They say that small things lead to big things, like the ripples in a pond when a stone is tossed in the water.
How can we effect the most positive change in society? Small, seemingly insignificant things can lead to change. Both positive and negative. What do I mean by that?
Think back to when you were a kid. If you are over the age of 40, then you for sure have most likely witnessed racial jokes, gender bashing remarks, sexual orientation oppression and many other forms of derogatory behavior by otherwise kind and caring individuals. It is extremely likely that you are related to them, since we all experience life through our family first, then the larger population next.
I can remember a time when swimming pools were segregated. It wasn’t right, but it was the “norm” at the time. Things have changed, thank goodness, because people spoke up. Things that don’t directly affect us are usually off of our radar. But, if oppression is happening to you, or to someone you care about, it is a problem in plain sight.
Things that people put up with years ago were tolerated, not because it was right, but because it was just too big of a hill to climb to even speak up, let alone fight back. Whether it was civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, or any other segment of the population that is oppressed, it takes time to build momentum enough to get the general population involved. Once that tipping point is crossed, then change can happen, sometimes quite rapidly.
Even still, change can take years, decades, even centuries.
So, how do we make change happen? If it seems too overwhelming a task, it may not seem worth even fighting for change. Why bother? If we always do what we’ve always done, then we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten.
If that’s okay for you, then fine. Keep doing what you’re doing. But, if you are on the receiving end of bigotry, hate, oppression, violence or any other sort of negative behavior, then taking a stand- even just a remark that shows you are NOT on board with the race joke, or the snide remark about someone’s weight, height, color, gender or anything else is actually a stone in the pond of change makers.
Many times, people go along to get along. They don’t respond when a joke offends them, or a sexual innuendo is made about them or someone else. They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to get fired. They don’t want to be the brunt of the next joke or lose out on the next career opportunity, so they don’t speak up when the boss makes a rude comment. They look the other way when their coworker makes inappropriate jokes at others’ expense.
But, like having small teachable moments with kids is the way to impact their lives tremendously over time, it is the same with adults. I know many folks who have changed for the positive over the years, because society now demands it. Those who once where prejudiced are now more open minded and open hearted. Those who were homophobic are now accepting. Those who were known for their rude, crude jokes and otherwise juvenile behavior have grown up. Some of them. Not all of them.
Change happens when we are open to it. But, you have to be open to it. Some folks that were once fierce bigots, but are now loving and accepting of diversity in their lives did so because something happened that changed their heart. Someone got inside their heart. Something happened to someone they cared about and it changed them. It changed their perception. It changed their attitude and it ultimately changed their behavior.
How does that happen? Ripple effect. One small thing snowballed into something greater. One comment, one act, one instance affected them in a personal way. Maybe it was seeing the negative effect that one person had on another, knowing the witness had acted similarly in the past. It would shame some people if their past behavior was brought to light. All of us learn through our mistakes. But, when you know better, it is up to you to do better. Once is a mistake, do it again and it’s a decision.
You and I have to decide every single day who we are going to be and how we are going to be. How we want to be treated and how we don’t want to be treated.
Maybe you saw someone treat someone in a more compassionate, gentle way than you would have done, given the same circumstances. We learn from one another. Seeing someone role model empathy and compassion can have a powerful effect on us. The next time a similar situation arises, we can choose to respond in a more mature, loving, gentle, compassionate manner because we have been exposed to it and can see that there is another way to respond. Compassion is a learned behavior.
Seeing others behave responsibly has an impact on us. Seeing others behave maturely impacts us. Seeing others act out of love and not out of fear impacts us. Seeing others stand up for what is right impacts us as well.
Is your behavior such that you would want your loved ones to emulate? If not, what are you going to do about it? Small acts of kindness lead to bigger acts of kindness. Small acts of assertiveness lead to larger acts of assertiveness. Small acts of justice lead to justice on a larger scale down the road. The ripple effect is real. What kind of stones are you throwing in the pond of life?
It can be difficult to apologize when we have wronged someone. It can also heal, both the victim and the perpetrator. There is great power in words. Words and deeds together can change the world. One small step leads to another.
So, what can you do? The next time someone makes an off color remark- don’t go along to get along. Say how you feel. Be honest. That’s it. Just be honest. You don’t have to be confrontational. You don’t have to be rude. You can be gentle and be firm at the same time. Being honest takes courage. Being honest takes guts. But our honesty can have such a positive impact- both for us and for others.
You don’t get to choose whether or not your actions affect others- they just do. You DO get to choose your actions though. Every situation. Every circumstance. Positive attracts more positive. Negative attracts more negative. That’s just the way it is.
You may not choose the situation or the circumstances, but you can choose how you respond.