of this patriarchal society, which has caused so many of our other problems. Women, at their best, prioritize collaboration, cooperation, communication and compassion. Capitalism emphasizes competition over all else — devised by men at their one-sided worst.

Our discussion reveals that it takes daring to dream a better world. We’re conditioned to wallow in why “it’ll never happen.” The odds seem stacked against every solution. So we find a perverse security in our stuckness.

Clean water, adequate nutrition, the end of authoritarianism and armed conflict, including the ongoing threat of nuclear warfare — with so many challenges, solutions seem unattainable, but it behooves us to dream because, as disabled actor Christopher Reeve once said (and lived), “At first, dreams seem impossible, then improbable, then inevitable.”

Antiracist policing, homefulness instead of homelessness, universal health care, universal early and higher education, full employment, sensible gun regulation, clean energy, economic and racial and gender equity, food security — all would revolutionize life on this planet. 

How do you reimagine the world?

What formerly locked doors would you open?

A better world is just waiting for our imaginations to catch up to it.

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