Sunday, 13 March 2011

Changing the world

One thing I've realised as I get older is that it's much harder to change the world than I assumed when I was young. The forces of inertia and habit are amazingly strong.

When I was still a teenager, I was quite confident that if enough people stood up and demanded an end to poverty, or equality for women, or more generous wages, then those responsible would take notice and changes would come thick and fast.

I failed to understand just how entrenched existing behaviour can be, and how powerful the sheer weight of tradition, fear, dogma and ignorance that keeps people from altering the status quo they find so cosy and familiar, however oppressive and stifling it may actually be.

I fondly imagined that if I presented people with a reasonable, sensible, well-argued case for ending some obviously abhorrent practice, they would be sure to respond.

Racism, homophobia, sweatshops, domestic violence, they would all be swept away in the face of a rising tide of popular disgust and rage, and a shiny new world of tolerance and enlightenment would take their place.

How naive I was, how deeply unaware of the complexities of other people's reactions and how resistant they are to radical change. And not necessarily without cause. Radical change isn't always as positive as well-meaning idealists like to think, and those who resist may sometimes be wiser and shrewder than the would-be reformers.

But having realised that changing the world is not as easy as I thought it was, nowadays I pick my causes more carefully and only take up arms if I think there's a serious chance of succeeding. I no longer rush to support any worthy campaign that grabs my attention.

I might be able to save the local library, but ending patriarchy in the boardroom will have to stay on the back-burner for a while.


nursemyra said...

Local libraries are always worth saving

kylie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scarlet Blue said...

I do good by regularly changing my knickers. We all have to do our bit.

rummuser said...

Scarlet Blue took the words right out of my mouth, though knickers is not what I had in mind. Socks more like it.

Seriously Nick, due to some peculiar circumstances in my life, I got involved in the local AA and Al-anon. I have met some remarkable people through both. They use a prayer which has touched me like no other prayer has ever done. It is attributed to the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and is called the serenity prayer. The key element in that is that the prayer asks for serenity to accept the things he cannot change and the courage to change the things he can, meaning to a large extent, his attitudes, values and behaviour.

Val said...

mmm... know what you mean.

Nick said...

Myra - They are indeed. Belfast Council wanted to close about a dozen libraries to save some paltry sum of money, but our local one was saved after a very energetic campaign.

Kylie - I saw your comment, and I sympathise with your attitude. You can't just save money for a rainy day.

Scarlet - Very civilised of you. I'm sure even bomb-throwing revolutionaries wear clean knickers, just in case they miscalculate and have to be rushed into A&E.

Nick said...

Ramana - A very wise principle, one I try to keep to myself. There's a very funny version of that on another Irish blog: Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.

Val - I think sooner or later we all stumble on this fundamental truth.

Roses said...


As you know, my theme for this year has been change.

It should be that we could change the world for the better.

Unfortunately, it doesn't quite happen like that.

Rather than bang my head on yet another wall, I address what is necessary in my life and help when I can with other peoples'.

I also try to change under things on a regular basis. It's only polite.

Nick said...

Roses - This is it, there comes a point when you realise certain activities are little more than head-banging, and it's better to focus your energies more selectively.

Very glad you change your underthings regularly. As long as regularly doesn't mean once a year.

Baino said...

They say charity begins at home so starting local is probably the best thing. We are idealistic in our youth, it pains me a little these days as Gen Y seems not to be so. I agree, selective support in something that you believe strongly about can implement change even if it's on a low level.

Nick said...

Baino - What's depressing is that even changes that have been hard-won over many years can be reversed overnight, like the recent bill in Wisconsin stripping 175,000 public sector workers of almost all collective bargaining rights. Absolutely shocking.

secret agent woman said...

Any one person only has so much energy/time/resources to give, so it makes all the sense in the world to pick your battles.

tattytiara said...

It's true, and I'm certainly as guilty as any of digging in my heels and becoming more insistent that I'm right in the face of mounting evidence that I'm not.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - That's true, better to give total support to something that's dear to your heart rather than latching on to every fashionable cause.

Tattytiara - It's all too easy to insist we're right long past the time when it's blindingly obvious to everyone else that we're wrong.

Leah said...

It's interesting how we change and become more realistic as we grow older...I know I have too.

But I'm happy to watch Hedgehog as she gets impassioned and invested in causes she is beginning to notice--things she thinks are unfair and unjust. And I would never quell that in her by voicing my more cynical opinions. So the younger generation is as we were once! And I think that's probably a good thing.

Wisewebwoman said...

I find more is accomplished if we lead by example.
Planting. Particularly community gardens. Beautifying our own space. Tiny cars. Solar panels. Recycling everything. Repurposing. Start our own libraries. etc. etc.
Big Guv is only the face of Big Corp.
When we are young we think our placards and words will make a difference.
Our actions speak louder.

newjenny said...


Nick said...

Leah - That's great that Hedgie is starting to get concerned about injustices. And you're absolutely right not to squash her passions with a more cynical perspective.

W3 - You're setting a wonderful example in self-sufficiency and rejection of the usual consumerist ethos. Leading by example is one very good response to other people's mindlessness.

newjenny - Oh, I doubt it. I expect my argument is full of holes if you look at it closely.

Roses said...

'Regularly' isn't supposed to mean once a year? Really?

Good grief. I wonder what I was smoking when that memo went out?

Nick said...

Roses - I blame Scarlet for this vulgar diversion into underwear replacement. Underwear is never spoken of in polite society.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

When young, we also believe that we have a specialness just waiting to be unleashed and recognized, that we can change the world with the sheer power of our personality. It's disillusioning, but so much less work, to realize that this is not so.

Nick said...

Heart - That's true about the sense of specialness. I felt that as well. Then I slowly realised there were a lot of people a hell of a lot smarter and more creative than I would ever be.

Roses said...

Oh knickers. I missed that memo too.

Megan said...

You're always making me think, over here. Have I said that before? I think I have.

There are so many people with so many different ideas and ways of living that I don't think any great sweeping change will ever come again. And the fact that the globe seems so much smaller now makes it even harder. If that makes sense?

Heck, my train conductor today was only trying to get everyone to move to the back door of the car because the front one was malfunctioning and wouldn't open, and still he got questions, attitude, and folks just plain ignoring him entirely.... :)

Nick said...

Roses - But the memo was sent out to the entire population. Perhaps your copy fell in the washing machine.

Megan - Oh, I think sweeping changes are still very possible, but unfortunately most of them seem to be regressive. Like the Wisconsin bill I mentioned above. Yes, individuals can be pretty obstructive but governments still have the power to impose things on people regardless.

e said...


You mention the end of collective bargaining as shocking. What it is is shameful but very much in vogue, I am sorry to say, with the conservative, right-wing agenda that permeates this country, and another reason I do not feel at home here.

Between that, the corporations and the constant fear of "socialism" and too much regulation, we are being undone, and none of it is in the best interest of the country or the majority of its citizens.

Nick said...

e - We're all being undone in our different countries. There's a consensus among many political leaders to make the poor poorer and the rich richer and cut back on public spending. Socialist ideals are being attacked on all sides.

But I see the Wisconsin bill has been blocked by the courts. Watch this space!