Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On Icebergs and Ducks

It sounds like a bad riddle: What do icebergs and ducks have in common?
But it's a serious question--or, maybe more accurately, a serious answer to a serious question.
The question is: How does change happen? And I find myself asking it at a time when more and more people are holding out less and less hope for the prospect of meaningful change coming from the political leaders in Washington, DC. We can argue about who's fault it is; or whether it's worse than it used to be; or if it's simply the case that Washington, DC is "broken." There's lots to be said about the influence of money on politics, and the role of the media in promoting a sound-bite culture with the attention span of a tweet. Lots of ways to get worked up and bummed out.
So let me instead offer the notion of the iceberg and the duck.
And let me use it to suggest that we're looking for change in all the wrong places.
So: what do icebergs and ducks have in common?
Ever since the sinking of the Titanic, we've all been taught that you only see the tip of the iceberg above the surface of the water; 80% or more of the iceberg is below the surface, so if you want to see the true shape of the thing, you've got to look beneath the surface.
And ducks? Well, coaches and cheerleaders have long used the swimming duck as a source of encouragement for scrappy athletes: be calm on the surface and paddle like hell with your feet under water!
Here's what I'm concluding about change in America.
It's all going on under the surface--and there's a lot of it happening.
If you put down the daily newspapers, stop surfing the web, step away from cable TV news, give talk radio a rest, and just go out into your own community--and I mean any community in any city in any country any where in the world--you will be thrilled, delighted, amazed, and profoundly moved at the kinds of changes going on all around us.
Below the surface, like icebergs and ducks, out of sight of the traditional media and traditional politics, there is a movement gaining force.
It is micro-change. It is entrepreneurial and vibrant. The projects are often small. Think of them as Petri-dish size experiments.
They involve small groups of like-minded individuals who want to make a difference, have some impact.
I'm not talking about angry shouters. I'm talking about do-something-abouters.
This is how change happens. Far from the corridors of power.
It happens when the people who decide they want to contribute start paddling like hell below the surface.
When I find myself troubled about political gridlock, narcissism, and posturing, I change where I'm looking.
Instead of paying attention to what's above the surface, what gets all the coverage, I look under the surface, at all the great work that's being ignored by the media but embraced by real people making real change happen.
It's not grass roots change.
It's under the water change. And if we keep it up, it's going to make all the difference in the world.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb