Lead by Example

If you believe in something, don't wait for someone else to step forward first

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?"
⏤ David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas.

How can one little drop make a difference in such vastness? I've asked myself this many times before. And this is something I heard constantly from many. Mainly from people I grew up with and was raised by.

Can we change the world?

Someone very close to me, who helped raise me, once told me "One day, I finally realised I couldn't change the world, so I stopped trying" and she advised "the sooner you realise that the better, don't waste your time trying". Being a kid, I wavered. It sounded right, it made sense given the size of the world and myself. But still, it didn't feel right.

Call me a dreamer, but today I firmly believe we can make a difference, even if small. I believe the key is that, we cannot do it alone. Not in the way a super hero saves the world single handed with some magical powers. We need numbers, we need help. We need a community. But the question remains, how do I alone go from one to many?

Do what's right for you

I believe the answer lies in leading by example. Eventually, others will identify with our behaviour and join in. You don't need leading skills, you don't need to lead anyone. You live your life according to your own values. By doing that, you're already showing others that's it's possible and you're showing them how.

When I was a kid, my grandpa always told me "do as I say, not as I do". He would always cite this when he wanted me to behave a certain way, even though he himself did the opposite. I always protested how unfair that was and how he should lead me by example instead. But my words were always ignored.

Learning behaviour

As human beings we learn a lot of our social behaviour by imitation. Specially in our early years, we mimic those around us. We take cues from our environment and care-takers and assimilate that. When we're surrounded by violence, we're prone to identify it as normal and acceptable behaviour. When someone tells us that something is wrong but they don't act accordingly, we wonder why we should listen. We question why is it that we should change our own ways when they themselves don't. Why should we have to do it alone, without an example to guide us? Why should we believe that's the best for us, when those who advised us don't seem to believe it themselves? Otherwise they surely would have embraced it themselves too. In the end we distrust the information and we distrust the people. We feel they're only trying to manipulate us.

When one takes action first and sets the example, their words will have a much stronger impact. They behaviour is aligned with their message and we can clearly see their values. It also helps to guide and show others how to do it themselves, if they so choose to. If they want to follow in such steps, they can imitate and adjust the process to them, alleviating some of the initial struggle that comes with being a pioneer.

Set things in motion

Once someone sets this process in motion, the easier it gets as more and more people join in and tweak the details to fit different needs that might exist. Then one day, the old behaviour is no longer the norm, but the exception.

It's a mistake to think one single person has no power. One is all it takes to inspire a few and spread to many more. The tired slogan "be the change you wish to see in the world" embodies this.

If you believe in something, don't wait for someone else to step forward first. Take action, no matter how small it may seem. Do what you can. Start small if you need to. Maybe you'll increasingly become more comfortable to then take bigger steps. It's also okay if you don't. Maybe your small actions will inspire someone else do take it a step further. Just be aware that you alone have power.

For more, the following video might inspire you:
How to start a movement, by Derek Sivers at TED2010 (3:09 min)

Published: January 21, 2016
Revised: June 08, 2016