Don’t you think our generation is pretty in love with the idea of change? Volunteers and youths of our time absolutely love to be called ‘changemakers’. In Room to Read Singapore Chapter, our hashtag for the year is #WeAreWorldChange, in Halogen Foundation we sometimes refer to the volunteers and interns as #changemakers and in Blessings in a Bag their volunteers are also known as ‘World Change Agents’. We are ambitious.
In some ways that’s good, it shows vision and hope. It shows that we wouldn’t settle for something less than world change because we see things in society, in the world that we don’t agree with and we think it’s possible to create positive change that will improve that. Of course there’d be the take that world change is far-fetched, and practically impossible; that the ripple effect exists, but it’s not big enough to move the world and one who believes in his/her strength to do that is delusional. But my study history reminds me that all the hopes and dreams and ambitions that we have, are important.
Whenever I study history, it surprises me to no end that as I take numerous perspectives on the matter, so many players contribute to the outcome– not just the ‘key players’ like the presidents and communist leaders, but the civilians as well, the movements, the members of a party. There is a Great Man Theory from the 19th century that suggests that history can be largely explained by the impact of “great men”, in other words, heroes, or highly influential individuals. But I think while this idea has it’s point, it doesn’t give credit at all to the “little people” who actually paved the way for history to develop. You see, we may not know the names of these little people, nor what exactly they did, but altogether as a civilian population, their responses shaped the course of history and represent the strength of the people in that time. Yesterday I watched a film about Khmer Rouge and the narrator mentioned the ‘silent and silenced resistance’, referring to those who were killed from resisting in their own little ways (through smiles, refusals or small gestures of bravery against the military) that we barely remember the strength of but were so important in maintaining the resolve of those who lived on.
And so constantly being reminded of the strength of a single person in a combined effort keeps me believing in #worldchange.
But sometimes I think, by using a big idea like ‘World Change’ stops us from doing the things that appear to be less than World Change. The Cambodia IU trip saw us broken for two nights in a row, unsure of the effectiveness of our presence in such a short amount of time. I guess we all expected to be doing something more, something glorious but we had to be reminded that our presence was an important small part of a big and long-term influence that YMCA planned out for the kids in the orphanage, and we are part of the constant flow of outside exposure to the kids there for example. The thing is, when we embark on anything, we often want it to be glorious, something sexy that we can talk about like sponsoring a life or making a big difference, something tangible and long-lasting, but we often forget that the small actions are the ones that amount to big change.
I suggest, we stop using ‘World Change’ as a immediate gauge, but as a final destination that we will get to together, as one human race. And with that, maybe we will be more inspired to act on the small things, smile at a stranger believing it contributes to a positive culture in society or picking up litter believing it contributes to a cleaner environment. Because it does. It may not happen immediately but we’ve got to start somewhere.