Walk Your Talk: Jay Walljasper

Changing the world by putting one foot in front of the other

| November-December 2003

As anyone who has glanced at my column over the past few years can tell you, I’m a worried man. What’s happening to America’s social fabric concerns me. What’s being done to the environment troubles me. What’s under discussion in Washington these days terrifies me. And, on a more personal level, the increasing soullessness of modern life keeps my wife, Julie, and me up at night wondering what kind of world our son, Soren, will grow up in.

At the same time, I’m a doggedly unflappable optimist. News of activists triumphing in Kansas, a cultural movement stirring in India, or a new bakery opening up around the corner fills me with hope—and confirms my view that people working together can overcome any injustice or inanity (even squishy supermarket bread!).

With all sorts of problems to worry about, and strong instincts that we can do something to overcome them, I often feel frantic. Add in the fact that we have only 12 short months to unseat George W. Bush and his out-of-control cohorts, and I feel completely overwhelmed. That's why right now at the top of my to-do list, underscored in bright red ink, is to take a walk.

Why, you might ask, with so many crucial matters clamoring for our attention, am I taking precious time to go strolling? Let me answer in the words of William Vitek, a writer I had never heard of before, who beautifully expressed my thoughts in the pages of Preservation magazine: “Walking is the single best way to experience the here and now. It mimics the beating heart, a rhythm in which the body takes obvious delight. Walking is also the best pace by which our senses can take in the world. We hear conversations, see faces, taste the humid air, sense a change in the weather.”

New ideas and actions to promote peace, social justice, and a more soulful way of life won’t come to us by staying longer at the office. To change the world, we need to become more a part of it—to get outside and see and hear and feel what’s happening around us. The politicians, generals, corporate chiefs, and others who want to keep us on the present political and cultural course pass their days in offices, airports, and automobiles. Their experience of the world comes mainly from meetings, e-mail, and phone conferences, not through the joy of their senses and the rhythm of their hearts.

Of course, the same is true for most of us who want to chart a new course for society. But if we are to be sincere in our claims of standing up for poor people, children, and the earth, then we need to know our way around city streets and playgrounds and woods. Walking helps keep us in touch with what really matters in life.

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