Be the Change You Wish to See: How Activists Can Transform Our World

As Thrive Global launches this month, I think about the mission of the company and the power of the idea that we can thrive globally at a time when we are otherwise divided, disappointed and in parts of the world, war-torn. I think of the people who inspire me and those who can lead us to a world reality where liberty and justice prevail- for all.

Gandhi remains one of the most inspiring role models for peace and transformation in turbulent times. After what the United States has just come through and the aftershocks that the world has experienced in response to our divisive political season, it is time to regroup, redirect and risk with your time, your money and your talent. I offer three ways to move your concerns to action. In the coming weeks, I will deal more deeply with each.

1. Work Within

The quote in the title of this blog, while attributed often to Gandhi, is not actually what he said. He did say, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change….we need not wait to see what others do.” This is about the personal responsibility and choice we all have to influence our own corner of the world through our thoughts, attitudes and actions. It means forgiving someone you’ve held a grudge against, it means understanding from the perspective of someone you disagree with, it means extending yourself with curiosity to people you don’t know, in areas of your life you don’t frequent and it means maintaining an open mind to explore thought patterns that aren’t your own.

I was touched and encouraged by Derek Black’s recent opinion piece in the New York Times. Black, a white nationalist before he attended a liberal arts college, met classmates and teachers who awakened him to the injustice of his positions. He writes of meeting “many diverse people there — people who chose to invite me into their dorm rooms and conversations rather than ostracize me. I began to realize the damage I had done. Ever since, I have been trying to make up for it.” Education is a miraculous tonic and an open mind is often the outcome.

This decision is yours alone. No matter how you do it, reach out to those you don’t understand. Listen with curiosity as you try in earnest to connect. Go out of your way to befriend someone you don’t like or understand. Listen to opposing viewpoints. Seek to calm down challenging conversations instead of igniting them. Assume the best of the person you are talking to, not the worst. It’s hard to want a more peaceful world if you harbor resentment toward others.

When you make the simple choice to become radically compassionate, your ability to relate to and interact with others will grow in ways that will help you as well as those around you.

2. Work with a Community of Practice to Mobilize Your Efforts.

What Gandhi emphasized — that the personal, social and political are inextricably linked — also represents his deep belief that personal transformation and growth alone are not enough. In other words, just working to change yourself will not improve the world without also moving into the social and political spheres. He understood then, as we know today, that one person alone can change his or her own life, but major change requires great numbers of people committed to collective impact with discipline, persistence and an indominable spirit. For those of you who were disappointed with the recent election results, ask yourself what larger group you can join or start to make a difference. Without that commitment, you will not be able to actively address the issues you hold most dear. Finding one or two communities of practice can transform your world, provide much needed energy to take on challenges and inspire you through the courage of others when you need to be strong.

In Denver, where I live, a group of women committed to working with others from around the country to advance the rights of the disadvantaged or marginalized — including women, minorities, those in poverty, those from all races, creeds, religions, cultures, people with disabilities, LGBTQ community members and others — devoted their Sunday two weeks ago to imagining a world where all living beings can thrive. Using the thought tools of design thinking, we gathered to think through the outcomes we want most: a fair, equitable world for all. OptN4all is our name and our mission is to create a future that serves all beings.

Through commitments, large and small, members of this group are willing to stop complaining and start addressing pressing local, national and global issues. That’s how our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, that’s how women got the right to vote, that is how our Civil Rights movement started and that is how Gandhi showed the world peace through non-violence.

Another community of practice is called GlobalMindED, which is all about creating a diverse talent pipeline so that our K-12, college, non-profit and business communities reflect our nation and world. This non-profit movement started more than four years ago to open up opportunities for First Generation to College Students, those who work with them and those who want to hire them. Since many fields, including technology, have just 2% minorities and women, and only 4% of venture capital funding goes to female entrepreneurs, there is a long way to go to democratize education and career opportunities.

This year’s GlobalMindED event is June 21–23 in Denver, and we welcome all who would like to participate in this work with thought leaders from across the education and career pipelines. We feel strongly that until all high school graduates and college students have the same access to coaches, travel abroad experiences, internships, apprenticeships and mentors, the world will only be advantageous to some and not others.

Another insight from Gandhi, “If we want to reach real peace in this world, we should start by educating children.” To that we add: all children at all ages, stages and backgrounds, as well as those with whom they learn and work.

The goals of GlobalMindED go far beyond our annual conference. We also ask our partners to probe their own motivations and thoughts throughout the year and lead through courageous action. We do this by asking hard questions:

When will you have a diverse Board of Directors?

When will student voices inform what you do?

When will we have radical inclusivity with the perspectives of all people?

When will college Presidents commit to meeting monthly with First Generation students?

What specific steps will you take, and goals will you set, to provide opportunity for all?

When will technology solutions have a development process with diverse stake holders?

Will you be willing to mentor young people who don’t have the advantages others have?

So these are two organizations that I believe in that can advance the causes I care about most for the America I’d most like to see emerge from our divisiveness. Others will work through their churches, mosques, synagogues, yoga studios, places of work, nature sanctuaries and circles of friends. Pick a group through which your talents, abilities and interests can be harnessed so that you can be part of a collaborative team making a difference.

3. Maintain an Unwavering VISION for All to Thrive.

In the Native American tradition, coral is a stone used for healing and nurturing the soul at the deepest level. For us all to heal, we need to feel our hurt and then turn our sights to the people, opportunities and organizations who can inspire us to be our best and to do our best, not in isolation but in relation to others. Hold your metaphorical coral in your hand and ask how you can be a citizen of the world, forgiving yourself for your limitations and forgiving others with whom you so adamantly disagree. Then direct your energy to defining your mission and finding the right vehicle to effect the change you want to see in the world.

December 7 will mark the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. My Dad, who would have been 100 years old on November 21st this year, was one of the courageous people who stepped up to make our country safe in the face of the racism that fueled World War II. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the things I’d like to do, I think of him and the brave men of all backgrounds with whom he served, dedicated to the single purpose of protecting one another and our way of life. I’ll likely never have one day in my life that was as hard or as stressful as commanding a ship in the Pacific Ocean, which my Dad braved day in and day out. I have to remember the many courageous people who have fought for our liberties so that I can embrace the work that I have to do and hope to make even a fraction of the impact that he made to improve our lives in America and those throughout the world.

I’ll close with another quote from Gandhi: “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” Whether you are inspired by Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Betty Ford, Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, Oprah or war veterans like my father, select the people from history and your powerful community in the here and now who can become your place of practice, leadership and transformation as you work collaboratively to create what you would most like to see in the world. It’s our turn, it’s up to our courageous choices, and our time is now.

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