Doomsday comes and goes. How come we keep falling for it?

It’s Doomsday today… again. Bostonians must be a cynical lot—or at least uninspired by the Rapture—because the only sign I’ve seen of the impending end of the world is three vans careening along Charles St. with “Judgment Day” and so forth emblazoned on their exterior.

No big deal. Doomsday comes and goes, and most of us laugh and ridicule the poor fools who keep falling for it. This year’s champion, Harold Camping, has been called a fanatic, false prophet, fear-monger. Typical name-calling for the visionaries of the Apocalypse.

So how come we’re giving the Mayans a free pass on 2012? Many of the people I know give some credence to the December 21 date that marks the end of a 5,125-year cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Of course, for the anti-evangelical crowd, this translates into a transformation in human consciousness rather than the end of the world.

Either way, I’m not buying—but that doesn’t really matter. What’s got my attention this Doomsday morning is humanity’s continuing appetite for some externalized escape route from our current circumstances. Whether we get to transcend the mess we’ve made by ascending to heaven, or we gain new superpowers through enlightenment, either way we’re seeking to bypass the long, slow slog through the muck of our industrial errors. If there is a god, I’m thinking he or she probably isn’t inclined to reward us for how we’ve behaved thus far on the planet. Doesn’t it seem more likely that we’d be required to clean things up a bit before we get to eat our ice cream and cake?

Perhaps the gift we’re receiving in these times is the ample opportunity we have to make the world a better place. Everywhere we look, there’s something or someone that could use our attention. I recently learned that the Boston school district will be shutting down more than a dozen schools—most of which serve low-income neighborhoods. This is no surprise. As budgets tighten, the burden often falls disproportionately on communities of color. This is one of those moments when attempting to fix the system feels most hopeless, frustrating and impenetrable. It is one of those moments when transcendence might feel like the only way out.

But I believe there is another way, and it doesn’t include attempting to fix a system that is already well on its way into collapse. Rather than waiting for another world to come to us, I believe we can begin to build the world we want right here, on this planet, with the level of consciousness we have today. This will require the radical act on our part of walking out of systems that are failing us, and walking on to experiment with new ways of strengthening our communities. In the case of schools, that might mean pulling our children out of the school system and turning to one another to create neighborhood learning spaces which replace schooling with discovery.

I know how radical that sounds. I know it may even sound like privilege. It is only because I have witnessed communities step into this experiment that I dare suggest it—communities like Shikshantar and Unitierra that I wrote about in Walk Out Walk On. And communities throughout the United States as well, where people also recognize that it’s time to stop waiting for someone else to create the change we wish for.

Where do you find yourself waiting for change?