HOW CAN YOU CHANGE THE WORLD?
by Bryan J. Neva, Sr.
Note: This article is a long, overdue follow-up to some previous articles I've written on changing the world: “Change Yourself and You’ll Change the World”; “How Can You Become A BetterPerson?”; and “What is Truth?”
It’s obvious we live in a broken world. Just listen to the nightly news or read your favorite Internet news site, and you’ll learn about another horrific, terrorist attack on innocent people; you’ll learn about the unspeakable crimes people commit; and you’ll learn about ongoing wars, violence, oppression, injustice, hunger, starvation, disease, poverty, prejudice, government and corporate corruption—and many others.
Politicians campaign to win elected office promising to help change our society and world for the better in order to solve the pressing problems we all face; some are more successful than others, but it’s a thankless job, and people spend more time criticizing them than in trying to help improve things. So each of us needs to do our part to help change our world for the better.
When I first started working as a field engineer, I was told by management and sales, “Perception is reality!” In other words, a customer’s perception of the truth is what they believe to be true; every customer has their own truth or beliefs (right or wrong) in which they view the world (everything is relative). Consequently, you as a field engineer have to accept, conform, and cater to your customer’s perception of reality.
As an engineer, I was taught to always seek the truth through research and science so this statement was anathema to me. I’d always push back when a manager or salesman told me this by replying, “Reality is reality!” And I spent my entire eighteen-year career in field service trying to convince my customers, managers, and salesmen of the truth.
Simply put, the truth is the way the world really is! It’s not any more complicated that that. People make it more complicated than it really is, but it’s really not. In other words, a statement is true if it accurately corresponds to the reality of the world; otherwise it’s simply not true. Scientist, engineers, physicians, and other scholars spend their entire careers looking for the truth because we believe that the truth will set us free and help us solve the pressing problems we face today. If someone does not want to accept the truth, they’re deluding themselves and choosing to believe a lie.
Moreover, the truth can be discovered. This was the main conflict Socrates and his protégé Plato had with the other Greek philosophers of their day, the Sophists. The Sophists did not believe that the truth was knowable, while Socrates rightfully argued that the truth could be known with certainty. We all live in the same world, so there can’t be different truths for different people. There’s only one truth, and the truth is the same for everyone.
One way we can help change the world for the better is to have the courage to stand up for the truth. Standing up for the truth takes real moral courage and intestinal fortitude, and it may mean being ostracized from others. It’s not easy. Oftentimes it’s far easier to go along to get along than to stand for the truth. But if you stand up for the truth in an honest, respectful way, I believe that in the long-term you’ll be vindicated.
So why are there so many different perceptions of the truth? I think what it really means is that most fair-minded people agree on the reality of a situation—or the truth—but they have different views and beliefs about what the truth means, the importance of the truth, and how best to solve the problems we all face. Once we can all agree on what is in fact true, then we can debate on solutions to solve the problems we have.
Take for example the different political parties: most fair minded politicians agree on what is true, what they disagree on is how best to solve the problems, and that is what they debate over. Some politicians will purposely lie about something, so it's important to check the facts before you believe them. Some political pundits will make a mountain out of a molehill or vice versa. Once again check the facts and decide for yourself. Moral issues are another area of debate as moral relativism is quite rampant in our world today. All you can really do in these cases is to have the courage to stand for what you believe in as you cannot force someone else to believe as you do. But I think if you stand for what you believe, in the long-term, you'll be proven right.
The truth can be a demanding taskmaster. Living a life of truth can be a hard, rocky, and difficult path to follow. Falsehood is easy. Committing yourself to the truth can cost you a lot; it can mean the difference between worldly success or failure, fame or obscurity, fortune or poverty, pleasure or pain, reward or sacrifice, life or death, etcetera.
So why live by the truth if living by lies and falsehood is so much easier and rewarding? That is a question each one of us must answer for ourselves; but it’s probably why so few of us actively pursue and live by the truth. Personally, I believe that being committed to the truth is its own reward, and being a follower of Jesus Christ demands that one live according to the truth and not lies. Being truthful in all that we say and do, being discrete and not divulging secrets, and being careful not to be duplicitous or hypocritical are virtues worth striving for. St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “Men could not live with one another if there were not mutual confidence that they were being truthful to one another.”
When I was a child one of my favorite books was: Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue by Maurice Sendak (pub Jan 1, 1962). (Follow this link to listen to the story on youtube.) Pierre was indifferent and always said, “I don’t care!” And it took something really bad to happen to him before he finally learned to care.
Most of the people in the world today are indifferent to the problems we face in our world today. They’re just looking out for themselves rather than for others, their neighbors. Standing up to indifference takes real courage in a world that tells you to just worry about yourself and not make waves.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for this quotation:
First they came for the Socialists and Communists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist or Communist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Gypsies, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Gypsy.
Then they came for the Jehovah Witnesses , and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jehovah Witness.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Catholic.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
His point was that Germans had been complicit through their silence in the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people.
Another way we can help change the world for the better is to have the courage to stand up to indifference. We have to keep our priorities straight in life. We should put God first, others second, and ourselves third—everything else, especially money, material possessions, or our careers—should be way down on our priority list. We should have the courage to fight for social justice and fairness for everyone even if that means sacrificing our own lives.
WORKS OF MERCY
Finally, one of the ways we can help change the world for the better is by performing works of mercy, or charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbors in their physical and spiritual necessities. Here’s a list:
Corporal Works of Mercy
1. Feed the hungry
2. Give drink to the thirsty
3. Clothe the naked
4. Shelter the homeless
5. Visit the sick
6. Visit the imprisoned and ransom the captives
7. Bury the dead
Spiritual Works of Mercy
1. Instruct the ignorant
2. Counsel the doubtful
3. Admonish sinners
4. Bear wrongs patiently
5. Forgive offences willingly
6. Comfort the afflicted
7. Pray for the living and the dead
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, whether or not you’re rich or poor, young or old, educated or uneducated, male or female etcetera. None of that matters, we’re all God’s children called to do our part to help change the world for the better. We may do great things or small things, but we should all try our best to use the talents God has given each of us to help make our world a better place to live in.