Monday, July 07, 2014

Lead by believing

The first step – both the easiest and the hardest – is to fully, fundamentally believe that social improvements are not only possible but practical. This will make you a minority opinion. This will set you at odds to the dominant thinking and culture. This will make you feel isolated and a bit ostracized. Few people will think they way you do and fewer still will have the courage to share it.

That's what every artist and entrepreneur faces. If the status quo embraced far-sighted vision, the improvements would have already happened. Those who see something better are always a threat to the establishment.

How easy to change your thoughts! But how difficult to continue to believe in the possibility and practicality of progress in the face of derision from the status quo. The seduction of futility will always beckon, especially when progress is slow or invisible or retreating. Collapse into apathy is contagious.

There is power in conviction. Simply believing in a better society impacts the minds of others. People can sense that conviction. And it changes their beliefs in what is possible. This is the foundation of social change – the people of a society each deciding they want the change. It is hardest to remain steadfast and vocal as one of the first to want the change. That's your job. It's part of leadership.

Every leader begins without followers. You're called upon to lead others to believe in the improvements that you believe in. And your conviction that improvements are ours to claim, ours to make inspires others to follow. Every mind changed is a victory. That changes their votes, which changes the political calculation of politicians hunting for votes, which changes the political calculation of politicians running governments.

The battlefield of social progress is fought in the six thousand million minds of the people, one mind at a time. There is no other path. When enough people decide that things ought to run a certain way, eventually, they do. The more democratic the society, the shorter the lag between the collective decision of the people and the implementation. While it is obvious in a sense that we can't have social progress without the people deciding they want that particular progress, it's also a little weird to think that each of us has the power to change society simply by wanting things to be different. But that's how it works! When enough of us want something to change, it changes. And there won't be any changes without the people wanting that change. Not all of us or even most of us. But a lot of us. That's the fuel for social progress. Regular people deciding they want that change.

That means you can bring change into being. Every person you influence to see the world the way you do and to believe in the possibility and necessity of implementing improvements is another step towards making it happen. We are building an army of believers. This army – like any army – grows one recruit at a time. There is no draft. There is no mass shift. It's  one at a time. There are always opportunities to share your beliefs and recruit another. Simply tell anyone who will listen – friends, family, followers or Facebook friends – what you think.

Everyone has a network of people who will listen. Some people have access to a much larger group of people. Celebrities, either local or global, have a particular opportunity to tell other people what they think and leverage their power of conviction. The more people who hear your beliefs in a just society, the more who will share them. An opportunity to share your view with a thousand or hundred thousand or million people – either on social media or a radio program or a letter to the editor – is an opportunity to recruit more minds to the cause. If you can broaden your network of people who will listen, do it! There is always an appropriate venue to convey your belief, sometimes in passing, sometimes slyly. A quick reference to the idea of progress or justice helps. “Of course, things can always get better.” Like ripples on a pond, a concise powerful belief in an improving society can touch listeners profoundly and unexpectedly.

A longer and serious conversation can have a bigger impact. That's why I'm writing this. My whole goal is to reach you, whoever you are, and inspire you to believe. I hope I end up on talk shows or on college campuses talking about this and reach some more people listening to the show or in the audience to recruit them as believers. If there's a better way to spend an hour talking about the state of the world and a billion souls living in poverty and the opportunity and obligation of the lucky ones like us to accelerate the pace of equality and opportunity and decency for all people, I want to try that too. There isn't a lot of space to have serious conversations about our society. I hope this piece is part of a conversation with you and others.

It's difficult to take a minority opinion. Believing in the social progress to be won next year or next decade is not, and never has been, a majority view. Hearing someone else express that belief emboldens. Inspire them to join us as builders of a better society by your confident unwavering conviction that yes, we can.

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