Waiting for the World To Change?

My colleagues know that I am a true aficionado of Pop culture, particularly music. Pop music is an interesting creature. It both reflects and creates the best and worst of our society. Consequently it has fueled the ire of many a grown up, from the early days of rock and roll to today’s hip-hop. But music has also been a powerful social commentary, with lyrics that can move you and periodically stick to your psyche.  Like when Marvin Gaye sang, Don’t punish me with brutality, talk to me so you can see…..What’s going on.  Or Sister Sledge’s We are family. I got all my sisters with me!

And one of my favorites…. Don’t worry, be happy.

Today, some of the music that sticks in my head isn’t quite as beneficent. (I try not to think about it sticking to my psyche!)  One lyric that particularly disturbs me, is this one:

Now we see everything that’s going wrong

With the world and those who lead it.

We just feel like we don’t have the means

To rise above and beat it.

 So we keep waiting on the world to change.

 Those are very powerful lyrics.  Our world is facing so many challenges: the economy, health care reform, gobal warming, and crime. I ask you…if we all wait, who is going to lead the change? 

Waiting is obviously not the answer. Action is. Granted, changing a culture of apathy is difficult. Changing any culture isn’t easy. Culture persists. Have any of you ever tried to change a work environment, for example? Organizations, departments, work groups no matter the size, are like glaciers. Change comes that slowly. But change can and does happen in organizations. Borrowing a little from what is known about organizational cultures, we can change the world, together, as one community and with one small step at a time.

One of the first things that we can do to create change is to alter the artifacts of the culture, those tangible items that can be seen and touched or heard that are representative of the culture at large. For example, we might expose a group of young people to a new genre of music; challenge them to view different movies. Motivate them to read. We can also use the power of our limited disposable income to send a strong message about the music and movies and books we want to represent us. On a different scale, we can sell and wear more t-shirts with positive messages and sport bumper stickers on our cars that speak about the world we envision. That may sound strange to you, but changing artifacts…our representative symbols…. is a tried and true strategy to affect lasting cultural change.

 Another researched based strategy for change involves shifting our stories. In an organization, it means taking a hard look at the things people hear when they first arrive on the job, or what folks are talking about in the parking lot after staff meetings.  I remember when I first began running group homes in Albany, the stories going around about the program and the children had one common theme: How crazy and difficult the kids were. New staff were “oriented” to descriptions of very severe behaviors. I’m not saying they weren’t true; the kids were extremely impaired. However, the environment began to change once the stories new employees first heard focused on the horrific abuses those little ones had endured in their short lives. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “That is all well and good, but a group home is hardly the world.” Well it was to those kids.

 So what can we do? Gather people together and tell tales of adversity a part of the path towards victory. Share your stories of success and achievement so that others—especially those who come after you– can know that what seems impossible isn’t always. Tell stories that inspire compassion and empathy and mutual responsibility. You can also have the culture, or the society you want by being selective about your heroes. You only have to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television to see that our sport stars and celebrities and dare I say, recording artists, are no longer people to be admired—if they ever were. But we can honor the true heroes, people who live or have lived lives worthy of attention and emulation. Celebrate them loudly. Joyously. Repeatedly.

 And lastly as Gandhi, a master of cultural change, once said you must be the change you want to see in the world. This too, is a proven method for enacting change. Set an example. Be compassionate. Be open about your heroes. Share a positive, interested outlook. Volunteer. Join with like-minded women and men to make a difference, every day, in someone’s life. Don’t wait for the world to change. To paraphrase another song, this one by Eric Clapton, together, we can change the world.

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