Saturday, April 20, 2024
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Walking the talk: Taking responsibility for social change

Last week, while giving spare change to a homeless person, I forgot to take a selfie. Who knows how many likes I would have received on Instagram! For some reason, no one was videotaping me as I delivered a food donation to my local food bank. I would have loved to post such a video on Facebook and receive endless digital “way-to-go’s!” 

I recently came across a thought-provoking quote by Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, a book I strongly recommend. The quote resonated with me: “Be skeptical of boasts; they are often about the people we wish we were, rather than who we actually are.” In Western society, we tend to boast—our goal is to project an image that will be applauded, envied, and celebrated.

You are not defined by your thoughts or what you say on social media. You are defined by your actions. Your deeds, not your words, show who you truly are. Those who don’t boast of their good deeds seem to find satisfaction knowing they helped others; as a result, they don’t seek external validation.

We find ourselves in the midst of significant social change. I question the sincerity of those whose most radical act is temporarily changing their profile picture on Facebook. We’ve all been guilty of this kind of “virtue signaling.” Especially when we’re young, we tend to conform to what we think others want to hear.

I’ve noticed two insights about social behavior. First, people tend to conform to others’ actions and opinions, often saying and doing what the crowd does. Second, when it comes to many issues, most people don’t actually know what others think, making conformity a guessing game. Case in point, polls in 2016 predicted Hillary Clinton would win the U.S. presidency, yet Donald Trump prevailed—clearly, many Trump supporters kept their views private.

Our inability to have civil discourse without judging, labeling, or insulting those with differing views hinders progress. It creates silent majorities who make their voices heard in voting booths instead. I believe Canada’s next federal election will see a “silent majority” win.

What views do you avoid stating for fear of being labeled?

As social norms shift, individuals adapt—metaphorically adopting popular opinions and behaviors while dropping unfashionable ones. But it’s really about style, not substance or our collective best interests. This default leads to the unhealthy game of identity politics, where the left portrays some groups as oppressed and the right exploits nationalism and cultural pride. A more civilized approach focuses on taking responsibility for one’s own life.

Imagine if each of us walked our talk. Empty words of support mean nothing; our actions show what we truly care about. If all who claim environmental concern adopted greener lifestyles, our planet could heal. If all condemning racism confronted it in their daily lives, systemic racism would fade. If all appalled by homelessness contributed funds instead of likes, homelessness could end. If all angered by corporate greed cut back on consumerism, companies might reform.

Talk of change has always exceeded real change because changing habits is hard. The examples above don’t require government—just individual commitment to solutions within our control. A shameful truth is that we benefit from injustices and destruction we profess to oppose. The hypocrisy protecting unsustainable western luxuries is astonishing. I’ve yet to meet a self-styled “environmentalist” whose lifestyle has a negligible carbon footprint.

Is using gadgets to rant against capitalism while sipping branded coffee really opposing it? If ancestral land theft offends you, why not return some to indigenous peoples? If white privilege bothers you, stop taking advantage of it. We avoid responsibility by participating in problems yet criticizing from the sidelines.

True values require living them.

Bottled water, fast fashion, single-use plastics won’t disappear due to declarations; they’ll fade if we collectively decide to stop buying them. Corporations serve consumers—if consumption patterns change, business models follow.

Social change starts with each individual. It starts with examining our own behaviors, biases, and privileges. It starts with educating ourselves, listening to diverse perspectives, and engaging in meaningful conversations. It starts with taking responsibility for our actions and making conscious choices that reflect our values.

It’s easy to get caught up in the grand gestures, the public displays of support, and the online activism. But real change happens in the day-to-day actions, the choices we make when nobody is watching. It’s about being consistent and committed to our values, even when it’s not convenient or popular.

So, ask yourself, what are you really doing to contribute to social change? Are you just talking, or are you actively working towards a better world?

Most prefer empty outrage to meaningful sacrifice. Your role in change lies not in what you say, but in what you do. You have a role in social change if you truly want it. It’s time to step up and make a difference.

(Nick Kossovan is a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, He can be reached on Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan.)

Contributed by Nick Kossovan

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