Stop Trying to Change the World
I am among the faction of people who believe that the phrase “change the world” is an overly extreme and unnecessarily daunting statement that one, deters too many people from trying to positively impact society, and two, diminishes the world’s appreciation of those who make the effort.
The world is an incredibly vast place. Changing any of its intrinsic features not only seems impossible, but rather unnecessary. Gravity will always exert its pull, the chemical formula for water will always be H2O, an average person’s body will always have enough DNA to stretch from the sun to Pluto and back 17 times, etc. A big part of me believes that this isn’t actually what people mean when they talk about changing the world but I think that’s part of the problem. There is no consensus on what that phrase means. What if there was a unified understanding of what it means to change the world? What if we had a definition that was relevant and practical for all people everywhere?
Perhaps, a good starting point in resolving this dilemma is to figure out what is actually within our control – what we are capable of changing. This reminds me of a really fascinating idea I learned during my undergraduate neuroscience years at Bucknell. It was the idea that each one of us perceives the world differently and our individual perceptions are constructed by some combination of our DNA, our environment, and our experiences. I think that idea is useful here because if it’s true, then it becomes evident that what we are more likely to succeed at altering is the way people perceive the world, not the world itself. It also suggests that although we all live in one big world, you can have your own “world” and I can have mine.
If - for the purpose of this exercise - I define my world as the total sum of living and nonliving things within my immediate environment, then I can begin to develop a manipulative strategy aimed at creating the world I want – a hospitable one. The first step in my strategy would be to execute repeated acts of kindness to as many people in my world as I can reach. The second step, which is the same as every subsequent one, would be to repeatedly repeat my acts of kindness to as many people as possible – still within my world. Soon enough, I might cause a significant number of people in my world to have a more positive disposition that motivates them to repeatedly execute acts of kindness within their respective worlds. A kind population automatically fosters a hospitable world; many small hospitable worlds make up one big hospitable world. Voila, mission accomplished! Note that repetition is essential for behavior change so isolated acts of kindness won’t work here.
Practically speaking, one’s world could consist of his or her home, classroom, social circle, work team, etc. By breaking things down this way, the idea of changing the world becomes more actionable and more people, I believe, will make the attempt.
So in conclusion, stop trying to change the world as it is. Instead, define your world and start executing repeated acts of ____________ (fill in the blank) within it. Start from right where you are. The whole world might not change within your lifetime, but your world will! And that might be the most important thing!