There is this idea in chaos theory (yes, I’m sending you to Wikipedia already) that something which seems small can ultimately change the course of existence. The example that is always given, of course, is the idea of a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere and causing a typhoon somewhere else.
The butterfly effect was a topic touched on by Bakari Sellars, member of the SC House of Representatives and fellow Millennial. He spoke to a room of other Millennials brought together in Charlotte, NC by Mobilize.org. I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate in this weekend-long Millennial Civic Engagement Summit and to be involved in the conversation with Representative Sellars. He spoke of our power as Millennials to “dream with our eyes open.” He encouraged us to reach out to our communities to increase access and open up equality of opportunity for all.
And then he mentioned the butterfly effect.
America has always been focused on the future. It’s part of our legacy in the world. We barely accomplish one goal before we shift our eyes to the next step. It’s just what we do. It means that things here are a little bit bigger, a little bit grander, and little bit more awesome. It means that we constantly wonder what could be and about how we might fix things to bring ourselves and our country into that better future. We are (and have always been) innovators.
But maybe, before we shift our focus in the direction of the next problem to solve, we should take a second to linger on the power and the potential of our actions as we are engaged in them. We should remember to check in with the ripple effect that we are creating by flapping our tiny little butterfly wings.
Every single person I met this weekend was a brilliant social innovator. This group of Millennials was so amazing and it was a completely humbling experience to be in the presence of such creativity. Everyone was responsible for, engaged with, or actively working on a project or organization with the aim of mobilizing and empowering not only Millennials like us but large communities of Americans across many generations. It was incredible to get to know everyone over the weekend and learn about some of the amazing work that is being done on the ground in America right now.
By the end of the summit on Sunday, I had told 40 or 50 people about the work that I am doing here in Charlotte. Every time I told the story of my work, the response was the same. Overwhelming optimism, incredible enthusiasm, and boundless support…all of which were things that I had in spades when getting started on an idea but that had gotten a little bit lost.
It’s difficult to start something new and, when it seems as though you are faced with a never-ending list of problems to solve, it’s easy to give up hope and move on to the next thing.
But Representative Sellars and my new friends (we’re Facebook official, of course) from the MCE Summit reminded me not to discount the seemingly tiny flapping of my wings. Their excitement and engagement reminded me of the power of my own action, no matter how small.
So, I’m asking you to take a second to think about what you did today. Think about what you have done over the course of the last few weeks, the last few months, or even the last couple years and give yourself some credit for it. Think about that idea or that plan that you have been too anxious to put into motion and know that each small step (especially the first one!) matters. Post comments here with your project, your ideas, links to your organizations, anything…and let’s start a conversation and begin to network about the power of your actions.
And don’t forget to keep flapping. Whether you can see it in front of you or not, you are making a difference!
Lindsay LaPlante graduated from Winthrop University in 2008 with B.A. In Political Science and Modern Languages. She is also a 2008 AmeriCorps Alum as well as a MCE blogger for Mobilize.org. Lindsay started the Charlotte Urban Farm Project in 2011 in an effort to create access to local food while meeting and engaging communities, individuals, and organizations where they are. Currently, Lindsay is enrolled as a graduate student with a concentration in Political and Civic Engagement at Winthrop University.