Einstein’s ubiquitous quote about the definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result,” is so widely used because we see this behavior all the time, particularly in election season. Armed with enthusiasm and often more money than sense, candidates dutifully make the rounds telling crowds what everyone wants to hear—that by simply pushing the button for the “right” candidate on Election Day it will solve all our problems. Lulled into complacency by rousing rhetoric and adoring crowds, politician and public alike support each other’s lunacy by believing that what they are doing is truly making a difference.
Before the sobering reality of the morning-after Election Day hits and we begin tearing down those who we have just built up, perhaps we can take a moment to reflect on what really creates change.
– Ryan Hreljac, was a six-year-old Canadian boy so upset upon learning that many children in African didn’t have access to clean water that he began raising money to build his first well there by the time he was seven. Now a college student his foundation has built 319 wells in Africa and impacted the lives of tens of thousands of people including his own in many various and magnificent ways.
– Leymah Gbowee was a homeless mother of three children having been abused by her husband. In her war torn home of Liberia she worked herself through school in trauma counseling before becoming the head of a peace movement that toppled the dictatorial regime of Charles Taylor, allowing the election of the country’s first female president. In her historic remarks before the President and other government officials, she stood for her values and spoke for thousands of Liberian women, “We are tired of war. We are tired of running . . . We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children. Because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, “Mama, what was your role during the crisis?”
These are only two of numerous examples of ordinary people, who by simply following their conscious and doing what they can to change the world—did it. They didn’t wait until they had money, neither did. They didn’t wait until they were in a position of authority; neither of them was. And they didn’t let the “reality” of the world stop them from being their best. A young Canadian boy who wished to help Africans and a poor women from Liberia quite literally changed the world because they did not let others to tell them what they could or couldn’t do and they didn’t wait for someone else to it for them—they believed in themselves and they took action to make their vision a reality.
So why are we constantly lulled into the belief that elected officials will actually change things? Because it feels easier to think that “someone else” will solve the problem, rather than sinking into our knowing that we are the only ones who can truly change things. And like providing drugs to an addict, elected officials are all too willing to tell us they are the ones who will be different, who will change things. The truth we all know is that there is nothing elected officials can do for us, there are only the steps that we can make together that will ever have any lasting impact. No, I don’t believe that every political leader is a drug dealer, and there are too many of them who refuse to talk about what is really going to make a difference for fear it will turn the voters off. Instead they make promises they can’t keep and then tell it us it was the fault of the “other side” when they don’t.
The way forward is to stop believing that someone else is going to make the changes we wish to see in the world. Right now we have two ends of the spectrum searching for this reality. In Egypt we see a fledging democracy trying to avoid Western control while the political players fight for position and power as good as their American counterparts. In the US, citizens are engaged in the quadrennial pastime of testing their ability to suspend logic and believe in the power of elections to solve our problems.
For both countries, and indeed the world, the answer lies in our capacity to trust ourselves and to know that true democracy is not about ceding power to the elected, rather it is found in the glory of each person bringing their best to the community. And perhaps the best place to begin is by answering a question posed by one successful leader, “what was your role during the crisis.” Now think about the answer you would give your children—then go start doing it.