On Making That Difference…

As you’ve probably gathered by now, a recurring theme at the FIGT conference was making a difference in the world.  The past few decades have produced an incredible amount of research into the impacts of global mobility on a person.  With this research comes a better understanding of ourselves, and with that understanding comes an ability to make a difference.  We can’t make a difference until we know who we are.

On a global scale, it seems that the world is also moving toward understanding differences.  Instead of being fearful of differences, our world is beginning to value them and in some cases celebrate them. Centuries ago, fearing differences was necessary for survival.  Now, however, fearing diversity limits expansion.  The value of diversity has slowly stepped into a central role in many organizations and networks.  This is probably partially due to the increase in globalization and the fact that in so many aspects of life, understanding and valuing diversity is necessary for moving forward and succeeding.  (Note: I did not say we’re there yet…events like Ferguson and ISIS prove otherwise.  But we are making incredible stride toward it.  After all, the Cold War didn’t blow up the world.)

As we understand the people of the world better, suddenly people are hearing voices of communities who before did not have one.  People seek to understand.  And with those voices comes the power to impact change.  It’s the idea of using your difference to make a difference.

With the power of having a voice comes an immense responsibility.  Because despite a desire to understand, it’s still easy to misuse the voice that we now have.  Examples of this plague the new today, from Boko Haram to the Syria.  When there are so many perspectives of “right” in our postmodern world, sometimes understanding doesn’t lead to progress.

So what do we do? Do we stop trying because we don’t see progress? Or because our neighbor doesn’t agree with us?  Giving up only perpetuates the problem.  As I’ve thought about what it means to impact change, I’ve settled on three things that I want to keep in mind for myself…

1. Sometimes smaller is better.  When I was teaching in a high poverty school, I quickly grew frustrated by how the system didn’t work for my students–so much so that i forgot about my students amidst the system.  It was impossible for me to change an entire system of education that didn’t work for them.  But I could help them understand how they could use the system to share their voice with the world.  And some days, it was just one student that I helped, but it was still worth it.

2. Is it hurting someone?  Thinking about changing something, we should always be asking ourselves what the short-term and long-term consequences of our actions will be.  If the consequences of something will hurt an entire community, then it’s probably not a good idea.

Unfortunately, actions and programs and initiatives are usually not completely clear-cut on whether they will ultimately hurt or help a community.  That’s where diversity is important.  If only one community’s voice is represented in any decision, then there is no way all interests will be protected.  And while compromise comes into play in any decision, every voice should be heard.

3. Is it helping someone?  Not just me, but other people?  Am I giving more than I’m expecting to receive back?  In our capitalistic society, that doesn’t necessarily make sense.  But sometimes I know that I need to be more concerned with the people around me than what I’m getting out of something.  And if my actions and voice and desire to impact change can benefit someone else in a positive way, then that’s awesome.

So my challenge to myself, and maybe to readers, is to make sure that change is impacted responsibly, and that each voice is heard.

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