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How will WE be the change WE want to see?

Written by Justin Douglas -

What does it mean to be the change we want to see in the world? I think our generation has a solid theoretical understanding of the concept--that nothing happens without action--I sense that it becomes a lot more complex to realize once it comes time for the real deal.

Just a few weeks out of graduate school, I often find myself bumping up against this quandary. Yes, I know what changes I would like to see in the world around me; yes, I know that I need to take action to make these changes possible; but, when I try to think about how I will actually go about reaching these aspirations, I get stuck. The world seems so big, its problems overwhelmingly complex. My brain begins to get tired as the vast interconnectedness of experience, social structures, cultural norms, and human error hits me with both anxiety and wonder.

I also think that for as deeply philosophical these concepts are, they still are real tangible elements of the lives we lead


So, simply sitting in overwhelmed confusion isn’t exactly an option.

Complicated or not, reality still requires families to put food on the table, communities still need support, people still need to find work, have a roof over their heads, and navigate their environment.

For the rising generations, there is a certain difficulty with this. Never before have we been able to see so much of the world around us. Social media, technology, and increasingly progressive culture have exposed us to more of humanity than ever before. The stark disparities created through generations of oppressive systems, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and white supremacy are obvious--but just as we see these systems more clearly, we sense our individual insignificance with greater depth as well--forced to confront that we are just one person among billions, each with different lived experiences, upbringings, needs, desires, and aspirations.

So how do we wrap our heads around being agents of effective change? The answer has everything to do with uncertainty.

I studied Public Policy as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Much of my coursework was heavily quantitative (think calculus, statistics, and linear algebra). Harris School of Public Policy focuses on data analytics and, as such, teaches essentially about uncertainty. In our courses, we learned that no outcomes are certain--rather, our job is to identify patterns, trends, and themes that indicate the likelihood of an outcome occurring. Through various formulas, equations, computer codes, and theoretical frameworks, we can estimate what the future might look like, what impact a policy might have, and what outcomes we might achieve. You might be asking: So what does this have to do with us as young adults trying to understand our place, purpose, and impact in the world? Well… everything!

You see, I think we get stuck wondering about how we will be the change we want to see in the world because we see how big the world is and how small we are and begin to believe that the probability that our efforts will have any meaningful impact is minuscule. But, statistically speaking, that’s not entirely true. Too often, we forget that we are also unique--that no one has lived the life we’re living, no one has had the same experiences or made the same decisions we have. In other words, we are certainly bringing a unique perspective to the table. And that changes everything. Instead of seeing our efforts as statistical insignificance, we can instead open our imaginations to the promise of possibility. We become the change we hope to see in the world by being ourselves, trying things out, exploring possibility from our own, unique perspectives. Whether our efforts are successful in reaching specific outcomes is less important than the mere fact that we are trying. Because as we try to become the change, we are transformed by the experience. We start to think less about our efforts as just another attempt among many, and more as a unique contribution to making this world a better place.

So, if you are wondering, and musing, and over-thinking about what impact you can have, my advice is to lean into the uncertainty--not as evidence that success is unlikely, but rather as proof of everything possible. Remember that you bring a unique perspective that has an equal chance at having an impact and is absolutely certain to be your own. Don’t worry about the size or scale of the outcome, because who knows what that will be. What I do know is that you can always try--and I think that’s beautiful.

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