Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Making a Difference

(News-Herald, January 2) Resolution season often raises the question of futility. Not just the futility of changing our own nature (“I will climb off this couch and become an Olympic athlete”), but the futility of individual action. People may feel this year, because of one mess or another, that in the face of economic collapse and general governmental bollixation, there is nothing one person can do.
There is a standard uplifting shiny sweet answer to “What difference can one person make?” Big groups of people are made out of single individuals, and if just one person brings along just one more person, then it grows and grows and suddenly we can all hold hands and change the world together. Cue the violins.
It’s not that I think that notion is wrong, exactly. I just think it’s beside the point. To debate whether or not one person can make a difference is like debating whether or not a person is going to breathe.
If you are alive, you are making a difference. The question that matters is “What kind of difference are you making?”
Every day you make choices. Every choice you make has consequences. The fact that these consequences don’t alter the course of Civilization As We Know It does not make them any less real.
If you choose to shop at one place and not another, that has economic consequences. If you choose not to shop at all, or to shop with a bunch of money you don’t actually have, that has economic consequences, too. Whatever you choose to do with your money, it has consequences, both for you and for other people. I remain endlessly amazed at people who do not spend money in a local store or restaurant, but who complain when it closes.
It’s not just economics. Organizations throughout the area go begging for volunteers, for people to help out. There is this notion that sitting on the sidelines is a neutral act, that it doesn’t make a difference. That’s wrong. If you could have stepped up and you didn’t, you have made a difference, and not a positive one.
Circumstances put choices in our paths. Sometimes we had some control over the circumstances, and sometimes we find ourselves unexpectedly plunked down in the midst of them. But wherever we find ourselves standing, we are making a difference. We can’t help it. We just have to choose the difference that we make.
Choosing to wish really hard that we didn’t have to choose—well, that’s a choice, too. But if you have the power and skills necessary to deal with the situation in front of you, then the choice is yours. Saying, “Well, what difference could I make, anyway” is a cop-out. Circumstances and your own capabilities have determined that you will make a difference. What kind of difference is it going to be? If you can step up, you must step up.
In a way, I’m defining responsibility. Some people try to duck their responsibilities. Some try to trade them for responsibilities they don’t really have. Some can see their responsibilities, but pretend those mountains just can’t be climbed. “That would be hard,” they say. The world is filled with people who simply aren’t doing their jobs, and every one of them is making a difference. Just not a good one.
In the course of most days, you meet people, even just to walk past them. At each meeting, you will make a difference. If you smile and are pleasant, that makes a difference. If you are gruff and cold, that makes a difference. If you ignore the person and act as if he doesn’t exist, that makes a difference. It won’t alter the course of that person’s life, but it will affect how he views the world, his life, or you. You can’t avoid making a difference.
It’s possible that, living in the small environment of Venangoland, we make a proportionally larger difference than someone who is one among millions. I don’t know. But I do know that how we handle the circumstances and moments and people that we encounter makes a difference, whether we want it to or not, whether we believe it will or not.
It’s typical at resolution time to reach for something outside the normal, to add some new element to our lives (“This year I will definitely go hang gliding”). But I remain convinced that there is more than enough material and challenge in our daily lives to make for a year’s worth of new resolve and positive difference.


Anonymous said...

Good take on what we all try to avoid. I'll try to focus this year on the solution part in resolution!

sarah said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



From my Flickr