In the last couple of days so many people have offered to help me, it has almost restored my faith in human nature. As ever, as I endeavour to do new things, I learn a great deal. I’m sticking them down here because I think they’re useful, and they’re the sort of things its easy to forget when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It doesn’t make them any less true.
Firstly, what seems obvious to me, does not always seem obvious to others, and this is not because other people are stupid and I’m a beacon of brilliance. It’s that we all think differently and we are not privy to the thought processes of others, despite the fact a lot of the time we act towards each other as if mind reading is one of our default settings. It’s why dialogue is so important. It’s why shouting at each other does not work. When we shout, we do not listen. When we talk to each other, when we think about what we’re saying and what people say to us, we can move forward.
I am not just talking about big, ‘important,’ ideas here. I am also talking about the small stuff. In some ways, the small stuff is way more important than the big stuff. The small stuff is our everyday operating mode. It’s easy to overlook the small stuff because it seems ‘obvious’. It isn’t obvious. It’s obvious to you, not everyone else. If you want someone to do something for you, do not assume they know how. Tell them exactly what you want. It isn’t patronising unless you intend it to be. Be clear. Help people to help you. Similarly, if someone asks for your help, if you aren’t clear about what they want you to do, there is no shame in clarifying matters.
Secondly, I realised yesterday that people are sometimes frightened of starting something, even though they might really, really want to do it, because they feel they should have some level of expertise, or already know how to do something. It’s this thing that keeps cropping up for me, that adults subconsciously decide that they no longer have to learn, that they know everything, and admitting they don’t is scary, and shameful and sometimes stops brilliantly able people doing things that can make a huge difference.
I can only speak about my own experience, but here it is, for what it’s worth. A few years ago I had my annus horriblis, where I looked at my life and the fact that it was at least half over and thought. ‘Fuck! What have I done with all this time?’ and ‘Shit! The clock is ticking!’ At the end of my long, dark teatime of the soul I decided something radical and yet incredibly simple. I decided that instead of being afraid of fucking up and not doing things and saying no, I would start saying yes. I decided it was better to try and fail than not try at all, at every, single level of my life. I decided that if I said yes to things, I would a) learn a lot, b) find out a lot more about myself and be less ashamed c) it would take me to some very interesting places and d) if I didn’t like it, or I failed, I could stop. Just because you say ‘Yes’, doesn’t mean you can’t ever say, ‘No.’
All it takes to change your life, and the life of those around you is to make the decision to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’, in spite of overwhelming odds. I’m not an idealist. I’m a realist. I know how hard it is to effect change on a big scale, but I have learned, through saying yes and asking for help, and accepting help, and being willing to learn, that every, single time, the journey is the important bit, not the destination. The change, when it comes, comes from a million, million, incremental changes that trickle down and trickle down until all those tiny fault lines become a seismic crack.
I don’t know how to change the world, but I do know how to donate my coats to a homeless charity so that one less person might freeze to death on the streets. I don’t know how to change the world, but I do know how to fill a bag full of groceries and take it to my local food bank so one less family goes hungry this week. I don’t know how to change the world but I do know enough about starting a campaign to help my friend set up a campaign to save her local library that might be the difference between being literate and illiterate for thousands of children.
I don’t know how to change the world, but I do know how to change myself. It begins and ends with ‘yes’.