Change is Local
Updated: Aug 24
All great leaders have realized that real change begins, and often is sustained, by taking responsibility for altering the conditions within one’s circle of control.
At a time of a near-constant barrage of negative news, it is a welcome relief to hear of events that restore hope in the fundamental goodness of human beings. This fall at Southwood High School in Shreveport, Louisiana, twenty-three students were arrested for fighting over the course of just three days. What happened next can serve as a lesson for all of us. A group of men, fathers of students at the high school, formed a group called Dads on Duty. Without any formal training or even notice, they showed up on campus, taking turns walking the halls of the school. And they haven’t left. Their presence and example have provided the leadership and safety needed in a time of crisis. In the last month, there hasn’t been a single incident. And if you watch this short video, you’ll understand why. We are facing crises of epic proportions – climate change, poverty and homelessness, wealth inequality, political polarization, geopolitical instability, and an ongoing global pandemic. The instinct in the face of crisis, almost always, is to look up. To point to some figure or entity and complain about a lack of direction and leadership. Why isn’t the Biden administration, or my governor, or the CEO of my organization doing more? These are often fair questions and understandable sources of frustration. And I’m not advocating that we simply accept the failures of leadership from those to whom we have entrusted the responsibility of leading. Yet, real change more often happens locally. When we are saddened by the epidemic of homelessness, we can do more by buying someone a meal or organizing a local kitchen than by advocating for change in the mayor’s office. When we worry about the impacts of climate change, we often forget that the most immediate and effective action we can take is by making small modifications to our daily habits. And yes, when we are rightfully concerned about the safety of our children when we drop them off at school, we can learn from these heroic men in Shreveport, Louisiana that complaining will do almost nothing to keep our kids safe. Showing up is often, perhaps unfortunately, the only answer. Mother Teresa had one of my favorite sayings about the nature of local change – “If each of us would only sweep our own doorstep, the whole world would be clean.” All great leaders have realized that real change begins, and often is sustained, by taking responsibility for altering the conditions within one’s circle of control. Rosa Parks simple yet profoundly courageous act of saying no on a Montgomery bus provided the spark that ignited a civil rights movement that continues to this day. Where is it that you have the potential to take local action? And what’s keeping you from acting? These are the questions I’m asking myself. And I have forty men in Shreveport, Louisiana to thank for that. Tuesday Tips
Mihaly Csikczentmihalyi, the Hungarian American psychologist who invented the term “flow,” died on October 20 at the age of 87. He had a profound impact on our understanding of human behavior.
Neal Stephenson is arguably the most influential science fiction writer of our time. His new novel, Termination Shock, takes on the issue of climate change. Here’s a fantastic interview of the author in Wired.
A relevant quote from Margaret Mead that I returned to this week. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”