Changing The World One Step At A Time

I recently met with a friend whom I hadn’t seen for a while; he was pretty surprised when I related that I wasn’t eating meat anymore and after a long conversation in which I shared a lot of details about my life and new way of living, he asked me if I had become a Buddhist.

I haven’t “converted” to anything. I have simply made the changes that matter to me and that made sense at the right time, be it focusing on helping conscious projects, shopping more organically, having shorter showers, meditating, reducing my consumption of processed foods or volunteering more. What my friend saw was the result of little steps I took to move toward a more responsible living; if you sum them all up in your head, they will look like a big dramatic change, but there has never been any “revolution” or “conversion” on my side. There were simply steps and experiments that sometimes lead to failure, sometimes to success. As for my friend, he hasn’t changed much since the last time we met. I’d say that he is trapped in the typical Western routine so the gap between our lifestyles seems wide now.

Evolution rather than revolution does not only happen at the personal level though, it takes place at the community level too. Take the example of the Transition Town movement whose objective is to help communities become more resilience and adopt sustainable habits. Does a neighborhood or a village suddenly decide that they will become independent and self-sufficient? Not really. Here’s what usually happens: People first try to find spare time to meet and talk about the current downturns; it may stay like this for a while, but it’s a start.

Eventually, the group prioritizes problems and takes action accordingly. Each community starts with the issues members consider the most urgent, so let’s say if not having enough access to organic products is a big concern, then in this case the community may start considering opening a community garden or maybe a small community-owned shop. In a different community, the main priority may be to find a response to oil consumption and provide concrete solutions such as sharing cars among neighbors instead of having to buy new ones, or simply setting up or improving a car pooling system in the local area. Another concern in the communities may be the lack of financial resources within the local businesses and locals may choose to design an experiment that would involve the creation of a community currency to fill the void.

In any case, people don’t drastically change their habits overnight, they launch small projects, learn from experiments and build solutions based on the results or change their plans if needed. And most of them only dedicate a few hours every week to solve the common problem that matters to them. After a few years, when you look at the transition made by all these people, you may be surprised by the change and might think that a revolution must have happened one day in this community. But in reality no such thing happened, it’s just that inhabitants have made little but frequent efforts to change their way of living. And it makes sense: it’s better to have frequent little victories that in the end amount to big success than starting too big and failing as a result.