You say the little efforts that I
make will do no good: They
never will prevail to tip the
hovering scale where justice
hangs in balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they
would. But I am prejudiced
beyond debate in favor of my
right to choose which side shall
feel the stubborn ounces of my
– Banaro W. Overstreet
(To One Who Doubts the Worth
of Doing Anything if You Can’t
That is the short poem my mother carried in her wallet as a reminder that there was always something she could do to make bad things better, and that she needed to do her part.
Wanting to keep our distance and remain passive in the face of large and difficult issues is understandable. Our lives are already complex and busy. The big issues of this world have the weight of complicated history behind them. They’re more than one person can change. We’re just individuals living in a rural area, after all, across the country from the seat of power, the “other” Washington, right?
But consider the impact our inaction has; by saying we can’t do anything to affect large problems, we give all of our ability to influence those issues to others. If those people don’t do what we thought would have been best, we feel even more powerless and frustrated. This often leads to anger, and we lash out at our neighbors who agreed with the action, creating more conflict here in our little corner of the world.
Each of us can make a difference by taking some action, however small and seemingly insignificant, to mitigate the large conflicts around us, from the upwelling of racial tensions in Ferguson, to paralyzing polarization in government, to regulation of guns. Small acts count.
So what can we realistically do about big issues? A good place to start is with ourselves. If there is someone you know who has a different view than you on an important issue, you can start a conversation with them about it. For example, those of us in favor of fewer gun regulations could ask our neighbors with differing views to share their thinking. Those of us in favor of strong gun control could do the same.
The crucial next step is to just listen. Try to understand their perspectives, their feelings, and what social needs they feel would be met by increasing or lessening regulation. Look for seeds of agreement between you, however small, and build communication from there. If we recognize we agree on some things, it will open possibilities for new solutions to be created. They will be compromises, but give and take is part of being alive.
Neither of you is likely to convince the other of the errors of their ways. The more we understand those with opinions different than our own, the less polarized our political conversations will be. And if you’ve done something to reduce polarization and increase understanding, you’ve just had a positive impact!
We may not ultimately change action at the national or global level this way, but we’re doing our small part at the local level and that’s a start. Many, many of these small actions, taken together, can make big changes.
As my mother’s favorite poem says so well, we should never deprive the world of feeling the stubborn ounces of our weight. If we are willing to move outside our comfort zones and change our behavior, we hold the potential to make a difference in our own communities and reduce destructive conflict locally and in the larger world.