Change can’t occur without action

Posted by: | Posted on: January 2, 2009

December 31, 2008

Change can’t occur without action

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D.

The year’s last day. Tomorrow we will awaken to the new year, 2009!

There were many things “wrong” with 2008. But no amount of money, no volume of words, no mountain of compassion can change what has occurred. We can learn from the past, but we mustn’t live there. A Sanskrit proverb says, “Yesterday is but a dream” and “tomorrow is only a vision.”

Tomorrow, the first day of the new, and hopefully with heaven’s help, improved 2009, will be upon us. It is we, with our qualities and frailties, who will or won’t make 2009 a different year. We can only ask God for help.

Many of us have compiled the annual list of New Year’s resolutions. Most of those are probably familiar commitments, recycled from past years’ versions.

The French say, “Man proposes, God disposes.” But humans tend to talk the talk but not walk the talk, to want something but not make steps to attain it with serious commitment, consistency and perseverance.

German-born American physicist Albert Einstein reminded, “Information is not knowledge,” and German playwright Johann von Goethe posited, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”

And Asia’s great thinker, Confucius, said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance,” and “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find some time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

Contemporary author Tim Hurson wrote that the road to knowledge demands we stay away from the trap of “reproductive thinking” that repeats the past and imprisons us in “patterned thoughts,” blocking our creativity. To acquire knowledge, Hurson said, we must remove road blocks to productive thinking and keep asking questions so we can have a list of options to choose: A “vast panorama of possible answers” await us.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving.” More than 2,000 years earlier, Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” The Chinese say, “not to advance is to drop back.”

These are invaluable life lessons for us. They should develop a thirst for knowledge in us. But it’s up to us to take an intellectual journey to where we think best.

Last April, my column, “Turn up the heat on goals, take action,” examined a video about the difference one degree of effort can make — the difference between water at 211 degrees and 212 degrees; between a simmer and a boil. The lesson: “It’s the one extra degree that makes all the difference,” and “The only thing that stands between a person and what they want in life is the will to try it and the faith to believe it possible.”

This holiday season brought me a 2008 book, “The Power of 10% — How Small Changes Can Make A Big Difference,” by Eric Harvey and Michelle Sedas of The Walk The Talk Company (, which teaches “success through Values-Based Practices.”

The book, which quotes 18th century English essayist Samuel Johnson (said to be most quoted next to Shakespeare), “Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome.” It also uses 17th century scientist Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion — an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force — to show, “One idea, which is acted upon, can change us and those around us in unimaginable ways,” and, “All that is needed to change the world is one person taking action.”

The first step taken would set “the wheels of change into motion” just as the ripple produced by a rock thrown into the still lake expands into increasing concentric circles. A small original idea, propelled by energy and effort, produces “a spark, which inspires individuals, which grows to impact others, which in turn inspires even more.”

Rosa Parks didn’t know that when, on Dec. 1, 1955, she refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. She “sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and introduced the nation to Martin Luther King, Jr., … one small decision (which) eventually led to the end of legal segregation in America,” the book notes.

Harvey and Sedas write: “The small things do make a very big difference.”

And the book recites American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Remember American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words — “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”

As John F. Kennedy declared, “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”

Small but persevering effort can cause an idea to precipitate great change.

Happy New Year 2009!

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at

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