Our minds respond to the bite, the pang, the sting, the punch of disparity between the two sides of our engagements with culture. Between what we want to do and what we can actually pull off. We dream big so we can at least make some kind of mark.

Habits and convictions are a drag. The secret is to pursue what we don’t understand. We can run on that fuel forever. The ocean of culture is always bigger than our little puddle of experience. There’s way more ahead than behind us. Surrender? Never! Keep looking over the next hill and around the next bend and down the back alley. We haven’t been there yet to discover those dimensions of ourselves.

It’s easy to believe that culture is largely caught up with what’s wrong with the world, not what’s right. Just turn on the news. Read the paper. Talk with your neighbor. After a time it’s tempting to settle for that world of petty skirmishes and frustrations and disappointments and forlorn hopes.

Bruised and battered, we want to give up. That seems the safest course. If we do nothing, nobody can blame us for doing the wrong thing. If we disengage and don’t venture a thing, we’ll be safe. Quick, hide! Quit the race, the forum, the stage, the soap box, the protest, the rebellion, the call to action. Don’t make waves. Go find a cave in the desert and cherish your lonely illusions. Blame the world for all that is wrong. You know who to name: Everyone but you.

People are no damn good. If you’d never been born, you could have lived in ignorance forever. You had it made. Your big mistake was having doubts and asking too many questions. There are no questions in a cave. Only darkness. Forever. Just shut your eyes and ears—your black box is a kind of private cave. The ultimate shelter. Your own living grave.

But no, disengagement is not the answer. Never the answer. This reflection is about engagement, not giving up. Not hiding, not taking drugs, not getting drunk, not running away, not quitting, not lashing out in anger, not blaming others.

Engagement is aimed at using errors and discrepancies to change things for the better. The helmsman doesn’t blame his compass for getting off course; he has a wheel for correcting his heading. He’s not there to complain but to rectify that specific situation. He is a change agent, not a prophet of doom.

As every cultural wayfarer is an agent of change. Every path leads both the right way and wrong way. It’s not the fork in the road that makes all the difference, it’s the change in your mind—your attitude, your dreams, your understanding, your growth—that matters. Where you are compared to where you want to go. You can get there from here. You are the voyager crossing unknown depths to new shores and continents, not for conquest, but for engagement, revelation, and discovery.

As an Earthling, you claim nothing for God, King, or Queen. Your loyalty is to Earth and your own mind, your designated planet and vehicle of experience.

It would be tiresome to run through all the dangers and failings of our cultural engagements. That would merely catalogue the norm of our fumblings through the ages. We could harp forever on the burning of witches and heretics, sinking of the Titanic, fiery crash of the Hindenburg, America’s so-called Iraq War, or the ruin of Middle-Eastern culture by sectarian strife and hostility. Killing others requires deadening oneself.

I’m more interested in the opportunities suggested by the widening gap between the fullness of our promise and our meager accomplishments. There, now, is something to contemplate and engage to the fullest. A challenge worthy of us all.