If you scroll through my blog or wander over to my About page, you’ll find I have an affinity with controversial topics. Some of my favorite post have revolved around religion, equal marriage and feminism. I’ve been told I’m going to hell at least once since I started writing here, so I assume I hit a nerve sometimes. More than once, the purpose behind discussing these topics has been questioned. What are we doing here, discussing how society views Divinity, sexuality and gender? We’re not going to change the world. In fact, I have had people tell me that such discussions are pointless. They serve no purpose because they won’t result in any meaningful change.
I may have an idealistic view of the world, but I’m not blind. Changing the world in any way, better or worse, is difficult. Plenty of people stand against the world I would call perfect. Not everyone’s mind can be changed. Yet, do we need to change everyone’s mind to change the world? What do we even mean when we say ‘change the world’?
Think about that for just a second. I’m willing to bet that, when most people consider the possibility of world change, they imagine change that happens within their lifetime. Nathanael Lark created a beautiful comic strip depicting what this looks like. Within 12 frames, he tells the story of world change. In the beginning, a large group of people are acting hostile and one person reacts with love. They respond with more hate, but the one lone lover is not deterred. He only responds the same way he did before, with love. By the fifth frame, one person in the group of haters considers love. They throw him out of the group.
Now, at the seventh frame, two people are responding to hate with love. In the ninth, all but one are expressing love. After some consideration, the last stubborn hater considers love and is welcomed by the group of lovers in the twelfth frame.
That is exactly how I see world change. It happens by loving our neighbors, respecting each other’s opinions and building a world of understanding. It’s true that my thinking is idealistic, but I also think it’s practical. You see, I don’t expect the world to change in my lifetime. In fact, I highly doubt there is even a possibility. When I look at Lark’s comic, I don’t just see twelve frames; I see twelve generations.
I will hold on to my conviction that the world can and will change. No amount of pessimism or tragic world events will move me. When we raise and educate children, we change the world. When we discuss religion, politics and society with an open and respectful mind, we change the world. When we get another person to understand our point of view, even if it doesn’t change their mind, we change the world.
A changed world is not one in which everyone is the same, believes in the same principles or agrees. The world, perfected, will still have crime, hate and death. The plagues of society will always be present, but they can be changed and managed. All the problems of our world, if they can’t be eradicated, can be reduced. Humankind can evolve its thoughts and actions into something more beautiful and beneficial to the world.
Maybe that’s too long to wait for some people. If they can’t see the world become better in their life time, then what’s the point of trying? There is some logic in that, but I find it to be a rather selfish way of looking at the world. So the next handful of generations may not see a world that is much improved from what we have today. What about our great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren? When they open their history books, don’t you want them to see that we tried?
Susan B. Anthony passed away in 1906, before women were granted the right to vote (1920), before it was legal for married couples in every state to used contraceptives (1965), before marital rape was outlawed (1976, Nebraska) and before sexual harassment in the workplace was mad illegal (1986). Were her actions pointless because she didn’t get to enjoy their benefit?
How many people who we revere for standing up against the evils of society actually got to enjoy the fruit of their work while on earth. Did Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi? Was their time on this earth worthless because they never got to enjoy the better world they helped create?
Striving for world change serves a purpose. Just because society evolves at a slower pace than we would prefer does not mean it is immutable. The next time you find yourself despairing, worried about the ability of your actions to serve a purpose, remember that the world can, has and will continue to change. What will you contribute to it’s evolution?