A few Sundays ago, the pastor at our church gave a sermon about making a difference, examining how there are basically two approaches—institutional and personal. Institutional change seeks to change how society and laws are structured so that it affects the greatest number of individuals. Personal change is what he called the “grunt work” of change. You could also call personal works of change “band-aid solutions.”
Jesus, of course, did both. If you believe in traditional Christian doctrine, Jesus changed the entirety of humanity by instituting the forgiveness of sins and the accountability and sacrifice for those sins, abolishing the idea of earning one’s way to heaven. At the same time, he worked one on one with individuals, talking and listening, preaching and healing.
I’m no Jesus.
I don’t know where I fit in with change. Like most people, I have ideals. I want change. I’m not your traditional activist. I don’t go to rallies and protests. I’m not on the board of directors for a non-profit organization that deals with animal cruelty, environmental pollution, human rights, or boycotts. I also don’t help out in soup kitchens on a regular basis or give out sandwiches or money to homeless people I see on the street. Malcolm X would be disappointed in me.
What do I do?
I live life in accordance with my beliefs. I try to treat other human beings equally. Some people make a big deal about looking homeless people in the eye. I don’t see why. I offer them more dignity by ignoring them—that’s what I do to rich people. I don’t look rich people in the eye. Strangers are strangers. I try to be helpful when people ask me for directions. I donate what little money I can to causes I believe in. I write essays, hoping people will stumble upon them and think or learn something. I spend a lot of time online trying to help people adopt a computer operating system (not Windows) that stands for freedom. In my speech and actions, I try to model what I think are attitudes and behaviors that would discourage sexism and racism.
Sometimes it’s the simple things. I always use “she” when referring to the generic third-person singular. It’s not grammatically “correct,” but I don’t care. It gets people to think. It makes men feel uncomfortable. They wonder why they’re getting “left out.” If you use “he” instead, no men wonder why or if women feel “left out”—men assume women have no problems being “included” with the term “he.”
I recycle and try not to waste materials—that includes not making excessive photocopy or print errors at work. I swear that half the paper waste out there is from people not paying attention when printing or photocopying.
I believe we should each examine our own talents, resources, time, and inclinations, and we should see what can feasibly be done to make a difference. Will it be a difference in “the long run”? It may. It may not. Jesus stopping to talk with a Samaritan woman at the well may not have made much of a difference in “the long run,” but it sure made a difference for her.