How to change the world

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Today I turned on Facebook where a friend had written: “Lately, with all that’s been going on – COVID, riots, arson, BLM turning previously sane people into raving lunatics, our schools down the toilet, supply chains destroyed, businesses shuttering forever, children in kid-sized masks, the hatred of those who risk their lives for us and the embracing of those who attack and vandalize, government run amok in a way that I never thought I’d see in America, and on, and on, and on, one phrase keeps going through my mind: My country is BROKEN – sung to the tune of Cat Stevens’ Morning has Broken.”

Then I looked at WhatsApp to find that another friend had asked: “How do you sound the alarm about genocide? Do you have to wait until you’re in a position of authority? Everyone’s in their own little bubble and sometimes I feel like there’s nothing I can do to save anyone.”

Crikey. The End of America. Genocide. It sure feels like everyone has a lot on their plates right now, dunnit?

Here’s the thing: you are just one person in a sea of seven billion. You talk to maybe a dozen people in person during the course of a day, if you live with a family and go out to work and maybe pop to the shops afterward; zero, if you do none of those things. You connect with, say, a hundred more via social media during the course of a day. You do not have the White House on speed dial. You do not control an advertising budget of millions. Most people have never heard of you and never will.

Here’s something else: even if you did, it wouldn’t matter. You can’t change the world – you’re not powerful enough. You can’t stop Black Lives Matter rioting, you can’t stop COVID from spreading, or every single government from trashing their country’s economy, you can’t even save the whales or the rain forests or the pandas from extinction.

This is the cold hard truth: you, personally, cannot save a single person, not even your best friend or spouse if they’re not willing to change. And if they can, that change comes from within them, the best you can ever do is offer support.

But you can give them the tools to save themselves; hope, love, and understanding being the foremost among many.

You can’t save the world, but you can save your world. You can start a community support group, or school, or public garden and invite people to take part.

In Greek mythology, Atlas carried the entire world upon his shoulders. In Christian lore, Jesus carried the weight of the cross upon his. Both of these have been interpreted over the years as an indication that one person carries the burdens of the whole world while everyone else can lay back and enjoy a free ride. I believe that they are meant to teach a different lesson: That each of us must carry the weight of our own world upon our own shoulders.

Indeed, in Luke 9:23 Jesus says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” It doesn’t really get much more explicit than that. Jesus was giving us all a very human example of what we must do. Instead we turned him into a god and missed the point completely.

Intriguingly, in writing this article I came across this interesting piece of commentary by John Piper of Desiring God ministries, in which he discusses the role of Simon of Cyrene who was told to carry Jesus’ cross for him. Piper writes: “Simon’s help proved to be both a relief temporarily, but also added suffering because it sustained Jesus to get to the cross and have the horrible experience of crucifixion.”

Thinking back to situations in which I’ve tried to help friends in trouble, this has certainly been my experience. Attempting to carry the burden of their difficulties for them, I’ve given them temporary relief but in the longer term merely kicked the horrible experience down the road and amplified it. There is no compassion in taking personal responsibility away from someone. Yes, of course we must support each other when in a tight spot, but the help must be measured and temporary, or it will only exacerbate the problem in the longer term.

So take a seat! Relax! Put down those spinning plates and forget about saving anyone, let alone everyone. Instead, take a look around your world and fix the things you can fix today, even if it’s just the squeaky wheel on your skateboard – someone will thank you for it because it’s been driving them nuts.

Consider the dozen or so people you talk to in a day, the hundred or so you come into contact with through social media and ask yourself: what example do I want to set today that others might be inspired to follow?

If we all did that we would find that, little by little, hand in hand, together we can all change the world for the better.