“If the cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. Because the goal of America is freedom, abused and scorned tho’ we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’ve written about taking action, and creating change in other posts. And, how that it is one action at time that creates change. It starts with each of us. One action at a time, over time. What is fascinating is that inside of taking action, we change, and those around us have the opportunity to also change. Choice.
First, what is social change?
Social change, in sociology, [is] the alteration of mechanisms within the social structure, characterized by changes in cultural symbols, rules of behaviour, social organizations, or value systems.
Though there are various theories on how to create social change, what is more clear to me than ever before, is that it is inside of the changes we make within ourselves that we have the opportunity to effect social change. There really is no other way.
What, then, does that look like over time. For instance:
How do we know that we are creating social change?
And, is it necessary for us to know that change is happening?
Or, is it enough to act, and be content with that?
Good questions, and I’m sure you have many others. For now, let’s look at the three listed above.
How do we know that we are creating social change?
We may not. Fact. Why? Because there may be a lag between the social actions people take, and the change that may occur inside of the social and or cultural systems. Such a time lag is common, and may contribute to people remaining inactive.
What are some of the other reasons why people remain inactive?
Fear – people are afraid of what they don’t know and don’t understand. If fear is keeping them inactive, it may continue to do so.
Comfort – people like being comfortable, and even though they may disagree with something, may not act.
Someone else – people, especially today, often think someone else will do it; so there is no need to act.
Most people have a little of each of these constraints to action within them, which, when combined, can be immobilizing. Not a justification, just a reality. Add when people confuse taking action with the result of that action, you get even more immobilization.
Is it necessary for us to know that change is happening?
Though we would like to know that every action we take is creating change, it is not our responsibility to know. As was aforementioned, it is not even possible to know that change will occur, as it may not happen for years from the time we took the action.
Here is a quote about actions and results that is important.
“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” -Gandhi
Within this context, it is not our job to worry about the results of our actions. When we get caught up in worrying about, or focusing on results, we become disempowered. Why?
Because we can get frustrated when we don’t see change right away, which can further immobilize us. Disempowerment.
However, please remember, that it is in the actions we take that we grow, change, and create the possibility to change ourselves and the world. Not the result. That is the knowing, and that is empowerment. You are a seed of change when you act, even if you don’t see the sprout, or the eventuality of that spout.
Is it enough to act, and be content with that?
Yes. Think about the current situation. People are acting. Simple. They are standing for something and someone – many someone’s, and the end of systematic racism. That is the action. Period. Now, that doesn’t mean people don’t want to see system-wide change.
However, staying focused on the present actions is how system-wide change has the best opportunity to occur. Actions combined, again and again, over time. One step, then another, then another. Simple. Yet, complex. A paradox.
Action devoid of a present result is not wasted effort. Think about any of the largest social changes in history, and they are all predicated on, and connected to, actions someone else took earlier in history. All of them.
Taken together, then, you have a cascade of actions over space and time, which are all connected, and interdependent. And, they DO add up, and they do create change.
What can you do?
Take action. One. Then another. Then another.How?
I taught a social justice class for a time, and the final project for that class was to create a plan for how you, as the student, were going to create local change. Where would you start?
Many of the students were confused about the task. They thought about social change as something that happens in an instant on a grand scale. While this is definitely possible, it is not as likely as social change that occurs over time. When they were clear about the task, they came up with some amazing social projects.
They were local grassroots projects, which is how most social change occurs. Why? Because local people decide to take action. And, inside of that action, as we’ve discussed in this post, there is the possibility that others will follow, and take action, changing with you. Beautiful.
When you are wondering how to get involved, how to create change, start by looking at what you want to change within yourself.
Once you have discovered that thread, pull on it a little, and take action. Then another. Then another. You may find along the way that you are creating the social change you’ve been searching for.
In the post, Creating and Maintaining Relationships: What else is there?, we discussed how connected we all are; and, how the relationships in our lives are not just with those that are the closest to us. Rather, that every person we interact with on a daily basis, we, in fact, depend upon more that we realize. These relationships are also very important in our lives.
The importance we place on our relationships and how we think about them, is a product of our social environment. How we are raised to value relationships, all of them, will drive our thinking, and then our corresponding behaviour in our relationships.
If we think that relationships are inconsequential, we will live a life where we believe that we are acting alone, and others are merely watching. Not interdependent then. Conversely, if we believe that relationships are the basis for everything that we do, we will value the interdependence of the relationships in our lives, and will behave accordingly.
Valuable relationships are also transformational, and they create change. The people in these relationships do not simply recreate the same context, thus relationship, every day. They create new contexts each day, and new possibilities for the relationship, and for the individuals in these relationships.
Transformational relationships are also disruptive. They are disruptive because the people in these relationships stand for each other. When one human being stands for another, they are, in effect, saying that they are committed to that person living the best life possible.
Living the best life possible, however, does not mean the easiest life possible. Disruptive relationships are amazing, and they are also difficult. They are difficult because change is difficult. Yet, it is inside of the change we all face, whether that change is self-induced or otherwise, that transformation takes place.
When people are committed to transforming themselves, and then those they are in relationships with, they are also interested in transforming society. As we discussed in the previous post, relationships start with the relationship we have with ourselves, and they go out from there; to our friends, family, work teams, organizations, and community.
When you are interested in, and actively work at transforming yourself and your relationships, you are also actively contributing to change and transformation within the greater community, and also the world. Do not think for a moment that the actions you take with yourself, and in your relationships cannot create larger scale change – they can and do. It starts with you; one action at a time, one relationship at a time.
As I reflect upon the very sad, disappointing, and unacceptable incident that happened in Minneapolis last week, it reminds me that taking a stand for a fellow human being is one of the most important, and vulnerable actions a human can take.
When we take a stand, we are out at the edge of what is known. We don’t know what we will get back. We do know, however, that by taking a stand we are committing ourselves to something much greater than ourselves. We are taking a stand for humanity – our shared humanity. For each other, and everyone else on this planet.
As you proceed in your week, honor the actions you’ve taken to create transformation within yourself. And, as an invitation, if you’ve not taken a stand for a fellow human being this week, whether that be with someone close to you or someone you don’t know as well, take a stand for them. For when we stand for and with our fellow human beings, we are standing for ourselves, and everyone else on this planet; and, we are creating transformation, within, and without.