1.1. Why We’re Afraid to Work for Change

Running away may be one of our natural, instinctive responses…but that doesn’t mean it’s a good one, a smart one, or a virtuous one.

The first thing we need to do, to affect change, is to get in the right frame of mind.

Fight or flight is our hardwired response to anything we perceive as a threat.

And what could possibly feel like a bigger threat than these huge, global problems that unleash misery on billions of people every day?

So it’s no coincidence that fight and flight are the two most common responses people have to our social problems.

It’s rare that somebody’s response is all one, or all the other. Most of us hang out in the gray area between both extremes.

We want to get involved. We want to fight for justice. We want to do our part.

But we worry about the consequences of acting out. We worry that our action isn’t going to work. And we worry that we’re going to get punished for it.

So we become cautious. We try to pick our spots. We still want to get involved. But we only act if it looks like we have a high chance of succeeding, and a low chance of getting in trouble.

But in reality, those circumstances don’t happen very often, do they?

Increasingly, it dawns on us that we’re going to have to either roll the dice and take a real risk, to affect the kind of change we want—or keep waiting and hoping, possibly for the rest of our lives, for a low-risk, high-gain opportunity that may never come.

Most of us choose the latter. We wait. We hope. And when one of those perfect opportunities doesn’t come, we feel frustrated and guilty. And then we run away from those feelings by repressing them or rationalizing them away.

I don’t know you. But I bet if you’re watching this, you have it pretty good in the big scheme of things. You aren’t getting clobbered by poverty in Bangladesh, or choking on pollution in Beijing.

The better you have it, the more you have to lose. And the more you have to lose, the more likely your response to the world’s problems is going to be running away: from those problems as well as the emotions they’re supposed to stir up in people of conscience.

Running away may be one of our natural, instinctive responses. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good one, a smart one, or a virtuous one.

There are whole ideologies constructed around trying to make running away from our responsibility to deal with these collective problems seem like the right, virtuous thing to do.

But it isn’t. Never has been, and never will be.

It’s nothing more than one of the two things animals do without thinking, whenever they’re confronted with a threat.

If you aren’t doing anything to help fix our problems, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a coward. But it does mean you need to call this response what it really is. And it does mean you need to own up to it. And it does mean you need to think seriously about choosing a better one.


This is the 13th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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