Inaction and apathy stem from asking the wrong question. The wrong question is one we ask frequently even though we have reached a foregone conclusion even before we ask it. It is a self-limiting question that keeps us from realizing our potential and our impact on others.
This dangerous question is always the wrong one to ask. It comes from a perspective that is too narrow and pessimistic. The wrong question is, “Will I Make a Difference?”
In response to that question, people choose not to vote. They choose not to intervene when someone else is struggling. They choose not to enter into a conflict, not to let their voice be heard, not to set goals, not to keep trying, and not to contribute to the causes and need that surround us.
The question is wrong because it implies that everything we do must be direct cause and effect. That question fails to consider the bigger picture and overlooks that our actions have implications beyond the direct cause and effect.
For example, as a resident of California, I heard many people say about the last presidential election that their votes wouldn’t matter. I know people who did not get to the polls because they believed their Republican vote would not matter since California is a strong blue state. In terms of a direct cause and effect, these voters were correct in saying that their own single vote would not change the election or even the electoral vote from our state.
But that is too narrow a perspective. There are so many other reasons to vote – exercising our rights in a democratic society, modeling for younger generations what it means to be an American and how we should never take our rights for granted, casting a ballot on local propositions that could go either way, and more.
That’s why this question “Will I Make a Difference” is the wrong question. Here’s a better question to ask, one that more accurately reflects the bigger picture perspective we should always be mindful of. Instead of, “Will I Make a Difference,” ask, “What Difference Will I Make?”
“What Difference Will I Make?” intentionally implies that everything we do matters in some way. It does. And that question helps us better understand how to make a difference. When we take action, we make a difference in our own outlook. We express something that is important to us. We show others what we’re all about. Everything we do does, indeed, make a difference because we all have more influence than we realize.
“What Difference Will I Make?” is not a question that will always be answered in an obvious way. It is aspirational, banking on the hope that every little bit makes a difference and that we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves. When I gave a homeless woman a $10 bill last week, I knew it was not enough to significantly change her life. But it changed me, at least in that moment, when she smiled a big toothless grin and thanked me repeatedly. I’d like to think that my small gesture restored her in some small way that led to a bigger difference. Or that perhaps someone else who saw our exchange was inspired to do the same. Or that my $10 along with a few other contributions that day enabled her to get medical care or transportation or something else she needed.
Is this a naïve way of looking at the world? It may be. But I’d rather operate in this frame of mind than in one that isolates individuals and causes us all to draw away from one another. I do know that voting in the election and offering that money had more likelihood of making a difference than pulling back could ever have. I know asking the right question gave me answers about how to make a difference. And I know that I felt good about my own decisions, a small but important difference to me on both those days.
What Difference Will You Make?
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