Being the Change We Seek

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

With challenges facing us as the human species being so complex and formidable, how can one person possibly make a difference? How can a group of people possibly make a difference?

It happens all the time. To begin, all it takes is one person making a decision and taking a single step.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead (December 16, 1901 – November 15, 1978).

Let’s talk about slavery. Adam Hochschild, in his Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (2005), details how a small group of 12 Englishmen in London in 1787 set in motion actions which would bring about the end of slavery in the British Empire by the 1830’s. Curiously, these men were innovators: they pioneered the use of posters, campaign buttons, boycotts, and mass mailings.

Today, there are arguably more enslaved people (for labor or for sex or for both) now than at any other time in human history. Influential people and authors such as Kevin Bales (Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, 1999) and Somaly Mam with Ruth Marshall  (The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine, 2008;  originally published in France in 2005)  have declared this horrific and absolutely unacceptable. 

I haven’t read Kevin Bales’ book; it’s on my (long) reading list!

If you still have doubts about one person being able to change the world, read The Road of Lost Innocence. When she was a about 16 years old, Somaly Mam was sold into sexual slavery in Cambodia. She eventually escaped, and began rescuing Cambodian girls and women from brothels. This is now her life’s work; she is triumphant. I found Mam’s book to be profoundly moving. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Note: In a brand new book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (June 2010), Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (both Pulitzer Prize Winners) have updated us on the oppression of women around the world and have provided policy solutions. I heard a great presentation by Kristof on Half the Sky on National Public Radio (NPR) recently.

How important is it, to improve the conditions and lives of all humans and all creatures on this planet? It is critical and essential. After environmental degradation and global warming, it is likely the most pressing issue facing us as a species. When millions and millions of our fellow humans are enslaved, when “more than 3 billion” of our fellow humans are living on “less than $2.50 [American] per day” (, I know that we can do better. I know we must do better.

Mitigating global warming, reversing environmental degradation and destruction, achieving economic justice for all, and ending slavery forever are key elements of what I call “The Human Project,” a project for all of us and for our time.

I would argue that we have the potential to improve conditions for all humans and all creatures on this planet rapidly, using new technologies and social networking sites and the power of persuasion and example.

About Andrew Shattuck McBride

I am a writer, editor, writing coach, and consultant. I work in a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction. I also have a couple of novels simmering on back burners. THANK YOU to Nan Macy of Village Books for taking this photo (June 2011).
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