8.11. Don’t Jump the Gun!

Patience is an important virtue in creating social change—but one that’s often lacking in social movements.

Patience is an important virtue in creating social change—but one that’s often lacking in social movements.

It’s understandable why people are impatient.

I mean, some of the stuff that’s happening out there is truly appalling and devastating.

Every single day, billions of people are physically and emotionally battered by atrocious injustices that shouldn’t and don’t need to happen.

Some groups of people have had to endure those hardships for decades or centuries. And with each day that passes, more and more people are victimized by these injustices.

Of course we shouldn’t want any of these injustices to last a single day longer than it has to!

And of course, we should do everything we can to speed up the process of fixing these horrible problems.

But we can’t let our impatience and our desire to solve these problems lead us into strategic errors.

We don’t have a problem nowadays with the will or the desire to change. We have a problem turning that desire into effective action.

Here, again, we may be reading a bit too much into the heroic stories we tell ourselves about those great leaders who were able to accomplish a lot of social change in a very short period of time.

For sure, they deserve a lot of credit. But by focusing just on those great people, we often forget that what they accomplished was the culmination of decades of hard, unglamorous work that preceded them.

The abolitionist movement, the Indian independence movement, and the desegregation movement, for example, existed for many years before Lincoln, Gandhi, and King came along. And while it’s true that they were the ones who took those causes across the finish line, it was those who came before who ran the majority of the race, and put them in range of the finish line.

Because of these stories, and because of our impatience, we have a tendency to think we’re closer to the finish line than we really are.

We want to think that we’re within range of that finish line, that we’re going to get to be a part of that sexy, glamorous, crowning achievement—when, in fact, there might be many more years of grunt work ahead of us.

We overuse the techniques that work well when we’re within range of the finish line—like big protests on the National Mall—when there are so many other tactics we could be taking advantage of, from strikes and boycotts to sit-ins or even just educating people and spreading information.

It takes a lot to accomplish social change.

We have to understand the situation. We have to understand the major players, and what their interests are. We have to accumulate a lot of supporters who can act collectively and effectively. And we have to figure out how to use our greatest strengths against their biggest weaknesses.

If we don’t do that stuff thoroughly, then we’re going to make mistakes, and fail in our common goal of setting things right as quickly as possible.

So don’t jump the gun. Be thorough. Do the prep work. Don’t half-ass social justice.

You aren’t slowing things down, by doing those things—you’re speeding it up.


This is the 135th 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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