Remember when to call something “Rad” was hip slang? Back in the early 90s, when I was in senior high-school just about everything we said or did was met in some way with the assertion of being “rad”.
“Let’s skip school and go to the beach.” “That’ll be so Rad!”
We declared things “rad” so much that the term lost almost all meaning.
“Are you ready for the math test?”, “Yah it’ll be Rad!”
Today on his blog (here) Seth Godin reminded his readers of the need to (re)Radical their lives. He’s talking about institutions and companies that used to stand for something but are now so mainstream that they have lost almost all of their cultural influence. Godin is calling his readers to remember their radical roots.
It used to be that to be called Radical meant something.
Webster defines Radical as an adjective meaning:
- Very new and different from what is traditional and ordinary
- Very basic and important
- Having extreme political or social views that are not shared by most people
I hate to break it to my 17 year old self but skipping school to go the beach with your buddies might be rebellious but it’s not in the least bit “rad”.
Radical thinking is new, it’s different, it is usually quite simple while at the time carrying significant weight. Being radical means going against the grain and influencing change. But radical thinking has also been confused with anarchy which I must be quick to point out – it is not.
The first Christians were radicals. So were the first Protestants and the first Reformationists. Democracy was at one time radical. So was electricity, indoor plumbing and the horseless carriage. The internet, while in many ways has become mainstream, in many other ways it is still radical.
Peace, social-justice and pacifism in the face of violence and oppression? Now that’s radical!
Radicals change the world. Not just because their views are different or extreme but because they are basic and of great importance.
Radicals build tribes of like minded followers and then something shifts. What was once radical becomes common place. As Godin puts it:
“The question each of us has to answer about the institution we care about is: Does this place exist to maintain and perpetuate the status quo, or am I here to do the work that the radical founder had in mind when we started?”
One of my favorite radicals was a man named Saul Alinsky. Alinsky is widely recognized as the founder of the modern community organization. Throughout the 1950s and 60s he lead the organization of grass roots movements to improve the lives of the inner city poor in his home town of Chicago and then moved on to Los Angeles, Detroit and New York City. Alinsky was a radical in every sense of the term. His ideas were new and different, to some they were extreme but most importantly they were simple and they addressed the important issues of the day.
In 1971, one year before he died, Saul Alinsky published what has become a manifesto of sorts for those of us who wish to change the world. The opening lines of “Rules for Radicals” reads:
What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.
But my favorite line from that book is far more subtle and speaks of a different kind of radical, the quite humble kind that I promote and strive to be.
The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are right, while those who believe in complete certainty that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, and injustice.
You see, radicals don’t have to be arrogant, violent, loud or even certain. Doubt in the mind of the radical leads to humility and openness. It leads to democracy and eventually change.
If you want to change the world you must be radical, but also humble and hold your vision of a better future in an open hand so that others can come along side you a help shape it, direct it and when the time is right, even take it from you and make it better than anything you could have ever imagined.
A world run by people like that sounds pretty Rad if you ask me.