What does it take to change something?

Frequently as we go through life, we find things that we want to change. And I’m not talking about dropping a few pounds or switching careers. I’m talking about big, systemic issues–racism, politics, the environment, etc. The problem with those big issues is that, well, they’re so big!

Many times we look at some huge issue and think that because it’s so large, because the odds of success are so long, or because the obstacles are many, that it will take a big huge explosive thing to affect change. How many times have you heard someone say, “Yeah, ______ really sucks, but what can I, one single person, do about it?” Or have you ever thought that yourself?

But do all big problems respond only to solutions that are equally as big? I’d say no. I think we get stuck in this mindset, “Go big or go home,” that colors our view of which actions affect the biggest changes. Naturally we tend to equate “bigger” with “better.” But a big change doesn’t have to happen as a complete one-eighty, about face. A big change can happen slowly, over time, incrementally.

I like to think of systemic changes like asteroids.

Say we have an asteroid hurtling through space toward earth. The problem is big–the asteroid itself is the size of Manhattan. What do you do? Well, you could try to blow it up–use an equally big, radical solution. But all that will do is create a bunch of smaller debris that’ll still hit the earth. Now you have more numerous, albeit smaller, problems on your hands. The best way to deal with an asteroid is with a nudge.

A tiny, itty bitty nudge to change the trajectory of the asteroid by only a degree or two, causing it to miss the earth completely. Crisis averted, and all using a comparatively tiny amount of effort and force. So, too, is it with systemic problems. They don’t require some jarring, enormous solution. A simple, strategic approach–a small nudge–will often produce the biggest changes. All pearls start with a single grain of sand, do they not?

pearlformation

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6 thoughts on “What does it take to change something?

  1. Dammit! You done went and made me think.

    The things that really matter, the big ones, unfortunately almost always require some sort of catastrophe to effect change. Civilian airliner shot down over the Ukraine… “hey maybe we should divert air travel or war torn regions?!” Pilot goes to take a piss, co pilot drives plane into a mountain… “hey maybe we should always have 2 people in the cockpit?! Cop shoots and kills unarmed black man in the street… no change needed, but “hey we appreciate all of your concern!

    Yes nudges help in the long run. They tend to act slowly, but they can work given time. You just can’t hardly develop enough interest in an issue though till something hits big enough for a lot of people to get behind a solution. Sad fact (well, assertion I suppose) based upon my many years of human observation.

  2. This is a question that has gone through and will continue to go through my mind a lot. In some ways it can be a source of stress when you see the solution to large major problems but as an individual you have no way of putting yourself into a position to make changes that would be necessary to solve it.

    I guess one philosophy that I have always held is that ultimately all we can do is make our corner of the world better, and if everybody held that philosophy we’d probably be doing pretty well. The reality is of course that there are people trying to make it worse, and some trying to make it better, and we hope that the balance leans toward better instead of worse.

    I pondered your post last night to think of an analogy on how I look at things when a problem seems overwhelmingly large and we feel overwhelmingly small, and the best I could think of was one of weathering and erosion. Everything in the world constantly changes, even if we can’t perceive that change. A rock is a good example. In our lifetime we may never even perceive that rock getting smaller, but it is. Large problems require a longer time to erode and so even if our individual actions don’t seem like they are doing much it doesn’t mean we aren’t having an effect. So being an erosive force whether it is light like the wind, medium like the rain, or heavy like the glacier…it all has the same effect, and so it’s all valuable and will make the rock weather away in a smaller amount of time.

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