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How to: Change the World

February 20, 2010

I subscribe to Akhila Kolisetty’s blog Justice for All. This morning, I received the latest post, straight to my inbox. (You can do this for posts from my blog too – just subscribe in the box to the right.) Unusually for me, I decided I had time to read it there and then. By the time I got to the bottom I knew I wanted to leave a comment. As I started typing I realised that she had raised so many thoughts that what I really wanted to do was write a response post, so here it is.

Her original post is here, if you want to read that first.

It’s no secret that life can be hard and being in the wrong job can be soul-destroying. Choosing a field you’re passionate about can make all the difference between getting through those tough times and feeling like a failure for most of your life. I think it’s great that Akhila is so passionate about Human Rights and has chosen to follow that for her career. I also completely agree that you should work to your strengths – especially in an area that is so complex and has battles to be fought on so many sides.

I also agree that it’s all very well to write about issues, but if you really want to make a difference you have to support what you’re doing with action. Recently, Carlos Miceli wrote (in a post I can’t find at the moment, but I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere on OwlSparks), that it’s what you do that matters, not what you think about doing. He’s right. But it’s important to remember that what you publish (in the ‘real’ world and here in cyber space) and the role you play in your circle of the community do count as actions. They are valuable. Akhila points out in a previous post that your community shapes you. That’s true, but it’s important to remember that just as you are shaped, your contribution to your community shapes others. It goes both ways.

If you’re a writing/blogging type, write about the volunteering you do, or the challenges in finding an employer who shares your ethics, or just how great that guy who gave you directions was, or the lady who smiled at you in the coffee shop when you felt like the world hated you. These little things also speak to the need to respect each other and to support each other – which is what human rights is about: recognising the inherent dignity of the individual and doing what you can to maintain/restore it.

‘Changing the world’ is a high goal. There are very few people who have ever or will ever manage it – and it is never achieved by one individual – there are always others involved.

But every one of us has the power to change the world for someone, or if we’re lucky a collection of someones. Economics don’t change the world. Policy makers don’t change the world. People – on mass – change the world. People – who have to be reached, educated, protected physically and legally, fed, housed, cared for. ‘The power of we’ sounds trite, but it’s real. Standing up for what we believe in, putting action behind our rhetoric, daring to make contact with other human beings, daring to take risks. There are no ‘peripheral’ issues when it comes to doing that. Human beings are complex – their needs are many and all must be catered to. I’m not talking about desires – I’m talking about needs. No area of work that addresses those needs is more or less important than any other, no more or less worthy or noble.

I’ve been struggling to keep up with my posting schedule here, in large part because of my involvement in doing things. That’s great, except I want you all to know about it too! Not because I want you to think – ‘oo, isn’t oneredsock doing great work’ (you’ll notice, I hope, that I’ve tried to keep this blog anonymous), but because I want you to know about the projects that are happening in a country far-removed from you, in the hope that you will become interested in at least one of them and take that interest and turn it into some practical action that will help to change the world for someone else. Whether you decide you’d like to find out more about HIV/AIDS support groups in your area, or have a cup of tea with the little old lady in your street who lives alone and hasn’t been seen out in a while. Or have a conversation with the Big Issue seller on the corner. Of course, if you decide you want to ditch your current life and disappear around the world for a few months, that could be cool too.

Meet people. Make connections. Cross divides. Find out what really matters. Then tell other people about what you’ve learnt. Because ultimately, learning to see everyone as an individual, with all the rights and responsibilities and needs and desires and hurts that go with that, is the only way we’re ever going to make our species more caring. It’s the only way we’re going to move to a point where it’s automatic to consider the working conditions of the people who make things we buy, or the impact our lifestyle has on those living on the other side of the globe, or those living next door to us. It’s our best route to dismantling protectionism and combatting prejudice and bigotry. It’s the only way that we will truly bring about Justice for All.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2010 9:30 pm

    Hi there! I just wanted to express my sincere thanks for writing this post in response to my blog. I am honestly…incredibly touched that someone would take the time to do that, and I enjoyed reading all your thoughts on this topic. Thank you for caring about human rights – we need more people who are doing something about these critical issues. Thanks for joining the movement🙂

    I completely agree with you that contributing to the human rights movement is not simply about raising awareness or “changing the world.” I’ve been thinking a lot about this too. Ultimately it’s a collaborative effort, and we as individuals can only do so much. We can’t singlehandedly change the world. I also don’t think anyone is expecting us to. However, we definitely should be making small actions in our every day lives to contribute to a better world, alongside the large, GRAND, things we do. It can be as small as showing kindness to someone on the bus or buying a fair trade item. Those individual actions build a better world, too.

    At the same time, though, I’d caution against thinking that is enough. Simply being a good person in your everyday life will not really change the world or get you as close to that ideal as you’d like. It really requires a lifetime commitment. A commitment to working on these issues day in and day out. Those who are willing to do that, beyond smaller actions in their daily lives, are those who REALLY will be able to affect the most change.

    Thanks for making me think🙂

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