Do you remember the world before social media?
As an older Millennial, I remember it very vividly.
If you missed a commercial during the Super Bowl, you couldn’t go to YouTube to watch it again.
If your friend got engaged, you had to wait until you saw them to check out their ring and hear the proposal story.
When the President said something, you didn’t hear about until Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings or Dan Rather told you about it on the evening news.
I’m not talking about the 1820s – I’m talking about 1996. The world I just described no longer exists, and it’s not coming back.
So, today, we log in to social media and the status bar is empty with the question “What’s happening?”
Well, Twitter, today included a protest march, a hashtag campaign to boycott a company, outrage over some leader’s terrible actions (or inaction), an international crisis, a celebrity’s faux pax and only one food item existing on planet Earth to which no one coming to dinner is allergic.
Oh and there’s an unprecedented shortage of bacon.
What Should We Do About What’s Broken?
Amidst these many crises (and let’s be clear – lack of bacon is a crisis), what should we do?
After learning about many of these events, we often take to social media to bring the solutions. We post, share, tweet, and snap our way to raise awareness or continue the fight. But amidst all this noise, is there anything more than just outrage?
I mean, what’s the half-life of a tweet? How much change can a Facebook share really bring?
Whether it’s social justice warriors, the Twitter police or slactivists, I’m often a member of the cynical chorus who struggles to put much stock in the noise online.
What really changes the world? When something is broken, when it’s not as it should be, what makes a difference?
Like anyone else, I long to translate my “holy discontent” (as author Bill Hybels calls our sense of moral indignation over what’s broken and unconscionable) into something which brings a lasting difference.
When Does Change Begin?
Here’s what has created movement, action and change in me and those people I know well.
When “it” moves from an issue to a person.
The refugee conversation isn’t an “issue” for me. I can’t not see the faces of Irman from Iran, Nyama from Sudan and the Burmese refugee kids who play in my friend Miles’ soccer club. When I talk about this “issue,” I see their faces.
When intellectual discomfort becomes a heart burden.
In my head, I can look at an issue or crisis and say “that’s not right.” I can have all sorts of internal or external conversations about why this is wrong. But when my heart is moved, and I can’t sleep, or I’m undone, I need to take action. I need to take action more than simply with my thumbs on a touchscreen.
When the pain of status quo exceeds fear of future.
Anais Nin famously said, “The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” As humans, we resist change. But I move when not moving is a worse option.
Do you relate to any of those three experiences? Is this what moves you (or those you lead) to action?
How Do You Trigger This Kind of Movement?
If these resonate with you, I’ve found the following three actions or habits can trigger the events listed above.
1. Get to know a person who is impacted by the problem.
When “they” stops being a nameless, faceless person, the conversation is less about us vs. them and more about me and you. Getting to know a person who is impacted by the problem puts a face, name, story and soul on the problem at hand. We are more motivated by the people we care about than cold “they’s” within a largely anonymous group. If you want to motivate yourself or others, get personal.
2. Lean into the discomfort until it becomes a burden.
We hate discomfort and awkward feelings. Whenever we’re uncomfortable, we reach for our phones. The discomfort could be boredom, nervousness, social anxiety, or other people fighting. Instead of running from discomfort, we need to learn how to lean into it. We need to keep leaning into it until it becomes a burden. When a burden begins dominating our thoughts, emotions, feelings and dreams, we cannot help but take action. If you want to change the status quo, get uncomfortable and help others to do the same.
3. Clarify the pain and educate yourself.
If we only change when the pain of not changing is greater than our fear of the unknown, then we have to clarify the pain for ourselves and others. We have to search for and remove the numbing agents which throttle the pain down to a level we can ignore.
As leaders, we rarely do hard things unless the pain is too difficult to ignore. I’m a pastor, and in my world, we have a saying – many churches resist change until they start feeling the financial pinch. Even a decline in attendance can be ignored or explained away. But when the money gets tight, people get motivated.
Because we’re leaders, we are often insulated from the pain the rest of our organization is experiencing. We don’t see the frustration of a front-line team member. Our team may feel hesitant to share the hard news with us, so they absorb the pain and appease us with only positive reports.
We have to educate ourselves and pursue an accurate understanding of the frustrations the people we lead are experiencing.
The Place Where Change Must Begin
I love social media. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. I love building friendships online and then turning them into something tangible offline. I blog, I write and I share to move, inspire, educate and transform the way people live, work, study and play.
But the words I write and the things I post mean little without application and action. Without movement, they mean as little in my life as they do in my readers and followers. Each of us must push-back on the noise and chaos which often occurs online and instead, create clarity about what change looks like in action.
And most of the time, change begins in me. Russian author Leo Tolstoy famously wrote, “Everyone wants to change the world, but no wants to change himself.” The change begins right here, with the one person I can control, asking a simple question…
What is the next right thing I can do today?