Five Reasons to Lead Change

“Some men have thousands of reasons why they cannot do what they want to, when all they need is one reason why they can.”
– Martha Graham


There are hundreds of reasons to take an active role in creating a better world. Here are just five of them.

You find yourself complaining a lot.
You find yourself starting too many sentences with phrases such as, “Why doesn’t somebody” or, “When are they going to.” You are that somebody.

Children depend on you.
Everyone can think of an issue where children are adversely affected through no fault of their own. The world needs to be safe for future generations.

You’re smart.
You know more about the issues that you’re passionate about than most people do. You’ve already got a head start on creating a solution.

Nobody should have to live in fear.
Whether it’s fear of the unknown, fear of failing, or fear of what other people think, fear limits our choices, our options, and our opportunities. You have more courage than you know.

You need to eat, drink, and breathe in order to live.
Despite differences in political ideology, everyone has some fundamental common ground when it comes to life’s necessities. Consider starting with issues that touch these commonalities, and find some unlikely allies.

Like I said, there are hundreds more reasons. Those reasons are connected directly to your most closely held values. You care. How can you not act?


The Fear of Being Called a Radical

image: public domain via pixabay
image: public domain via pixabay

“Seen from the point of view of a lie, the truth is often touted as radical.”

― Mango Wodzak, Destination Eden

One of the realities of organizing people to create social change, is the fact that there are people who would like to see change, but fear being seen as a “radical” for publicly calling for fundamentally different policies from the status quo. That fear is real, and should not be dismissed as a simple lack of commitment. The courage to act is situational.

The reluctance to be perceived as an agitator comes in part, from the branding by the media of extremism and zealotry, as ‘radical.’ It’s right-wing radicalism, and left-wing radicalism, and radical Islam . . . if somebody wants an idea to wear a black hat, they call it radical.

In reality, however, almost all change seems radical at some point. The American Revolution was instigated by radicals.  A century ago, in the U.S., the idea that woman should be able to vote was considered radical. Civil rights leaders are considered radicals for insisting that we shouldn’t deny basic human rights to people based on arbitrary, human constructs such as race. Transformative change requires certain realities to be radically different.

“RADICALISM, n. The conservatism of to-morrow injected into the affairs of to-day.”

― Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary

Radicalism and zealotry do not inescapably go hand-in-hand. Some of the zealot’s actions (irrational violence for example) often defy logic, and frequently serve to actually undermine their own stated objectives. Rational radicalism is strategic. It is guided by logic and evidence. As Saul Alinsky said in his book, Rules for Radicals: “Radicals must be resilient, adaptable to shifting political circumstances, and sensitive enough to the process of action and reaction to avoid being trapped by their own tactics and forced to travel a road not of their choosing. In short, radicals must have a degree of control over the flow of events.”

When we look back at human rights leaders, suffragists, and the participants of great social movements in our history, we find “radical” people advocating for the militant notion that the humane thing, the fair thing, the moral thing, the ethical thing to do, was something for which they were proud to be labeled as “radical.”

The courage to act before things get unbearable

“Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is.”
– Rollo May

I have been thinking about motivation. Specifically, I have been thinking about what motivates people to ultimately act with others to create social change. It is a big question, and admittedly, this post contains more questions than answers.

It shouldn’t have to take tragic events to provide a breaking point, or a tipping point. It seems as though even when we have a long-held vision for something different, we will very often be satisfied to simply whine and moan about the state of things, and do nothing about it. Why?

I am not interested in using this space to review the volumes of literature out there on human motivation. This isn’t an academic exercise.

The worst excuse

Speaking of academic exercises, if you’re looking for yet another excuse to put off acting, just look to those who claim a need to wait for exhaustive research in ortime for changeder to ‘have all the facts.’ Sometimes having all the facts is impossible. Sometimes, the facts change daily. I have written before about needs assessment as a barrier to change.


The key to this question of motivation to real commitment seems to center around courage. At the personal level, activists from oppressed groups can be faced with a wide variety of very real physical threats, or risks to their livelihoods. Would-be activists from a privileged group can face retaliation for threatening the power structure upon which their privilege is built. The consequences of courage are relative on an individual basis, but are nonetheless real.

The personal resolve, followed by the collective determination to push beyond fear is common to all movements. The coordinated efforts of the courageous is where leadership and organizing are important. You can’t mitigate all the risk. Change is fundamentally a risky endeavor. Effective leaders can, however, anticipate the support systems that may need to be set in motion to soften the blow of real hardships sustained by change agents.

It seems as though courage frequently manifests itself when an issue becomes personal. How can you get someone whose life has not been personally touched by an issue to find the courage to be a public champion for change? Does someone you know have to get shot in order for you to actively seek to end violence? Does your own water have to become undrinkable before you insist that access to clean drinking water be considered a human right?

Political will

Of course, once you’ve organized at the grassroots level, political will is a whole different beast. The shared values of a majority of people usually doesn’t stand a chance against the competing interests of the folks who finance political campaigns. The politician’s notion of courage becomes distorted. It isn’t simply about doing what’s right when presented with opposing options. Sadly, saying “no” to billionaires is the most courageous thing many politicians can imagine.

Lobbyists and other people of influence and affluence are not the only barrier to political will. People vote against their self-interest all the time. How will we appeal to citizens to align their values with their political voice?

C. S. Lewis said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” We need to help each other find courage every day. If we amass enough of it, then perhaps we can commit to act before the testing point has forced us into finding a solution via unnecessary tragedy.