John Mayer expressed what so many of us feel. In the face of a barrage of seemingly unsolvable problems (poverty, unemployment, global warming, the coming fiscal cliff, to name a few) we don’t know how we can make an impact, so “we keep waitin on the world to change.”

How do you win this waiting game when your efforts feel like a drop in the bucket, a penny waiting for change?

You take the mini victories along the way, keep believing and stay active. There’s a story I love that gets to the heart of this-

The animals are all lined up waiting to get on Noah’s Ark. A flea is way at the back of the line and gets impatient. So the flea jumps from animal to animal to get closer to the front. Eventually the flee lands on an elephant. The elephant flinches just slightly turns to its mate and says, “Here they go with the pushing and shoving.”

Think of yourself as a flea. I know, it’s not the most flattering parallel, but go with the analogy. You’re the flea and your efforts to make the world a better place may feel as insignificant and futile as a flea on an elephant. But there are signs that the system is flinching. Small efforts are starting to add up…if you’re interested in progress that is.

Just in the last week, here are some major victories.

  • America’s first African American President was reelected. This is a major win for diversity and a reminder that the racists hanging chairs in their front lawns are nothing more than a lunatic fringe.
  • Women in America gained more of a voice than ever before; likely deciding the vote and sending record numbers to Congress. The hater mongers who tried to strip women of their rights were defeated.
  • The first openly gay Senator (Tammy Baldwin) was elected in Wisconsin, where only two years ago the majority of the state affirmed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
  • The first Asian American, and first Buddhist, was elected to the Senate. (Mazie Hirono)
  • Same sex marriage was affirmed in all four states where it was on the ballot.

These victories were the result of individuals making persistent efforts, small and large, to affirm diversity.

My sense is that greater diversity is inevitable, even if the smaller steps along the way are uncertain. If you look at change from a long perspective, one taboo and discrimination defeated at a time, the world is becoming more diverse. As one barrier is broken, like women in politics, another is breaking new ground like same sex marriage rights. The day will come, I am in no doubt, when the GLBT community will have equal rights and voice and people of all religions and no religion will be treated honorably.

Progress, defined as greater freedom for a greater number, is certain. But the steps along the way are less certain. There will setbacks and backward movements. To quote one of my favorite songs, Waiting For the Great Leap Forward by Billy Bragg,

You can be active with the activists
Or sleep in with the sleepers
While you’re waiting for the Great Leap Forwards
One leap forwards, two leaps back

In a perfect world we’d all sing in tune
But this is reality not American Idol
So join the struggle while you may
The Revolution is just a t-shirt away

Looking at the broad sweep of history, change looks neat and orderly. Up close, and in real time, it’s messy and requires sacrifice from many. But this chaos also has its purpose, a method to the madness. As President Obama said in his acceptance speech,

Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

So we stay present to the mess of change, keep doing what we can, and find the balance between patience and impatience as we push the system and wait for the great leap forwards

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  1. Kenneth Vogt says:

    We get caught up that our “doing” will not be enough. Guess what: you’re right, it won’t be. But what can make all the difference is who you are “being”. Out of your being will spring all that the world needs. Among that might be your individual actions. But you might also inspire action in others, others whose doing will matter far more than yours. Don’t try and control the process. Be your part and all will unfold, completely and right on time.

  2. Jim Skinner says:

    Thank your for the gentle reminder.  Too often I get caught up in “raging against the machine” to the point that it makes me impatient.  To build on your analogy, there are times that this flea wants the bit the elephant in the ass!  :-)

  3. ian says:

    There are times that may be appropriate Jim. :)

  4. Diane says:

    Ian,
    I’m curious, who are the “. . . hater mongers who tried to strip women of their rights.” Are you talking about Romney’s campaign? Or are they people who you considered pro-life—who believe in the right of every American, born or still in the womb?  Or are you talking about rights in general, equal pay and that sort of stuff?
    A curious flea on the back of an elephant :-)

  5. ian says:

    Hi Diane, I’m thinking of Akin and Mourdoch and the like.

  6. DS says:

    C-3…  I may call myself a C- flea.