In my first ever article, “Where Does The Peace Lie?” I penned a thought process on how to find peace despite living in a world that seems hell-bent of destroying our inner sanctuary. I described how no matter the territorial downpour that occurred outside of our minds, we do not need to let even a single drop enter our souls.
While this is a fantastic truth that leads us to internal peace, as human beings, we also feel that tension that comes from seeing our society, our world struggling. As human beings, we have a desire, a need, an existential craving to help those around us, to fight the good fight, and to do our part to make this world a better place. So while it is true that we can be peaceful while our world is in flames, it is also true that we must try to extinguish. So what is our part? How do we change the world?
I have been lucky enough to not face issues that my peers have faced due to my geographic location, my ethnicity, my gender, and so much more. Despite this, I have attempted to assist in some of the worst issues, recoveries, injustices that have occurred in recent years. I have been grateful to have been able to work hand in hand with the brave residents of Flint, Michigan, with the survivors of a flood ravaged Louisiana, and I have learned, from these courageous people, what it takes to overcome, what it takes to make change. Unfortunately, I have also learned what worsens these situations.
So how do we change the world? Simple, we change ourselves. We do the non-sexy work that won’t get headlines. Because we aren't looking for fame, or for media attention, we are looking to make a difference. First, we, as Michael Jackson told us, start “with the man in the mirror”. It is echoed throughout time, that it best way to change the world, is to change ourselves. The worst way to change the world, is to attempt to change the world. It is the people who spend the majority of their time fixing what occurs inside, who fix what occurs outside. We all want to burn the streets, we want to scream at our TV until our politicians change, we want to fight the police, or the criminals, or the system. We all want to change the world from the outside in, when really we must change it from the inside out.
This was no more apparent than it was in Flint, Michigan. Living in the first world equivalent of a tattered infrastructure, I was able to see first hand the differences in the approaches. In Flint, there was a whirlwind of emotions, of details, of people in and out of the city. Everyone in the city wanted change, and everyone wanted to fix this issue that occurred.
Living there, the thing that people from the outside never realized was that Flint was so much more than water. This was a broken, once flourishing city that now housed ⅓ of it’s potential, using ⅓ of it’s original tax basis to fund a city meant for 300,000. It was a city whose main economy left it, a city where it’s occupants lived in scattered houses with dirt floors. A city where whole blocks, whole neighborhoods looked straight out of a Walking Dead Episode. A city who the caved in roofs provided shelter for what occurred behind closed doors. A city ravaged by poverty, crime, and low morale. Even if we fixed the water, Flint was in dire need of more. But no one wanted to realize this.
There were people who did see this, and who worked to elicit change. They focused on small, ground up procedures that would make a difference in their community in all aspects, not just water. Then there were the others, the people who wanted front page, headline stories to choreograph their assistance. The saddest thing is, their assistance did not make an impact. It was the people who picked themselves up first, then helped their neighbors, then their block, they helped their city, who made the impact. An example of aiming for the front page is when my team and I were returning to our housing, an all black motorcycle pulled off the highway in front of us, and blocked out the turning lane. Then two more came and blocked oncoming traffic. Suddenly 10 vehicles, all painted with slogans such as, “Water to Flint”, or “Help when Michigan won’t” came off of the onramp and onto the bridge. As they moved forward, so did we (we were going the same direction). 10 cars, pulled off of the road in front of the city building, with a couple hundred cases of water, looking for a place to give this water to. It turns out these people were from the south, and drove across country to deliver water to a city plagued with so much more.
Was this a great and caring thing for them to do? Yes it was. Absolutely, these people are, in their own right, heroes. Did their work make a difference? Yes, and No. Those water cases got added to the tens of thousands of cases that the Red Cross had in the city, on daily deliveries to Flint’s occupants. Would the caravan been just as successful as donating the money they spend on gas, food, lodging, and water to the Red Cross? They actually would have been more successful, because then their money could have provided water, food, and clothing to many occupants. Instead, this group decided to follow their own plan, which leads me to ask why? Why did this pull this stunt? Was it so that they could end up in the news? Was it so that they felt good about their lives? Did they attempt to satisfy their ego by hijacking the attention that was on Flint, and aim it on themselves? If not, if their actions weren't more about themselves than they were about the occupants of Flint, why didn’t they just donate (which as we mentioned, would have done more for the cause)?
Why do we try to change the world? We must first start here. Are we aiming to change the world so that we can be the ones who elicited change? That was my initial motive. I wanted to be the martyr who lead the rebellion, who led the cause, because I wanted it to be me. This is our first hurdle. Are we comfortable changing the world with the tiny, baby steps that will not get any recognition, or are we only aiming to be the one on TV? We must choose the former. As William McRaven shares in his book, “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World”, it is the tiny things every day, such as making your bed, that change the world.
So that is how we change the world. We focus on inward change, and we focus on the small things that will make a difference overtime. Because, in truth, what good is anger, riots, and violence, when the truth for peace lies inside of every one of us? What is the need to burn the world that we are aiming to save?
We can’t control what other people do, we can’t control if we live in a racist, sexist, or any other ist society, all we can control is how we react to it. Our reaction holds all of our power, our reaction is our choice. Therefore, the best, and realistically only reaction that will ever produce a positive response is to become a person who emulates what a changed world is. What good will anger do? What good will violence, or rage, or all of those emotions that kill us inside do? It feels good to let it all out, but it is a poison sapping our potential, and produces a response that is counter to our goals.
If instead of breaking down society, or attempting to change those around us by force, imagine if every individual took it upon themselves to fix themselves, to set themselves on a moral compass. Imagine what the world would be if we all behaved correctly. I understand that this may be seen as a utopia of sorts, but the only way to work towards it is to start with ourselves.
With all of the criminal law issues that have occurred, we always have a choice of how to respond. Regardless of our situation, there is always an option, there is always a choice to be made. When issues began to arise in Baltimore, Maryland due to relationships between the police force and their community, Ha Ha Clinton Dix, who is an All-Pro safety for the Green Bay Packers, chose to not only re-enroll in school, taking administration of justice courses, but also take an unpaid internship over summer with the local court system, as well as learn under the local police department, to try and understand what was occurring. We always have a choice.
Besides, how effective is it to tell people what they are doing wrong? It is a common notion that when we are preached at, by parents, or friends, or teachers, we tend to dig in our heels and continue to do whatever we have been doing. Therefore, “it is difficult to bring people to goodness by lessons, but it is easy to do so by examples” (Seneca). Be that example for others.
There are systematic injustices in our world, and there is no denying that. But, I think that this is an idea that is crucial to to be exposed to, regardless of who you are. Whether you are an avid social right’s fighter, or a mother raising children, or a student, or whomever, we must see the change starts from within.
We must see, that regardless of where we are, regardless of the situation we are faced in, we can always change the world. As “The Daily Stoic puts it, “There are brilliant men and utterly incompetent ones. There are brilliant women and utterly incompetent ones (and this is true for every other category).” There are men and women who will overcome what is out in front of them, and there are men and women who will lounge at any given possibility. There are great people of every race, and there are people of every race who have allowed the world to defeat them
The truest inequality in the world is between humans, or as Theodore Roosevelt said, “between men and other men.” This is why we see examples of men and women who have faced insurmountable obstacles, and risen to overcome them. This is why we see examples like Frederick Douglass, who escaped from Slavery, taught himself to read and write, and became an ear, a sounding board of feedback for President Lincoln.
We don’t get the choice of where we begin in this world, only how we react to it, only how we attempt to change it. The ONLY way to surely change the world, is not to focus outward, but focus inward. Abraham Lincoln taught himself law with books that he found. Leaders such Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela understood this fact. They started with themselves, and were all very righteous and great individuals (even though each has their personal issues) before they were great leaders.
How do we change the world when we feel it needs changing? We change ourselves, by doing the small tasks that need doing. These are the issues with changing the world. Everyone wants to start with the world, and change it in one fell swoop, only this never works. If we want to change the world, we have to see that it always starts with one person willing to do the work that no one wants to do. You might never be noticed this way, the history books may never sprout your name, people might not even recognize your effort while you’re alive. But that is okay, because this isn't about you, or your ego, this is about the greater good.