Where does it begin?
Without context, the search for answers amid the fluctuating vagaries finds many options.
The head makes a logical first choice. Most of our decisions flow from there. The head puzzles the pieces of information the world offers us into a focused image. Sifting, searching, ranking—all for better clarity, better understanding.
Or perhaps it comes from the other side of the spectrum, the gut. The impulsive push or pull. All action, all drive. The best of instinct, without hesitation, and justifiably so.
Maybe it rests somewhere in between, from the heart. The font of life, forming connections with everything around it. The organ that gives flavor to knowing and depth to our deeds. The heart is ever pumping sensation and belief into all aspects of our lives—even into the lives of those around us.
But what, exactly, is it?
You already know. You face it every day. It rings in the tweet from a teen experiencing hate because of their body’s shape and color. It looms in the eyes of the woman on the newscast who has eaten trash to survive. It waits at hospital bedsides, watching, waiting for death to do its part.
A reaction to suffering, to pain.
With such a large topic, people tend to view the big picture, to offer large solutions: formulate new laws, change the system, leave everything to God. So many options, each having their own place, their own value. But in the end, all vanity.
For all their weight, their potency, these large-scale solutions lack the necessary prerequisite to enact real change. It is so straightforward; I am stupefied I seldom hear it discussed. Real change must begin with a person. Not people. Not laws. Not systems. Not governments. Not ideals. Not beliefs. One person.
Too often in our desire to address “the problem,” we neglect the components comprising it, the ones actually experiencing it. Gladly, we’ll take an individual to a pedestal and use them as a representation for the whole, and though that may apply in part to the whole, it does not meet them where they are, in their specific walk in life, within their own circumstances.
A blanket solution does not apply here; a case-by-case method is required. Even if the solution makes things “easier,” the problem is only partially solved. People are complex creatures. Though we may love simple solutions, we should not let ourselves stoop to them.
I am not saying we should abandon the crusades against big topics like poverty, racism, or hunger. These should be combated. If they weigh heavily on your heart, fight against them. Scream about them. Be willing to batter them until they break and you are bruised.
But these things do not burden my heart, not by themselves. I know the size of my hands. I know what they can hold, what I can accomplish. And these things, they are too much for me. Perhaps too great to ever truly be righted, be completely overwritten. What I can hold is a hand or two. I can hold a person.
The burden of my heart is the treatment of neighbors.
I do not concern myself with poverty. I bemoan the fate of the man standing at my street corner, begging to feed his family. I wonder if anyone will stop, if he will find the resources he needs.
I do not concern myself with abuse. I see the posts of my friends and wonder if the suicidal tendencies lurking under the surface are flaring. If the trauma they experienced in their youth is pushing them into unhealthy choices. I wonder if they are seeking and finding help.
I do not concern myself with injustice. I hear the hurtful comments of bullies towards my coworker. I see him pushed down and trod upon. I wonder if anyone will interpose themselves, dare to take the losing side.
Wondering is one thing, but if I care about change, I cannot afford to ignore these travesties. They may be small, but they are not lesser. I can do these things and should take whatever victory I can.
Certainly it is a noble thing to tackle the big issues of the world, and one can take a measure of satisfaction in contributing money and resources to combat them. But I do not see what happens in Africa. I don’t even see what happens in my own country most of the time. I cannot be everywhere, contribute every time. These people, these problems are in my world, but they are not in my life.
People like to inflate their life, think of it as some grand, purposeful thing. But life’s purpose is to live, and it is a basic, daily thing. Our daily experiences, responses, and interactions are the only things we have a limited amount of control over. These are the foundations of building change.
Change is not radical alteration. It is understanding something differently and behaving accordingly. This does not come from the forced obedience of law. It does not come from an unfeeling system. It comes from a person. It comes from a connection. It comes from an action. It comes from a decision.
If I could change a person or a system, I will always choose a person. Systems will fade, be replaced, become irrelevant. People never will. To enact a change, I must start with the people in my life, holding the door for the elderly lady in my apartment, smiling as I wish a customer a good day and actually meaning it, sending that awkward and terrifying first text to that old acquaintance to see how life’s been treating them. Our change will change them. They in turn will change another. Change will continue to spread until maybe our original vision becomes a reality.
Doesn’t matter where or how you start. One thousand tiny sorrows spin around you, waiting for a change.