Change: it’s something we all want to embrace, but something we tend to shy away from. We all want to change for the better. We read articles about personal development, read self-help books, and try to replace bad habits with goods. We try to make ourselves look slimmer, write better, sound smarter. We all know our flaws and want to overcome them – but why is it so hard to actually make that leap into becoming the person we want to be?
Change is difficult, and it’s cumbersome. When it comes down to it, we are creatures of habit, and we’re driven by our past responses; it’s incredibly hard to change our behavior when we’ve been operating a certain way our whole lives. Social change is the same way. Most of us are not naturally altruistic people: we want to take care of ourselves first, and our close loved ones, before we can think of helping all those other abstract people out there. We’re taught self-preservation rather than altruism. Our ancestors, the hunter-gatherers, had to fend for themselves by killing enemies and taking what they needed to survive. This spirit, this legacy of self-preservation has become a habit, ingrained into us over the years.
But beyond this: why is it so difficult to get some people to care? Why is it hard for us to begin doing simple things daily to go green? Why is it so difficult for more people to volunteer their time on weekends, or donate to a nonprofit? It’s incredibly difficult to make people change their behavior and focus on these types of causes.
The root of this doesn’t lie in habit, though: it’s something more – lack of understanding of why social change is that necessary. If you were told you were going to die in a year unless you worked at a non-profit, you would join a non-profit as fast as you could. But the thing is: social change is that critical, that important. Not just for those living in poverty or lacking basic civil liberties. Not just for those being helped: but for those doing the helping – all of us.
Why is helping someone thousands of miles away so important? It’s because we are all truly, deeply interrelated. We can’t separate their poverty from our success. My success depends on the success of a farmer in India, or a small entrepreneur in Mali. By making the world better as a whole, I’m improving my own life. By improving the economies of developing countries, we here in the U.S. are finding more emerging markets to export to. By helping Somalia establish a stable government and helping Somalian fishermen, we are preventing piracy attacks on U.S. ships. By educating children in poor areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, we are helping to reduce extremist Islamic ideology that recruits future terrorists. Helping others helps us. Good karma comes back to help you when you need it. This isn’t selfless altruism: it’s the virtue of selfishness.
Most of the world’s greatest leaders in the past have understood how interlinked we all are, and why we have to work towards change:
“I hope you choose to broaden, and not contract, your ambit of concern. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all of those who helped you get to where you are, although you do have that debt. It’s because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. And because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential – and become full-grown.” - Barack Obama
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ultimately, the world is so deeply interconnected that we simply can’t ignore this fact. We all have to work towards social – and environmental change – if we are to save ourselves and leave a better world for our children. The problem is that most people don’t realize how necessary social change is. This lack of understanding about how critical social change is and how it affects us all – is one of the roots of why people are so reluctant to change. If we all realized how deeply improving the world and the lives of others’ improves our own lives and the lives of our children, we would all be taking more action to change the world.
AUTHOR BIO: Akhila Kolisetty is currently studying abroad at the London School of Economics. Passionate about writing, blogging, political science, entrepreneurship, and human rights, Akhila uses the web and her blog, Justice for All, to raise advocacy and spread awareness. The thing I love most about Akhila’s style is her ability to related ‘complicated’ political and social issues to the everyday reader. By the time you finish reading one of her articles, your equipped to stop thinking and start doing – the mark of a truly great writer and a great human being.