Monday, September 7, 2015
The change I want to see
There are a few things that I think are important for mankind's future on the planet. They are big things so what can one person do about them?
In the last two centuries we saw several big changes that seemed impossible until the changes came to pass. Slavery. Women's right to vote. Women as (nearly) equal to men in the workplace. Civil rights for minorities. Civil rights for gays. Independence for European colonies. Reduction of smoking. Reduction of the birth rate.
Most of these were not the result of wars. Most were the result of cultural change. And cultural change is the result of changing attitudes in one person at a time.
So, what can one person do to try to bring about the change necessary to solve mankind's most important problems?
First, as Gandhi said, be the change you want to see. Concerned about carbon dioxide and global warming? Reduce your own carbon footprint. You've made a one-person step toward a cultural change. After all, cultural change is nothing more or less than many one-person changes.
Second, keep a log of actions you take. It will help remimd you of what you've accomplished so far, and it answers the question, what have you done lately?
Third, give special attention to a specific focus of change. The more concentrated your focus, the more readily you'll make progress. But keep in mind the larger context where you're special focus fits in.
Fourth, your example can help bring about similar changes in others. At least it may be the trigger for conversations with others to get them started in thinking about the issue. And if they have already been thinking about it, your example may help persuade them to your point of view.
Fifth, question yourself. When talking with others who disagree with you, try to understand why their ideas differ from yours. This can lead to at least two useful outcomes: you may discover you're wrong or you may discover more effective ways of communicating your point of view.
Sixth, advocate. If you have a strong history of making your own change, you have the credibility that authenticity gives to bolster your position. The weakness of many advocates is that they want other people to change, not necessarily themselves.
Seventh, persevere. Cultural change takes time, even when you firmly believe you're on the side of the angels. People are not eager to give up their comfortable habits. People will resist what they see as threats to their personal wellbeing (often meaning economic wellbeing), regardless of benefits to mankind. But the examples above (and many others) show that it happens with perseverance.
So, what do I believe are mankind's most important issues today?
- Population: we may have already passed the carrying capacity of the earth.
- Equity: the poor people of the earth must not be denied a Western-style lifestyle just because the West got it first.
- Energy: energy (especially electricity) is the enabler of improved quality of life so we must be able to generate far more energy than we do today but at far less environmental cost. That means switching to nuclear, wind and solar power and eliminationg the use of fossil fuels.
- Environment: global warming, deforestation, loss of wild habitat, over fishing the oceans, species extinction, pollution and others...we need to better manage our world. It will be hard because there are so many of us. But we must do it, not because the world wouldn't survive (it would recover without us) but because we might not.
Ok, that sounds good. But is this really going to change the world? Should I even bother? After all, I haven't even been successful at losing weight or getting my daily run up to a reasonable distance or even quitting my addiction to Diet Coke. How can I imagine that my feeble attempts will be of any value on such large problems?
Here's the secret that will puts my mind at rest: I'm not going to change the world. Not by myself. But I can start. And another person can start. And another. We can all be persistent, we will all backslide sometimes, but we mustn't give up. And none of us can change the world. But the world changes. Cultural change takes time. But that's how it has been done. And the world changes.
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