How does one make the world a better place?
This is a question that I’ve pondered for a really long time. And I’ll go back to the advice that a wise sage, otherwise known as my amazing friend Aimee gave me a long time ago when I was contemplating if I should quit soccer and go and do something more meaningful than what I saw at the time as just training incessantly to become a better soccer player. I was feeling guilty, knowing that there is a whole world out there that doesn’t have the luxury of having their most important goal becoming improving at a game involving a ball, and maybe I should get out there and do something to help. What I had in mind was something involving a shovel, a ditch, and a third world country. Just the average idea of what saving the world looked like to a naïve 20 year old.
So I posed my question to my friend Aimee, if having soccer as a main focus of my life, was something selfish that was a waste of time when I thought making the world a better place was something of importance.
Fresh off a trip to do something along the lines of what I was thinking I should be doing to affect change instead of just kicking a ball, Aimee said to me, “Ciara there are a few things I’ve learned from spending the last month digging ditches in Haiti (or something like that that was equally as selfless and casually Aimee).
“1. You don’t need to go all the way down to a third world country to affect change and make the world a better place.
2. You should make it a priority to follow whatever your passion is, and then just focus on showing thankfulness by doing everything you can to be the best you can be at it.
3. Focus on things in the environment around you to make it a better place than when you came. That is how you affect change and make the world a better place. We think big, but it’s really just the little things that make the biggest difference. If we all did those little things in our corners of the world, the world would be a better place.”
So I abandoned dreams of digging ditches in third world countries, and continued to play the game that I loved. The end.
Well, not quite.
I was reminded of this story yesterday as I caught up for a couple of hours on Skype with one of my favourite people that I’ve met in my soccer career. One of the more humble individuals I have ever met, she is an incredibly accomplished player at the international and professional level.
And as she let me know what has happened in the last few months in her life, I was proud. Like the kind of proud that makes you have tears in your eyes, and makes you so proud of the kind of people that you call friends. And no she didn’t win anything big or accomplish anything that the bubble of the soccer world or the media pat us on the back for and give us validation for.
What she did was take a very brave stand on something within her environment, along with a few other equally brave teammates, that required standing up to someone in power and resulted in positive change that will affect the next generation of players. And in the process she has gotten torn to shreds in public forums for doing so with those other brave teammates. Where she’s had evidence to silence those that are saying hurtful things about her, she has chosen to stay quiet, as in her words, it’s the principle of not engaging in any mud slinging in a public forum, something that has disappointed her greatly from those on the other side.
To me, this is where true beauty in the world is found, when people risk their own reputation, sanity and position and have the courage to take a stand against something that they believe in, to make the world around them better. Because it’s far too easy to just complain and stay silent and let others fight the battles for us, if at all.
But standing up for things is exhausting. The weariness in her voice was something that I’ve become familiar with all too much through the scope of my time in the women’s soccer world, yet something that is valuable and that I have learned and grown as a human being from. Which is what I believe is the foundation for a well-lived life: positive, continued growth.
The following is the advice that I gave this friend, and I will give to you if you’re in a situation that you can take a stand to make positive change. And this advice comes after fighting like a wild woman for many years against every, and any injustice I have seen around me (not the brightest strategy).
1. Choose Your Battles Wisely
If you’ve been a regular follower of my blog or know me personally, you know that I have a strong opinion, and especially in situations of injustice, my first instinct is to speak up and fight back against it. As I talked to my friend yesterday, she mentioned to me how exhausted she was from all the kick back from the situation. Completely being familiar with these feelings, I told her something that I’ve learned, in that you just have to make sure those things that you choose to take a stand on, matter, and have a high probability of change. Like a champion fighter who chooses his punches wisely, choose a couple of battles and give your whole heart. Choose those battles deliberately, and wisely.
2. Don’t Expect Other People To Have Your Back
Sounds incredibly depressing, right? It’s really not, but its just valuable information to have and the reality of a human race that lives most of its life in a state of fear. Unfortunately, most people will complain until they are blue in the face, but don’t do anything to change things or speak up and put themselves on the line. I’ve seen too many times, someone in a group that is unhappy say ok, I’m going to take a stand and do something, and the group whispering behind them, encouraging them to go for it. And then when push comes to shove, those people jump behind a bush scared that the person in power is going to know they were involved and what the ramifications will be. So if you choose to go into battle, think of help around you, as a bonus not a given.
3. Surround Yourself With Courage Not Complaining
Taking a stand is lonely. Nothing is more important in this life is the community around us, and the kind of people we choose to have in our life having similar values to the ones we believe in. It’s easy to feel disillusioned living in a community where everyone complains and no one takes a stand. So surround yourself with people who want to be, and are willing to take a stand and be a part of positive solutions instead of people who sit around and complain.
4. Support Positive Change, Even If It Doesn’t Affect You Directly
So often, we see brave people taking a stand on things that we know are unjust, but we make the decision not to join in. We do so, because it doesn’t affect us personally and we fear our own positions being jeopardized if we support others who are taking a stand. There is power in numbers, and change is easier when those in power experience futility with countless targets to try and hit. And I can tell you with certainty, that those that have the courage to stand up and have someone’s back in times of need when they don’t have to, are people that are never forgotten, inspiring and indelible. You may never see them in a Nike ad and marketed as a hero, but everyone who watches their courage live would define them as such.
This quote about the Nazi’s time in Germany, from a Protestant pastor who spent seven years in concentration camps, sums this point up better than I could ever try to.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
-Martin Niemoller (1892-1984)
5. What Will I Feel Good About When I’m 40
A few years ago, I felt torn about speaking up in a situation that wasn’t right, and I knew if I said something, it was likely going to have dire consequences on my soccer career, at least in the short term, which it did. To take a stand on it, and the courage it took for me to do so along with another teammate, is something I look back at, and feel better about than any championship I have ever won. This is because in doing so, we eventually affected positive change, and I’d like to say we empowered the younger players around us to know that their voices mattered.
Making the decision of what to do, I looked at what choice I’d feel good about at 40, as to me it represented a time when none of those things in the bubble would matter anymore because I would no longer be playing.
It’s easy in the bubbles that we live in, whether its soccer, a career, high school, college, whatever, to think of how things in the moment are going to affect us within that world and choose not to take a stand on injustice because of fear. Yet the longer I hang out in this world and experience different things, the more I become convinced that the world feeds us ideas about what matters within these bubbles, things like status, winning, etc, yet all of it is fleeting and none of it matters. The things that last forever are moments of courage, of selflessness, of kindness, of putting ourselves out there to leave the world we live in, better off than when we came. Everything else is just a distraction.
I will defer in closing and allow Gandhi to sum up how, in essence to do your part to make the world a better place:
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
And to my inspiration of this blog, I am so proud you had the courage to be the change you wanted to see in the world, and am so honoured to call you my friend.