Tipping Point

Fear is a strong emotion. It is so strong that it often has the power to overwhelm all other emotion, suppressing it and dominating our minds. It paralyzes us and renders us mere hollow shells of who we are meant to be.

And make no mistake, we are meant to be great.

We are not all meant to be great in the same way, but we are all meant to be great. The greatness I speak of is not the same greatness we often think of: wealth, fame, dominance etc… No, our greatness does not lie in our accumulation of power but in our ability to disperse it, not in our ability to influence the many, but in our ability to be an influence to a select few. To this end we are all called to act differently, to disperse our power and our little influence in a myriad of ways. We have all been given gifts and talents to this effect and as we use them, our different actions come together to fight for a common end: a better world for all. Who could deny that this is a great end? Indeed, it is the greatest end and through fighting for it, we become great.

But enter fear.

It settles in, makes itself comfortable, and before we know it it’s whispering in our ears that we’re not great at all. “How can you call yourself great if you don’t have any power, or money, or influence?” it asks us. And we believe it because it has overcome us. Fear makes us believe that our talents and our abilities are too small to accomplish anything, let alone change the world, and so we fall away, one by one, until there is no one left. Fear overwhelms our idealism, our passion, our drive and our ability to be catalysts for change. Fear takes away our innate greatness.

Fear has the uncanny ability of clouding our vision so that we can’t see any problem clearly. Through the cloud of fear we can only perceive the problems facing the world as giant, impenetrable, behemoths, too large to take on, instead of seeing them as a combination of smaller parts, each with their weaknesses, easy to defeat when taken on one at a time. Through the shrouding mist of fear, everything seems bigger, harder, more dangerous, impossible.

Fear is a liar.

When we refuse to listen to the lies of fear and face head on the behemoths in the mist, we begin to realise that who we are, who we are meant to be, is a force to be reckoned with. When we see clearly, when the mist of fear fades away, we see that those small individual parts of the problems can be dealt with, one by one, with our talents, our gifts, our love, our compassion, our hard work… our greatness.

I am often overcome by fear. I have devoted myself to being a catalyst for change in the context I find myself, but the problems I see are often shrouded in a thick mist. Poverty, corruption, oppression, hopelessness, injustice. These are my behemoths. And they scare me.

I recently read something that began to take away the mist, though, and reveal these behemoths for what they really are. In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell dissects large social movements to look closely at the small things that made them take off. He dissected behemoths to reveal their small, individual parts. The example that struck me the most was his discussion of role models in a community. Here I’ll quote him at length.

“All epidemics have Tipping Points. Jonathan  Crane, a sociologist at the University of Illinois, has looked at the effect the number of role models in a community – the professionals, managers, teachers whom the Census Bureau has defined as “high status” – has on the lives of teenagers in the same neighborhood. He found little difference in pregnancy rates or school drop-out rates in neighborhoods of between 40 and 5 percent of high-status workers. But when the number of professionals dropped below 5 percent, the problems exploded. For black schoolchildren, for example, as the percentage of high-status workers falls just 2.2 percentage points – from 5.6 percent to 3.4 percent – drop-out rates more than double. At the same Tipping Point, the rates of child-bearing for teenage girls – which barely move at all up to that point – nearly double. We assume, intuitively, that neighborhoods and social problems decline in some kind of steady progression. But sometimes they may not decline steadily at all; at the Tipping Point, schools can lose control of their students, and family life can disintegrate all at once.”

The behemoths in this passage are real: Teenage high-school drop outs and teenage pregnancy. To be a catalyst for change in a community afflicted with these problems is not easy. They are scary problems with severe consequences and to face them down can seem impossible. But 2.2 percentage points is all it takes to cut the problems in half. Suddenly, the fear of the behemoth lessens and it goes from a giant to a manageable issue.

Fear makes us think that the 2.2 percent doesn’t matter. That we need to achieve 100 percent or else we fail.

Fear is a liar.

We are great and if we act like we truly believe that, in whatever context we find ourselves, the behemoths of the world don’t stand a chance.

Isaac Asimov, the famed science fiction writer, once wrote: “I continue to try and I continue, indefatigably, to reach out. There’s no way I can single-handedly save the world or, perhaps, even make a perceptible difference – but how ashamed I would be to let a day pass without making one more effort”.

And so we march forward, as great catalysts for change in our world, not letting fear cloud our vision, knowing that everyday we continue to fight brings us one step closer to our Tipping Point, the beautiful place where behemoths are slain and real change is not only allowed to live but to thrive.

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