How to Lift a Finger

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”—George Bernard Shaw

As the capital city of the largest democracy in the world decides to give someone the right to rule them, it’s an ideal time to think about how change happens and why we should believe it’s possible.

I grew up largely apolitical in my view of the world. I was not interested in politics nor did I think it was ever going to make a difference. I voted simply to calm my conscience, without any interest in who came to power or any knowledge of how their policies would shape the city.

But when the internet gave us more access to information than I wanted, it became impossible to be ignorant and irresponsible to be uninformed.

With more information, I was effectively moved out of an apolitical worldview but I had no great hope of a just society being given to us by anyone in politics because I did not find any political vision that was broad enough to include the concerns I think God has for the world.

I was theologically optimistic, but politically pessimistic.

I was convinced as a Christian that change comes from inside out. I did not obey the laws of the land because I feared the consequences of disobedience. I honored the law because I shared God’s concern for a just society and accepted His invitation to partner with Him in His work of cosmic renewal that began with personal renewal.

I believed the world would change when people changed, one person at a time.

Two years ago I was privy to a conversation between a diplomat and a sociologist discussing the radical rise of a new political ideal, the escalating exasperation of the people and sweeping changes in urban Indian society. The general consensus between them was that change was possible but it would take time.

In his book Center Church, Timothy Keller refers to sociologist James D. Hunter—the LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture, and Social Theory at the University of Virginia—and his view of how culture changes.

Culture changes mainly (though not exclusively) from the top down rather than from the grassroots up. Cultural changes tend to flow out of urban and academic centers.

But these changes are not initiated by the innermost cities with the highest positions of prestige, for they have a vested interest in the status quo. Nor are they started by grassroots people at the periphery of cultural power, for they are often powerless to effect lasting change.

Instead, it is the “outer elites”—usually young men and women who are either low on the ladder of the highest-prestige institutions, or in the less influential or newer institutions—who initiate these changes.

In addition, the culture changes more readily when networks of common causes overlap different cultural fields, when the networks that initiate a change include people from the worlds of business, the academy, the arts, the church and multiple other disciplines, all working together.

Still, this is never a simplistic process or formula for effecting change. Because culture is a product of history, not merely of ideas. It has a kind of erratic inertia. It doesn’t change easily or without a fight. But it can, in the end, be changed.”

I think we live in a generation of possible seismic change.

Apathy is outdated. Cynicism is boring. Indifference is infuriating. We know too much about the human condition to be unmoved and feel too burdened about change to be unaffected.

As a thinking Christian and a citizen of the capital, I confess that my political pessimism has turned into cautious optimism, undergirded by the certainty of theological hope.

Delhi is a city of great historical, social, spiritual, economic and cultural significance. It is both besieged with problems and brimming with promise. It needs its people to believe in change more than the status quo—to choose hope over cynicism and to prefer action to apathy.

Although it seems impossible, it is not unprecedented for caring citizens to contribute in collaborative ways to create lasting change.

Today we can make a change with a finger but tomorrow we will have to bring our hands together, and believe that things can change. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.


Image Credit: United Nations Photo

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