How to Effect Change

by: hawkgrrrl

December 28, 2010

Most people would like to create changes in the world around them.  Regardless your political party, your religious belief, or your social network, it’s likely that you can think of ways that your environment could be made more accommodating to . . . well, you.  I’ve been giving this matter a lot of thought.  Perhaps you have, too.

Let’s clarify to start.  I’m not talking about change that is essentially directly in your personal control such as what you eat, where you work, whom you marry, where your family vacations, etc.  I am talking about broader change that extends beyond your immediate social network, change that impacts other people.  We often call this kind of change activism or promoting causes.  If that’s the kind of change you want to make, you have some options:

  1. Capitulate.  This is always an option, but the casualty is you, or at least your cause.  This is where we get the phrase “You can’t fight City Hall.”  You can, of course, fight City Hall, but c’mon, they’re a bunch of civil servants.  How much fun is that fight going to be?  Plus, it’s 1:15 and they’re all on their 2-hour lunch break.
  2. Declare War.  This is a very popular option.  There are plenty of wars and rumors of wars:  the war on poverty, the war on the rich, the global war on terror, the war on Christmas, Wizard of Warcraft.  The upside is it’s extremely easy to rally the like-minded self-righteous to a holy war and whip them into a frenzy.  The downside is that there are always casualties in war.  But the other upside is that you hate those casualties anyway because they oppose your cause, so no big loss.  Of course, there’s the risk you may be the casualty, but only because those evil-doers somehow bested  you.  Darn you, evildoers!
  3. Provoke Conflict.  This is similar to declaring war, but instead of going all out, you hang back and snark or pick at things until others have to deal with it.  On the upside, much less personal risk.  On the downside, the subtlety of this approach means that most of your awesome well-placed barbs and jibes are going to go right over peoples’ heads, especially short people’s heads.  Which is a real drag because if you have to explain it, well, why bother?
  4. Outsource.  You can try to goad someone else into championing your cause, which greatly lowers your own personal risk.  However, it also really lowers your control, and the so-called champion may have ulterior motives that you dislike.  Affiliating with others to achieve your goals can sometimes compromise your actual position in subtle ways.  This is one reason they say that “politics makes strange bedfellows.”  Can you live with yourself the morning after? 
  5. Persuade.  This sounds more positive, but if you are trying to change something where you have a very low degree of control, good luck.  You may have already figured this out, but some organizations don’t really want your input.  But if you find an avenue into a receptive audience who has power to effect change, persuasion can be effective.  As with politics, your more extreme interests will be the casualty of this approach, but you can effect change generally to the degree of your influence.  Of course, trying to persuade someone who doesn’t value your input at all or who views you beneath their notice could result in a “Let them eat cake” response.  Then again, cake is delicious!
  6. Wait.  When communism fell in the Czech Republic, it was called the “Velvet Revolution.”  They say that communism was “laughed out of power” because it had been so obviously a failure that it was simply ridiculous at that point.  If you wait long enough (and you are right), your changes will inevitably happen.  Of course, you may be too old and jaded at that point to enjoy them.

So, which of these methods do you think is the best when trying to effect change?  Do different ones work differently in different situations?  What types of changes would you like to effect (if any)?  How do you personally effect change? Discuss.

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13 Responses to How to Effect Change

  1. SilverRain on December 28, 2010 at 7:30 AM

    There’s also “Act”. Act as if things are already the way you want them to be. Depending on the specifics, it can work. If nothing else, you can bask in the world of delusion for a few moments at least.

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  2. Mike S on December 28, 2010 at 8:31 AM

    I approach things more organically. I go about my day trying to help those with whom I come in contact. I also work on promoting a level of acceptance within myself of the world and people around me. This gives me more peace which makes me more able to help those around me.

    Otherwise, to be honest, I don’t really have many “causes” or changes I really try to effect. I’m not particularly enamored of missionary work, as I figure if the LDS Church makes sense to someone, they’ll end up here. I don’t really care about any position in the Church and if I had my current calling teaching Primary the rest of my life, I’d be fine. I’m not worried about changing the Church, as there’s nothing you or I can say that will make a difference. I’m not particularly enamored of politics, as they’re all a bunch of robber-barons and any idealism they might have disappears the moment they use their office to raise more campaign money. I’m not enamored by money or fame or prestige or power or anything else.

    I really just try to be a good person and look for ways to help people around me. And that’s about it.

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  3. mh on December 28, 2010 at 11:12 AM

    mike, that sounds like a defeatist attitude, don’t you think? I mean it is a good thing that transformative leaders like joseph snith, winston churchill, or fdr didn’t adopt such a negative idea about not being able to change anything.

    I do think the naacp had an impact on the church, even though the priesthood ban was lifted about a decade after the 1960’s protests.

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  4. Doug on December 28, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    An idea goes through the following phases:

    1) Ignorance
    2) Ridicule
    3) Persecution
    4) Engagement
    5) Acceptance
    6) Orthodoxy

    One “effects” changes by the degree as to what one is willing to accept as consequences in stages 1-4. By phase 5, it takes no fortitude to get involved.

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  5. Bruce on December 28, 2010 at 12:50 PM

    You missed the most important and most common one:

    “Find Victims of the opposing view point”

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  6. Mike S on December 28, 2010 at 1:11 PM


    It does sound somewhat defeatist, and I’m glad there are passionate people around. When I was younger, I had more passionate ideas about things I wanted changed, etc. But I’ve mellowed as I’ve grown older, and am more accepting of everything around me.

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  7. Stephen Marsh on December 28, 2010 at 2:56 PM

    I’d add: Be heard as a rational and persuasive voice …

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  8. Bishop Rick on December 28, 2010 at 5:57 PM

    You can always line up the opposition against a wall and open fire.

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  9. Douglas Hunter on December 29, 2010 at 10:12 AM

    Feeling a bit cynical today Hawk?

    7. Be the change that you want to see – Be in the public sphere as a model of the kind of change / approach / behavior that you think is necessary. Be able to articulate what are you doing in pithy sound bites, always be kind, and work with other like minded individuals who are doing the same. Talk to the media often.

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  10. hawkgrrrl on December 29, 2010 at 10:49 PM

    Douglas – Tis the season, I guess! But truth be told, I would generally consider myself someone who is not an activist or interested in pushing my own agenda. But I do find human behavior interesting.

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  11. Douglas Hunter on December 30, 2010 at 7:54 AM


    Ah, I see. The thing is there are so many injustices in the world, just the fact that sexual slavery currently thrives in the U.S. is enough in my mind to say that we need to take our faith into the public sphere and work to fight slavery.

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  12. hawkgrrrl on December 30, 2010 at 10:33 AM

    Douglas, Perhaps I’m not entirely accurate when I say I’m not an activist because if speech has the power to change, blogging is certainly a form of speech. I tend to prefer hastening inevitable change to inventing revolutionary change. Changes relating to human rights to me seem like an enforcement issue. Convincing criminals not to commit crimes seems unlikely to work. But awareness among the general populace can.

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  13. Jon on January 3, 2011 at 1:39 AM

    D&C 98 gives a good response to this question. Obviously giving war isn’t the answer (2 and 3). First we must effect the change in ourselves that we want to project on the world around us (like other commenters have alluded to). Then we need to us persuasion to effect the change (5). If we are aggressed against then we can use force but the higher law would be better adhered to effect change since then God can be behind you and the change will be longer lasting (4 & 6). I don’t like the idea of capitulation though.

    As for what I do? I like to challenge people’s ideas. Don’t know if it will effect change but I like to think it will. In the end though it matters not what others do but how we see the world (as others have said) and how we treat others.

    D&C 98:16

    16 Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children.

    19 Behold, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with many who are in the church at Kirtland;

    20 For they do not forsake their sins, and their wicked ways, the pride of their hearts, and their covetousness, and all their detestable things, and observe the words of wisdom and eternal life which I have given unto them.

    33 And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.

    34 And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue.

    35And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord;

    37And I, the Lord, would afight their battles, and their children’s battles, and their children’s children’s, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation.

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