How are you changing the world?
Well this prompt certainly makes some assumptions.
I think for many of us, we will never understand the scope of how we affect the world. We might smile at someone one day, who has a slightly better day as a result, and that is change in the world. We might be rude to someone when we’re frustrated, and they have a worse day as a result. We really don’t ever see that or understand it happens. I think of most of our impact as a wide shallow pool of water, that has crisscrossing ripples that can either amplify the ripples they touch, or they cancel each other, or there is more discordance. The reality of life in a deeply interconnected society is that we constantly effect change and measurement isn’t traceable.
But I don’t think that’s what this prompt is after, so I’ll play along.
As a very, very lucky person, I work for Automattic, and have for the past nine years. I read the 2021 4Q update for the board of directors today, and when I think back to nine years ago and where Automattic was then, we have come very far indeed. And part of that progress is that our mission to democratize publishing is touching more and more people, in more and more parts of the world. That’s powerful. Obviously, my personal impact on the entire company and our mission (we’re about 1876 people) is relatively small. I was looking at our Automattician stats the other day and saw that 4.1% of the current company was hired before me, and 95.9% was hired after me. That’s really wild to me. I don’t think that percentage here translate into impact, however. Our most effective employee ever may not have been hired yet! Anyway, all that to say, I’m fairly tenured at work, and I appreciate being able to give the insight of that historical context to newer folks and being able to get them settled into their role.
I donate to a bunch of organizations that do things I think are important. I make sure that these are monthly recurring donations, since those are the income that these organizations can count on to keep the lights on each month and run their basic daily operations. A one-time donation is nice and always welcome, but the recurring donations provide more operational stability for these orgs that are often chronically underfunded and working through volunteer participation.
If I have time, which is rare, I volunteer for things that (I believe) are essential to the improvement of our society. An example is that I went door-to-door to talk to people about a candidate for New York state representative who matched many of my values and hopes for our district. She did not win, but I hope she will continue to run for office.
I do what I can to raise my babies to be generous and thoughtful towards others. The twins know to kindly stand up for themselves — Henry told me one day about how someone told him he “couldn’t” like unicorns, because he’s a boy. I asked him what he said, and he said “of course I can like unicorns.” He also wouldn’t let another kid bully him. He told his teacher whenever there was an incident, and eventually even brokered a peace agreement with the former bully.
In fifth grade, the second year that I lived in America, one of my classmates was reading a comic book that looked sort of frightening. He showed it to me; he had checked it out of the library. As you’ve already guessed, it was Maus. I read it, then found out there was a second one, and read that too. It was profoundly upsetting. I really didn’t know much about the Holocaust before that, I think (hello, privilege!). Art Spiegelman made the Holocaust visceral and personal. Human beings are entirely capable of being monstrous to other people, systemically. I knew people were a bit dodgy after seeing how white people treated Indian people while we lived in India, but Maus really illustrated the depth of what people are willing to each other.
I don’t know when I finally bought my own copies. Probably college. My thesis in grad school was how literature changed following the world wars, predicated on Frank Kermode’s Sense of an Ending, in particular the expectation that when you hear “tick” you expect then to hear “tock,” and following these catastrophic world events, you could no longer count on hearing “tock,” and literature changed to mirror that uncertainty. As I read background info around the second world war in particular, the Holocaust was certainly a major theme, but I also read about Unit 731 (don’t click through unless you want to be devastated). Something important to note from that article: “The researchers in Unit 731 were secretly given immunity by the United States in exchange for the data which they gathered during their human experimentation.” This was also a decision that the United States made about some Nazis in Europe who performed experiments on humans in the concentration camps. When I was finished with my extensive background reading about these sanctioned atrocities, I knew deeply that we do actually have to work for the world we want, and it can’t be that world. A better world won’t come from some higher power that doesn’t exist (or is sadistically indifferent), it comes from the people we are today, and the people we shape today, and the society we cultivate today.