What does it take to change the world?
Eight words to create one question that has thousands, or perhaps millions of different answers. Global leaders fight about this question every day. Students daydream answers for when they are grown up and in charge. Academics wander library stacks and online rabbit holes for ancient solutions. And anyone watching the evening news doubts its even possible.
While walking in a frozen Portland neighborhood yesterday, I had this question on my mind as well. No epic solution came to me during those three miles in the snow and rain. But I did find a discover a few steps that I propose as a starting point:
- Look around you: It is far too easy to get caught up in our own needs, our own drama, and our own struggle to be something in this world. So the starting point for changing the world must be actually looking at it. See what is good and beautiful. And see what is broken and in need. Listen to the stories that are being spoken on street corners, and even more to those that are silent in boardrooms. There are places where you can make a difference, but they will be missed if you do not look.
- Look at your strengths: Again shift from the negatives and the flaws that you, I, heck we all have. I am a 5 foot, 5 inch woman. I am not going to ever be an athlete in the NBA, NFL, WWE, or another acronym that means sports plus ball. On the other hand, I earned multiple college degrees and love the written word. I can write a story, a note of encouragement, a speech, or a text that can impact someone’s day. Each of us is good at something and has some resources to share. With no many needs in our world, it is only through our diverse strengths that anything can change.
- Get in it: At some point you have to just dive in and get surrounded by the world. Imagine the kid standing on the diving board, swaying back and forth in fear of how far down it will be and how cold that water is. Legs shaking and a line growing behind him. Scooting one inch closer and then one inch back. An eternity is spent on that ledge. Once they finally dig deep and jump, its a second to the water, a second more to fresh aid, and second beyond that to laughing at how exciting that was. Just try something small. If you love it, dive deeper. If you hate it, check out the next pool over.
- Look at your story: Burnout is such a common experience in service that its practically cliche and boring. When someone asks you how your day is, there seem to be only a few appropriate answers before continuing down the hallway: okay, good, tired, busy, or some sound effect like “whew” or “yikes.” We are supposed to be overwhelmed in U.S. culture and on the brink of exhaustion. And once we tip over, then its days or weeks of recovery from the world through Netflix, YouTube, and whatever other entertainment offers rest. During all of that time getting to burnout and all of the time in recovery: what’s happening to our work in the world? Nothing. When you start feeling close to the brink, or even just see it on the horizon, turn around and see what you have done already. Take joy and rest in the impact you have made. It may be only a few inches, but gosh darn it those are you inches and they will never be the same. Celebrate any victories, and learn from any failures. Then turn back forward and go again.
- Be changed: Changing the world will change you as well. It may even cause pain. Good. While watching Law & Order: SVU once, Detective Stabler was talking with his commander once at the end of an episode that involved a child victim. The commander wondered aloud whether these types of cases will ever stop hurting. The detective responded that when it stops hurting, that’s when they are in trouble. If we really see our world, really share our resources, and really get involved, then not only can the world change but we definitely will.
#52sparks is my year-long writing series based on an art prompt challenge. The title is inspired by a quote from Star Wars: The Last Jedi: “We are the spark, that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down” (Poe Dameron). The spark that lights a fire to toast a marshmallow or to ravage a forest begins in the space of an inch. So just imagine what hundreds of inches and words can do.