I have a habit of collecting outdated magazines from the free box at the library. This morning I stumbled upon a terrific article by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in the February 2010 issue of Fast Company. The article is an excerpt from their book SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.
I have a lot of things I'd like to change, or to help change. I belong to a focus group called SafeR Schools, which may someday expand to SafeR City Libraries, if I will help create it. This week I participated in a community Forum with our county Sheriff and a school board member leading the discussion. Midway through the conversation, I told my story of working with teen gang members at the library. I had not prepared to share this, but as I spoke, I realized that I was changing from being a victim of assault to the survivor of assault. Spontaneously, I remembered to share something that turned the Forum discussion from hopeless analyzing to positive action. I said that the school has a bright and shining star in their midst. I remembered that Guilford County has at least one sixth grade teacher who successfully maintains a nonviolent classroom using Fight Free, a merit based method that teaches students to act as a group to create their own peaceful environment.
Immediately after speaking, the board member asked me to contact him with further information. A veteran teacher in attendance raised her hand and triumphantly said "Yes! that is what we need!" As the forum ended, people came to thank me for sharing, asking my name and saying encouraging things. I was lifted up by the experience. I don't know if my participation will actually change anything. But it had a positive affect on me. My husband says that the world changes when people individually act to solve their own problems. I think, in a way, he is right. But often times, we feel helpless and alone. We need community to move us in the right direction, even if that community is a single friend.
Three days later that I discovered why people at the Forum reacted positively to my participation. It's not that I'm particularly eloquent or charismatic. It was because I did what the authors of SWITCH say we should all do when we want to change things. They attest that we must find a bright spot and clone it. They say
"that's the first step to fixing everything from addiction to corporate malaise to maltrition. A problem may look hopelessly complex. But there's a game plan that can yield movement on even the toughest issues. And it starts with locating a bright spot--a ray of hope."
I know that this is true and useful, not TBU (True But Useless.) When I quit smoking, I did it by following the lead of someone who successfully quit. For some reason, that person was my ray of hope. But then, I followed through because I believed in my heart that I could do it.