Tag Archives: Change the world

How to Change the World

Be the change.

Be the change.

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” – Nelson Mandela, facing the death penalty, 1964

I don’t know much about the life of Nelson Mandela.

It’s because I’m a self-centered American often guilty of not considering the suffering that goes on in other parts of the world.

I only knew him as the poster child for racial equality in South Africa and that he’d endured so much to see that dream realized. A champion for human rights; adored and respected globally.

Mandela died December 5, at age 95, to the sadness of admirers worldwide.

I wanted to get a better sense of the man whose life and death reverberated globally. So I read about him. I’m no historian. I’m going to miss major milestones in his life. But these are the highlights that jumped off the screen at me.

The Life of Nelson Mandela

  • Born 1918.
  • Lost his father at age 12.
  • Expelled from college for participating in a student protest.
  • Graduated college in 1943.
  • Married in 1944. Had four children—two boys, two girls. One of his daughters died in infancy.
  • Co-founded South Africa’s first black law firm in 1952.
  • Separated from his wife in 1955. Divorced in 1958.
  • Remarried in 1958. Fathered two more daughters.
  • He was arrested several times between 1955 and 1962. He received a five-year prison sentence for leaving the country illegally and inciting workers to strike.
  • In 1963, he stood trial with 10 others and faced the death penalty.
  • In 1964, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison.
  • His mom died in 1968. His eldest son died the following year. He was unable to attend their funerals.
  • He had prostate surgery in 1985, after serving 21 years of his life sentence.
  • He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1988 and was hospitalized for three months.
  • Released from prison in 1990.
  • Helped spearhead talks to end white minority rule in 1991.
  • Won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
  • Inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994.
  • Divorced again in 1996.
  • Kept his word, and stepped down in 1999 after one term as president.
  • Lived the rest of his life championing freedom, education and equality for all.

The Legacy of a Hero

Mandela was just a man. He didn’t have superpowers. He had marital troubles just like the rest of us. Failed at marriage twice.

But what a life—from the outside looking in. Not one to envy. Just one to admire.

We don’t have to be political leaders to change the world. We don’t have to be messiahs. Or miracle workers.

You can just be you, living with a servant’s heart.

A soldier changes the world when she dies fighting to protect her country’s citizens.

A firefighter changes the world when he rescues a child from a burning building.

A teacher changes the world when she makes a breakthrough with a troubled student who goes on to do great things.

A volunteer changes the world when he serves the homeless, not with pity, but with compassion.

A writer changes the world when she pours her soul into the words, helping us heal.

An adoptive parent changes the world when he provides opportunity for children to maximize their human potential.

A spiritual leader changes the world when she helps us tap into life’s greatest mysteries, where peace and hope live.

A coach changes the world when he teaches young people the value of teamwork.

A mother changes the world when she brings a child into it.

A father changes the world when he serves his wife and family.

The lessons of Mandela’s life are that if you’re willing to accept that life won’t always be easy. And that there won’t always be shortcuts to success. And that we’re all human and prone to failure.

And that we must sometimes endure great pain and hardships along our journey.

That everyone is capable of changing the world for the better.

That we’re all capable of being part of the solution.

This isn’t about hippie circles and peace signs. This isn’t about being the most sensitive person in the world. This isn’t about peace rallies or candlelight vigils or political causes.

It’s just about using today to love and respect yourself. To love and respect others. To love and respect life.

Mandela spent the better part of 30 years in prison fighting extreme injustice and racism, health issues, emotional turmoil, and came out the other side a hero and symbol of hope.

Isn’t that proof enough that we can love our neighbors?

That we can stand up against the wrongs that plague our lives?

That we can be brave enough to say: I can change the world?

It won’t always be comfortable. It won’t always be safe.

It will never be easy.

But you absolutely can make a difference.

And you can start today.

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Change Your Culture, Change Your World

Don't try to change the entire world. Just try to change yours.

Don’t try to change the entire world. Just try to change yours.

I have a bit of a man crush on Seth Godin.

Because he, in many ways, represents who I want to be.

I work in marketing. And Godin writes for people just like me. But what’s so great about him is that much of what he thinks about and writes about can be applied to our personal lives.

I try to view it through that prism, at least.

As marketers, we want to instill change in consumer behavior by educating or convincing people to make different decisions that will either benefit them, benefit our brand, or God-willing, both.

Yesterday, Godin wrote a post titled “Change the culture, change the world,” where he makes an important observation.

Godin said that “most actions aren’t decisions at all.”

And I’ve spent the past 24 hours thinking about how we can apply his keen observations here to our personal lives.

He gives examples:

“In Reykjavik, shopkeepers keep their doors closed (it’s cold!) and if they were aware that in Telluride most stores keep their doors propped open (even in the winter) they’d think it was nuts.

“In China, the typical household saves three to five times as much of their income as a household in the U.S. This is not an active decision, it’s a cultural component.”

He continues:

“The list goes on and on. A practitioner of Jainism doesn’t have a daily discussion about being a vegetarian, and a female graduate of Johns Hopkins is likely pre-sold on the role of women in the workplace.

“If you ask someone about a cultural practice, the answer almost always boils down to, ‘that’s what people like me do.’”

Do you have anything in your life—something big—that you’d like to change? What about with your spouse? Or your children? Or your co-workers? Or your friends?

Do you make bad choices like me? Do you have addictions? Bad habits? An unhealthy lifestyle?

Because maybe picking the low-hanging fruit isn’t going to be good enough here.

Quitting Ben & Jerry’s might not reduce your waistline.

Forcing your kids to spend more time outside and less time watching TV might not improve their grades or their social lives or your parent-child relationship.

Making a date night once every couple weeks with your spouse might not fix your marriage.

“Powerful organizations and great brands got there by aligning with and accelerating tectonic cultural shifts, not by tweaking sales one at a time,” Godin writes.

You want to change your life? Go big or go home. That’s what it takes.

I wrote this to shitty husbands a week or so ago. But it applies to all of us: Don’t just sit around waiting for things to happen to you. Because while stuff WILL happen to you, very little of it is going to be good. Not when you’re passive. Take some control.

The faithful would wisely remind you that God’s in control. That we can’t do it all. And while I agree, I think a lot of people use that victim mentality as an excuse for not taking action themselves. Taking the lazy way out of accepting responsibility for their lives.

More importantly, the net result of inaction is your life flying by with you playing the victim. And when you think back and tell your life story, I want you to be the protagonist you can be proud of. A legit hero.

I play poker. Sometimes, very well. When I’m not playing well, it’s because I’m getting dealt shitty hands—life does that!—or because I’m playing too passively. I’m letting other players at the table control the action and dictate my moves.

But when I’m winning? I’m in control. The chips on the table are mine for the taking. And I know it. I mitigate my losses through thoughtful decision making. And I seize opportunities to rake big pots.

Godin has identified one of the many things that separate the winners from the losers in business. He finished his post with:

“There are two lessons here. The first is that the easiest thing to do is merely amplify what a culture is already embracing,” he said. “The second is that real change is cultural change, and you must go about it with the intent to change the culture, not to merely make the easy change, the easy sale.”

Don’t quit ice cream to get skinny. Work your ass off daily and reward yourself with ice cream occasionally.

Don’t try to be more involved in your kids’ lives by merely reducing their TV or video game time. Hell, just watch TV with them. And discuss it. Play video games with them. Or something else entirely. Be present in the moments they’re around.

Don’t try to fix your marriage with out-of-character flowers or surprise gestures of thoughtfulness like making dinner or cleaning the bathrooms. Make those things the rule. Not the exception. Choose to love—actively—every day of your life.

Give, don’t take. Ask friends and neighbors what you can do to help instead of complaining about your problems.

Because if we change the culture in our personal lives, we will—quite literally—change our world.

I don’t know what those ripple effects might look and feel like.

But I can’t wait to find out.

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