The transformative power of small change

There’s nothing wrong with small change. Not everything needs to be “big and bad” to be considered brilliant. Small change—as they say—adds up.

Sometimes, however, the world can seem a bit overwhelming. A five minute session with the nightly news is enough to make a person gasp at the vastness of the problems across the ocean, or right down the street. Of course, we know in our gut that things in the media are sensationalized, because sensationalism sells and keeps us engaged. But, all of that sensationalization also keeps us up at night.

We lie awake at 3 AM, staring at the ceiling in the dark, wringing our hands. We talk ourselves into believing the change that’s needed is way too big for one person to affect in one small lifetime on this earth. But, what if we’re underestimating the power of the small changes at our disposal and within our reach?

In a recent On Being podcast, Krista Tippett interviewed Dr. Louis Newman about the Jewish concept of teshuvah, or, repentance. The idea of repentance often gets coupled with the religious concept of sin, but Dr. Newman invites us to take the pressure off and simply embrace the concept of what he calls “a very gradual process of recognizing” the powerful impact, over the course of time, of small changes in a different direction:

…think about this in terms of a 360 degree circle, if you’re headed in one direction and you turn only one degree or two degrees to the right or to the left, over a long period of time — it may be a very slight turn, but over an extended period of time, if you now walk in that direction, you’ll end up in an utterly different place than if you extend that line outward infinitely. And that sense of turning even slightly…it doesn’t have to be a radical, all of a sudden transformation into a new life. It’s actually a very gradual process of recognizing, “you know, I need to pay attention to that particular failing a little bit more, and move in a little different direction.”

When I heard Dr. Newman’s words through my earbuds one morning, while trying to squeeze in a workout between editorial meetings and writing deadlines, I nearly fell off the recumbent bicycle at the gym. His words made it possible for me to exhale and embrace the reality that my small change can make a difference for good, right in the places where I find myself everyday.

So can yours.

SMALLCHANGEPhoto by John Gillenwater

Take the current EU migrant crisis, for example. Our world leaders have a lot on their hands, trying to figure out the best way to handle the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II. One of the questions at the heart of the crisis is, How are we supposed to treat the stranger in our midst? On a global scale, the answer to the question may seem layered and complicated. But, when we pay attention to the question in the context of our everyday lives, the answer is easy: kindness. And so, I make a conscious decision, to turn my heart toward kindness today, more than I did yesterday.

Most of us will make a difference in this world, but not because of some grand or large-scale initiative. No, most of us will change our corner of the world and make an impact that stands the test of time through the small and seemingly insignificant (to us) interactions and decisions and conversations of our average days. We make a difference where we live, and incrementally, that place begins to shift.

Begin simply. Start small. And watch the world begin to change, right where you live your ordinary life, each and every day.


512MnDZ0hhL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_A note from Tsh: I’m so glad to have Deidra on the blog today. Her post is a great sample of the kind of stuff you’ll find in her new book, Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are, which releases TODAY. And I’m happy to share that Deidra has five copies to give away for the Art of Simple readers.

To enter your chance to win, leave any comment below this post. (If you’re reading this post via email, please click over to the original post and leave a comment on the blog.)

This giveaway will close this weekend. Good luck!

Giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents; physical addresses only (no P.O. boxes).

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