A prompt in this month’s NaBloPloMo challenge involves writing about collective service actions and whether you feel you have changed the world. The actual challenge (for tomorrow, but who is looking at the calendar anyway) is:
Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Have you ever felt as if you changed the world?
It’s a Wonderful Life immediately popped into my mind’s eye upon reading this prompt. While I am an anthropologist and could have talked about Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and their daughter Mary Catherine Bateson and social and systems theory ad infinitum, the film says it all and that is one of the reasons it has become an American classic.
The sum of the parts is much greater than the whole. There is a connectivity between people, and elements in any system, that is more than just what the people bring to the situation. It is elusive and we never know exactly what that added complexity, energy, whatever, really is.
For George Bailey in the Capra movie, we see that small, incidental changes can change the course of the lives of the people involved and extend far beyond to the character and well-being of whole communities. Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart were just playing characters in a screen play, but we all want to believe that the equivalent of breaking a window in an abandoned house can nudge the universe just a little bit toward the wish we make as the glass breaks.
The ubiquitous human belief in serendipity, synchronicity, and magical thinking all relate to the feeling that people experience from time to time that something beyond ourselves is influencing our behaviors or encounters. I believe that when we feel these things we are actually perceiving a change at other levels of our biological and cultural systems that impinge upon the perceptual levels and processes of which we are normally aware.
For anyone who wants to read about such things without delving into bio-semiotic literature, metaphysics, or systems theory literature, dependent upon what explanatory systems you prefer, I recommend reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, if you are not already familiar with it, as his coverage of how little nudges can trigger massive cultural change presents the phenomena in a clear and engaging manner.
So all this is lead up to the huge, “Yes.” I have to utter in response to the blogging prompt. My simple existence on this planet has changed the world in ways I will never know. Some of my efforts have changed things in ways I like, some of them have backfired.
For example, one of the ways I have changed things, with the efforts of others, is in the peace actions in which I participated as a member of CodePink. While I haven’t been active for a couple of years, I know that I helped bring the group to Arizona in 2004 and that the women I worked with back then have dramatically impacted the peace movement at a state and national level. I didn’t do that much, but they did, and I was the link. Might it have happened another way, sure. But I look at Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledging the presence and validity of CodePink Co-founder Medea Benjamin’s protests at the hearings today on Capital Hill and I know that many women from all over the country came together to get the message out that there is a quite sizable percentage of Americans who believe as much effort should be expended in planning peace as we expend in planning for and creating war.