Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Newton's Third Law of Social Change: Reacting Forces

So over the past two days I've been talking about physics.

Yeah, it was a surprise to me too.

Actually I was talking about how Isaac Newton's First Law: Balanced Forces and Second Law: F=MA bizarrely applied to our approach toward social change, specifically how it is a bad idea to set out to change the world.

Please don't change the channel, I don't mean that change isn't possible, I just mean that oversimplifying complex world problems is one of the major reasons we get so discouraged so easily.

The First Law shows how, in order to combat such problems, we have to match the forces perpetuating them. The Second Law shows impossibly powerful those forces are. Now I want to talk about the Third Law...

Newton's Third Law: Reactive Forces

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

That means that, every time you exert force, that exertion will have a negative reaction somewhere else. You can't push on something unless you have something to push against, does that make sense? This means that if you are fighting to end world hunger, you might be bracing yourself against environmental responsibility. Every action has a cost, and equal opposite reaction.

If we can revisit the idea of apathy (remember apathy isn't neutral, it is a force against change), if you ask an individual to care about something, care enough to do something, then that has an equal, negative reaction somewhere else in that person's life.

You're not just asking them to care more about something, you asking them to care less about something else.

Did you ever do that team building exercise where everyone stands in a single file line forming a tight circle and then simultaneously sits down? The idea is that you are all sitting on the lap of the person behind you and, thus, everyone is supporting everyone else.

It's a picture of humanity perfectly balanced.

Well, if you've ever done that exercise, it requires full participation of every person, absolute trust, and the assumption that you don't think the person behind you is icky. When you start talking about this kind of worldwide cooperation, you move solidly into the world of idealistic impossibility.

Again, I don't say this to discourage taking action against social injustices, I say this to remind you and myself to focus. Remember that saying about how you eat an elephant (one bite at a time)? Well, when you take a bite, you don't think about how much you have to go, you think about chewing.

Focus on the achievable (...but it's okay to dream about the impossible).

If you're looking for an opportunity to do something immediate, achievable, yet incredibly powerful, consider rescuing a child from poverty through Compassion International. Yes, this is a shameless plug for Compassion, but  I wouldn't be talking about any of this if I didn't believe in what they do.

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