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Who Are We Waiting For?

Comedian Mike Birbiglia tells a story of a celebrity golf tournament that he attended once. As he was waiting for the event to begin, he started chatting with a couple of the other players. One of the players said, “I wonder who our celebrity is going to be?” And Mike thought excitedly, “Yeah, I wonder who our celebrity is going to be?” And then he quickly realized, to his great disappointment, “Oh, $#!%, I’M the celebrity here. I’m the one we’ve been waiting for!”

I always think of this story when I find myself complaining about something in the world that needs to be changed. I’ll be thinking, for example, “WHY is Charlottesville not a better bike city? Somebody should really make some better bike paths here.” Or, “Someone needs to do something about gun violence... stop global warming... fix our children’s schools... etc... etc.” And then I’ll hear Mike’s voice saying, “Oh, $#!%, I’M the one we’ve been waiting for.” 

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Most of us are familiar with this Gandhi quote. We see it printed on tote bags and coffee mugs. Valedictorians find ways to incorporate it into graduation speeches. But what does it really mean to “be” the change? How can I be the change when I’ve got to get my kids to school, work all day, make dinner, do laundry, exercise, and so on? The idea that I’m also responsible for making big changes to improve the world at large seems overwhelming. It’s so much easier to complain and hope that someone else steps in to do the job. 

I know a lot of us want to contribute to the world in significant, meaningful ways. But we often assume that, because we may not be able to do all that we would like, it’s not worth doing anything at all. And that, I believe, is a great mistake. Sometimes the little things can make a tremendous impact. Beyond the changes we can make in our lifestyles from biking more, wasting less, and growing our own food, we can take steps outside our home to have greater influence.

Maybe I don’t have time to go to my city council and volunteer to chair a committee on improving bike paths. But I could set aside 30 minutes each week and come up with a list of people in my community who are passionate about biking, and send out a group email asking if anyone would be interested in working with me. That group of people may get the job done or at least get the ball rolling—and it all started with one email. 

Just your presence at a rally can be a tipping point. It can give you more energy and reinforce your personal conviction toward action, and it can help reinforce and support the people working on a daily basis to help protect the planet or make our communities better. By showing up, we magnify our own voice and others.

At New Dream, we are supporting the upcoming Forward on Climate rally on February 17 in Washington, D.C., because this issue is fundamental to our security, to our happiness, and to building a new American Dream that is based on less-wasteful consumption and more renewable, non-polluting energy.

If the issue that’s on your mind is one that really excites you and makes you come alive, then the truth is, once you commit to being involved, you can find the time. Maybe commit to watching less TV or spending less time on the Internet for one week, and instead devote yourself to coming up with ways that you can be the change that everyone is waiting for. And if we can find others who feel similarly, imagine how much we could accomplish. As individuals, we don’t have unlimited time, money, or knowledge—but together, we can multiply our impact tremendously.

At New Dream, this is the year we’ll be launching new ways to help you find others in your community who want to meet up to talk about common issues and take action together to improve your lives and your neighborhood. We will continue to develop our popular Community Action Kit with new guides (stay tuned for the upcoming “Guide to Going Local”) and accompanying webinars (our webinar on Community Solar will air on January 23). We will share with you stories of other New Dreamers who are taking steps to make positive changes in their worlds. Stay tuned for New Dream meetups happening in your area.

Gandhi also said that “[t]he difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” At New Dream, we hope to provide the resources, skills, and inspiration to encourage all of us to work together and do what we are truly capable of doing.

Wendy Philleo is Executive Director of the Center for a New American Dream.

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