but (and there’s always a BUT – depending on whose diatribe you’re reading at the time, it might be [and I’m making these up as absurd examples, they’re not real quotes]) …
nobody wants to change their underwear.
nobody wants to make change for a dollar.
nobody wants to change their OWN life.
nobody wants to be hated for it.
nobody wants to do it for nothing.
nobody wants to start with their own backyard.
nobody wants to give up their life to do it.
nobody knows how.
There are tons of organizations out there (http://www.zaadz.com and http://www.one.org, to just name two) whose tag line incorporates something about “changing the world”.
And there are hundreds of thousands of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed enthusiasts that flock to these kinds of organizations with big ideas and high hopes. And they spout things like “how about getting children enthusiastic about global change” or “why don’t we win over the ‘Heartland'” or “let’s think globally, and act locally”. I’ll admit, I am one of those people who look for organizations and people with big ideas. But I wonder … as I’ve often wondered when I see the Jehovah’s Witnesses somberly traipsing up the block, or see the clean scrubbed Mormon bicycle evangelists or street corner Nation of Islam boys hawking their particular brand of enlightenment. What I wonder is this: when you say “save the children,” whose children are you talking about? The children of famine-ravaged Ethopia or war-torn Bosnia or overpopulated India? Why is it that so many “missionaries” tend to look elsewhere for somebody to save? There are probably kids in your own neighborhood that are under- or mis-educated, malnourished, disenfranchised. Hell, they might even be relatives. What about them? Why are there so few missions to the trailer parks, to the coal mines, to the squatter villages right here in town “on the wrong side of the tracks”? What about those “black sheep” cousins, or your own parents? Try convincing a set-in-their-ways, old-fashioned, conservative, Bible-thumping auntie that Buddhism is a viable option for some. That’ll keep you busy for a spell.
In other words, if you can’t convince people who KNOW you, because you’re worried they’ll resent you, or cut you out of their wills, or not let their children play with yours, or whatever — why do you expect a different reaction from someone whose space you’ve invaded without the courtesy of LIVING among them?
And check your information. Figure out that it’s not fossil fuel dependency to run our cars that’s the problem. It’s the dependence on CORN that’s the problem. It takes less petroleum to fill all our tanks than to produce the synthetic nitrogren required to fertilize the corn crop that produces not only ethanol, but 45% of what fills the supermarket shelves (and in some cases, is used to construct the shelves themselves). There’s not enough naturally occurring free nitrogen on root bulbs and produced by lightning to fertilize the food for my FAMILY for a year. Without synthetic nitrogen, there would need to be a significant population reduction. EVERYWHERE. At the very least, there would need to be an elimination of 95% of all candy and soft drinks (most of which rely upon corn syrup and corn sweetener). To get that nitrogen requires burning fossil fuels. So biofuels are a double-edged sword, aren’t they?
How to change the world, then? It isn’t by teaching, or educating, or spending, or practicing random kindnesses, or sending healing energy around the globe. It’s not conversion by the sword by any other name (and that sword need not be made of steel). It’s not, as I used to glibly jibe, changing the way people think by making sure they are thinking to begin with.
What is it, then? Some humungous collaboration of do-gooding, glad-handing, happy-shiny smiling know-it-alls changing the lives of those underprivileged and unwashed masses surrounding them?
No. I think it starts a little differently. I think it starts by doing what you think is right and ethical for those whose lives you already touch. And by remembering that every system of ethics has as its root principle “Thou before I”. In other words, to be ethical, you have to consider the other person’s situation as equally valid and important as your own. And you have to think about the impact of your actions on others before counting the benefit to yourself.
Such small things. Things that don’t get mentioned on the Philanthropic Channel. Or get you plaques or medals or knighthoods. Certainly not things that anybody is going to thank you for.
At least, not yet. Until you’ve changed the world.