How Many Sentient Beings Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb?
The Daily Post asked,
“Whose responsibility is it to change the world?”
I first wonder whether that is even our choice. By being here we change things. All kinds of conservation issues and carbon footprint calculations mean that whether we feel responsible or not, we do have an impact. Maybe our responsibility is less to change the world and more to conserve it…. However…
If we were to change the world, what would we want to change? Bit of a daunting to-do list! Here’s a sample of the things I think need sorting out:
- To end human trafficking, poverty, injustice and oppression.
- To end the destruction of the rainforests.
- To save the bees.
- To annihilate laziness, selfishness, incompetence and greed.
What can an individual do in the face of a multitude of global issues that all need to change?
Personally I thought the movie “Pay It Forward” was awful, but the core idea was interesting. To change the world, you need to do three favours for someone – helping them to do something they could not do for themselves. Instead of paying you back they have to ‘pay it forward’ to three other people. This way it takes very little time for the world to be transformed. Ta-da!
Alternatively, there is the “Starfish” approach. I don’t know much/anything about the biology of starfish – but for argument’s sake, imagine: there are countless starfish beached on, well, a beach – and they need to get into the water to survive. You start throwing them in one by one. There are infinite starfish that all need saving. Someone asks you why you are bothering – as there is no way you will save them all. You respond, as you fling one gently into the sea, “It matters to this one.” In this picture, you have to value the change you can make to others’ lives and accepting that there are needs that are beyond your capacity to make a difference in every case.
I think intentional compassion could make a huge difference. Often in our world, tragedy strikes and there are appeals for help. You watch the appeal, hear the story and think: “That is awful.” And a lot of the time, for a lot of people, that is as far as it goes. I think that is “sympathy”: you can see that it is a bad situation and you feel sad for those involved. However, I think that perhaps the way forward is to read your sympathy as “compassion” – where you are therefore compelled to do something as a result of your sympathy. Even if we don’t feel compelled by our own nature, perhaps we should take the bubble of sympathy as enough of a hint to be compassionate. In “The Hollow Men” T.S. Eliot wrote:
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
I think that for me, certainly, a shadow falls between the idea and the reality. Some might say (even I would, on occasion) that it is the thought that counts. The reality and the act should take precedence over good intentions. Of course they should.
In the biblical story of Esther, she finds herself in a position to influence a ruler to save her people from suffering. It is not her job to do this, but she finds herself is such a place at such a time as to divert the potential course of history. Her uncle says:
And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?
Esther Chapter 4 verse 14
Where are you? What is your position? At such a time as this, what sway do you hold? Who knows, maybe you are in that position for such a time as this!
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
That would be major global change. But just as my little list of global issues is huge, the great commission too, had a long-term slant – the suggestion that this would take “to the very end of the age” – however long that would be.
Which I think is my conclusion: each of us is limited by time, ability, status, geography, and countless other factors. But each of us changes the world nevertheless. If we acknowledge our limitations within time and space, and value and actually take our opportunities to make changes and influence decisions – then great things can and do happen.
It may be the case that we are the beginning of a wave, on the crest of it, or when it breaks and the change is actually made in the world – but however small our part is, we should play it.
The cosmic light-bulb may be an eternity in the changing.
Many hands make light work.