Be the change you wish to see in the world.

I’ve always loved that quote. It’s humble yet powerful, simple yet complex. It was on my high school graduation announcement, written next to 18-year-old me, smiling off into the distance at my bright future. I wanted to make a difference. After years of volunteer work during high school, I thought I knew what it took to make a difference. Watching the world around me in 2021, I am learning that making a difference is harder than I thought.

My original understanding of “being the change” meant volunteering your time, money, and resources to helping those around you who are in need. I’ve always loved helping others - this kind of service was an easy way to change the world. But I’ve come to understand that being the change in 2021 means something completely different.

This realization came after scrolling through social media, but you need to hear the story before you can fully understand why. Stay with me if you truly want to be the change.

I was recently looking through the Instagram stories on a navigating-children’s-feelings account. I have an infant so I’m not quite to the “feelings” stage yet, but a baby sleep account that I follow had recommended this account. I was absolutely shocked when I saw that the women running the navigating-children’s-feelings account were publicly denouncing their friend, the woman with the baby sleep account because her political views were different than theirs. Their words can be summarized as “we have loved this friend for years, but we just found out that she has different political opinions than we do and we, therefore, will no longer follow or associate with her. We wanted to tell you, our one million followers, so you could unfollow her also.”

I was appalled. First of all, people come to this page for advice on babies - not on political opinions. Secondly, this is literally a page for how to help kids handle their feelings - and clearly, the adults running it cannot handle their own feelings about having a different opinion than their friend. Furthermore, it’s one thing to disagree with your friend - it’s another thing to tell your one million followers what her political opinions are (she had never publicly stated them on her account) and to encourage them to also unfollow her. She’s your friend and this Instagram account is her job, her income to support her four children - and they found it necessary to try to ruin her life simply because she had a different political opinion than them?

My heart was broken. This is how adults treat their friends? This is how adults act in 2021- the same adults who are trying to teach us how to help our children work through their feelings? This is not the world I want to live in. This is not what I want to teach my child.

I want to teach my children that the world is full of different people - and that’s okay. We have different dreams, beliefs, feelings, and opinions - and that’s okay. Just because your friend thinks differently than you do doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with them. And if you really feel like your differences are so drastic that you decide to distance yourself from certain friends, you should still continue to be kind, respectful, and supportive of them making their own decisions.

So here I am, thinking back to my favorite quote from my senior year of high school. How can I be the change I wanted to see in the world? I want the world to be kinder and more accepting. I want the world to recognize that we, as humans, have more that unites us than divides us. I want to be respectful and loving towards everyone, not only those who believe the same things I do.

This is harder to do than it sounds. The mainstream media and many politicians have cultivated a divisive culture - if you’re not with us, you’re against us. I believe this and you believe that and therefore we can never come to an agreement. You support this candidate and I support this candidate and therefore I am better than you. Those things are simply not true. People can have different beliefs and still peacefully and happily coexist.

I understand that a change like this cannot happen to the world overnight - because the change has to start with us and, frankly, I don’t think we can change overnight. It has been a highly emotional year throughout the world as people have tried their best to live in a world of lockdowns, isolation, and confusion. Those intense emotions have brought more divisions among friends, family, and neighbors than ever before. None of us have lived in these times before - this is uncharted territory for everyone. But I truly believe that most people are good people. I believe that we can make the world better.

We’ve identified what we want the change to be: to live peacefully and happily among everyone, regardless of what their beliefs may be. Honestly, I’m not sure how we can accomplish this task. It’s daunting to think about how to undo the division that we currently face- but we have to try. Maybe you decide to stop posting your political opinions on social media so that social media can be used to connect people again instead of disconnect people. Perhaps you choose to stop watching the news and feeding into their divisive narrative. Or you could reach out to your neighbor whose yard homed a sign supporting your opposing candidate and go to lunch with them, promising to talk about anything but politics.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution. But after identifying the problem and the change we want to work towards, hopefully, we can all begin to help the world heal in our own way. I want to see the world be kinder and more accepting - so I will choose to be kinder and more accepting.

Will you?