A few weeks ago, I was invited to give a TEDx Midwest talk called “How to Change the World.” The goal was to inspire the next generation, teach them how to become global change makers.
Sometimes, the long days add up to short years that wiz by without warning, leaving us blinking back to see a blur of mostly dissatisfying series of only partially connected events. We walk through the labyrinth of life, which just seems to “happen” to us. We want to be of greater significance, to those around us, to the world. How do we grab fate like a pen and write our lives with purpose?
How to change the world. In 20 minutes or less.
Honestly, it does not take much longer than that to reinforce the basics. We only need to perfect two traits and utilize two tools to be well on our way as global change-makers. To find the traits, the question to ask is this: what would we tell our children are the essential qualities of a life of meaning? (1) Compassion; and (2) Determination.
First, we need to care. Compassion and a commitment to service to the other is a core trait in any human who wills to live a life of worth and substance. It is also essential for gratitude, which is the predicate for joy.
Next, we need unconditional determination to succeed. To desire a constant stream of successes is to worship a false idol. Failure is not only inevitable at times, but even necessary for the rebirth that follows it. It is this resilience, this grit, this determination that makes us get up after we have failed that is essential for success. And that, combined with concern for the other, form the primary ingredients to a life of meaning – everything else will follow. We would all be far better off if we set out for ourselves that which we dream for our children.
We have our traits, but we cannot build a secure dam, or a stable bridge, without the proper tools. A change-maker tool-box might be crowded, but two shine supreme: (1) Sell; and (2) Use the Law.
If there is one thing I am certain of, it is that advocacy is convincing people who do not already agree with us to change their minds. This is sales, pure and simple. The best way to do this is to frame the argument around the intended audience’s moral framework, instead of our own. For instance, there is research that suggests conservatives place greater value on proportionality than equality. Likewise, liberals are more easily convinced through appeal to notions of care versus those of security. So if we are persuading the other, we should ground it in their moral framework, taking great care to never depart from the truth.
The most difficult part of this work in empathy, is assuming that those with whom you vehemently disagree are not necessarily immoral. They just work around a different code of ethics. Appeal to that, if you want to sell the change you want to see in the world.
The last element we need to make a real difference in the world is using the system – the law.
Having been born and spent my childhood in Iran during war time, I am constantly amazed by some of my luxuries here. Green spaces that are not blown to smithereens in a rocket attack, 24 hours a day of available electricity, Coke bottles that do not have cockroaches inside, front yards that are not walled off, and of course, this whole participatory democracy thing. My family had the rare privilege to move to a place of our choosing, for the politics of it. America is not free of injustice, but we can use the system to cure the injustices within that system. Participatory. We have a say. The law is ours to use, and remarkably, ours to change. As a child in Iran, I was forced to line up with other children on the school yard and chant hateful words towards the world. Now I am here, in this part of the world, and this is a place where voices are not stifled. By any measure, speech is freer here in America than almost anywhere in the world.
So we can shout. We can protest. We can sue. We can run for office. There are barriers. Glass ceilings. But we shatter them again and again. Cut the barb wire with the shears of innovation. Sometimes there are setbacks. Sometimes it feels like nothing has changed in decades. For me, when I think about the fact that millions of people around the world would literally die to have their children be here, and how many actually do, it opens my eyes to the power of those living here.
It is the month of July. The month our country gained its independence. What better way to celebrate than to fight for your own Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?
- Extend your compassion for the other. They who are different, whether politically, religiously, ethnically, or otherwise.
- Rise up after a fall. You did everything right, worked hard, and still failed? It happens. Stand again.
- Sell with empathy. You have got to assume the other side is also morally grounded, albeit in different concepts, or you will not sell them on your ideals.
- Use the law. Sue to change it. Or run for office.
Do it today.
Regardless whether you become a mass change-maker, these traits and tools will never again allow life to be reduced to a series of disconnected vignettes. To live with purpose. To live fully. To look back and see a pattern of compassion, dignity, strength, and resilience, that is success.
By Shermin Kruse
Author: Butterfly Stitching
TEDx Midwest talk, “How to Change the World,” in 18 minutes and 59 seconds.