I met a guy recently, a friend of a friend. His wife had died just over a year before, of ovarian cancer. He was walking round the coast of Britain, taking a year to do it.
It’s so sad he said, we men don’t remind women to go for those regular checks. Yet, when I got to a certain age, my wife reminded me to go for my prostrate check. I think us men should be able to say it. If my wife had gone for her regular check a few months earlier, the cancer would have been caught earlier and she’d most likely still be alive.
Is there something we can find out more, my husband asked, somewhere we can donate?
Oh no, replied the friend, I simply want to tell everyone I meet about this. I want you to think about asking your wife, the women in your lives, about their health, about things that are important, things that were important to me, but I didn’t know it.
Later that evening we all had to introduce ourselves to the group. My friend is like that, lots of speeches, lots of communal conversation. The friend’s friend told the same story he’d told my husband standing at the bar.
It caught me as he told the story a second time, and I’m sure he went on to tell it many times over that weekend.
He was, literally, creating change as he went. He wasn’t talking about doing something, he was doing it. One person, one room at a time. He wasn’t asking for anything, at least not anything for himself, he was telling a story.
It caught me because he was doing what I don’t always do: he was speaking what he desired to change into the world.
It was important to him, and, perhaps, at some point he’d stop, when his grief faded a little. Right now, though, he didn’t care about social norms, about whether it was awkward, or weird, or uncomfortable to raise this topic in conversation at a bar over a beer. To him, the saying was more important than anything that got in the way of it.
And that’s where impact comes from.
Without a doubt, not everyone he spoke with would remember, or would act, but some would. Some would remember his story when that letter to go for a check-up came through the door, or when a certain age came around, or when they were talking to friends.
He didn’t care either way; his job was to put the words out there and let them land where they did.
Change Isn’t ‘Someday’
I see so many people, me too, talking, or thinking, about what we want to do to create change in the world.
We’ll do something when our idea is perfect, or when we can think of the best way to roll it out, or when we write our book, or get our invitation to TED. Or when ‘they’, those indefinable people who should ‘do something’, actually get around to doing it.
Our talking about doing is distracting us from actually doing.
It’s Now, One Person at a Time
Sure, there’s a place for wide-scale change. For government regulation, for preventative health checks, for public education.
But, what if change starts with a single action? What if we really do create change one person at a time?
We flippantly say this — reference to that old ‘how do you eat an elephant’ joke — but what if that’s actually true? And what if holding on to the idea that we have to get it right or get certain people involved, or test a model, or wait for ‘them’ to do something, is getting in the way of the small-scale change that we can achieve right now.
This guy, this unassuming middle-aged man, who’d been engulfed in a sadness he couldn’t begin to make sense of, was doing the thing that occurred to him. Actually doing it, not thinking about it. One conversation at a time.
This isn’t a piece about cancer, hopefully you’ve realised that by now, but a piece about small-scale changes.
And about how the small change you speak (or act) into the world will always be so much more impactful than the large-scale change that stays in your head.
Today. In this moment, in this conversation, in your reading of this piece. #JFDI