You Are Making a Difference. You Just Have To Know How to Look At It.
“I want to do something that matters.”
“I want to do something that makes a difference”.
“I want to change the world.”
I’ve said it. You’ve said it. Many people have said it – but what if you’re already doing something that matters? What if you already are making a difference? What if you already are changing the world?
And what if you’re doing it in unexpected ways that might seem laughably mundane?
Look around you at the countless ways people are making important differences in the lives of the people around them, even if they don’t intend to. Someone who designs a better salad bar or who lays out a better floor plan for a grocery store might not think he’s feeding the poor, clothing the naked, or fighting food insecurity. But he is, and without transferring resources to other people but by creating new ways for people to cooperate.
Part of the beauty of the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life and the tragedy of George Bailey is that he doesn’t seem to understand just how big a difference he is making by working to save three cents on a length of pipe. The seeming triviality of running the Bailey Bros. Building and Loan obscured a lot of the points that became evident at the very end of the movie when people took up a collection to help him make up for the shortfall in his accounts.
One of Charles Dickens’s characters, Mrs. Jellyby, is so consumed with saving the world and feeding Africa that she ignores her family. It’s easy to ignore the ordinary business of life in pursuit of some kind of noble extraordinary business; however, it’s the very ordinary business that makes the biggest difference. That’s how George Bailey changed the world by changing Bedford Falls.
Maybe you’re passionate about education, and perhaps urban education, and you work as a computer programmer. If you’re programming for Google, you’re changing the world of education by improving the best research assistant the world has ever seen. It is likely that by doing this better, you are doing more to advance the educations of the least of these among us than when you genuinely intend to do it.
All this makes me wonder about people’s goals when they say they want to change the world. I wonder, and I fear the answer: Do people really want to see the hungry fed, the naked clothed, and the homeless sheltered? Or do they just want to be praised for it? If we’re really honest with ourselves, we probably have a lot to answer for.
Suppose you want to make a difference by making high-quality education available for everyone. Here’s the secret: It already is. I occasionally encounter homeless people who have smartphones. The Amazon Kindle app is free to download, and there are more free, public-domain books available on a Kindle than anyone can read in a lifetime. The same is true if you download an app called LibriVox, which offers audiobooks read by volunteers. I’ve listened to a lot of books on Librivox – The Theory of Moral Sentiments, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Robinson Crusoe, G.K. Chesterton’s What I Saw in America – and while the experience hasn’t been as good as Audible or other paid audiobook services, it has still been pretty good. If you work for Amazon, and you’re working to make Amazon’s products like the Kindle app work better, then you’re already putting education within easier reach of the world.